Wharton Stories

How Wharton Clusters Build Connections From Pre-Term and On

The Cluster experience begins during Pre-Term, continues with Cluster suppers and events, and caps the first year with the Cluster Cup. Spanning the entire year, it incorporates advising, academic achievement, and social responsibility.

First-year Wharton MBAs convened in the Annenberg Center August 11 at 9 a.m., ready to compete in a Cluster dance-off. A week before, most of them had been strangers – young professionals from around the world newly relocated to Philadelphia. Now they were dance teams, suited up in bright T-shirts, tutus, face paint, and even lion, tiger, bee, and dragon onesies, busting moves to hits from Drake, Cardi B., and Carly Rae Jepsen.

MBA Cluster Dance off

The packed house, a churning sea of orange, red, yellow, and green, went wild — especially Cluster 1 who took first place.

The Cluster dance-off is just one event kicking off Pre-Term, which normally include Cluster Olympics, which were rained out this year. Cluster bonds continue to deepen throughout the two-year Wharton MBA journey and beyond.

MBA Cluster Dance off

The History of Clusters

Clusters were launched in 2012 as part of the MBA curriculum redesign, uniting three cohorts into four clusters of about 210 students. The Clusters are diverse by design to cultivate a broader sense of belonging and facilitate more friendships and acquaintances.

It’s worked – the Clusters have strong bonds, traditions, and mascots (hence the lions, tigers, bees, and dragons). But it’s not just social organization– Clusters are made up of the Cohorts and learning teams that help define the first-year academic experience. They’re guided by a cross-functional Advising Support Network, informally known as the students’ “board of directors,” a team of dedicated staff members from Academic Advising, MBA Career Management, the McNulty Leadership Program, and MBA Student Life.

MBA cluster olympics shot on 20180810 Teams include lions, tigers, bees, dragons. This year the field events were rained out.


Something for Everyone

“Community building is essential to any experience,” said Eddie Banks-Crosson, Director of MBA Student Life. “As a child, my dad would always remind me, ‘We are not built to do it alone. Sometimes are backs are stronger when we lean up against the wall.’ Through the Cluster system students form relationships where they can lean on one another to get through their two years with a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and community.”

The goal of the entire cluster system is to help make a class of 850-plus feel more manageable, friendly, and close-knit. It’s also a way to change preconceived notions about what the Wharton experience will be.

MBA Cluster Dance off

The Cluster experience begins during Pre-Term, continues with Cluster suppers and events, and culminates in the Cluster Cup, which spans the entire year and incorporates academic achievement and social responsibility. Each Cluster wins points for every student on the Director’s List (top 10 percent of the class) and every victory at Quizzo or football.

“Our Cluster is our Wharton family,” said Student Life Associate Director Larry Rappoport, who’s proud to lead the Cluster 3 Bees. “With each class, I look forward to seeing the new touches they will add to our Cluster community and culture in their two years here.”

MBA Cluster Dance off

Posted: August 15, 2018

Wharton Stories

How Wharton’s EMBA Program Adds Value for First Generation Students

Student Robert Chen, WG’19, explains how a Wharton MBA can help “level the playing field” for first-generation college graduates.

Robert Chen, WG’19, was the first generation in his family to finish college. His parents grew up in Hong Kong, leaving China where the Cultural Revolution prevented them from pursuing higher education. When Robert was 5, his family emigrated to New York, and he later attended Cornell University. He is currently a student in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives.

Robert says that being a first-generation college graduate didn’t hold him back in his career, but it did reinforce “the importance of education for leading an effective life.”

He explained, “Being the first in my family to finish college and go on to graduate school has revealed to me just how much you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s always a challenge when you don’t have others to guide you through the process. Growing up, I guessed my way through important decisions like applying for financial aid and choosing majors because my parents hadn’t gone through that themselves. If you don’t know how the world works, it can impact the choices you make because you don’t know what the best choices are,” he said.

Another hurdle for first generation students, he noted, is that “if your family hasn’t gone through higher education, it’s easier to fall into the trap of not valuing a higher education, which may prevent you from reaching your full potential. My parents valued education and wanted me to do well in school, but since they didn’t have that experience, they didn’t really understand the impact it could make.”

“I would have certainly taken on different roles earlier in my career if I had known then what I know now. At the same time, it’s never too late to keep learning. I believe we can’t control or change our starting point and past decisions, but we can through education impact where we finish.”

