Final Reflections: Building Self-Awareness and growing comfortable with the uncomfortable
Our Final Reflections on Business School Series profiles a handful of soon to be MBA Graduates at top MBA Programs as they share with us their parting thoughts. Ashley Wells (Wharton, ’16) had an incredibly busy and meaningful two years at Wharton, and took time to share with us what she will take with her when she graduates.
MBASchooled: What will you miss most about your MBA experience?
Ashley: The main thing I will miss about Wharton is access. Access to my friends, who all live within a six block radius of one another which makes it easy to walk to class together, grab dinner after events, and do work together at our favorite coffee shops. Access to the myriad leaders and CEOs who speak on campus everyday who inspire me. Access to learning new subjects every day in class to challenge my thinking. Access to incredible employers and envisioning “different versions of my life” through experimenting with different career opportunities. All of this exists outside of Philadelphia when I leave Wharton, but my access to these opportunities here is a special privilege.
MBASchooled: What is your favorite memory of business school?
Ashley: It’s hard to name just one, but a favorite moment of mine was when I did a Wharton Leadership Venture training with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) at their fire academy. This was a special day for me because my grandfather was a firefighter for 30+ years, and after hearing his stories since I was a child, I got to experience a day in his shoes. We wore 30 pounds of gear (including oxygen tanks and masks) to crawl through pitch-black spaces, put out multiple fires, and control the high-pressure water hose (it’s not easy!). We also spoke with firefighters who had endured 9/11 and learned how they operate a team in life-threatening scenarios and make tough decisions on their feet. It was a day that tested my physical and mental strength, while teaching me about leadership and followership in high-pressure environments.
MBASchooled: What are you most proud of from your MBA experience?
Ashley: Co-leading Wharton Women in Business with my two fabulous co-presidents, Marlin Bottex and Maribeth Crane. Our job was to listen to the voices of Wharton women to know what they wanted — what career opportunities excited them, what type of community they wished to foster, what speakers inspired them, what would make the Wharton experience more inclusive to them — and then equip and enable our incredible board to make that happen. Together, we managed a team of 35 board members, and oversaw 60+ events throughout the year (including a large conference) that ranged from trapeze classes to women-only employer events to confidence building workshops. Additionally, WWIB was a founding member that launched Return on Equality (Wharton’s diversity and inclusion coalition), successfully lobbied for lactation rooms for Wharton moms, partnered with the Wharton 22s (our male gender-ally group) to successfully scale the organization, and created a community of female club presidents (100+) and women entrepreneurs at Wharton. It was a big year that we reflect on with pride.
MBASchooled: What part of you has undergone the most transformation while in business school?
Ashley: My mindset. Prior to B school, I thought that I would need to have “everything all figured out” when I graduated. Yet at Wharton, I heard from so many entrepreneurs, CEOs, and leaders who took interesting and non-linear paths to get to where they are. Furthermore, throughout the past two years, I have gained a lot of self-awareness, and realized that I am someone who always says “YES” to opportunities. Through a combination of self-awareness, and realizing that it’s impossible to predict what incredible opportunities will come to me, I was inspired to relax a bit. I feel excited at possibilities, uncertainties, and what is unknown, rather than afraid of them. I owe a lot of that confidence to Wharton.
MBASchooled: Who is someone who has had a positive influence on you while in business school?
Ashley: My friend Aria Florant (Wharton ’16 / Harvard Kennedy School ’17) inspires me. She asks herself the hard questions, pursues decisions with authenticity, leads through both vulnerability and strength, and appreciates people and shows people how much she values them. Aria is also exceptional at advocating for and empowering others — she led a community of students in East Palo Alto before school, and while at Wharton led the African American MBA Association and pioneered the Wharton Return on Equality coalition. I look up to her as my role model for authentic leadership.
MBASchooled: Is there anything that you haven’t gotten to do that you wish you had done?
Ashley: I made a bucket-list of the “stretch opportunities” I wanted to do while at Wharton. My bucket list included dancing to Beyoncé in front of 800 people in Wharton’s Dance Studio, telling a personal story for a 100 person crowd at a Wharton Storytellers event, and doing the FDNY training day (in addition to surviving classes and recruiting of course!). I encourage you to consciously create goals for your time in school in order to hold yourself accountable, so that you won’t leave school without regrets either.