Real Humans of The Wharton School’s MBA Class of 2021
Erin Murphy, Wharton’s MBA/MA Class of 2021
Hometown: Newtown, CT
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
First Major: Journalism and Mass Communication (Public Relations Track)
Second Major: International Studies (Thematic Focus: Global Health and Environment, Regional Focus: Eastern Europe and Central Asia)
Minor: Russian Language & Culture
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 8, International Economic Development, Social Impact and Education
Why business school? Why now?
In 2015, I founded Dignity Collective, a company that seeks to prevent trafficking and exploitation by employing women and other marginalized members of Nepali society to manufacture high-end, fair trade products. In addition to expanding product inventory and scaling Dignity Collective operations in Nepal, I want to expand my own understanding of entrepreneurship and social business practices in emerging markets.
In founding a business, I’ve done as much as I can with what I’ve had, but I’ve also realized that there are skills and knowledge gaps I need to fill to be a more impactful entrepreneur. Around this time when I was thinking about applying I had a stable income, was happily married and living in Los Angeles, and I thought, do I really want to stir the pot right now? I recognized, though, that it might never feel like the right time, and with 30 on the horizon, I figured, I needed to make moves to reach my ultimate personal and professional growth goals.
Why Wharton? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Wharton was always my first choice, and though I did feel like I was a genuine fit for other schools, too, there was just something about Wharton. My parents both worked on Wall Street for several years, and they always talked about the Wharton grads—that they essentially exhibited an ideal combination of intelligence, hustle and sociability. So I have to admit, I came into the process somewhat biased.
But beyond that, the tradition of The Wharton School appealed to me and still does; though committed to innovation and growth, I appreciate that Wharton has a fairly traditional fixed and flexible academic core, which for me as a non-traditional student, is helpful to rounding out my business knowledge.
The most defining factor for me was the immense amount of opportunities to learn more about business in a global context. I am a dual degree student completing an M.A. in International Studies at The Lauder Institute Russian language track, and for me, Lauder is like a home within Wharton where I can be surrounded by like-minded people who aspire to utilize cultural and linguistic competencies to become better global business leaders.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
This is a tough question, because I am constantly impressed by my classmates! Having spent the majority of my career working in the international development aid and education sectors, I have differentiated cultural, linguistic and functional expertise.
Particularly when it comes to emerging markets, social impact and environmental sustainability, I hope that my unique “boots on the ground” experience can provide conceptual and logistical perspective for my classmates and for the broader Wharton community, especially for anyone who might need to move goods through a mountain pass or map out an alternative trekking route!
Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I was once chased by a rhino while on a Jeep safari with my husband in Chitwan National Park in Nepal. It was exhilarating and humbling all at the same time!
Post-MBA career interests?
Throughout my time here at Wharton, I will be working to develop my operations, strategy and marketing skills, to raise the capital and build the team to scale Dignity Collective’s brand and product sources.
Upon graduation, my goal is have to have grown my startup, but also to have explored opportunities in emerging market venture capital and other social entrepreneurial ideas (such as specialty coffee distribution and concierge eco-travel). Ultimately, I see myself committed to a career of elevating and equipping entrepreneurs in emerging markets to solve the problems they see in the ways they identify as most impactful.
Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Involve people you know, love and trust in the crafting of your application. Ask people what they think you bring to the table and how you will most be able to stand out. But ultimately, the best advice someone gave me was to keep a small circle of people whose feedback will impact decisions on changing parts of your applications. You don’t need to circulate essays to all your co-workers or family members; choose a few, and remember that ultimately, you need to be authentic.
–One thing you would change or do differently?
START EARLY. Though I started thinking about schools and about my motivations more than a year before I actually applied, I left the bulk of the actual application process to a period of about 8 weeks before due dates.
The process is stressful enough as it is, so I would advise getting organized earlier on (ideally, 16 weeks or so from due dates) and creating some kind of calendar of priorities and to-dos. If you know you’re a procrastinator, commit your plans to a friend, mentor or partner who can help hold you accountable.
–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The test. I’m not a great test-taker, and the whole process became a source of anxiety for me that at times felt even paralyzing, but my incredible support system helped me get through it. My husband is an educator and helped me find an excellent, personalized tutoring company.
My team at work was beyond understanding and often helped me by taking on extra shares of work to free me up from some of my responsibilities. My family and friends constantly encouraged me, sending me good luck texts and just giving me a lot of positive affirmations.
What is your initial impression of Wharton’s students/culture/community?
Wharton is a big place with a lot of diversity and a lot of talent, but it is united by the community’s commitment to excellence and openness. Something that struck me right away is how global my class is—64 countries are represented! Additionally, because the class is comprised of people from a wealth of cultural and professional backgrounds, it really is the perfect place to generate ideas, innovate and challenge yourself.
One thing you have learned about Wharton that has surprised you?
Throughout the application process, I frequently heard stereotypes about Wharton, mostly related to it being a “cut-throat” school that only prioritizes finance. Sure, it is a rigorous business school and so competition is present, but so far, it feels like people are supportive of each other and are more than open to helping classmates however possible.
Additionally, the Class of 2021 has demonstrated equally-distributed career interest across sectors, and what’s especially exciting for me, is that we are the first class that has specified entrepreneurship as our leading area of interest.
Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Prioritizing! Wharton offers so many opportunities to explore and pursue career and personal interests and to travel and try new things. I know I want to get involved in student life, but choosing which clubs and initiatives are truly most relevant to my personal MBA and post-MBA goals has already been a bit overwhelming.
I’m in the process now of figuring out what activities I want to pursue here that will provide me a balance of finding ways to stretch myself (like Finance Club), but also to enjoy something fun and/or familiar (Dance Studio, Wine Club). Luckily, second-year Wharton and Lauder students have been super helpful with answering my questions and giving me information about how to appropriately allocate time for academics, recruiting and student life engagements.
Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I am most excited about getting the tools to become a more confident and competent entrepreneur. Of course, I look forward to growing Dignity Collective, but more importantly, I’m ready to meet people who can inspire, teach, and challenge me to think more critically and to innovative more successfully.