Robert noted that Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives can “help level the playing field” in several ways:

Knowledge and Tools

“This program not only provides the knowledge and skills you need for a successful business career, but it also gives you an understanding of how to put those things to their best use to help you unlock your potential going forward. In my Executive Leadership program taught by Prof. Stew Friedman, I had the opportunity to clarify my values and vision and learned how to lead all aspects of my life.”

Hands-On Learning

“Since you are working full-time during this program, you can constantly test what you learn in the classroom against your reality and bring that feedback into the classroom. Your classmates are doing the same thing. All of this creates a rich learning environment to understand how the business world works in many different contexts and helps to keep the education practical.”


“In addition to the classroom, Wharton EMBA students have access to executive coaching and career management resources to guide you to be a better leader. The program is designed to give you the knowledge and tools needed to manage your career for the rest of your life.”

Robert added that it’s important to embrace your past. “I may have had a ‘different start’ because of past choices and my family situation, but those experiences also helped me develop learning agility and a work ethic that has helped me succeed in my career and enroll into this program.”

“My advice for new students is that once you are here, reflect on where you came from and where you want to go and take advantage of all the knowledge, tools, and resources offered to get the most out of opportunities for personal and professional growth,” he said.

— Meghan Laska

Posted: August 14, 2018

Wharton Stories

Careers in Social Impact and Business: Insights from MBA Career Management

Jennifer Savoie, Senior Associate Director in Wharton MBA Career Management, gives advice and insights into how jobseekers can build meaningful, dynamic social impact careers.

“Can I really have a career in social impact? How?”

Jennifer Savoie, Senior Associate Director in MBA Career Management, is hearing this question more and more from students seeking a career where they can make a difference. We asked her about the current landscape of social impact and business careers, and what advice she gives students who are eager to work in this realm. 

What kind of careers are there in business and social impact?

Students have pursued careers across a wide spectrum of social impact opportunities, including:

  • Social Finance: Microfinance institutions, community development financial institutions, multilateral development banks, or impact investing funds. Often the opportunities in this space require previous traditional finance experience like investment banking, but not all.
  • Government/Public Sector: National, state, or local agencies/departments that handle issues concerning public welfare.
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Community development, child development, education, environment, health care, hunger alleviation, international aid, or development, philanthropy, and poverty reduction.
  • Social Enterprises: Ventures that advance their social missions often through entrepreneurial, earned income strategies. These are businesses and organizations that are formed to address a social need or improve human or environmental conditions and their business growth plans are focused on their capacity to realize their social and environmental goals.
  • Corporations: Social impact and sustainability are playing a larger role in corporate strategy. Opportunities go far beyond traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) to include creating sustainable and just supply chains, developing products that serve underserved communities, and improving production processes to minimize environmental harm.

What are some organizations where students worked after graduating from Wharton?

Wharton students have landed social impact careers in a variety of sectors. Some examples of organizations include:

  • African Leadership Network
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Bridgespan
  • Dalberg
  • Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
  • Education Pioneers
  • Global Innovation Fund
  • International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  • Low Income Investment Fund
  • M-KOPA Solar
  • Reach Capital
  • Real Food Works
  • RSF Social Finance
  • org
  • World Economic Forum

How have you seen careers in this realm evolve?

Over the years, we’ve seen a big expansion in the variety and types of organizations that our students are interested in pursuing. Their willingness to find something unique in order to take on a social impact issue has grown. As a result, we see greater diversity in where our students find opportunities within social impact.  In the past few years, we have seen students find their way into development consulting, ed-tech startups, foundations, impact investing, nonprofit consulting, renewable energy, water preservation, and more.

What advice do you have for students seeking social impact careers?

Be proactive. Know your passion. Use all resources.

Employers in the social impact arena often lack the resources and time to visit our campus, so this job search requires student candidates to be self-motivated and proactive in their search. We have alumni across the social impact spectrum, so when students make the effort to reach out for networking conversations, they open themselves to many possibilities.  It can be imperative to connect with alumni to learn about companies, career paths, opportunities, and to become well-versed in the language of this sector. When you network with alumni, remember the rules of good networking: be inquisitive (ask smart questions), respectful (of their time) and grateful (send thank you emails!)

It’s also important that students figure out which sub-sector focus is their passion. Being broadly interested in social impact may hamper a student’s candidacy; however, when a student can clearly articulate their interest and fit for a specific area, they have a stronger chance of landing a role in that sector.  And find campus activities (such as those offered by Wharton Social Impact Initiative) that will help develop experience that is transferable or relevant to that sector.

Finally, students should utilize campus job boards, but also explore resources outside of our recruiting systems: there are many social impact websites and job boards that help students uncover opportunities, such as: www.bwork.com (the B Corp Job Board), the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), Commongood Careers, DevEx, Idealist, JustMeans, and more.

