Bigger is better.
When you’re young, you dream of adventures you’ll take when you’re big. In sports, you pump iron so you’re big enough to absorb punishment. Entrepreneurs scale to make themselves big enough to cash out someday. For aspiring influencers, big followings translate to authority and impact.
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is the epitome of big in graduate business education. Some 877 students in the Class of 2024 – That’s big. Nearly 100,000 Wharton alums across the programs? That’s even bigger. The alumni roll features big names like Sundar Pinchai, Ron Perelman, Alex Gorsky, and Laxman Narasimhan (Starbucks’ new CEO). And their faculty lineup is equally big time: Adam Grant, Katy Milkman, Jeremy Siegel and Stewart Friedman. The top-ranked MBA program in both The Financial Times and U.S. News & World Report, the Wharton School is the big leagues, where top students step onto the big stage to wrestle with the big ideas. While the stakes may be big, so too are the resources and support that Wharton provides.
Here’s one more: you’ll find Wharton based in America’s 6th-biggest city – sandwiched between its commercial and political centers– a 90-minute train to New York City and 2 hours to Washington, DC.
“MOST DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT”
With Wharton grads living in 153 countries, the school’s reach is as wide as it is deep. At ground level, Wharton acts more as a big tent, spacious enough to attract a range of personalities, industries, beliefs, and locales. That made a Wharton a big draw for Taylor Clarke, a senior consultant who competes in powerlifting competitions with the American Powerlifting Federation. He was stunned by the “breadth of accomplishments and knowledge” among his first-year classmates. However, any sense of intimidation quickly dissipated after watching the Pre-Term Talent Show, where the Class of 2024 dropped their guard to perform skits and songs for each other.
“I heard a current student say that Wharton is the place where you’ll be surrounded by the most diversity of thought that you’ll ever be around,” Clarke adds. “I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who think differently than I do, and who come from backgrounds that are different than my own, so that I can continue to challenge my worldview.”
Lauren Kim comes to the Wharton School after being an LPGA professional golfer. For her, the diversity of the program has forced to think big and act with purpose. “I have not met a more diverse group of people in my life,” Kim notes. “Everyone seems to have a unique story to tell. For many people, the question, “Where are you from?” is difficult to answer because they’ve lived in so many countries all over the world. Being around such a diverse group of people has made me more mindful about how I fit into and move about the world.”
“CALL ME WHEN YOU NEED A MOUNTAIN MOVED”
More electives, clubs, institutes, and excursions. At Wharton, it isn’t just being big and being everywhere. It also matters that you’re the first – and you’re the best. That’s why the school hasn’t been shy about investing in the next big thing: analytics, fintech, and entrepreneurship. Launched in 1881 – and opening an MBA program since 1921 – Wharton was the first to build an executive education apparatus, not to mention research and entrepreneurship centers. They were the first school to create a healthcare specialization, not to mention their groundbreaking MBA-MA in International Management through the Lauder Center. Their MOOCs – taught by top faculty using MBA-level content and robust tools – set the bar for online adult education…doling out over 200,000 certificates in the past decade. On top of that, Wharton came up with the first radio station devoted to business on XM — and their Penn Wharton Budget Model has become a go-to, non-partisan source for breaking down the impact of government policy and legislation.
Yes, Wharton is in it to win it. And the school’s acceptance rate is the only aspect of the program that’s small. Traditionally, the Wharton MBA accepts just 2 of every 10 applicants. Daunting as that is, once you’ve made it, you’re part of something so much bigger. Just ask Kendall Rankin, a senior manager at a non-profit. Before orientation, she participated in an event hosted by the AAMBAA (African American MBA Association). On one hand, Rankin was stunned by the number of second year AAMBAA members who returned to campus to host panels and meet with first-years. However, the alumni left the biggest impression with their commitment to make first-year students’ paths easier.
“AAMBAA 101 commenced with the Black@Wharton Convocation,” Rankin adds. “Dr. Pamela Jolly, WG’00, was our keynote speaker and the last thing she told us was “Call me when you need a mountain moved, and I can do that.” That statement was so powerful to me because it speaks to the accessibility of Wharton alumni, who are all influential and impactful in their own right. It made me feel like I’m part of a network that will always go the extra mile for each other. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have this community, 100,000+ strong, in my corner.”
A PARIS PASTRY CHEF AND A LPGA GOLFER
It’s a big community, no doubt. That said, everyone plays a part – and no one falls through the cracks. That has been the experience so far for Misha Faraz, who enjoys the added benefit of her twin sister, Maha, joining her in the Class of 2024.
