2019 MBAs To Watch: Haesun (Jess) Seok, Wharton School

Haesun (Jess) Seok

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“Korean, my mother’s daughter, big sister, outdoors lover, optimist, tech enthusiast, lifelong learner.”

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea

Fun fact about yourself: I have perfect pitch, but can’t sing in tune.  

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Georgetown University, BS in International Economics

University of Pennsylvania, Master of Computer and Information Technology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I began my career in academia as a research fellow at Stanford Law School, and was then a consultant at Cornerstone Research for a little over two years. Most recently, I worked as a data analyst at EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit with the mission of expanding connectivity across public schools in America.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Product Manager at Twilio in San Francisco

Where will you be working after graduation? Product Manager at Twilio in San Francisco

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • William P. Lauder Leadership Fellow
  • Wharton Women in Business, Co-President
  • Wharton Scotch and Whiskey, Co-President

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of earning a degree in computer science through Wharton’s joint program with Penn Engineering. The demanding coursework meant that I often had to make tradeoffs between social opportunities at Wharton and CS problem sets.

I am ultimately grateful to the program which taught me an appreciation for building things (and the people who build, maintain, and fix things every day). It’s also given me an extra degree of confidence to switch to a career in technical product management.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my work at EducationSuperHighway. I helped narrow the broadband gap, a major barrier in achieving educational equity in America, by developing dashboards that translated messy data into actionable insights. The tools I built empowered my colleagues to conduct targeted outreach to schools with the highest needs and collectively support hundreds of additional schools in bringing digital literacy to their students.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Sigal Barsade, an expert on organizational culture and emotional intelligence. I worked as her teaching assistant during Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership, the first core course required for all incoming Wharton students. I was moved by her warmth, passion for her field, and willingness to engage the class in difficult conversations on topics like unconscious bias and female leadership.

What was your favorite MBA Course? I loved Applied Probability Models in Marketing with Peter Fader. First, he’s hilarious. Second, it’s truly Wharton’s analytical curriculum at its best. We learned how to build probability models from scratch and apply them to derive interesting managerial insights from seemingly mundane data (e.g. toilet paper sales). I’ll be able to make better product decisions because of what I learned and I’m taking my models with me to Twilio.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Wharton because it felt like a place that would help me grow the most. Wharton can feel like the opposite of warm and fuzzy and is full of intense, brilliant classmates. I have become a stronger and fuller person by learning to thrive at a place like Wharton while still being true to myself.

My mom got her doctorate in physics at Penn, so choosing Wharton also felt like it honored her in a small way. I love passing the David Rittenhouse Lab on my daily walk to school, where she had spent four years as a student (and I don’t think it changed one bit since the 80s!).

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Take the time to learn about yourself and tell a story that only you can tell. Having an authentic story will help you shine as a candidate and anchor you during your time as a student.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Wharton is that it is a school only for extroverts.

To be fair, there are many extroverted classmates here who actually enjoy things like traveling with 500 other people. But then there are many people like me who prefer connecting with others in smaller groups. I’ve been able to make great friends and pull many circles around me through activities like board game nights, weekend hiking trips, and small-group whiskey tastings.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I’d known how soon it would all end! It’s been the fastest two years of my life. I’d tell the past me to be more thoughtful about how to fill unstructured time.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Wharton has transformed the way I perceive my full potential. I used to be a lot more unsure of myself. Being surrounded by inspiring classmates who continue to pursue excellence as well as opportunities like the Leadership Fellows program enabled me to learn and practice leadership. I’m leaving Wharton with full confidence in my capacity as a leader and ability to grow.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I look up to my classmate Maggie Fletcher for her kindness, grace, and growth mindset. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Maggie as a friend and a colleague in both the Wharton Women in Business and the Leadership Fellows programs. I learned a lot from the way she continually stretches herself in areas like long-distance running, navigates difficult conversations, and makes time for important people in her life in and outside of Wharton.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I actually studied international relations in college, and never imagined I’d end up at an MBA program.

Having a partner who went through a parallel journey (he’s graduating from Kellogg this year) made the transition less scary. It’s been fun to trade case notes, share our biggest learnings, and confide in our lows during our formative two years.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? I remember learning the word ‘skip-level’ — which refers to managers that are at least two levels higher up in the hierarchy — for the first time from a Wharton classmate. He was so incredulous that I had never heard this before and his reaction made me laugh.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a data scientist at a technology company with a meaningful mission.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? I don’t really think about the world that way. My education at Wharton is definitively the biggest investment I’ve made to date. I hope to build a life worthy of what Wharton has given me.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? First, I’d like to learn how to drive. Second, I’d like to hike the Lost Coast trail in California solo.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as a friend who always shows up for others and stays true to her words.

Hobbies? I love spending time outdoors and all kinds of arts & craft, which are important creative outlets for me. I also spend a fair amount of time on Reddit, just for pure consumption.

What made Haesun such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“When Wharton professor and organization psychologist Adam Grant speaks about the power of Givers, he is talking about people like Jess Seok. Jess asks for a lot – for others. She is not afraid to argue the unpopular view even amongst her friends if she believes it will help someone else. During the selection process for the next class of Leadership Fellows, Jess requested an exception be made for a strong candidate who couldn’t make the required interview dates due to urgent career travel. As head of the Leadership Fellows Recruiting Committee, Jess risked perception of abusing power. Rather than approach me in a behind-the-scenes fashion, however, Jess made her advocacy transparent to the community of 48 Fellows and prompted an open discussion around policy, equality and commitment. As a result, other students volunteered to provide alternate interview sessions for multiple candidates in a similar position.

In her spirit of giving, Jess anticipates the needs of the larger group and motivates others to help meet those opportunities. As one of the co-presidents of Wharton Women in Business, Jess led the board in creating programming that helps women build confidence and form stronger bonds with other women at Wharton. When the P3 Leadership Program was oversubscribed by more than 100 students, Jess stepped up to facilitate a P3 team rather than simply participate, risking her individual results in favor of enabling 6 other MBAs to also have the opportunity. Noticing her peers feeling torn between their school loans and the FOMO surrounding international group trips, Jess brought creativity to the local scene by organizing a wilderness retreat in the Pennsylvania Poconos. The two years of a Wharton MBA go by swiftly and many students never explore the Philadelphia region. This adventure included camping, hiking, apple-picking and the best Korean restaurant on the mid-Atlantic coast. Rather than spend three thousand dollars to visit yet another far-flung destination, Jess crafted a compelling weekend that deepened connections to classmates yet cost less than $200 per person. Jess seeks out the multiple perspectives and opportunities behind any challenge, aiming for the inclusion of diverse opinions and the data that enables strong analysis for the right and captivating decisions that are the keystone of a Wharton degree. That is the power of her giving.”

Gwendolyn McDay

Associate Director, William P. Lauder Wharton Leadership Fellows, McNulty Leadership Program

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Are you a friend of Jess? Leave a note to congratulate her.


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