Amidst recruiting, mid-terms, classes, conferences, date auctions, culturally themed dance parties, pub crawls, charity fund raising, and a myriad of other events there is not much time for Wharton students to sit back and discuss abstract ideas like “personal values” and the “values” of the greater Wharton community. But this is exactly what the first year clusters did at their monthly suppers this week. 2nd year students Andrew Towne, Noble Stafford, Arianna Nobles, Jeremy Cook, and Rahim Kurji spoke about the power of personal values. Their personal stories included everything from life and death decisions in a war zone, dealing with a hyper competitive work environment in the NBA, coming out of the closet in a deeply conservative southern community and the poignancy of seeing an Indian child with HIV pass away. These diverse vignettes elicited a wide set of emotions from the audience – apprehension, sadness, humor, happiness, admiration and more. There was one common theme, however: difficult challenges are often best met by referencing a strong set of personal values. Values remind us of who we are, and how we aspire to act.
The Wharton Values Initiative is a student led program supported by the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee, or DGSAC. Its goal is to boost the strength of Wharton students’ personal and community values. The initiative started with school-wide ideation sessions with the classes of 2011 and 2012, in which students brainstormed the values that best exemplified Wharton. These resulted in a list of 13 values with accompanying values statements, which were put to the classes of ‘11, ‘12 and ‘13 for a vote. In the end, over 1,000 students decided that the Wharton MBA Students’ Core Values are: Leadership, Integrity, Humility, Initiative, Learning, Diversity, and Community.
At the suppers, Andrew Towne – a 2nd year Penn JD/MBA – began each “values” presentation by talking about the ethical dilemmas he faced in his career, and how they motivated him to identify and record his personal values on a piece of paper that he has carried in his wallet ever since. Constantly referencing those values helped Andrew make the difficult decisions his job required. Andrew’s story was contrasted with a lighthearted tale from Ariana Nobles. As a merchandizing manager working for the NBA she adopted some of the extreme competitiveness found in many of the players. She was often filled with a bit of excitement and happiness when one of her colleagues failed and subsequently, made her look just a little bit better. She was doing well in her organization until she was assigned a difficult financial project. The project was a disaster. She quickly became the hub of criticism from colleagues and managers. But an empathetic VP took her aside and worked closely with her to redo the project and correct the errors. The VP’s consideration made Ariana realize that living with values such as humility and generosity are more important than winning at all costs. She now places helping her colleagues and classmates above personal advancement.
Noble Stafford described the emotional story of how he came out of the closet. Having grown up in a conservative southern community he masked his sexual identify for over 20 years from his family, his girlfriend, his friends, and himself. It was eventually the words and spirit of his grandmother who gave him the courage to come out. She reminded him to always, “Be true to yourself, know who you are and what you stand for.” Rahim Kurji story of how values impacted his life centered around generosity. While working for the Clinton Foundation in India he worked to help a young child with HIV. However, despite his best efforts and those of his colleagues the child passed away. This inspired him to double his efforts and work to get medical treatment for 3,000 children with HIV over the next six months – a significant achievement.
“Values” ultimately helped these 2nd years find a way forward in difficult situations. A strong set of values can help remind you to do “the right thing” in difficult circumstances; a strong set of values can help you add consistency to your leadership presence in both professional and personal spheres.
To tie together the themes from the supper, Andrew proposed two challenges for the attendees. First, the next time you are having a social chat at Pub or the latest Wharton party, ask someone what their values are. Ask them what is important to them. You will have a good conversation. Second, if any student sees one of their classmates exemplifying one of the Wharton Core Student Values, write to DGSAC to tell us about the example your classmate is setting. Our team will select the best story and example from the submissions and award both the person who wrote the story and the person who exemplified the Wharton Core Value with a free ticket to the Winter Ball. The real victory for us all, however, will be knowing what we stand for, as individuals and as a school.
Please submit your stories about classmates exemplifying Wharton Core Values, to Justin Knapp, at email@example.com. or any other representative of the DGSAC Values team.