Although campus programs, events, and classes were remote this semester, students stayed connected more than ever. Wharton Social Impact students reflect on how they finished the semester virtually while prioritizing impactful activities.

From Wharton students to staff and beyond, everyone is adjusting to working remotely. As of March, classes went remote, programs were transformed, events were reconfigured, and students connected from time zones around the world.

What does going online mean for students’ college experiences, especially for programs like those offered by Wharton Social Impact Initiative? It was certainly a large adjustment when all of our programs and events this semester pivoted to a virtual experience. But what surprised and heartened us the most was the 100% retention rate of student involvement with WSII — Fellows, interns, program members, competition participants.

“Their sustained engagement indicates that pursuing social impact opportunities is still one of their top priorities,” said Yuri Seung, Program Manager at WSII. “We’ve noticed that students’ work is moving forward with the same outstanding quality they’ve demonstrated the past, and they’re making time each week to virtually connect with staff and each other to maintain the spirit of our community.”

She added, “We are confident that this enthusiasm will continue — no matter if it’s online or in-person — and we look forward to engaging more students in future semesters.”

So how did Wharton Social Impact students adapt to the pandemic? Last month, we asked our students about how they stayed involved, what they found most important, how they stayed connected, and any tips they’d offer their peers.

Here’s what they had to say:

How are you still engaging with social impact and/or with WSII?

Monica Volodarsky, W’21: “I am lucky enough to continue working with the WSII team remotely as an office intern! Also, due to our new virtual classroom curriculum, I continue to enjoy and be challenged by Dr. Klein in MGMT 241: Knowledge for Social Impact through our BlueJeans lectures. Otherwise, I am completing my undergraduate thesis: assessing the feasibility and desirability of a proposed intervention involving grocery stores and daycare centers that has the potential to lower child hunger in North Philadelphia.”

Hinal Shah, WG’20: “I had come back home to London for Spring break and chose to stay here as the news on online classes and travel restrictions emerged. The NHS (National Health Service) in the U.K. recently launched a volunteer appeal in response to the challenges around COVID-19 and my wife and I both decided to sign up as community responders as we wanted to do our bit to help fight the crisis (beyond social distancing). The campaign will utilize volunteers to provide assistance to vulnerable people (shopping, collecting medicines, phone calls to keep company, driving recovered patients back home) and the NHS (delivering supplies to hospitals). At Wharton, I continue to be involved with the WAG (Wharton Africa Growth Partners) team and we are carrying on with our projects and training sessions remotely.”

Becca Bean, W’21: “I’m very glad to be in courses that relate to social impact including ones that are examining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have also started working with MilkCrate which makes apps for nonprofits remotely on some business development work. Like all of us, nonprofits are looking for ways to meaningfully engage digitally during this time and it’s crucial that they have the support they need.”

Jess Stokes, WG’21: “I am continuing to work with the Philadelphia Zoo as a WISE Fellow. We have been helping them think through how to leverage their online presence (@PhiladelphiaZoo) to continue providing educational and engaging content while the physical place is temporarily closed to visitors. WSII has done a good job keeping us engaged as Fellows, and as a larger group. I attended a virtual coffee chat where we discussed careers in impact investing.”

Why is it important to continue with your social impact work?

Victoria Sansone, W’22: “In these uncertain times, I think it is even more important to keep doing what we love. Marginalized communities are disproportionally being affected by the coronavirus pandemic, so I think it is even more important that we keep fighting for change.”

Becca Bean, W’21: “Social impact matters more than ever right now. This is a huge test of our collective action abilities and we each have a part to play in ensuring that our society gets through this crisis. Involvement in social impact helps me feel a sense of personal agency and contribution in the wake of many events that are out of my control.”

Monica Volodarsky, W’21: “It is important to me to continue my social impact work because it is the purpose fueling my passion for business. Just as business adapts to the new coronavirus situation, we see the social impact space develop and morph into addressing this new challenge as well.”

