As I paddled through the Potomac River in March of 2022, I found myself mesmerized by the smokestacks in the distance. This visual reminder of how companies can directly impact the environment weighed on me as I reflected on the environmental leadership class that had brought me to this point.
LGST 2600 isn’t your typical environmental law class. Led by Professor Sarah Light and Leadership Ventures associate director Erica Montemayor, the class started in a conventional manner, with five sessions held in a classroom in Huntsman Hall. Then, during spring break, we left the comforts of Penn behind as we embarked on a camping trip. Over five days, we biked 41.5 miles, hiked three miles, and paddled 18.6 miles. We pitched our own tents and cooked our own meals on makeshift campfires, all while continuing to reflect on environmental leadership.
Throughout the semester, we learned about the intersection between business and the environment and heard from leaders at several companies that were created with sustainability at their core. While it was interesting to learn about business models that were both profitable and environmentally friendly, witnessing concrete examples of the interaction between business and the environment prompted me to take these lessons a step further and consider what my own impact might be.
At Penn, it’s easy to get lost in the hurricane of classes, clubs, and career preparation that dominates life along Locust Walk. It’s rare that we pause to consider what matters most to us or what we truly value. When you’re canoeing in the middle of Maryland without any technology — just you, your canoe mate, the river, and the distant smokestacks — you have a rare opportunity to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you want to apply that knowledge.
This is what I love most about experiences that go beyond the classroom: They require you to leave your comfort zone, embrace new environments, and connect with class concepts on a deeper level. I grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania. My family didn’t travel much beyond the U.S. or go on trips that would have pushed me outside my comfort zone, so I didn’t really know what I was missing. However, after my experience with LGST 2600 in the spring of my first year, I knew I wanted to take advantage of every possible opportunity. In just two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several more learning experiences beyond Penn’s campus. I went to the UAE to witness the renewable energy revolution and to Italy to conduct education and economics research. I’ve learned about media and entertainment in Los Angeles and spent a summer interning in Australia. Each of these experiences allowed me to understand my own priorities more deeply and clarify my values.
My first international experience traveling with Penn occurred a few months after the Legal Studies venture. I once again found myself learning outside the classroom, this time through the Wharton International Program (WIP). Every year, three courses are offered through WIP, each focusing on a different theme related to the business environment in that location. My class was focused on the impact of Brexit on the U.K. and Ireland. In the two countries, we witnessed firsthand the impact of this policy on businesses ranging from football clubs to shipping groups to private equity companies. Outside of company visits, we watched a show at Shakespeare’s Globe, went on a food tour (and of course tried fish and chips), and enjoyed a Riverdance performance in Dublin.
Fast-forward to March of my sophomore year and another spring break on a class trip, this time with the Wharton Industry Exploration Program (WIEP). WIEP offers two different half-credit courses, each exploring a different industry. Our Los Angeles excursion focused on the arts, entertainment, and media sectors: We learned about new trends, opportunities, and challenges as we met with executives from the Walt Disney Company, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Music, and United Talent Agency. I gained an appreciation for the vast array of career opportunities that exists outside the industries that Wharton students typically pursue. We owe it to ourselves to at least consider less-conventional paths, and WIEP is a great way to do exactly that.
When I look back, there are three elements to these trips that stand out to me. First, everything — hotel, transportation, restaurants, excursions — was coordinated, which meant I could focus on absorbing it all without worrying about logistics. The strength of the Wharton brand also impressed me. It’s easy to lose sight of that during the school year, but when you go to a new country to take private tours, meet with industry executives, and talk to international students who recognize the Wharton name, you realize how extraordinary it is to attend this school. My last takeaway is that these trips are created to meet student demand. If there’s an opportunity that we want to see brought to life — more classes such as the environmental leadership course, more trips, more policy-focused offerings — we as students must advocate for those.
As a Kite and Key tour guide and Wharton Ambassador, I’m frequently asked, “What’s your favorite part about Penn?” Without hesitation, I say it’s the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. Biking 41.5 miles in West Virginia while you discuss greenwashing and environmental personhood with your peers, marveling at the world’s largest solar power plant in Abu Dhabi, and meeting with British Parliament members are experiences that are made possible by the Penn and Wharton names and the strength of our alumni network. It’s opportunities like these that make me proud to be a Penn student.
My advice to my fellow students, especially for those who have never explored an unfamiliar environment or engaged with a new culture, is to take advantage of these opportunities. As Wharton students, we have the unique privilege and obligation of driving impact in our careers. Through the experiences offered by programs such as WIP, WIEP, and LGST 2600, you can better discover what you want your impact to be in the future.
Gabriella Gibson W25 is from Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, concentrating in ESG and business economics and public policy. She enjoys traveling, engaging in prospective student outreach, and exploring the Philly food scene.
Published as “Let’s Go!” in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Wharton Magazine.