Posted: August 9, 2018

Wharton Stories

What Makes Each Wharton Cluster Unique

Each Cluster has built a lasting legacy in five short years — complete with mottos, cheers, costumes, and signature events they’ve passed on from class to class.

With dozens of emails about logistics and scheduling, the inboxes of incoming Wharton First Years fill up fast in the weeks leading up to the start of their MBA career.

But the one they receive from Student Life a couple weeks before Pre-Term is a bit more colorful than the rest — welcoming them to a Cluster of Lions, Dragons, Bees, or Tigers.

That email is also the start of a community-building process in which they’ll cultivate a special sense of camaraderie, loyalty, and pride with about 210 of their classmates.

“Our Cluster is our Wharton family,” said Student Life Associate Director Larry Rappoport, who’s proud to lead the Cluster 3 Bees. “With each class, I look forward to seeing the new touches they will add to our Cluster community and culture in their two years here.”

Building the Cluster Identities

Building the Cluster identities has been student-driven from the start. After the Cluster system launched as part of the MBA curriculum redesign in 2012, students voted on the mascots, the colors, and the logos to make each Cluster their own.

Aside from a few tweaks to the flags and logos and a couple mascot changes (the Honey Badgers became the Dragons and the Lions replaced the Roosters), each Cluster has built a lasting legacy in five short years — complete with mottos, cheers, costumes, and signature events they’ve passed on from class to class.

“We wanted to establish long-standing traditions for people to connect with even years after they graduate,” Larry explained.

Thanks to robust Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and catchy hashtags for each Cluster, new MBAs quickly get connected and alums can keep their Cluster memories alive long after they’ve retired their wings, tails, and striped socks.

Colleen Donnelly


Wharton Stories

How a Wharton MBA Cluster Is Built

The Cluster and Cohort system was designed with the hope that it takes a group of 864 and allows it to feel like a smaller community.

Each Wharton MBA class is divided into four Clusters, each with its own support system, culture, community, and mascot.

So how does Wharton decide who’s a Lion, Dragon, Tiger or Bee?

Cluster Image

Hint: A sorting hat was not involved.

At Wharton, magic isn’t part of the equation — naturally, the decision is data-based.

The goal is to make each Cluster as diverse as the class itself, connecting students with varied skill sets, leadership styles, and personal and professional backgrounds.

“If there were no system in place to create a community in smaller subsets, you could easily feel lost,” said Jess Segal, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the McNulty Leadership Program at Wharton. “The Cluster and Cohort system was designed with the hope that it takes a group of more than 860 and allows it to feel like a smaller community.”

Built from the Ground Up

Historically, Wharton used a top-down approach, starting with the Clusters, then building the Cohorts, and finally Learning Teams:

1 MBA Class of 864 students
4 Clusters of 216
12 Cohorts of 72
144 Learning Teams of 5 to 6

Now they use a slightly different approach. After an initial high-level sort to ensure the overall Clusters are diverse, they build from the ground up — starting with the individual Learning Teams.

“We know students bring a wide array of experiences, talent, and knowledge to Wharton,” said Jérémie Allard, Assistant Director of Academic Operations – Data. “When you bring together people from various backgrounds and interests and countries, you’re going to get rich experiences and connections you might not otherwise get.”

During an intensive three-day process, Jérémie combs through self-reported data for each student provided by Admissions: gender and ethnicity (if reported), country of citizenship, global region, industry, and proposed major. “I get to see the personal side of data — where people come from, where they’ve gone in their careers, where they hope to go next,” he said.

After he completes the queries and runs the data, Jérémie works to maximize the diversity on each Learning Team. This gives students the opportunity to broaden their perspective and deepen their experience on an intimate team of five to six classmates they’ll get to know and work with closely over their first year.

“Wharton MBA students don’t just learn from the professors, they learn from each other,” Jérémie said. “When I walk by the group study rooms in Huntsman Hall, I’m looking at these teams that I created and I get to see them in action. It’s really exciting and rewarding to be part of that process.”

— Colleen Donnelly


Wharton Stories

Social Impact Fellows Examine the Ins and Outs of Impact Investing

Last semester, four undergraduate Wharton Social Impact Initiative Fellows dove into WIRED, a first-of-its-kind impact investing database.
This spring, Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII) undergraduate Fellows Tina Gao, W’18, Wendy Jiang, W’19, Robert Harrison, W’18, and Rachel Leong, W’20, were analysts for the Wharton Impact Research & Evaluation Database (WIRED). The WIRED database is a first-of-its-kind data asset containing descriptive, financial, and/or legal information from over 100 impact investing private equity funds and over 600 transactions. It is part of ongoing research at WSII, led by Wharton professors Dr. David Musto and Dr. Christopher Geczy in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Jeffers of University of Chicago and Professor Anne Tucker of Georgia State University.
The fellows reflected on takeaways from their research, and what about impact investing interests them the most, now and in the future.

