50 years ago, enterprising Black Wharton students formed the Black MBA Association, later the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), with the goal of supporting “the continued achievement of students of African descent at The Wharton School.” Representing about 160 students, AAMBAA is one of the largest organized groups of Black business graduate students of any business school. Through extensive social networking, academic support, career guidance, and fun, AAMBAA works with students at every stage of their Wharton journey; from their time as prospective students, to when they graduate as Wharton alumni who continue advance Black accomplishments in business.
Wharton Stories sat down with Zoddy Imoisili WG’23 and Marques Stevenson WG’23, two officers from AAMBAA who are both pursuing consulting careers, and discussed the art of finding community, cultivating friendships, and the ways that the entire Black at Wharton network builds community here at Wharton.
Please tell us about yourselves.
ZI: My name is Zoddy Imoisili, and I am one of AAMBAA’s two Vice Presidents of Partnerships, which I really enjoy doing with AJ Tella. I’m highly involved at Wharton outside of AAMBAA as well, and serve in several leadership positions throughout the School. In my professional life thus far, I’ve had roles at Pepsi, Google; and, plan to go into consulting after I graduate from Wharton in May.
MS: I’m Marques Stevenson. I am in my second year, along with Zoddy, and I am one of the co-presidents of AAMBAA. Before Wharton, I served in the military, including my six years spent on active duty in both the Air Force and Space Force. After a summer spent consulting in New York City, I will be returning to the field in New York post-graduation.
How did you both find community at Wharton?
MS: Here at Wharton, the community quickly finds you. The Admissions Team does a fantastic job at crafting cohorts that represent a broad diversity of personalities, interests, and backgrounds. Everyone comes as they truly are; and I promise you, you will find your people. So you find your people if you come just as yourself. And the interaction points are pretty numerous, especially during the early forming stages, whether it be the preterm or first semester. So, I just encourage everybody that does come here to really just come as yourself and like you’ll find your people.
ZI: Connection here is multifaceted. There’s a sense of community even before I got here because of group chats and all of those conversations that we were having, and people got accepted, and then we did AAMBAA 101. So, we meet some people and then those group chats start, and then we follow each on Instagram, and then you all meet in person, and then preterm starts. And then from there you’re going to be relieved that you know a few people who came from similar cities or did similar pre-MBA things with you. And then, you get close with the cohorts or other groups, so it just kind of expands off of there. You start networking with those communities, as well as seeking out what you’re interested in, and then finding like minds in those spaces, and then growing in the community around there.
How does AAMBAA foster relationships and community with new Wharton students?
In many ways; but first, we offer to have our current students review elements of your application or resume, talk about Wharton, and ask any questions about the program. I think that my first introduction to Wharton was having a visit with a student who was a couple of years older than I am, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to just pick his brain, talking about what I wanted to do. And he said, “Hey, I got a friend who’s doing what you just said you want to do.” Before you know, I’d talked to four or five Wharton students, all of whom also belonged to AAMBAA.
But those touch-points were the nexus of my original interactions with Wharton and building community, and we continue to do that now. And then when you get admitted, that bond is further amped. The current students do a great job of putting pressure on people. So we’re calling you, we’re picking your brain in trying to help you make the decision; hopefully, you’ll make the right one, and come join us aboard. And then once we get here, we have what I think is unique to Wharton, the 100 Series, which is AAMBAA 101.
The AAMBAA 100 Series occurs the weekend before preterm where we introduce them to the history of Black at Wharton and really stress the legacy of it, and then also give them a cursory glance at ways to succeed here and the different resources that they can use. They’re all a part of a bigger approach. I think AAMBAA has done a very good job of making people feel like this is more than just a place you get an education, but also a community.
How are other ways the Black community comes together at Wharton?
ZI: Several ways. Well, I feel like it’s so formalized through AAMBAA, then there’s the 100 Series; and for that 100 Series, it’s not just AAMBAA 101, but also 102 and 103 as well. One is to focus on academics and one is focused on career development. The 101 is the intro to Wharton and then there’s stages to that, through the first semester, so that’s one formal way we connect. We have the Whitney M. Young Conference, for which we onboard first-years to help. AAMBAA alumni also come back for frequent returns to campus, and a lot of people connect that way. And then we keep in touch informally through group chats a lot, birthdays, getting dinner, classes, study groups, and parties.
MS: Of the affinity clubs on campus, we’re one of the more active ones in terms of official programming, but even I think that’s the case for unofficial programming as well. Like she said, the 100 Series is what we have in academics and career-based assistance for current students, but we do small group dinners; we have little families where we breakdown the AAMBAA into smaller groups with second years and first years, forming a familial structure. It’s a good way to make sure that people are getting more intimate interactions within AAMBAA.
We’ll give them budgets to have dinner or anything they like. What we’re trying to emphasize is that, within AAMBAA, we are also striving for informal programming and networking. Those touch points are numerous and there’s always an opportunity here at AAMBAA.
What advice would you give to Black students to find their own sense of belonging at Wharton?
MS: I would say get personal experience. Mine was coming to visit my friend who was here and just being around the students and immediately feeling that sense of home. Everything felt so real, so authentic, and I felt like I was really at home here. So, I would say to speak to as many people here as possible. You have the opportunity to come and visit on any weekend or for a visit tailored for prospective students. The energy is palpable here at Wharton and it speaks for itself when you visit.
ZI: For a lot of people, AAMBAA is that home-base unit. You always know everyone’s going to have your back, you have friends there, you’re always going to run into each other in the hallways and say “hi.” You have to explore and remind yourself why you came to business school and find anything that reinforces that.
Posted: February 27, 2023