A few years ago, MBA students Brittney Govan and Itunu Dacosta met at a ladies’ dinner night and became friends. They each went on to win the Whitney M. Young Memorial Fellowship (in 2021 and 2022 respectively) for their outstanding leadership and contributions to the community of color both on- and off-campus. In the conversation below, they reflect on all they’ve learned and achieved at Wharton.
Brittney: Itunu, what does winning the 2022 Whitney M. Young Memorial Fellowship mean to you?
Itunu: I was part of three finalists, but wasn’t really hoping to win. At the gala, I was shocked when Quinton McArthur (Sr. Associate Director of Diversity at Wharton) announced me as the 2022 Fellowship Winner. I was blown away to have been nominated by my classmates. It meant that my peers were paying attention and they valued my contributions within the Black community. Some things you put your heart and soul into something not really expecting a reward, but having my peers nominate me and acknowledge the exceptional work I’ve done — it was thrilling and humbling. Winning this award was a stamp of approval from my peers, but also a wake-up call to show that although I’ve done exceptional work throughout the year, there is still so much more to be done. There is still this sense of obligation and duty to continue to do more to represent our Black community.
Itunu: What was it like for you?
Brittney: As the 2021 Fellowship recipient, there are not enough words to express the gratitude that I felt, from the moment I found out that I was even nominated for the award to the moment I found out I was the awardee. Since the 2021 Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference was virtual, the 2021 Scholar was not announced in the traditional way, which is usually at the conference gala. It wasn’t until a few weeks after the conference that the Scholar was selected. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was literally in Los Angeles, sitting at a restaurant, having dinner with a friend when I got an email from Quinton McArthur that I won. I think I went numb for a little bit, it took me a minute to process it. It was the same exact feeling that I felt when I got the call that I was accepted into Wharton. Initially numb from the shock of it all, and then when reality set in, the tears fell. I still have a huge sense of gratitude that I believe I will forever carry with me.
‘Being’ at Wharton
Itunu: Brittney, you participated in very meaningful community-building activities during your time at Wharton. How would you describe that experience and your impact on the Black community?
Brittney: I did a lot at Wharton. I was very dedicated to giving back and probably took on more leadership roles than I would recommend anyone else to do. Coming into Wharton, I knew that I was going to do any and everything I could to make an impact on the community. There were two main objectives for me: one was to lift as I climb, and the other was to educate my peers on the economic disadvantages that many Black Americans face and why this should be important to them. I knew being at Wharton was not just about me. I did not make it to this space on my own accord. I’m standing on the backs of those who directly and indirectly paved the way for me to get here and I knew it would be a disservice not to add to the legacy.
As a Black, first-generation college student from the South, there was a personal dedication that I had to make an impact on my community socioeconomically. While this is not a guarantee, I do truly believe that huge socioeconomic gains can be achieved through education. It was my mission to help as many people as I could to make it to this space, from my community and others like it. I also knew I had to educate my peers, many of who have no personal experience with economic disadvantage, on what the real-world experience is like for Black Americans who aren’t living in the “Wharton privilege” bubble.
Brittney: How about you? Where does your motivation for taking on these roles stem from?
Itunu: My experiences with AAMBAA and WASA have been my most fulfilling experiences at Wharton. These communities have sustained and continually uplifted me through tough times and celebratory times alike. One of the major highlights of my MBA experience was the opportunity to serve as Co-Chair for the Wharton Africa Business Forum (WABF). In this role, we engaged all the affinity groups on campus plus students from 10+ top business schools to showcase Africa’s ingenuity to the rest of the Wharton community and the world. I’m very passionate about the opportunity for young professionals to propose tactical solutions to the greatest challenges facing the African continent, hence why I decided to run for the co-chair position. As part of the conference, we had a combination of keynote and panel sessions curated to allow participants to discuss innovative ways to drive change that can transform the world. In addition, I served as Co-President of the Finance Club. One of my main goals for joining this role was to provide an advanced pathway for Black and minority students to obtain finance jobs. I know firsthand what it means to come from nothing and how a job or career can uplift you, your family, and even your community. Through coffee chats, mock interviews, and panel sessions, we helped 1Y minority students gain finance jobs to provide economic empowerment and close the income inequality gaps. WASA and AAMBAA gave me the foundation that I needed to assume other forms of leadership positions throughout the Wharton community.
Investing in Yourself and Your Community
Brittney: How do you plan to continue your community work beyond Wharton?
Itunu: Post-graduation, I plan to first settle into my new job. Next, I plan to help develop a formal mentorship and sponsorship opportunity for women of color to empower girls (especially teenagers) and women to pursue careers within the finance and technology industry. One of my passion projects pre-MBA is a social impact project focused on creating a pathway and pipeline for incarcerated youths (especially minorities) at juvenile detention centers to successfully transition into the workplace/schools. I’m hoping to continue working on this project post-MBA.
Itunu: As a recent alum, how did you stay involved after graduating?
Brittney: I have to be honest. I felt like I gave so much of myself to my community during my time at Wharton that I neglected taking time for myself for a while. During my two-year experience, I was so busy managing my various leadership roles at Wharton that I didn’t even take true time to focus on recruiting. After graduation, I told myself that I was going to take a year for myself. While I was always available to serve or advise when asked, I was intentional about not taking on any formal leadership roles. I came back to Wharton twice to speak on alumni panels and have also taken a ton of calls from Wharton students looking to pivot into tech. Service is still a passion, so I don’t think I can ever shy too far away. In the future, I do want to get more involved in the Wharton community as an alum resource, especially for those looking to break into tech. At Meta, there are so many programs in place to give back so I have been looking into volunteering as an MBA representative. I would also like to be more involved within my local Houston community as well, so that is something I will pursue this summer.
— Gloria Yuen
Posted: May 26, 2022