How would you define ‘impact investing’ to someone who has never heard the term?

Tina: I have a loose definition of impact investing. I think of any firm that considers its investments with a broader social criteria than just financial returns as an impact investor. For example, it can be as simple as refusing to invest in tobacco companies or as significant as investing in a new hospital and healthcare system in a developing country.

Wendy: Impact investing means investing with the goal of generating social impact alongside financial returns. It’s a process where investors actively screen for impactful investment opportunities.

Robert: It’s the practice of seeking both financial and social returns by providing capital to companies. Impact investors typically seek social returns in the categories of environmental, health, and economic inequality. Impact investors typically measure a “double bottom line” of their investments, meaning both the financial and social returns are calculated and maximized.

Rachel: Impact investing is a process in which you make money and help society at the same time.

What did you enjoy most about the team of students you worked with on this project?

Tina: I loved getting to know more people in the social impact community! It’s really inspiring to be surrounded by people who care passionately about similar issues and I learn so much from my team. My only regret is that I’m a senior and won’t get to stay at Wharton for that much longer!

Wendy: I believe that we are all very passionate about social impact and we are always engaging in meaningful discussions on topics within the impact investing space. I have really enjoyed working together with this group of motivated individuals!

Robert: I enjoyed meeting people who are passionate about the same area of finance that I am. As I got to know them, I learned about their career aspirations and what they hoped to get from their Wharton education. This has been a valuable and introspective experience, and has made the work much more enjoyable.

Rachel: Our diverse yet similar interests. Each of us is pursuing very different career paths — banking, tech, non-profit — but we all want to be involved in social impact, and it’s interesting to see how we are finding that synergy between our impact goals and careers.

What skills did you learn or strengthen working on this project?

Tina: We analyzed a lot of portfolio companies’ cash flows, so I’ve definitely become better at understanding financial statements and legal documents. 

Wendy: I developed my ability to deal with ambiguity. When working on the financial information, I noticed that different funds record their investments differently, so we sometimes had to conduct more research in order to get a clearer picture of the cash flows.

Robert: I gained a lot of hard, analytical skills by working on the private equity database. I now feel much more comfortable navigating and cleaning up large amounts of data. I also learned a great deal about the wide potential for social impact across industries. From mattress recycling firms to dementia care services, there really is no limit to the ways in which businesses can contribute positively to society.

Rachel: I learnt how to excel at Excel. Most of our analyses are done on Excel, so I had the opportunity to strengthen my skills in that area. I even wrote VBA code to simplify our data cleaning process, which was fun because I got to put my knowledge from OIDD 105 to good use!

What skills and knowledge did you get to bring to this project from your classes or other previous experiences?

Tina: I’m concentrating in Finance and Social Impact, so having that background was very helpful. I’ve also taken Professor Geczy’s impact investing class, which gave me a lot of contextual knowledge on the status of the industry, the standards of measurement, and the potential challenges. I think working in investment banking last summer also helped me grasp the financial aspect of the project more quickly.

Wendy: I actually worked on the impact investing project in the 2016-2017 academic year, so I’ve been very excited to come back and continue to contribute to the project. This semester involved more in-depth research into the funds and their portfolio companies, so I was able to incorporate my prior knowledge about the funds into the work for this semester.

Robert: Having worked as a summer analyst at a boutique investment bank that focuses on M&A for tech companies in Silicon Valley, I was very comfortable with reading through the financial and legal documents of the venture-capital social impact funds. Experience with different asset classes such as preferred equity and convertible notes came in handy when investments in portfolio companies got particularly inventive and convoluted.

Rachel: I brought my analytical skills to the table. The fellows had to create an overlay geographic heat map of the Opportunity Zones and the portfolio company locations, but we only had the unstructured data. I determined what data was relevant and structured it in a way that allowed me to easily create the map (which I hope you will see in another blog post) in Tableau.

In your opinion, which industries hold the most promise for creating social or environmental impact?

Tina: I believe the food industry has the greatest potential because it has such an outsized impact on the environment. A significant portion of climate change attributed to greenhouse gases is intimately connected to the meat and dairy industries. I try to live a vegan lifestyle, so I’m really excited by innovations in the transition away from meat-based products, whether it’s an entire social movement (Green Mondays) or a company experimenting with plant-based alternatives (Beyond Meat).

