Wharton students set community values

An undergraduate-led effort at Wharton has identified six core values that students want the school to embody.

Students walking outside on Penn's campus.

In the spring of 2021, using surveys and focus groups, Wharton undergrads sought to collectively define and vote on a set of community values that represent the qualities students believe Wharton should embody. The Wharton Values Initiative identified six core values: ambition, community, diversity and inclusion, exploration, integrity, and positive impact.

These six values will be used in an ongoing and interactive effort to build community among students and a deeper connection to Wharton. The values were announced at a community town hall in October 2021 and are being integrated into all parts of the Wharton student experience. 

“As a professor of business ethics, focus on values is at the heart of my thinking,” says Diana Robertson, vice dean and director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division. “What is so impressive about the Wharton Values Initiative is that it is entirely student-driven. It is gratifying to witness our students embracing their own individual values, but also coming together to develop a set of values for our Wharton undergraduate community. This set of values is meant to be a living document that is debated, discussed, and ultimately lived by our students.”

These dynamic values are meant to be specific, yet open to personal expression, and will be renewed or altered every three years starting in 2024.

“The University is always a changing landscape and thus these values must also be a force in constant action so as to not stagnate behind what truly matters to all of us as a community,” says Michael Lentskevich, a third-year Wharton student and member of the Wharton Values Initiative team. “Every three years, we will reconduct the focus groups, surveys, and other methodologies to percolate and recrystallize what we as a Wharton community truly value. In this way, these values are not just set in stone ideals of the past, but an ever-present reminder of the things we all believe in.”

Sunni Liu, a Wharton fourth-year student and member of the Wharton Values Initiative team, says the goal is to have short-term impact by starting more conversations about what students want the Wharton community to be and what already makes it special, and also have a long-term impact by building and shaping community and a nourishing, accepting environment for undergraduate students to thrive. 

“In the short-term, I think that the values can help forge new connections between student groups that have shared values,” she says. “We also hope that they can help students find communities that share their personal values, which they may have otherwise overlooked. Long-term, we hope that the values can allow students to think about the culture of Wharton in a more explicit way, and work to push it in the direction of positive change. We hope that the values will someday be integrated into every facet of the Wharton student experience and grow to be something that students genuinely resonate with.”

The Initiative defines the first value, ambition, as when students devote their all to each endeavor while pushing through challenges to reach goals, both academically and beyond. 

“Ambition can carry an extremely negative connotation, but that is not what we found when talking to students,” Lentskevich says. “Instead, we found that ambition was viewed as a force for good, pushing students to come up with innovative solutions and not be afraid to challenge previously accepted norms when needed.”

The second value refer to a community of collaboration and mentorship, where students can ask for assistance from peers while lending a helping hand to others, explains Hunter Korn, a Wharton fourth-year and member of the Wharton Values Initiative team.

“Communities at Wharton bring people opportunities to learn, a sense of belonging, and purpose to our education,” Korn says. “Ensuring that everyone has a place in the Wharton community is something many students value and are striving towards.”

The next value is diversity and inclusion, where students, faculty, and staff from all backgrounds and perspectives are embraced and treated with respect, care, and fairness. 

“Diversity and inclusion mean so much more than statistics to us,” Liu says. “It means a constant journey of exploration through self-reflection and external discovery. It means understanding all the different perspectives of the community, empathizing with them, and seeing how your own experiences impact you. It also means respect and a commitment to embracing differences to achieve a better tomorrow.”

The fourth value is exploration, in which students embrace inquiry at every level of their education, careers, and interactions.

“Exploration is the foundation of a college experience as students navigate what they want to do in life and what interests have been imposed upon them,” Lentskevich says. “For many, this is the first time when the power of parental influence wanes and they are left to create new horizons and build their own futures.”

Integrity allows students to act and lead with principle, bringing a sense of humility and honor to their academic, extracurricular, and professional lives. 

“Integrity at its core is trying to do the right thing and living in a way that reflects one’s values. Students learn to navigate new experiences in college, whether that be in the classroom, in extracurricular activities, or in social settings,” Korn says. “These experiences can lay the foundation for how people navigate challenges and stick to their morals beyond Wharton.”

The last value is positive impact. Here, students strive to be at the forefront of social change by working collaboratively and compassionately.

“Highlighting just how caring Wharton students are, one of the values that was woven throughout people’s answers was the fact that all of their actions should have a positive impact on their immediate community and the larger world,” Lentskevich says. “This is as much a value as it is a promise reminding us of what we should strive for as we venture beyond the Penn bubble and attempt to leave our marks on the world.”

COVID has changed the dynamic on campus, and while the virus is no longer as scary as it once was, Lentskevich says he feels the campus atmosphere has not yet recovered, making the values even more important.

“While Wharton has always been an extremely pre-professional environment, COVID has exaggerated the idea of the University simply being a stepping stone on people’s path to careers,” he says. “As people were sent home and forced to have a virtual semester, it looked like the administration and the world admitted that the total of schooling was just classes. While certainly a valid outlook in some cases, such mentality can minimize the multifaceted experience of students and worse yet, exacerbate the widespread mental health problems. As such, values are more important than ever before in providing students with the space to reflect on what truly matters in life and the connections between us rather than just how to get the next internship. Especially as we strive to rebuild community after COVID and steer it towards a better place, these values become paramount as a guide for students to fall upon.”

Lui is proud of how the values are supporting students as they return to campus. 

“In general, I think the pandemic really forced everyone to reflect on where they are in life and what they want to get out of it,” she says. “After returning to campus, I think that students are more authentic and choose to spend time on the things that truly matter to them. We hope that the values and the conversations that spark around them can help students on their journey of discovering and pursuing these meaningful activities, in addition to sparking a conversation about our school’s culture and how we might want that to change. We hope that we can continue to start conversations around not just Wharton’s values but also our personal values and how they interact with each other. One key thing about the values that we established early on is that their definitions are never rigid—each student should be able to interpret a value based on their own experiences and agree/disagree on the school’s current alignment with it.”

“It has been so great to witness our student leaders working together to lead this student-wide initiative and to provide a set of values that strives to unite the Wharton undergraduate student community,” says Lee Kramer, director of Student Life, Wharton Undergraduate Division. “I look forward to seeing what other initiatives and programs that will come about that incorporate these important values in the years to come.”