“The members of my learning team came into Orientation Week as strangers to one another and left as a family… I left orientation feeling lucky that I get to embark on this journey with the support of my team and the class overall.” -Naquan Ishman, WG’24

Students in the Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Global cohorts of Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives all begin the program together on the University of Pennsylvania’s historic Philadelphia campus. Orientation Week is jam-packed from start to finish with classes, leadership programming, dinners out in the city, and more. We asked four first-year students to tell us more about their experience at Orientation Week this past May.

CJ Olson, WG’24, San Francisco

WHY WHARTON: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering. Currently, I’m a Senior Director of Medical Affairs at Edwards Lifesciences, where I focus on early-stage clinical development of our heart valve therapies. I’m pursuing my MBA to prepare for more senior leadership roles within the company and to help me develop a start-up that my wife and I would like to get off the ground. My wife is an occupational therapist, and we would love to combine forces and start a clinic to help children with special needs. The Wharton MBA will help me flesh out the idea and give me the tools to follow this passion.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK: The best part of the week was getting to know my classmates in the program. It didn’t feel like a competitive environment because everyone was coming from impressive and diverse professional backgrounds. Instead of trying to prove ourselves, we were able to focus on building a strong foundation with one another.

FIRST DAY JITTERS: For me, orientation began the moment I was accepted. When I got the call from Barb Craft congratulating me on my acceptance, my mind immediately shifted into preparation mode. Even though I have no problem meeting new people, I was a little nervous going into Orientation Week; I haven’t been in school for 15 years! I’ll never forget in one of our first classes, someone raised their hand and asked  “… can I go to the bathroom?” We all sort of looked at each other and laughed, and I think it was a reality check that many of us were feeling the same way.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: I was pleasantly surprised by the time we spent getting to know ourselves and each other on a deeper, more personal level. The McNulty Leadership Program sessions had a big impact on me, especially the Social Identities workshop. Working with our learning team, we delved into questions like “Who am I as a person? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How do I communicate with others and how can I improve upon that?” Wharton set up safe environments where we could be very open and transparent with each other, which helped to solidify the bond between us.

LOOKING AHEAD: I left orientation feeling like I had built a significant amount of trust with the students in my cohort. I was truly excited to continue developing the relationships I had started to build with my class. But I also knew it was time to get to work- our accounting midterm was only a few class weekends away!

CJ with his learning team on the Philadelphia campus

Mercedes Elias, WG’24

WHY WHARTON: I was an officer in the Marine Corps for ten years before transitioning into the financial services industry. Currently, I’m Co-CEO at AmeriVet Securities, Inc, a brokerage firm which operates in a diversity and inclusion space. My goal has always been to get my MBA, and Wharton’s highly technical, evidence-based curriculum is what drew me to the program.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK: There were a lot of highlights, but for me it was the people. On the first night of Orientation Week, we went to the Penn Museum for a cocktail hour and dinner event. It was fun exploring the exhibits after-hours and finally sitting down after a long day for dinner together. Everyone is so open to building new relationships and you could really feel that energy in the room.

FIRST DAY JITTERS: I chose Wharton because I wanted to be challenged. The professors expect a lot from us, and our fellow classmates expect us to come to class prepared! I really appreciate that, because it keeps us on our toes and leaves no room for lazy work.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: The wide range of industries surprised me the most. You might think there would be a large finance industry population, but that’s not the case. I get to share a classroom with surgeons, engineers, creative directors, pharmaceutical scientists — people I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be in my MBA program. Even the students who are in finance represent diverse areas of the industry.

LOOKING AHEAD:  Some of the New York-based students took the train back home together, which I’m sure will happen often. It was nice to extend our relationship from the Wharton campus to the real world and spend additional quality time with one another. I’m looking forward to many more commutes with my WEMBA classmates over the next two years.

