2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Lu Lu, Penn State (Smeal)

Lu Lu

The Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business

I set high standards for myself and am intellectually curious about unfamiliar fields/topics.”

Hometown: Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, China

Fun fact about yourself: I eat Nutella with a spoon.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Zhejiang University of Technology: Bachelors of Science in Chemistry

Clarkson University: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Chemistry with a specialization in metallic nanomaterials

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before joining Smeal in Fall 2020, I worked in Heraeus Photovoltaics Global Business Unit as a Scientist and Internal Silver Expert. My role as an area expert was to work closely with and provide insight to the global silver strategy team, as well as being a gatekeeper for internal and external vendors. I also managed a technical team to explore new technologies and materials to further advance Heraeus’ core competency in the global photovoltaics markets, thus continuous improvements on Solar Cell efficiency.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? JPMorgan Chase & Co.: Wilmington, DE

Where will you be working after graduation? JPMorgan Chase & Co.: CAP program, which is an intensive leadership development program dedicated to developing the next generation of leaders.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

President of the MBA Consulting Association

While continuing the legacy that was built from the previous leaderships, my vision for the association is to focus on building relationships with seasoned consultants from prestige firms, and further improve members’ problem-solving skills through practices. I continued the case mentor program within the association, where experienced members support and coach new members to further polish their case interview skills. I initiated “Speed dating” mentor-mentee pairing and “You Bring The Chat; We Bring The Coffee” events to make the mentor program more interactive. I collaborated with several faculty members to serve as area experts to help members gain knowledge on the consulting industry, build problem solving skills, and enhance networking experience, through events like “Introduction to the Consulting Industry”, “Case Competition Workshop”, and “Senior Speaker Series”. Additionally, I established partnerships with alumni associations (i.e. Smeal Philly Club), Tarriff Center, and other student organizations (i.e. Diversity MBA Association) to make the MBA Consulting Association more connected within the Smeal community to provide support and impact beyond the consulting association and the two year MBA program.

Tarriff Fellows

I am always passionate about building a community that supports diversity, equity, and ethical culture. The opportunity of representing Smeal in the “2021 National Race and Case” competition connected me to a group of MBA students who shared the same passion, and to our case mentor Michelle Darnell, Smeal’s director of Honor & Integrity and director of the Tarriff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility. During the winter break, under Michelle’s leadership, I and other two graduate students respectively from the Executive MBA program and Executive Leadership program started to work on building a new program called “PGP Badge Program” for Smeal’s graduate communities. Its goal is to further drive ethical organizational culture in the Smeal community and empower our graduates to positively contribute to the culture in their (future) professional organizations. After establishing the program outline, I initiated a collaboration between the MBA Consulting Association and Tarriff Center to launch a case competition with the Smeal community. This celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Smeal Honor Code as well as to further engage the student body to gain their input to further polish this new program. The case competition also received support from Dean Chuck Whiteman and Sr. Associate Dean Brian Cameron. The final team had an opportunity to present during “Impact Smeal Day” to Smeal alumni.

Bunton Waller Fellow: Merit-based full tuition funding with a graduate stipend

Graduate Assistant: Demand Fulfillment Analysis, using traditional and cutting-edge modeling tools to make business decisions before uncertainties are resolved. It is a first and second-year MBA course

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud of what I have done in this program for the past two years. Besides my community work and leadership roles in the business school, I’m most proud of my engagement with Nittany AI Advance. The team engages closely with industry partners to create meaningful student engagement opportunities focused on new artificial intelligence solutions, services, and outreach projects. I was introduced to Nittany AI through an MBA alumnus and worked there for 1.5 years as a project lead and scrum master. It gave me the opportunity to coach undergraduate students to formulate their idea(s) to solve real problem(s) using ML/AI tools, and then build a proof-of-concept (PoC) to demonstrate their solution(s). This experience gave me the opportunity to connect and utilize Penn State’s resources to work on vast topics, such as negative impact from social media, volunteer experience enhancement, and mental health disparities that have huge impacts on communities beyond business school and Penn State.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional achievement was the success I had during my internship at Chase. From my previous academic and work experience, I’ve built my reputation in a niche industry. Most people view me as an expert in the metallic nanomaterial field, despite my passion for exploring my potential in other businesses or industries. The business school and summer internship proved that I can familiarize myself with a completely new industry, smoothly transfer my skills, and build a successful product/process in a short period of time. I did an internship at JPMorgan Chase & Co. last summer in a credit risk forecast team. My team’s main responsibility was to formulate industry insight for the senior leadership at the firm by analyzing different economic indicators, industry trends, and firm-specific performance. We were focused on pandemic-related topics when I joined. I was able to learn and build a databased from scratch within a 10-week period of time, enabling the team to do interactive analysis in a more efficient and accurate way. Meanwhile, my skills and previous experience also helped me to bring unique perspectives to discussions with other teams at the firms.

