2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Nicole Ventrone, Wharton School

Nicole Ventrone

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“I’m a big sister and a former teacher – knowing this, you’ll get me.”

Hometown: South Amboy, New Jersey

Fun fact about yourself: For years, I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was constantly reading books on sea life and spent hours in front of the television watching Animal Planet. Fast forward to high school, I was offered my first job at a NOAA laboratory. As a sixteen-year-old, there was not much I could contribute, so my main responsibility became extracting and collecting fish sperm. While I abandoned my dreams of being a marine biologist, it helped me recognize that no job is too small.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Health & Societies from the University of Pennsylvania (I’m a Double Dipper!); Master of Science in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University School of Education

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Leadership for Educational Equity Fellow at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? McKinsey & Company, New Jersey office

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Company, Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Honors:
    • Recipient of Tom and Margaret Lehr Fellowship based on professional, academic, and personal achievement (upon entering Wharton)
    • Recipient of the Morgenthau Foundation Fellowship granted to a second-year student planning to use their Wharton education to be ‘a force for social good’
  • Leadership:
    • Dean’s MBA Advisory Council (DMAC) – Community Project Lead
    • Lipman Family Prize Coordinator (Academic Year 2024) and Lipman Family Prize Fellow (Academic Year 2023)
    • Student Government – VP of Leadership (Cluster 3)
    • Wharton Social Impact Club – VP of Content
  • Activities:
    • Consulting Club, Hispanic American MBA Association, Wharton 1Gen (ally!), Education Club

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In the fall of 2023, I was fortunate enough to take Professor Damon Phillips’s course “Reforming Mass Incarceration and the Role of Business.” The course helps students think through the drivers of U.S. mass incarceration, as well as its economic, psychological, and extensive social tolls. Professor Phillips expertly pushes the class to adopt a solutions-oriented mindset and consider our role in remediating this system as we exit Wharton.

With this understanding in mind, for my final semester, I partnered with Professor Phillips and Professor Gus Cooney, a beloved Negotiations professor, to design a consensus-building curriculum to be piloted at a local correctional facility. Leveraging my teaching background, I worked with both professors to curate a syllabus and design teaching materials that would help democratize access to Wharton’s negotiations program. While I’m not naive to the fact that the negotiating needs of MBA students differ from those of individuals affected by the justice system, I do fundamentally believe in the right to self-advocacy. Negotiation is a learned and practiced skill and one that is arguably just as useful in our personal lives as it is in boardrooms. There’s simply no reason to restrict this knowledge within the walls of elite business schools.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my second year of teaching, a new student was added to my roster with a request that I call his mother before the first day of classes. When we spoke, she informed me that her fifth-grade son was already threatening to drop out of school. She explained that he had historically struggled in his classes. As he had gotten older, he had become increasingly reluctant to attend. Over the course of that year, this child and I had our fair share of ups-and-downs. He would leave class or not complete assignments, and I would become frustrated. It was far from perfect. However, in the end, he wrote me a letter saying, “School’s not so bad, actually it’s pretty fun,” which is always a reminder to me of the importance of relationships and the impact that one year can have on all of us.