“With a class of nearly 900 students, it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed,” Misha Faraz admits. “Wharton does an incredible job of making sure no one feels alone. Whether this happens by breaking down the class into clusters (~200 person group), cohorts (~70 person group) and learning teams (~6 person group) or by assigning us second year mentors in the form of leadership fellows and student life fellows to help us navigate our first year, every MBA student has a built in support system at Wharton. There are also ample resources to help students who may be struggling.”
Struggles? Every first-year falls short in one way or another. However, Wharton seeks students who’ve persevered – and gained the confidence to change in the process. Exhibit A: Steffi Katz. A Psychology major at Yale, she moved into investment banking at Barclays after graduation. From there, she transitioned into a very different career: she earned a diploma in French Cuisine and Patisserie and became a Paris pastry chef. At Stanford, Lauren Kim was named the PAC-10 Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2016 before turning pro as a golfer. Competing in 48 LPGA events, Kim made the cut 22 times, once finishing 12th in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. While golf may seem like an individual sports, Kim says one of her biggest achievements was winning an NCAA Women’s National Team Championship in 2015. Looking back, she is also proud that she was able to fulfill a life-long goal.
“I’m proudest that I was able to win professionally and compete for six years with the best golfers in the world on the LPGA,” she tells P&Q. “Not many people have the opportunity to chase a childhood dream, and mine came true for the last six years (with much hard work, of course).”
MAKING THEIR MARK IN FINANCE
Shriya Kumar personifies “hard work.” At JP Morgan, she has worked in 4 countries and 3 asset classes in the firm’s corporate and investment banking divisions. While she was the “most junior and the only woman on my team,” Kumar was tapped to oversee a key initiative at JP Morgan.
“I was asked to co-lead the expansion of Indian Equities Business in South & Southeast Asia, managing multi-billion INR equity portfolios for retail and institutional funds,” Kumar writes. “I was responsible for creating AI-based stock evaluation metrics to incorporate sustainability metrics into investment theses. This innovation helped our desk outperform benchmark by 28% and earning a 5-star rating on ESG.”
In each of these countries, Kumar adds, she has run half marathons. However, these weren’t the only tests of endurance that Kumar pursued before business school. “In collaborative efforts with Rotibank, the food rescue organization I co-founded, I hold a Guinness book of world record for ‘Most Diabetic eye screening in 8 hours’, she explains. “We served 20,000 diabetic friendly meals to patients to raise awareness.”
Kumar isn’t the only woman in the Class of 2024 to make an impact. At Citi, Mercedes Beras-Goico served as a vice presidents for investments in Latin America. Here, she developed a Financial Learning Day for a client on areas ranging from insurance to strategic investments. The program became so successful in client retention and satisfaction, Beras-Goico says, that it was extended across her division.
“This led to my promotion to VP during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was a testament to my continued effort under pressure during a constantly changing remote environment.”
MAKING THEIR MISSIONS A REALITY
Aside from finance, the Class of 2024 also thrived in non-profit initiatives. At the Hisaar Foundation, Maha Faraz organized its 2019 International Water Conference, which is designed to combat water scarcity. Her sister, Misha, designed a mental health plan for the Gulf States over a six-month engagement at Strategy&, which she believes will “change the landscape for how mental health is accessed, practiced, and perceived for years to come in the region.” By the same token, Taylor Clarke was responsible for doling out COVID relief funds across 80 towns, counties, and municipalities in South Carolina. At All Raise, a non-profit devoted to venture capital and startups, Kendall Rankin launched a chapter in Chicago – and Washington, DC soon thereafter.
“This gave me the opportunity accelerate All Raise’s impact by convening some of the most incredible women and non-binary investors, founders, and operators across both cities to launch region-specific initiatives focused on gender equity in tech. My experience at All Raise taught me that it’s possible to leverage my strengths and passions to make a difference in the lives of communities that are important to me.”
For Kerone Wint, a medical officer in plastic and reconstructive surgery, that community is Jamaica – and the issue is surgical access. “Because contributing to the progress toward health equity is important to me, a standout accomplishment was that I was able to spearhead a project at a leading public hospital in Jamaica to improve burn wound care for patients with significant burn wounds in a low resource setting and in a decentralized, open surgical ward distribution.”
Next Page: A Q&A with Blair Mannix (Director of MBA Admission)
Page 3: Profiles of 11 Wharton First-Year MBA Candidates.
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