Change makers act; the rest of us react. As one of the top three business schools in the United States and, arguably, the world, when the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania acts — launching a new program or innovating a new approach — people notice. So it was significant when Wharton began reporting in its MBA class profile the percentage of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and it was doubly significant when the school created the Prism Fellowship, a LGBT award that may be the first of its kind at any business school.
The fellowship, which covers the full cost of tuition for Wharton’s two-year, full-time MBA program, will be awarded every year to an outstanding MBA student who is not only a member of the LGBT community, but who also demonstrates leadership in that community. Today (June 1), the first day of Pride Month, Wharton has announced the inaugural Prism awardee: Colan Wang of Toronto, Ontario, who joins the Wharton MBA Class of 2022 this fall.
“It’s a really amazing surprise, especially because this fellowship is probably one of the first of its kind among business schools,” says Wang, a business consultant at TD Wealth, the financial services arm of the sixth-largest bank in North America. Speaking with Poets&Quants by phone from his home in Toronto, he adds, “I feel really honored and proud of Wharton for their leadership and support.”
KEY QUALIFICATION FOR A PRISM FELLOWSHIP: COMMITMENT TO THE BETTERMENT OF THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY
The Prism Fellowship is an award with financial heft. Tuition for first-year Wharton MBA students is currently listed at $80,432, making it one of the most expensive business schools in the world. And while there are some LGBTQ scholarships available — notably the Reaching Out Fellowships, $20,000 awards that go to select MBA students at more than 50 participating B-schools including all the top U.S. schools — none covers full tuition for a two-year, full-time MBA program, let alone tuition at a prestigious and expensive school like Wharton.
The Prism Fellowship was established last year by a gift from Wharton MBA Jeffrey Schoenfeld, a 1984 alum and partner at financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman, to be awarded annually to one MBA student admit. “As one of very few ‘out’ MBA students entering Wharton in 1982, I truly marvel today at how far LGBTQ recognition and integration have become embraced by the broader business community,” Schoenfeld says. “I am also mighty proud that Wharton has emerged as a leader in building the most diverse class among leading U.S. business schools, and feel privileged to support LGBTQ student leaders through their MBA journey.”
“We recognize the power of bringing a range of experiences and perspectives together to foster an inclusive MBA community focused on making a positive impact on the world,” Wharton MBA Admissions Director Blair Mannix said in the school’s announcement of the fellowship. Prism Fellows are selected by the Wharton Fellowship Committee based on their leadership qualities, community impact, and personal essays submitted with their MBA program application. The chief qualification: a demonstrated commitment to the betterment of the LGBTQ community.
Colan Wang fit the bill perfectly, Mannix said. “Colan’s strong leadership, collaboration, and analytical skills exemplify what the fellowship represents, and we are thrilled to welcome him into our vibrant, supportive and dynamic community this fall,” she said, noting that at TD Wealth, Wang leads a gender inclusion project that ensures the bank’s clients’ preferred names and pronouns appear across written, digital, and in-person bank communications.
For Wang’s part, Wharton needed to win him over. He visited before the campus (like all others) was shut down in March for the pandemic.
“When I was looking into business schools, I wanted to go to a school where I could get a world-class education, and also bring my whole self to the classroom every single day,” says Wang, a former consultant for Deloitte. “And of course, Wharton is one of the best business schools out there. They have deep resources in fintech, analytics, and leadership — all areas I want to explore. But what really sold me on Wharton was visiting the school for their LGBTQ+ Visit Day. Being on campus, meeting other students, chatting with the admissions team all helped me see myself spending two really great years at Wharton.
“I’m not surprised by Wharton’s leadership on the issue, because when I was looking into business schools and deciding which ones I wanted to apply for — using Poets&Quants and a lot of other resources — I noticed that Wharton is one of the only schools to publish on their website the percentage of students who identify as LGBTQ (currently listed at 5%),” Wang says. “So that immediately stuck out to me, because it demonstrated that, hey, Wharton really values the perspectives and the lived experiences that a diverse student body can bring to the classroom.”
‘A COMMUNITY WHERE STUDENTS ARE THERE FOR EACH OTHER’
Wharton’s announcement was timed for the start of National Pride Month. The school sees the Prism Fellowship as a continuation of its tradition of support for student diversity, citing a nearly 50% female MBA student representation, special peer learning activities including the Return on Equality Coalition, and numerous student cultural and affinity clubs — among them, Out4Business, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender professional and social club that annually organizes the campus event that sold Colan Wang on attending Wharton.
Describing that experience, Wang says he has one memory more vivid than the rest, from an Ask Me Anything panel for current and prospective students.
“What I was so glad to see was that in the room, there were just as many allies as people from the LGBTQA community,” he says. “And that really showed me that Wharton is a community where students are there for each other, supporting each other every step of the way.
“I am excited to join the supportive culture that I experienced first-hand during Wharton’s LGBTQ Visit Day. This community is filled with LGBTQIA+ students and allies who are there for each other,” Wang says, using an acronym that includes “I” for “intersex” and “A” for “asexual” or “ally.” “I look forward to making a positive impact and building valuable connections that will last throughout my career.”
For more information on the Prism Fellowship and other financial aid at Wharton, visit the school’s MBA Tuition, Cost & Financial Aid Information website.