Wendy: From my own experience working on analyzing the funds, there have been many investments in industries such as agriculture, education, and microfinance. Many of these portfolio companies are also in developing countries. I believe those industries and geographies would hold the most promise because they have the potential of empowering the communities there. For example, investing in education technology enables students in underserved communities to get better access to education; providing loans to farmers enable them to establish their own small businesses.

Robert: I don’t believe that any one particular industry holds special promise for impact. The problems that plague our society are incredibly complex and multifaceted, so our solutions must be equally multifarious. In fact, businesses that cross industry boundaries with reckless abandon are those most prone to generate impacts because they are not limited to superficial commercial activities.

Rachel: I think the retail industry has the most promise. All of us are consumers, and this provides retailers with the constant flow of resources to create social or environmental impact. For instance, Adidas partnered with Parley to make products out of ocean plastic. The demand, and subsequently revenue from these products will allow them to continue making an environmental impact on a larger scale.

Did you encounter any investment models that were particularly interesting?

Tina: I’m always intrigued by firms that invest based on negative screens, since these are relatively easy to apply and may not require too much additional effort from the investing firm. I wonder how much impact this actually creates and if the barrier to entry can become low enough that this type of impact investing becomes far more mainstream.

Wendy: I think one interesting investment model is through issuing impact-focused financial securities. For example, the first social stock exchange was founded by Durreen Shahnaz in 2009 in Singapore, called Impact Investment Exchange. The exchange launched products such as Women’s Livelihood Bond. In addition, many organizations have also issued green bonds which are used to finance projects that generate social impact.

Robert: Most investment strategies followed typical venture-capital models. Funds used instruments such as convertible notes and preferred stocks to place bets on risky projects, and generously used follow-on investments to double down on successful projects.

Rachel: I didn’t encounter an interesting investment model per se, but I did encounter an interesting company — one that sells cricket chips! It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make one pound of beef, but only one gallon of water to make one pound of cricket meat. So, this company is helping the environment (and trying to inform people of the benefits of bugs) by selling food products made of crickets.

Do you believe impact investing will continue to grow in popularity? What do you think is necessary to get it to scale?

Tina: I’m certain impact investing will mature and become even more popular. Young people are demanding responsible investing practices, and focus shifts in huge companies like BlackRock signal a promising trajectory. I believe that as long as there is demand for sustainable and social investments, the industry will respond. Impact investing is currently such a tiny slice of the capital pie, but if large institutional investors are willing to try it, I believe it can scale up very rapidly.

Wendy: Definitely! There have been more discussions on impact investing both in the finance industry as well as among my peers. This shows that people are in general more aware of social impact. There has been research shown that millennials tend to care more about social issues compared to previous generations. I believe that the growing awareness of impact will be an effective driver of the growth in impact investing. However, we would still need to work hard to get it to scale. According to GIIN, while both large and small private equity funds have demonstrated interest in the space, the goal of impact investing should be to transform the capital markets into a more socially and environmentally responsible platform. Simply integrating social impact into the traditional capital markets is not enough to realize this goal.

Robert: Currently there are a few obstacles to mainstream acceptance, such as a lack of congruity in impact measurement standards and a wide distribution of returns across impact funds. As investment teams move towards ratings such as GIIRS and IRIS, limited partners will be more comfortable shopping around for investment products. Additionally, as funds continue to prove that social impacts can be generated without sacrificing financial performance, institutional investors will not have to worry about violating their fiduciary duties.

Rachel: More and more people want to make a social or environmental difference. However, investors are risk averse, and unless there is strong enough empirical evidence that they will not be trading off too much financial returns for impact returns, it will be a challenge for impact investing to scale.

What would you advise a student who was considering working with WSII as a Fellow?

Tina: Definitely apply! You never know what opportunities are available until you reach out, and even if you don’t end up becoming a Fellow, thinking about what impact means to you and reasons why you’re interested is still a very rewarding exercise. It probably also doesn’t hurt to have a diversity of experiences related to impact, social work, or finance.

Wendy: It would be a great idea to do some research to get to know the current landscape of the industry and understand what impact investing truly entails.

Robert: I would recommend that the student carefully consider the full list of WSII Fellowships and pursue the one that ignites the most interest and passion. The Fellowships are quite different, and the work will be much easier and rewarding if the student is truly engaged and invested in the area.

Rachel: Don’t be afraid to give it a shot! Coming in last semester, I barely had any idea what social impact investing was, but I applied anyway, and it’s been a great experience thus far.

