Real Humans of The Wharton School’s MBA Class of 2021
AJ Okereke, Wharton’s MBA Class of 2021
Hometown: Randolph, Massachusetts
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Cornell University, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): After graduating from Cornell, I moved to California where I worked for three tech start-ups over 5 years—Graphiq (acquired by Amazon), Quora and Flutterwave. While in school, I’ll be working as an investing partner at Golden Palm Investments, a venture capital firm focused on Seed/ Series A opportunities in digital health and technology across Africa.
Why business school? Why now?
Having spent numerous years working closely with brilliant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Africa, I’ve come to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit and now have a long-term goal of founding my own business. This realization influenced my decision to attend business school and gain formal training in leadership, management, and teamwork.
In addition, I view business school as an incredible opportunity for self-discovery and development of a world-class social and professional network. As a young professional, I believe there is no better time for me to invest in myself through an education at The Wharton School.
Why Wharton? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
As I embarked on the business school application process there were three things I looked for:
- A strong, fun, and inclusive culture that would push me outside my comfort zone while developing lifelong friendships
- An entrepreneurial environment with differentiated resources and flexibility to work on a business while in school
- A large and emerging population of African students that could aid my personal and professional development
After a visit and conversations with current students, it became clear to me that Wharton offered all of the above and so much more.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
As a first-generation American of Nigerian descent, I recognize the combination of opportunity and responsibility that comes from my unique perspective. I plan to share my long-term passion for community-serving projects, both domestically and in emerging economies with the Wharton community.
My work as a tech investor in Africa is particularly significant in our increasingly global world of today. While at Wharton, I hope to increase awareness of business opportunities on the continent and serve as a resource for my peers. I recognize that in an interdependent world Africa must learn from global best practices and that privileged individuals like myself and my Wharton peers, have a responsibility to lead with ideas, initiative, and empathy.
Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I was a member of a reggae dancehall dance crew while in high school. We performed at high school dances.
Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
I created a deck for each of my recommenders, which outlined my story and what the school was looking for. This helped ensure that my story was clear and consistent across all recommenders and is something I would highly recommend.
–One thing you would change or do differently?
An application improves over time. Starting early and getting as many relevant eyes on your essays and story is big. Don’t feel pressured to apply to all schools in the first round. You learn as you go!
–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT. I studied while in undergrad and took the test right after my senior year. Studying for the test while in undergrad was helpful because the material was still relatively fresh in my mind given that I had learned it during those early years.
What is your initial impression of Wharton’s students/culture/community?
Students at Wharton are extremely friendly and inclusive. I’ve been impressed by the support non-African students have shown for Wharton Africa Student Association events. The community at Wharton is curious and open to new experiences and bold enough to pursue them with confidence.
One thing you have learned about Wharton that has surprised you?
The growing focus on financial technology on campus, as well as the new Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance that held its inaugural event in April of 2019. This research center will contribute to the rapid growth we’ve witnessed in the FinTech sector over the past few years.
Additionally, I also learned that Wharton Pre-term is an incredible opportunity to develop as a leader, teammate and person. The mix of intimate interpersonal skill development and larger group thought leadership was a pleasant surprise for me.
Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Consistently prioritizing my goals and what is most important to me while at Wharton. There are so many experiences and opportunities that can pull you in various directions, so the challenge for me will be saying “no” to ones that don’t align with my goals.
Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Traveling and meeting new people! I’m so excited to get to know the diverse group students within our class. There are a number of class trips and treks that I cannot wait to experience!