Why did you choose this business school? I entered Wharton as a complete business novice. I had never taken an economics class or worked in the private sector. As a teacher, my KPIs were test scores and student engagement, not profit margins and client retention. I was acutely aware that, upon entering business school, my way of operating and thinking would be challenged – and I was excited for that push! For that reason, I placed a premium on the analytical rigor of Wharton’s MBA program. As a non-traditional candidate, I was eager to pursue a program that would fill my educational gaps and concretely develop my business intuition. At the same time, I knew my long-term goals would intersect with the public sector, and I wanted an MBA experience that would encourage students to contextualize business decisions broadly. Wharton, particularly under Dean James’s stewardship, has increased opportunities for students to reflect on the societal implications of the work that we do. This duality reflects who I aspire to be as a professional and as a leader.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Corinne Low teaches a fascinating course called “Economics of Diversity.” Based on the class content alone, Professor Low would stand out as one of my favorite Wharton professors. However, what I most appreciated was her commitment to translating our theoretical class conversations into tangible takeaways, particularly for our personal lives. I honestly never would have expected a Wharton professor to give me romantic relationship advice, particularly in the form of bulleted discussion questions. That said, it was incredibly appropriate (and welcomed!) to do so during a discussion on gender dynamics and home production. It was not enough for the class to be able to interpret the economic research, but Professor Low wanted us to recognize how these findings could impact our lives and our loved ones’ lives. Ultimately, I think it’s powerful, particularly at this stage of life, for a professor to leave students feeling both academically and personally enriched. This was Professor Low’s impact on me.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? I was lucky enough to attend one of Wharton’s Global Modular Courses. These GMCs allow students to study business practices by meeting with government and business leaders in other regions of the world. My GMC took us to São Paulo, Brazil, where Professor Eduardo Azevedo helped us unpack the business implications of operating under policy uncertainty. The class ended up being an excellent reminder to fully embrace coursework and professors as I entered my final semester. The selection of speakers skillfully connected the dots between their businesses and broader economic, social, and geopolitical factors. They were also quite candid about the challenges they have faced throughout their careers and the mistakes they wish they could have avoided. The class allowed me to contextualize what I have learned from my first 1.5 years at Wharton in a meaningful and surprising way. While I expected to enjoy the experience and walk away with a greater understanding of the Brazilian landscape, I did not expect to return to campus reinvigorated to learn. As a bonus, GMCs are open to all members of the Wharton community, including undergraduate and executive MBA students, which was a fun way to meet new people!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Wharton’s Follies production is just fun. It’s a great reminder of the bubble that we have found ourselves in, and it’s therapeutic to laugh at ourselves, at each other, and at our supremely talented classmates on stage. Further, Wharton is a large program – there aren’t many opportunities for a substantial portion of the student body to come together. It’s nice to have a tradition, like Follies, in which we can enjoy the show as a collective and talk about it for days to come.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Above all, I am grateful to have spent the last two years at Wharton. I have dear friends, a new role I am excited about, and I genuinely feel like I have grown and developed. Even with these amazing takeaways, I would be lying to say there haven’t been challenging times or unsavory moments. If I could do anything differently, I would have spent more time reflecting on my goals for Wharton and letting that inform my decision-making. At the end of the day, we are all running our own race. We have our own priorities, and we are starting this journey from different places. This inevitably impacts our experience – how we spend our time, which clubs we join, the classes we take, everything. Instead of getting caught up and excited by others’ choices, I wish I would have more frequently checked in on my goals and reflected on how my actions aligned with those priorities. At the end of the day, I think the most important thing is that we make this experience right for ourselves, and that will look different for every single Wharton student.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Wharton has the reputation of being a “pay-to-play” environment, and I like to be honest about this stereotype. We pay to join clubs, we pay to attend events, so yes, there are real costs associated with elements of Wharton’s social scene. Understanding that financial considerations rank highly when deciding to attend business school, I like to be upfront with prospective students. That said, my favorite memories and deepest relationships were constructed in much more organic, informal ways. Walking to and from class, studying together, or just sitting on someone’s couch were often the roots of my friendships here – and those things are free!

What did you love most about your business school’s town? While I am an admittedly biased two-time Penn graduate, I find Philly to be super overlooked. There are city amenities, like delicious restaurants, interesting museums, and a local airport (very helpful for MBA students!). However, there is also a small town feel, especially for the Wharton students who largely concentrate in one neighborhood. It was a rare day when I didn’t run into a classmate while walking around Rittenhouse, so in that way, it feels like undergrad! This hyperlocality set the stage for many impromptu conversations and unexpected memories with my classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This was the most challenging question for me to answer, as I am regularly in awe of my classmates. However, Jennifer Walker-Crawford has stood out to me as someone who consistently seeks to uplift others. She radiates warmth, authenticity, and understanding in a way that makes it hard not to love her. Walking around campus with Jenn always leads to making a new friend simply because of the volume of students who know her and will go out of their way to say “hello.”

Plus, Jenn is always thinking and talking about a new goal or self-improvement measure. As opposed to letting herself feel dejected or becoming uninspired, she pushes herself to seek new opportunities and challenges – while still ensuring that her loved ones feel her support and care. Her capacity to be both highly ambitious & productive as well as empathetic speaks to her strength and character.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would love to hire one of my former students! It would be an incredibly full-circle moment to see someone I knew as an elementary-aged child flourish in the workplace. I also want my career to reflect my commitment to addressing deep inequity within public school systems. I hope to be part of a workplace that allows students to achieve their full potential.

What made Nicole such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“I have had the privilege of getting to know Nicole very well during her 2 years at Wharton. In her first year, she was selected to be one of 16 Lipman Family Prize Fellows within MLP, from across dozens of candidates across all 12 Penn graduate and professional schools. Now in her second year, she is serving as one of two Fellowship Coordinators in a leadership and group facilitation role. Somehow, she manages to take on this time-intensive role with her full head and heart while also serving as a project lead within the Dean’s MBA Advisory Council, VP of Leadership for Cluster 3 in student government, VP of Content for the Wharton Social Impact Club, and active member of many other Wharton clubs including the Hispanic American MBA Association and Wharton 1Gen.

Nicole leads authentically from her positive core, rooted in her values, strengths, and personal development goals. As a former teacher, one of her top strengths is as a developer. She truly maximizes this strength in all her interactions with peers, staff, and the fellows she leads as she invests deeply into relationships, recognizes, and cultivates potential, and proactively pursues opportunities to be aware of people’s moods, help them, and demonstrate generosity. She brings her love of learning into her leadership as well, not only leading by example with humility and a growth mindset but also strategically considering different perspectives to bring structure and solutions to enable more learning for others. Nicole elevates any team she is a part of both within and outside the classroom, and has been an invaluable addition to the Wharton Class of 2024 and our broader Penn alumni community.”

Euria Min
Director, Lipman Family Prize


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