Posted: August 8, 2018

Wharton Stories

How This Alumna Is Driving $1 Billion to Women of Color Tech Entrepreneurs

Alumna social entrepreneur Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne is changing the market for women entrepreneurs of color.

“You know, it all started when I had cancer in my eye.”

A room full of MBA students lean closer to hear what Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne, W’91, will say next. It’s now April 2018, years after her diagnosis, and she reveals the vow she made during her battle with cancer, “I was thinking, if I live, then I want to do something with my life that has purpose…so I founded iNTENT Manifesto with a mission to drive $1 billion to women of color tech entrepreneurs.” Every student in the room, all members of the Wharton Social Impact Club, nod in admiration and solidarity.

But after decades of working in finance and technology, and surviving cancer, where did that grit—to want to change how and where investors are deploying capital—come from? Gayle attributes it to her mother, whom she describes as one of the very few women of color working in technology in the early days of Silicon Valley, similar to the women depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Gayle realized that today, only a tiny percentage of venture capital dollars are going to startups founded by women or women of color. Additionally, there are many more investable opportunities (especially ventures founded by women of color) that aren’t receiving funding at all. Enter iNTENT Manifesto, a financial education platform designed to impact women of color founders and entrepreneurs in the tech space.

Invited by Wharton Social Impact Initiative, Gayle visited campus as a Nazarian Social Innovator in Residence. She met with students across Wharton and Penn, talking about why she will commit the rest of her career to changing the landscape of the venture capital market. The Nazarian program brings innovative business leaders like Gayle to campus to demonstrate how they’re having real-world impact.

Fully recovered from cancer, but still healing from a broken ankle that had her on crutches, Gayle’s energy nonetheless matched students’ energy as they peppered her with questions about their career plans, pitches, ventures, and goals.

Reflecting on her conversation with Gayle, Sophomore Stephanie Wu, W’20 commented, “Gayle gave me some amazing career advice on how to navigate and pursue things despite uncertainty. One of the most salient tips was to focus on developing the building blocks: 1) financial or business acumen, 2) relationship management, and 3) how to attract people with your mission/vision.”

Over two days, Gayle met with over fifty other students. “First, make sure you sign the Manifesto!” proclaimed Gayle to every student. She was referring to the iNTENT Manifesto pledge on her website that calls for people to “intend to change the world,” “influence and invest with intentionality,” “seek diversity,” and more. “Hundreds of women are launching and leading firms every day,” so Gayle stressed the importance for investors to advocate for diversity within their portfolios. She remained firm in her belief that a woman of color will create the next innovative technology solution.

These points resonated with the members of the Black Wharton Undergraduate Association (BWUA) who met with Gayle to discuss their career aspirations and questions. She empathized when some said they find themselves to be the only person of color on their team, but she also insisted that they recognize themselves as the changemakers of future. “You could be the person one day deciding the deals,” Gayle said, and it is her hope that Wharton and Penn students will lead the way in transforming the market for women entrepreneurs of color.

— Yuri Seung


Wharton Stories

A Social Entrepreneur’s Inside Look at the Contraceptive Technology Conference

After founding her own birth control startup, Natasha Doherty, W’18, joined medical professionals and top academics for a review of leading research in women’s sexual and reproductive health.
As an undergraduate, Natasha Doherty, W’18, was an active member of the social impact community at Wharton. Her involvement in the Turner Social Impact Society (a program of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative) eventually led to the founding of her own company, Maya, which is making the process of getting effective and long-acting birth control easier for women. This March, the Turner Social Impact Society funded her trip to the Contraceptive Technology Conference in San Francisco.
“Now looking back at my time at Penn, I can truly appreciate how lucky I was to be supported by the fantastic team at WSII,” Natasha said. “The experience and the connections I made at that conference have since proved to be fundamental to the success of my company and helped me connect with leading researchers in birth control from across the United States.”
Here’s what she had to say about the experience.

From Academics to Application

The Contraceptive Technology Conference invites nurse practitioners and gynecologists to get access to the leading research in women’s sexual and reproductive health. Little did I know when I signed up for the conference that I would be the only undergraduate student amongst an audience of over 2,000 dedicated medical professionals.

More than that, I was in the company of the top academics in the field: the authors of Contraceptive Technology, the textbook which is more like a bible for anyone in the field of birth control. I met the rock stars who wrote it, including Alison Edelman, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health and Sciences University, and Anita Nelson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA. Even after their first lecture, I was so enlightened and excited about my reproductive system. They taught me many things that I had never even thought to ask; it was the first time I heard researchers talk openly about the fact that many women forget to take the pill and stop using it after a couple months, and that this makes it less effective.