Jess Stokes, WG’21: “Community service and social impact are always important, but now more than ever because we have all been faced with new challenges. There are so many things you can do that help both you and others, for example cleaning out your closet and donating clothes, deciding not to do the at-home haircut and instead giving to Locks of Love (just don’t dye your hair!), or taking a rescue animal into your home. One of my favorite quotes, from Ryunosuke Satoro, is ‘Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.’ If you do something that feels small, even as simple as reaching out to talk to someone, we can still make a huge difference collectively.”

How are you staying connected (and staying positive!) with your network virtually?

Hinal Shah, WG’20: “WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty. I’ve connected with a lot of friends who I hadn’t spoken to in a while. It was great to hear how everyone was doing. I even managed to share some tips on the public response to the NHS campaign in the UK with some friends in the US who are trying to mobilize similar resources.”

Becca Bean, W’21: “I have loved being able to gather different groups on Zoom including my extended family and old friends. I try to start and end each call on a positive note as just talking about life updates and current events can be draining. I also like to have a ‘table question’ that everyone answers that is similarly lighthearted (ex. everyone shares what they’re watching/eating).”

Jess Stokes, WG’21: “In many ways, it is possible to see this time as a gift because it has allowed me to reconnect with some of my oldest friends, while also continuing to strengthen relationships at Wharton. From virtual book clubs to trivia nights, cooking a shared recipe on FaceTime to Netflix party binge-watching, I have found that slowing down has made room for lingering conversations. Professionally, I am reaching out over email to send short notes to contacts in my network just to say that I’m thinking of them, which usually leads to good career-related and mentoring conversations.”

Have you changed the way you prioritize your activities?

Monica Volodarsky, W’21: “For me, my number one priority is always my family. Although the current situation has resulted in some uncertainty and required some adaptation regarding academics and work, I know there is nothing that could phase the strength of my family unit. Ultimately, the current situation has only solidified the priorities I had.”

Jess Stokes, WG’21: “Absolutely. I’ve found that virtual classes are taking up significantly more time in my schedule, but it’s a welcome challenge. I am also trying to plan a week in advance for virtual dates with friends and family so that I don’t overschedule too much screen time and have social things to look forward to.”

Victoria Sansone, W’22: “Yes! I have been prioritizing sleep and doing things I love more often. I have gone on a run, read a book, and listened to a podcast every day.”

What has surprised you or what have you learned since transitioning to a virtual environment?

Monica Volodarsky, W’21: “I was surprised to learn that I actually miss having face-to-face communication with my peers and professors! Never again will I suggest hopping on the phone for a club meeting instead of getting together in a GSR.”

Hinal Shah, WG’20: “The slower pace of everything else has allowed me to reflect deeper on my post-MBA journey and what I want to gain from my next steps. I am super grateful for the technology we have today and positively surprised by how everyone is trying to make the most of the situation at hand.”

Becca Bean, W’21: “I think a lot of us thought that a virtual environment would help us save time on our work and have instead found that there seem to be even more things to keep track of and the days just sort of evaporate. Virtual learning is a different workflow that involves a lot of discussion boards and checking Canvas.”

What tips do you have for other Penn/Wharton students adjusting to remote activities and classes?

Becca Bean, W’21: “Try to get yourself in a routine of working, sleeping, exercising, eating, etc. so that each day isn’t a toss-up of activities. I’ve found it helpful to make a plan the night/week before.”

Jess Stokes, WG’21: “In regard to physical space, I have found that it is helpful to create separation if possible – make your desk somewhere you can enjoy being productive, and try not to let it spread too much into your sleeping and relaxing areas. Another tip I’ve found to be helpful is putting on athletic clothes in the morning and leaving my mat out, so that when the inspiration to move strikes, there are fewer excuses not to. There are so many great live workout sessions on Instagram, and I also love the free Yoga with Adriene videos on YouTube for a more deliberate practice.”

Victoria Sansone, W’22: “Keep doing the things that make you happy and stay in touch with your friends! Take this time to reflect on your true passions and spend time pursuing them.”

Posted: May 27, 2020

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