Laura Brodkey, W’25, is a natural community builder who creates spaces for students to be their authentic selves and make connections.

You’ll mostly likely find Laura Brodkey in the great outdoors backpacking or hiking, but not just because she loves spending time in nature. 

“What I find most exciting is getting other people to build connections with others in those settings,” she said. “It pushes them out of their comfort zone and makes them spend a lot of time together without distractions.” 

The rising fourth-year is passionate about forming intentional communities at Penn. That passion led the outdoor enthusiast to be involved in PennQuest and Penn Outdoors Club. Additionally, Brodkey is an instructor for Outward Bound, leading backpacking trips that emphasize leadership development and growth. 

PennQuest gear return (Image: Laura Brodkey)

The Pittsburgh native is a mentor in PennQuest, a pre-orientation program aimed at fostering connections among incoming first-years through outdoor activities. Brodkey guides students through outdoor adventures and bonding activities, helping them establish a support network before starting their academic journey at Penn.  

“By the time they come to Penn, they have this support network of mentors and friends, who really know them for who they are,” Brodkey says of the first-years. “Whenever you get bombarded with all of the different activities that you can join at Penn and intense social life, you have this safety net to fall back on.” 

Brodkey, a PennQuest mentor since her sophomore year, says the program was foundational to her confidence and sense of belonging on campus.  

Playing ultimate frisbee (Image: Laura Brodkey)

“You come in as this nervous first-year worried about how you’ll be perceived. Will you be included and appreciated for who you really are?” Brodkey said. “PennQuest makes you realize, ‘Oh, I can just be who I am and still be appreciated for that.’” 

The experience encouraged her to take risks and pursue various clubs and activities, including women’s club soccer and women’s ultimate frisbee.  

“I had this insane confidence boost where I could do whatever club I wanted,” Brodkey said of how comfortable she felt after finding groups that loved her true self.   

Finding a Supportive Community at Wharton

A cornerstone of Brodkey’s community-building efforts is her involvement with Wharton Alliance, a student club for queer students in business.  

When Brodkey arrived at Wharton, she thought that all the other students had a plan. 

“They came in and they seemed like they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and I was not in that position,” she said. “I honestly did not care about going into the corporate world at all.” 

As a first year, Brodkey sought a supportive community amidst what felt like an overwhelming business environment where she didn’t see much queer representation.  

“Wharton Alliance seemed like a really cool place to meet interesting people and find a little family within Wharton that aligned with my values and helped me discover what paths I could take in the business world.”  

The Wharton Alliance case competition committee (Image: Laura Brodkey)

Now serving as co-president, Brodkey focuses on expanding the group’s reach to all queer students across campus. 

“My co-president and I want when people see our club, they immediately recognize the kind of culture that we provide and stand for, and it’s not just queer people in business,” Brodkey said. “We’re trying to make a space where any queer person across the entire university can come and feel welcome.”  

That includes hosting collaborative events with other affinity groups and opportunities for students to have meaningful connections.  

While Brodkey felt seen and accepted in her outdoor and sports clubs, she didn’t feel that way within Wharton initially. 

“In my classes, I didn’t find that same sense of unconditional love that I found in my other groups,” she said. “That’s how I found Wharton Alliance, and I’m trying now to take Wharton Alliance and make it one of those spaces.” 

The Essence of Business  

Brodkey’s passion for public policy led her to business school, but so did knowing what she didn’t want to do.  

“I looked through all of these subjects I had and checked off a bunch of boxes for things that I didn’t like or knew that I didn’t want to do,” she said. “I wasn’t going to go down the humanities track. I wasn’t going to sit behind a lab bench.”  

The rising senior is concentrating in business economics and public policy (BEPP) and statistics and minoring in economics. After graduation, Brodkey is going into economic consulting. 

“My background is not your traditional male-dominated, corporate investment banking track,” she said. 

While her path may have been “atypical,” she is happy to have found what she enjoys. 

“Business is fundamentally about making human connections. I conveniently found that thing that I really enjoy, which is the human connection part.” 

Brodkey emphasizes the importance of a supportive community to help her succeed in tough environments. 

“You can’t actually go into competitive sectors without a loving network that helps you prepare and feel like you belong,” she said. 

That philosophy has guided Brodkey in building inclusive and resilient communities within Penn. 

“If you don’t feel like you belong, how can you, or even pretend to, belong? How can you succeed in those areas?” 

That is one of the main reasons why Brodkey works to create supportive groups, particularly for first-years and queer students.  

“There’s a tangible beneficial impact on your future outcomes by finding a sense of belonging.”  

Intentional Spaces 

Members of the Herzog Collective (Image: Laura Brodkey)

Brodkey’s living arrangement reinforces her role as a community builder. She resides in the Herzog Collective on campus, a 10-person art collective that functions as a community hub.  

“We put on all sorts of community events, volunteer together, and have communal dinners and communal groceries,” she said. “Being in the house means being part of a community.” 

The communal aspect nurtured meaningful friendships, according to Brodkey. She says none of the housemates were close friends before moving in or associated with the same campus activities.   

“It’s been super, super fun. I’ve met some of the coolest people that I didn’t know existed on campus.” 

The main reason Brodkey pursued business was to have an impact and help others—something she’s already doing at Penn.

Herzog at night (Image: Laura Brodkey)

—Sara Hoover

Posted: June 28, 2024

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