Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Iris Liu, Wharton School

Iris Liu

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“Adaptation machine.”

Hometown: Queens, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: I sang in many choirs for the first half of my life and performed in over 50 concert halls around the world, the most memorable of which was Carnegie Hall.

Undergraduate School and Major: SUNY Buffalo (BS and MS in Accounting), Carnegie Mellon Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy (MISM)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Amazon Web Services, Security Transformation Consultant

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? As an aspiring entrepreneur looking to grow as a leader, the combined strength in leadership and entrepreneurship development sets Wharton apart from all other top schools. First, McNulty Leadership Programs offers evidence-based leadership development opportunities for students of all backgrounds and leadership styles through fellowships and student groups to coach and mentor fellow students, serve as visiting non-profit board members, and lead immersive ventures across the world. Further, Venture Lab provides second-to-none entrepreneurship education and resources that are central to the tightly knit Wharton entrepreneur community that supports fellow entrepreneurs to brainstorm ideas, take workshops, and receive group advising on ventures.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Authenticity. While exceptionally accomplished, the students at Wharton are comfortable with showing vulnerability and sharing intimate personal experiences that have shaped their values, goals, and identities. Such insightful, emotional, funny, educational conversations have truly opened my eyes. I’ve been beyond inspired by my classmates and their veracity.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Wharton Social Impact Initiative. I’m excited to share my experience in community engagement and my interest in entrepreneurship to identify impact investing opportunities and connect social entrepreneurs with potential investors to actualize their social impact missions.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Wharton? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? I was most excited to explore disruptive venture ideas and eventually build my technology and social impact startup. I was nervous about the uncertainties surrounding a virtual fall semester in the middle of a pandemic and that I wouldn’t be able to make meaningful connections. But contrary to my assumption, I was able to build deep, thoughtful relationships in a matter of weeks through virtual coffee chats and events with a diverse group of engaging students.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I was a founding member of the AWS WAF perimeter security team, where I delivered one of the first professional services consultations for Amazon’s virtual firewall service. In this role, I defined application security challenges in enterprise networking infrastructures, then customized application-specific firewall rules to block common attack patterns for enterprise customers. My job was to design automation solutions with fine-grained control over webs requests attempting to access enterprise web applications, test solution in pre-production environment, and deploy firewall rules to filter common web-based attacks. I joined this team serendipitously as a side project. Little did I know it would’ve become one of the defining moments of my career.

Outside of work, I established a community non-profit partnership program to share my passion for social impact. The program enabled my colleagues to offer their time and skills to help non-profit organizations and volunteer for social impact causes. In 2019, I raised over $50,000 to fund community development programs, of which $25,000 was to support March United for Public Schools, a program that helped underserved public school students to achieve grad-level reading proficiency.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I’ve developed a strong interest for entrepreneurship over the years. It’s clear to me to that an MBA presents a collaborative learning environment to understand the many dimensions of new venture creation and growth. Such opportunity creates a blueprint of conceptualizing, developing and managing successful new ventures, which would ultimately allow me to pursue my interests in the technology and social impact venture domains.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? HBS

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Why our program? I consider this an all-encompassing question that prompts careful consideration: What is the path that I’m going to take to succeed in this program? Do I know this is the right place for me? Have I actually taken the time to determine my fit?

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Culture fit. I also prioritized leadership opportunities, entrepreneurship resources, and school network. To determine culture fit, I researched extensively on each school and drew my own conclusions. I collected data points to support my conclusions through engagements such as small group and 1:1 coffee chats with student ambassadors and alumni, campus tours, and admissions information sessions. I consistently experienced first-hand through these interactions the teamwork and learning dynamic that are central to Wharton’s culture – I immediately knew this is the program that best fits my career goals.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? There was no one defining moment. Through years of perseverance to overcome adversities, I became confident that I could tackle any challenge. Growing up as a queer kid in an immigrant family, I constantly sought to better myself and to find my place in the world. With resilience, I became the first in my family to earn a college degree, and subsequently two additional graduate degrees. Education has always been the gateway to personal and professional development for me, and I believe attending business school is part of that journey.

What have you been doing since you were accepted to prepare for business school? I received my acceptance letter during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC, where I spent most of my summer organizing pandemic relief efforts. In support of communities that have been devastated by short- and long-term impact of the pandemic, I secured $15,000 corporate funding for non-profit organizations that have been responding directly to the crisis. I teamed up with Amazon COVID relief fund team to identify non-profit organizations in need, initiate relief fund application on behalf of target organizations, and disburse grants on need-based criteria.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? NOVID is my favorite anonymous contact tracing startup. I admire the founding team of engineers, designers, mathematicians, and social do-gooders’ commitment to data privacy while combating the spread of COVID-19. NOVID was founded by mathematician Po-Shen Loh, a Carnegie Mellon Professor, who stepped in during the pandemic to create and lead the mobile application team that allow users to proactively make decisions based on their risk of infection. NOVID sets a great example for business students to create true impact with classroom knowledge that addresses pressing problems in the real-world.


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