Justine Lai, WG’16, is passionate about making change happen. “I want to spend my career helping organizations transform themselves, becoming more creative and more forward thinking,” she says.
In fact, one of the organizations Justine is helping to transform is Wharton itself.
She jumped at the opportunity to impact the school by helping to grow one of the most thriving student groups on campus – the Wharton Innovation & Design Club.
Initially, Justine thought she would pursue a role with either Wharton Women in Business or the Wharton Social Impact Initiative due to her professional background and interests. She noticed both of these student groups were already strong. So, she turned her attention to the burgeoning Wharton Innovation & Design Club where she could add value and deepen her skills.
Cultivating an Innovation Community
The Wharton curriculum is well-known for stressing the importance of quantitative analysis in the classroom. The student-run Wharton Innovation & Design Club is focused on raising awareness of design thinking and its role is driving innovation. As Justine puts it, “Innovation means bringing new products, new services, new systems into the world that really advance it in a systematic way.” Take, for example, how Airbnb turned around their failing business around or how Capital One is iterating on their user experience.
One way the club achieves their mission is through original educational programming that delivers workshops on a variety of organizational change topics. Open to all Wharton and Penn students, the sessions give attendees the opportunity to learn about the design thinking process, brainstorming techniques, and how to build prototypes.
“We want to help students at Wharton learn those skills and have that mindset. Ultimately whenever you’re thinking about a service or a product you’re starting with the customer,” Justine says.
In addition to planning and leading the workshops, the student education team brings in experts from the Penn community and the innovation industry. Guest facilitators include Sarah Rottenberg, Associate Director of Integrated Product Design at Penn, and Steve Blank, an entrepreneur turned educator who came up with the Customer Development methodology that has changed the way startups are built. The club has also established partnerships with Made by Many, Smart Design, co:collective, Fjord Interactive, and frog design, and NextFab by connecting with former colleagues at these companies.
Wharton Innovation & Design is resonating thanks to a growing interest from students in innovation careers, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship. In just three short years, the club’s ranks have swelled by about 40 percent—with 30 percent of those members consisting of non-Wharton students. The group has also expanded to include a Healthcare Innovation Challenge, career field trips, and content strategy.
An Experience That Almost Didn’t Happen
Given her deep commitment to the Wharton community, it’s hard to believe Justine almost didn’t become a Wharton student. In fact, it wasn’t even on her radar during her search.
That all changed when a Wharton alum told her to give it another chance and look closer at the activity happening at the school. Justine connected with two students working in the social impact space at Wharton and started to get excited about the potential to contribute to the energy on campus.
That feeling was solidified when she visited campus to take part in the Wharton Social Impact Prospective Day and bonded with two other attendees. One of them was Zach Kahn, WG’16 and current WGA President, who has become one of Justine’s best friends.
At the end of the day, the supportive community at Wharton makes it easy to introduce new initiatives.
“We have an accurate reputation as [being] competitive. But it is competitive and collaborative,” Justine says. “Everyone is ultimately really supportive and we push each other to be better. No one is out to get you if you fall.”
Posted: April 22, 2016