By Maxine Winston
I have stumbled into the importance of giving for one’s own personal development many times throughout my time at Penn. This concept, echoed in Professor Adam Grant’s bestselling book Give and Take, is an important takeaway from my undergraduate education, and one that I plan to use throughout the rest of my life as readily as my OPIM and management skills learned in the classroom. Three key experiences this past year have further emphasized the lesson for me.
The first occurred during my recent Global Modular Course in Rwanda, where I was touched by advice from that nation’s inspirational president, Paul Kagame, who has led it to economic strength and united two conflicting groups to coexist in the country following a devastating genocide. When speaking in a private meeting with our class, President Kagame said that impacting others adds to your satisfaction and makes life worth living.
Then there is my role with Big Brothers Big Sisters at Penn. Serving as a mentor and friend to 12-year-old Sandra has shown me the direct impact that I can have on a mentee’s life. I spend about an hour a week with her, talking about home, school and friends, and trying to provide positive encouragement to guide her toward success.
My third giving experience involves serving as a Peer Advising Fellow. Wharton piloted its Peer Advising Fellowship Program this school year as a means to provide advising and support services to freshmen and sophomores. The peer advisors—seniors who have already “learned the ropes”—provide counsel on topics such as fulfilling the Wharton curriculum, making the most of the multitude of resources on campus, considering all study-abroad options and searching for an internship. Wharton Undergraduate designed the program to supplement the professional advising services that Wharton offers.
I was inspired to apply for the program for two main reasons. I hope to provide the support and guidance that I would have wanted from an upperclassman upon entering college. Thinking back to that time, I remember the multitude of questions that I had, most of which seemed too trivial to ask my Wharton advisor. Transitioning from high school to college can be both exciting and scary, and as a mentor, I work to minimize the fearful part by serving as a helping hand through the process. I also want to give back to Wharton in a greater way. The School has given me an incredible amount to drive my personal and pre-professional development, and I am expressing my gratitude by helping to improve the student experience for incoming classes.
The Peer Advising Fellowship Program has proven mutually rewarding for both advisors and the advisees. Many students meet with specific peer advisers with experience in a given I concentration, study abroad choice or club affiliation. Not only have I have been happy to talk with students about my own experiences at Wharton and their interests, but I also have sought to introduce students to new ideas that they may not have considered. For example, I spoke with one freshman that was interested in learning more about my experience studying abroad in Spain, and she ended up applying to a Wharton International Program in South Africa following our conversation. I try to refer students to the many programs and resources that I was not able to take advantage of in my first few years, then direct them to other upperclassmen who were.
Through these discussions and my role as a Peer Advising Fellow, I have solidified that vital lesson about the importance of giving. I have been able to learn a lot about who I am as a leader, friend and teammate. My strengths and weaknesses arise through the process of helping others, and being an advisor provides a clear avenue for self-assessment. I have found that I am a great listener, for instance, but I can still improve on my ability to manage the lengths of my meetings with individual advisees. (As it turns out, I can discuss certain topics, such as my study abroad experience, for a very long time!)
While I have had many opportunities to take from the resources and opportunities provided to me during my Wharton undergraduate education, my experience giving back has been just as rewarding.
Maxine Winston is a Wharton senior from Chestnut Hill, Mass., who is concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and minoring in Hispanic Studies. She will pursue a career in management consulting upon her graduation in May.