Learning Leadership at 20 Below
- by Stephanie Nam
Being the urban type and growing up in a desert, there are a few things I never once thought about doing. Dogsledding? That’s only in the movies. Ice climbing? I’m pretty sure that’s just for characters in Super Smash Bros. Skiing? Well, maybe someday. Then I received an email about the Wharton Leadership Venture (WLV) to Jackson Hole, WY, during winter break. This email stood out to me among the hundreds of emails typically sent out to students about various campus events and activities due to its exciting photo of dog sledding. I applied on a whim.
Ten weeks later, I found myself stepping out of a plane and directly into the -20 degree Fahrenheit weather of Jackson, WY. The first day, we explored the quaint town filled with local restaurants, a small chocolate store, various sporting goods stores and, my favorite, a custom hat store that made and sold cowboy hats made from leather to rabbit to beaver. The following days were filled with outdoor adventures. I began by skiing for the first time, discovering the excitement of the ski lift, acquiring more bruises than I could count and learning how to stop by ramming into a building. I eventually met everyone in our venture team and began to increasingly value the simple joy of the warm fireplace in the lodge lobby.
Over the course of the venture, I checked off many things from a checklist that never previously existed. Knowing the basic commands for sled dogs? Check. Being held up by your belaying teammate when a part of the ice wall unexpectedly crumbles under the pressure of your weight? Check. Running through the freezing air barefoot and wearing nothing but a swimsuit in a hot spring? Check. Meeting passionate people with diverse interests that I never would have met otherwise? Check.
On top of the outdoors activities, we gave consultation to the founders of Vertical Harvest, a multistory greenhouse project intent on becoming one of the first low-profit limited liability company (L3C) in the area. We met the founders and were given insight into this new company structure, which combines a nonprofit mission with a for-profit structure. The project connected us to the town in a way that a short stay normally cannot as we learned about the townspeople and structure from locals themselves.
Learning about L3Cs for the first time here caused me to research more companies with strong social purposes as their main mission for their companies. I even came back to Penn and started to seek out ways I can get involved in the social impact community as it is something that I am now interested in pursuing.
The Wharton community is so diverse that I don’t normally get the chance to interact with different aspects in it. This venture allowed me to see a whole new side of business and my own country. I came back with new perspectives on certain aspects of life. Twenty degrees Fahrenheit today? That’s hardly what I would call freezing.