Why did you choose this business school? There are many reasons that I chose the Smeal College of Business, but the most important one was its small program and large community. I learned about this unique program during the “We Are” weekend. Compared to other MBA programs, Smeal has a relatively small student body, but the alumni network is huge. On one hand, I feel that a small program will help me to learn from my peers, carry meaningful conversations, and build stronger relationships with my classmates and professors. I also found myself benefiting from Penn State’s large network. Talking with alumni who successfully developed their career paths is always inspiring. Penn Staters are willing to share their experience and connect me to someone in their network.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Dr. Stephen Humphrey, who taught us two classes in the 1st year of the MBA program, including Team Process & Performance as well as Negotiation. We all know that teamwork is important in any business practice. One of the big areas of  focus for the MBA program is teamwork. Prof. Humphrey’s class provided us with some fundamental frameworks and tools to analyze team dynamics, constructively address issues that arise in the 1st year MBA teams, and improve teamwork efficiency. Outside of the class, Prof. Humphrey was always willing to give advice on how to structure a difficult conversation to solve a team conflict. Additionally, I learned a lot about organizational behavior and teamwork from his research projects. Outside of the business school, Prof. Humphrey has been very supportive of my engagement with Nittany AI Advance and a great resource to help me connect to area experts and familiarize me with topics that were out of my experience.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I always enjoy learning about new cultures and making friends with diverse backgrounds. I found that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is to be part of their celebrations. Smeal has a tradition of celebrating holidays that are unique to certain cultures/countries, such as Lunar New Year and Diwali. These events provide great opportunities for people to share their culture and learn from others. I had the privilege to organize both holiday celebrations with my classmates. Although we couldn’t celebrate them in-person in 2020 and 2021, we were able to find creative ways to engage our classmates through virtual platforms.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back over my MBA experience, one thing that I’d do differently would be spending more time getting to know my classmates and faculty members at the beginning of the program. Our class had a unique MBA experience because all of us started every class virtually due to the global pandemic. Additionally, all the events were carried out virtually. Although we still got a chance to meet everyone and some had the chance to have more meaningful conversations, the interactions were less personal and natural. I would’ve wanted to spend more time with my classmates in-person to get to know them more on a personal level.

What surprised you the most about business school? Business school nowadays is not all about numbers and analysis. It also focuses on relationships and people. Although financial performance are still critical success metrics in the business world, future business leaders need to have a long-term vision to develop an ethical organizational culture in order to differentiate themselves from competitors. This will enable them to attract talent and a sustainable business model to maintain healthy relationships with stakeholders and build reputation among communities.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Before applying to Smeal, I made a trip to University Park during one of the “We Are” weekends. I learned about the program from talking to the administration team, the career couches, and the current students. This trip helped me learn more about the culture of the community and the expectations of a prospective student. My interactions with the administration team showed my curiosity and interest in this program. Additionally, the program highly valued my academic performance and working experience. I was able to see my role in and a clear career path from this MBA program.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Tunde Agboke. He is someone who inspired me and taught me to engage in building a diverse community and take a clear stance when I see people not being treated equitably. When something needs to be said, he is not afraid to speak up even when hearing the feedback could make someone feel uncomfortable. It is inspiring to see his drive to see people treated fairly.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? It was one of my former clients, Dr. Steven Kim, who has a very strong technical background and has held multiple senior leadership roles in several international corporations. It was a phone call at the beginning of 2020. I couldn’t recall the exact reason for the phone call, but I clearly remembered that Dr. Kim said “go to MBA school” after I expressed my desire to be more involved in business decisions and practices. He encouraged me to apply to business school after sharing success stories of his friends and colleges who had strong technical backgrounds and built very successful careers in their business fields/roles after business school. Throughout my MBA program, he continued to support me and give me advice in choosing a career after business school.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Achieve financial independence through investment
  2. Own a side business that helps young professionals find their career passion

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic put a pause on the routines that we were used to and made me rethink priorities in my career. It made me value work-life balance and a more flexible working environment. I’ve seen evidence that people tend to work more at home because there tends to be no clear boundary between work and life. Secondly, I view that leadership and company culture play a critical role in building a resilient team. Third, being able to adapt and react quickly to uncertainties are essential skills to a successful manager/leader.

What made Lu such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Leaders in business – whether that be as students or practitioners – need to be able to produce high quality deliverables. We expect our students to demonstrate excellence in critical thinking, functional knowledge, and problem-solving. We expect those who serve in leadership roles within business organizations to ensure goods and services reach customers and clients with efficiency. Lu’s classroom performance, coupled with professional experiences gained outside of class, undoubtedly set her apart as an exceptional student. However, in today’s increasingly complex world, business leaders need more than technical expertise; they need to be ethical leaders who can prepare and encourage others to engage in responsible business activity. It is in this area of excellence that Lu has emerged as an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022.

Ethical leadership relies on the development of multiple skill sets, ranging from analytical skills to persuasive communication skills, that further balances short-term and long-term implications, and considers how one’s personal successes are tied to the successes of others. Lu has made explicit development and contributions in each of these areas, which not only provide indication of her own future success, but of the current and future positive impact on her peers, the Smeal College of Business, and broader communities. Lu helped to establish an MBA Business Ethics Case Competition team, working with fellow residential and executive MBA students to establish a model of peer engagement that could be replicated in future years. Lu incorporated training related to ethics and social responsibility into the MBA Consulting Association, for which she served as a leader. Lu further collaborated with the Tarriff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility to create an opportunity for MBA students to develop a proposal for the strategic incorporation of co-curricular ethics related educational opportunities into the Smeal MBA experience.

Lastly, I’ll share that Lu demonstrated that ethical leadership does not begin sometime in the future. Instead, it  begins ‘now’, through her encouragement of peers to voice their values and find ways that the culture(s) within her MBA program could be improved, understanding that ethical organizational cultures must undergo continuous development. Lu demonstrates, in objective, measurable ways, that technical expertise can be coupled with ethical leadership in a way to establish a robust understanding of success. For these reasons, among many others, the 2022 graduating class of MBA students is better because of Lu’s presence.”

Michelle R. Darnell, Ph.D.
Director, Tarriff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility
Director of Honor and Integrity at Smeal
Associate Clinical Professor


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