When Laura Muñoz, WG’22, and Yohanna Pepa, WG’22, met during MBA Pre-Term, they didn’t expect to co-found a club together in their time at Wharton. But they instantly connected over their common experiences at Yale, and soon began to realize they both shared a desire to create a community at Wharton dedicated to serving students of first-generation, low-income (FGLI) backgrounds.
“We had both written about it in our admissions essays! I think we shared a conviction that a community like this had a strong reason to exist at Wharton,” recalled Yohanna. The goal would be simple — to affirm and support the journeys of FGLI students doing their MBAs, recognizing that this identity fundamentally shaped not only the early part of their careers but also their experiences at business school.
The Wharton Graduate 1Gen Club — affectionately referred to as Wharton 1Gen — was officially founded in the Spring of 2021. As the founding co-presidents, Laura and Yohanna saw the club grow to almost 150 members in its first year. It now has four aims: to cultivate community among FGLI members, to build allyship within the larger student body, to build advocacy, and to mentor FGLI young professionals and college students.
The club plugs an important affinity gap that is sometimes difficult to detect on an MBA campus, where students tend to have already found career success. However, FGLI students continue to make unseen trade-offs, such as between prioritizing financial security and chasing one’s passions. Often, students look to support not just themselves but their families, and with fewer connections in the corporate world, some report finding the business landscape more difficult to navigate.
“Even the admissions process can be a solitary one,” added Laura, “where students have fewer inbuilt networks and resources to lean on, and may have to make large financial commitments with less savings or help from family.” Challenges like these create additional stressors on the MBA experience, but can make the degree more significant.
Embracing Diversity Within the FGLI Community
Because of Wharton’s diversity, the definition of FGLI that the club uses is also deliberately broad. It includes students whose parents may not have had higher education in the United States or at an elite institution, or who may be the first in their family to have pursued graduate school, in addition to those who may be the first in their families to have had attended college at all. Ultimately, the hope for these students is upward mobility — that they might be the first to effect a change in their family’s socioeconomic status.
Socioeconomic diversity tends to be a harder topic to bring up in business school settings. “But to many of us it means having to take care of ourselves and be fiercely independent, and trying to achieve the same goals as others without having the same level of resources,” said Yohanna. “You may also have other people in your life depending on you — some FGLI students face a great deal of responsibility to help family figure out ‘life stuff.’”
Laura added, “At the same time, there is a form of pride as well. To have come a long way despite circumstances that wouldn’t naturally predispose you to go to business school. There is gratitude for the people who have helped me get here.”
Creating Safe Spaces
The club aims to create safe spaces for members to unpack these issues. Potluck dinners and themed discussions bring the community together over shared experiences. For example, a recent small group dinner discussed what it means to carry or redefine one’s family legacy. The club also recently organized a personal finance workshop catered to the needs and questions of the FGLI community. “It’s amazing to be able to help create a space for people to support each other and find solutions together,” the founders said.
The club has big dreams as it continues to grow. New Co-Presidents Tam Luong, WG’23, and Dolapo Salawi, WG’23, have taken the reins and aim to expand partnerships with firms and establish a network of Wharton FGLI alumni. As for advice for incoming FGLI applicants considering Wharton, Yohanna said, “Talk to as many people as you can with an FGLI background. B-school through the FGLI lens can be very different, and there are nuances that you may not anticipate or know how to address. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to the club. This is why we exist.”
— Geneve Ong, WG’23
Posted: November 17, 2022