Robert Hatcher, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Emory University School of Medicine, with Natasha Doherty

I even got to meet Robert Hatcher, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Emory University School of Medicine. He is the main contributor and editor to the Contraceptive Technology book series. Dr. Hatcher was surprised to meet a young girl from the Wharton School there, but he was kind enough to pose for a selfie with me.

Attending the conference was a rewarding and useful experience for my venture, and I have WSII to thank for this. Alison Edelman now sits on my advisory board, and has been supporting me every step of the way to building this company and make long-acting contraceptives awesome for women. The team at WSII has helped me believe that I can do well by doing good.

Creating a for-profit company in this field will be challenging, but I hope that I will be able to raise the capital, and make my venture financially sustainable, so that my impact can be scaled, and I can help women feel good about their birth control choices.

Natasha Doherty

Posted: August 7, 2018

Wharton Stories

How This EMBA Student Is Bringing Wharton Insights Back to Amazon

Here’s how Alana Hewitt, WG’19, uses Wharton’s curriculum and Scale School to benefit intrapreneurship at Amazon, which she calls “a company of 1,000 startups.”

Alana Hewitt, WG’19, works at Amazon, which she calls “a company of 1,000 startups.” As part of the Whole Foods/Prime Now integration team, she is responsible for launching two-hour grocery delivery from Whole Food Markets across the country. As she works to integrate two successful independent businesses to accomplish one goal, she is consistently met with unforeseen questions and challenges. Alana came to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives in San Francisco to improve her ability “to solve new challenges and quickly identify white space opportunities.”

She said, “Having an MBA in the startup space is useful because it helps structure my approach to innovation and apply valuable industry lessons to forward-leaning approaches to entrepreneurship. My goal is to develop disruptive strategies to launch new businesses. The skills I’ve gained at Wharton empower me to do that.”

In addition to her core first-year classes, Alana also participated in Wharton Scale School events. Scale School is a series of workshops for students and alumni looking to take their business beyond initial product-market fit to the creation of a large enterprise of value. “My passion is growth— insights learned at Scale School events not only mirror challenges I’ve encountered, but also offer me practical solutions for implementation.”

Scale School participants learn from Wharton faculty, alumni entrepreneurs, and industry executives on how to find new customers, grow a workforce, manage supply chains, and navigate complex regulations. The series provides attendees a space to engage with other professionals across various fields who are grappling with similar challenges.

“Scale School breaks down the myth that unique challenges require unique solutions. The series provides entrepreneurs a forum to source valuable insights and existing solutions from their colleagues,” said Alana. “The workshops provide pragmatic steps that can be applied right away to yield immediate results.”

Alana attended the Scale School sessions titled “Growth through Acquisitions” to learn more about how to combine the strengths of Amazon and Whole Foods to achieve shared success. “Prior to working on this [Amazon] integration, I didn’t fully understand the complexity of acquisitions. Scale School equipped me with the tools needed to identify efficiencies and scale the business, while maintaining the integrity of the brand,” she explained.

Beyond the direct impact of classes and Scale School, Alana noted several unexpected aspects of the EMBA program that have elevated her school experience while simultaneously helping her become a better intrapreneur at Amazon.


“When I was admitted, I was worried that a part-time program would limit my ability to develop meaningful relationships with my classmates. I was wrong!

During class weekends, our goal is to maximize our Wharton experience by only focusing on our coursework and strengthening bonds with one another. Most of us can’t wait until the next class weekend because it’s time devoted solely to our personal development and connecting with like-minded professionals who are enthusiastic about learning and growing. It is refreshing to be surrounded by so many accomplished professionals who are not only willing to share their impressive experiences, but also provide unimaginable levels of support. I’ve been overwhelmed by their sincerity and dedication to not only my professional success, but even more to my personal success. My Wharton classmates have become my biggest cheerleaders and a new invaluable pillar in my life!”

Professional Diversity

“I assumed that because Wharton is known as a ‘finance school,’ most of my classmates would work in finance, but this is not the case. While most of my peers are focused on developing a strong finance skill set, they do not necessarily intend to work in the finance field. There are a surprisingly wide range of professions represented. For example, in my class there are entrepreneurs, doctors, a Secret Service agent, an engineer who helped launch the first iPhone, and a surprising number of Navy Seals. The diversity of professions allows me to draw on a range of problem-solving strategies across a variety of domains.”


