Overview of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change and 25th Annual Community Involvement Recognition Awards

Each year, during the month of January, the University of Pennsylvania and surrounding communities come together to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The commemoration reminds us of our interdependence and reaffirms our commitment to the betterment of our communities through civility and service. The 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change Executive Planning Committee of the University of Pennsylvania announced the 25th Annual Community Involvement Recognition Awards on January 26, 2021.

In the honor of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s recognition that local engagement is essential to the struggle for equality, these awards honor the members of the Philadelphia community whose local engagement and active service to others best exemplify the ideals Dr. King espoused. The six awards are presented in the following areas: Faculty of the University (1), Youths or Adult in Philadelphia (2), Undergraduate Student of the University (1), Graduate Student of the University (1), and Community Education (1).

Ashley Betts, a first-year MBA candidate of the Wharton School, was selected as the 2021 Graduate Student Honoree – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Involvement Recognition Award for demonstrating significant community contributions service and working for social justice efforts in Philadelphia.

The following is the link to the pre-recorded Awards program: https://chaplain.upenn.edu/mlk2021

Ashley Betts, The Wharton School, Penn’s 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 25th Annual Community Involvement Graduate Student Honoree

Ashley Betts is a Meckler Family Endowed Fellow and first-year MBA Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School. Ashley was recently selected as Penn’s 2021 Graduate Student Honoree for the annual MLK Community Involvement Awards, acknowledging individuals whose active service exemplifies Dr. King’s vision. She has demonstrated a sustained commitment to community involvement throughout her personal and professional life and has significantly impacted the Philadelphia and Penn community in just a short period of time. As Vice President of Social Impact on Warton Graduate Association’s Cluster Council, Ashley is tackling homelessness in Philadelphia. Ashley is leading a homeless fundraiser across Wharton’s first-year class in which MBA students work with Philadelphia nonprofits to raise money and hand out care packages to those in need. 

Ashley also serves on the Rebuilding Together Board, an organization that annually organizes over 500 volunteers who participate in a three-day “Block Build” in Philadelphia’s Belmont neighborhood. Ashley is passionate about building wealth through homeownership and believes in Rebuilding Together’s mission to transform low-income homeowners’ lives by improving their homes’ safety and health and revitalizing their communities. Ashley also serves on the Dean’s MBA Advisory Board, a student group that consults with Wharton’s Dean and administrators on critical strategic issues. She is working with the Penn Netter Center Program to help create Wharton’s first Academically Based Community Service MBA course, in which students and faculty work with West Philadelphia public schools, communities of faith, and community organizations to help solve critical community problems in a variety of areas, such as the environment, health, arts, and education.

As Director of Social Impact for Wharton’s African American MBA Association, Ashley helped design a program to support black-owned businesses in the Philadelphia area recover from the pandemic. AAMBAA’s “Buy Black” challenge highlights black-owned Philadelphia businesses that have suffered disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic and encourages Wharton MBA students to patronize and support their economic recovery efforts. She also led AAMBAA’s “Adopt a Family for Christmas” initiative that serves two Philadelphia families who have been impacted by COVID-19. Ashley is passionate about diversity and committed to working hard to help end racism and injustice in our communities. She co-founded Wharton’s newest club, Wharton Diversity Equity & Inclusion Consultants. Wharton DEI Consultants is a club committed to building a pipeline of Wharton MBA students equipped to help Philadelphia and national organizations overcome DEI barriers. Ashley also serves on the Return on Equality Board, a club responsible for conducting Wharton’s campus-wide diversity survey, designated to help build a more equitable and inclusive environment in which all students and faculty thrive. Ashley takes her desire to dismantle structures of oppression in the Philadelphia community and puts it into action.

Q&A with Ashley Betts WG’22, Penn’s 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 25th Annual Community Involvement Graduate Student Honoree

‘Why was this involvement important to you?’

My involvement in the Wharton and Philadelphia community has been especially important to me during the global COVID-19 pandemic and America’s reckoning on racial justice. I’ve always been passionate about issues of social justice. When applying to business school, I knew that I would somehow incorporate social impact into my MBA journey – I just wasn’t sure exactly how at the time. MBA students have many impact opportunities, whether through global experiences, coursework, clubs, or business case competitions. Although I wouldn’t have imagined in a million years that I’d be starting my MBA journey in a dual pandemic of COVID‐19 and systemic inequities in the US – I soon realized that this was divine timing. The dual pandemic magnified inequalities within society and widened racial disparities in education, health, entrepreneurship, and the workforce. There honestly couldn’t have been a better time to start business school and make significant, positive change in the Wharton and Philadelphia community! 

‘What did you learn from this experience?’

Through this experience, I’ve learned how incredibly passionate Wharton MBA students are about making a positive difference in the local Philadelphia community. The pandemic placed significant strains on the nonprofit and volunteering sector. Over 50% of nonprofits said that 75% of their workforce was from volunteer service, and due to stay-at-home orders across the country, nonprofits needed support more than ever. With Philadelphia being the poorest, biggest city in America, Wharton MBA students had a unique opportunity to make a tremendous difference during the COVID-19 pandemic – and WE DID!  We all knew the fall semester of 2020 would be unlike any other. But as stressful as this experience was for all of us, I am uplifted and encouraged by all the ways my classmates showed up to support the community initiatives, volunteer programs, and fundraising efforts organized for the Philadelphia community. My hope is that these new partnerships between local Philadelphia organizations and the Wharton School will continue to grow in the years to come.

‘How do you see yourself being involved going forward?’

As I wrap up my first year of business school, I am proud of the tremendous impact we’ve made at Wharton and throughout the Philadelphia community. In my second year of business school, I envision continuing this work. The two initiatives that I am most excited about continuing are the Dean’s MBA Advisory Council (DMAC) and Wharton’s DEI Consultants. Now more than ever, there are many options for tackling our times’ complex social issues through an MBA. As a DMAC Civic and Community Engagement member, I look forward to helping create Wharton’s first Academically Based Community Service MBA course. Lastly, while many organizations have made strides in becoming more diverse and inclusive, we still have far to go before all employees have full opportunities to contribute and succeed and workforces reflect society’s demographics. Wharton DEI Consultants will play a pivotal role in building a pipeline of Wharton MBA students equipped to help Philadelphia and national organizations overcome DEI barriers. Ultimately, going forward, you’ll find me striving for social justice and creating a better world through my work.

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