Mercedes and her learning team stopped for a selfie

Jane Ananyi, WG’24, San Francisco

WHY WHARTON: I began my career at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Lagos, Nigeria, providing audit and assurance services to multinationals in the energy and utilities space. I moved on to Private Equity where I became a CFA charter holder, managed portfolio companies, and coordinated M&A transactions, Today, I’m a Senior Manager, Financial Planning and Analysis at Equinix, based in California. I knew this was the right time to get my MBA because I felt ready to lead on a larger scale. I see myself leading as a CFO or COO in the future, and an MBA will show me how to take a company to the next level. Picking Wharton was a no-brainer for me!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK: It’s hard to choose just one, but I loved the scavenger hunt activity the Wharton staff arranged. Not only was it fun to get outside and explore the Philadelphia campus, but it was also a great team-building exercise. All the learning teams raced to complete the scavenger hunt first. I’ll just say that my team didn’t come in last, but we certainly didn’t come in first! Another highlight was our “Dining Night Out” in the city. We went to an indoor golf bar, played shuffleboard – this time, we won! –  and of course, ended the night with Philly cheesesteaks.

FIRST DAY JITTERS: My first thought when I looked at the Orientation Week schedule was, “it’s packed!” Each day was booked from start to finish with classes, workshops, meals, and more in between. By mid-week, I was feeling exhausted; meanwhile, a group of students woke up before dawn for an early-morning run. Luckily, their energy rubbed off on me and helped me get through the week feeling optimistic.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Going into the program, I was expecting the students to be very serious. During our introduction session on the first day, I learned that every single student had a surprising and fun side to them. In our class we have mountain climbers, dancers, pilots, musicians, comedians, marathon-runners; you name it, we have it. Our class is diverse not just in industry, but personality and background as well. On my learning team we have students from India, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and the United States. It’s incredible that we have come together from all over the world to the same place, sharing a common goal.

LOOKING AHEAD: On my way home, I couldn’t wait to see my partner and children, but I was also looking forward to seeing my classmates the following class weekend. Most of all, I knew I needed to be extra-prepared for the next class. The admissions staff wasn’t joking when they said it’s the exact same curriculum as the full-time MBA. It’s fast-paced, and our professors expect the same level of work from us that they expect from the full-time students. As fun as my WEMBA classmates are, they are serious when it comes to the classroom.


Jane and her learning team outside Jon M. Huntsman Hall

Naquan Ishman, WG’24, Philadelphia

WHY WHARTON: I’m a Principal Strategic Advisor at SAS, and my passion is healthcare equity. I want to use analytics and technology to decrease the gap in quality healthcare for vulnerable populations. I have a lot of great ideas around building products and business models to help me achieve that goal, but there are gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill. I wanted an MBA program with a strong analytics focus and the flexibility to choose from a wide variety of electives in the second year to meet my needs.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK: The Social Identities workshop was the highlight for me. We explored the various identities we occupy and how they impact all facets of our lives, including professional and academic settings. My learning team got vulnerable with each other and didn’t shy away from talking about race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other factors that impact the way we move through the world. Listening to my team members open up encouraged me to dig deeper, and the experience really accelerated our bond. It’s amazing how close we became because of that activity.

FIRST DAY JITTERS: On the first day, we participated in an exercise called “Who’s in the Room?” I found out that I was standing amongst triathlon-winners, Mount Everest-climbers, salsa dancers, skydivers…Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised by all the amazing things my classmates have done. It was very humbling to be in the company of such accomplished, yet still down-to-earth, students.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: The Wharton faculty are much more approachable than I thought they would be. We’re on a first name basis with all our professors. These are the best and brightest minds in their fields, so being able to meet with them one-one-one to talk through ideas is an incredible opportunity.

LOOKING AHEAD: The members of my learning team came into Orientation Week as strangers to one another and left as a family. Keep in mind, this was only after one week of hanging out with each other! I left orientation feeling lucky that I get to embark on this journey with the support of my team and the class overall.

Naquan and his learning team pose with Ben Franklin


— Kendra King

Posted: October 24, 2022

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