“The professors emphasize that social impact can be just as important as profits. There is a misconception that MBA classes only focus on strategies to drive revenue. While profitability is important, we also discuss the role of business in social issues. Corporate social responsibility is an important focus in the business world. Our professors stress that as business leaders, it is paramount we continue to facilitate this as a key priority.”


“I was nervous about the workload because of my demanding role at Amazon. I was worried all the homework, plus the commute to San Francisco for classes bi-weekly would be overwhelming. Seeing my classmates not only juggle work and school, in addition to children and side businesses, I knew I just needed to step up my game to handle the challenge. It helps that you aren’t alone. If you don’t understand something from class, you don’t have to struggle on your own trying to figure it out. As cheesy as it may sound, we have created a family-like support network where my classmates are always more than willing to hop on the phone and help. We often say that explaining a concept to others helps test how well you really understand the concept yourself.”


“While I was excited to be a part of the Wharton EMBA program, I wasn’t confident in my ability to hold a challenging position at work and meet the demands of the curriculum. Given traditional ideas of academic and professional excellence, I didn’t believe I possessed enough time or energy to be successful in both arenas. Despite my fears, my passion for the program led me to reevaluate my ideas on success given my new context. In considering success, I decided to define it for myself in a way that provided opportunities for personal growth while accommodating competing priorities.”

“At school this meant that while education was important, I was not going to seek out a perfect GPA. Instead I decided to focus on cultivating new meaningful relationships and taking courses that stretched my abilities.”

“At work, this meant I had to be more strategic about how I would impact the business given that a significant amount of my time would be dedicated to school. Reframing success on my own terms allowed me to feel good about my accomplishments, without the emotional burden of falling short of unreasonable expectations. This experience has helped grow my confidence as I understand that defining success on my own terms will help me achieve more in the future.”

“My Wharton EMBA adventure has exceeded my expectations and reinvigorated me for the next stage of my journey — I’m excited to see what’s next!”

— Meghan Laska


Wharton Stories

Undergrads “Trek” for Business and Social Impact Through Turner Social Impact Society

Members of the Turner Social Impact Society, an undergraduate club, met with impact investors, corporations, and foundations to learn about business and social impact.

Some trek to far-off lands to see exotic animals. Others trek up four flights of stairs to get to their walk-up apartments. For Turner Social Impact Society (TSIS) students, however, a “trek” means neither exotic animals nor many flights of stairs. It means a chance to meet with impact investors, corporations, and foundations to explore the business of creating impact.

“The TSIS trek to New York reinvigorated my passion for social impact and my hope for the future,” reflected Julia Bache, W’19.

TSIS member Julia Bache and 12 fellow TSIS members trekked to New York City last April to answer one question: how do businesses drive social impact?

Over the course of their many meetings in New York, TSIS students asked that key question and learned from the Citibank Municipals and Securities Division; Kenny Beck, WG’87 (President, Wharton Club of New York and Chief Executive Officer, CEO Connection); Pershing Square Foundation; and Frank Financial Aid (founded by Charlie Javice, WG’14.)

What did they uncover? Below, students reflect on their takeaways from the day:

Dan Kesler, W’19

“The TSIS NY trip was one of the highlights of my semester. At Citibank, our hosts spoke candidly about the intersection of social impact and business as well as the challenges they face in their day to day jobs. It strengthened my belief that true impact can only be made by creatively aligning the incentives of all the parties involved and relying on strong business principles as the foundation.”

Michelle Jaffee, W’19

“I was most surprised to learn the unique methods through which for-profit institutions, like Citibank, incorporate impact and sustainability through products and services including municipal securities, new market tax credits, and community development work. It was fascinating to get the perspective of how social impact is defined in the context of a foundation, startup, and corporation.”

Peter Hissy, W’20

TSIS is so unique because it exists as a society, where our goal is to learn from and challenge each other. After four meetings with some incredible people, we were able to talk to each other about our experiences and share thoughts, ‘Citi was so honest.’ ‘Kenny Beck is so charismatic.’ ‘Pershing bets big.’ ‘Frank is so passionate.’ But these comments also brought up other issues. We talked about world issues and how to address them with perspectives from Israel, London, and the U.S. While these issues are complex, the first step is an open dialogue.”

Julia Bache, W’19

“I was excited to see that [Citibank] is using real estate as a tool to invest in education, healthcare, affordable housing, and housing for the homeless, disabled, and other people in need of support. I was also impressed to hear about Pershing Square Foundation’s commitment to investing in creativity and innovation. In the start-up world, Frank’s founder and CEO Charlie Javice is a strong young woman who inspired me to pursue my dreams to change the world.”

Originally published by Wharton Social Impact Initiative June 28, 2018. 



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