During her two years at Wharton, Katie Blach Ellington (Wharton, ’17) traveled the world, played intramural hockey, served as a Leadership Fellow, helped run First-Year Orientation, performed in Wharton’s annual Dance Studio Performance, got to see speakers such as Jessica Bennett and Sheryl Sandberg all while affirming (and advancing) her knowledge and passion for equal rights and opportunities for people in the workplace. In our interview, Katie shared with us some of her reflections on her experience at Wharton and the role of the “Stretch experiences” in her own growth and development.
MBASchooled: What is your favorite memory of business school?
Katie: Narrowing it down to one favorite memory is far too difficult! During my first year, traveling to Southeast Asia on a Global Immersion Program trek was the experience of a lifetime – learning about a region I had never visited previously from the perspective of CEOs in the region and some of my Vietnamese and Thai classmates was unforgettable. This past August, running the Learning Team Retreat and Big Idea Innovation Tournament with my fellow Leadership Fellows for the incoming first year class was such an amazing personal growth experience for me. And this past semester, performing a bhangra fusion dance for Wharton’s annual Dance Studio performance and playing in the D-League championship hockey game in the same night will go down as one of my most fun nights at Wharton!
MBASchooled: What will you miss most about your MBA experience?
Katie: I will miss the amazing luxury of time you are awarded as a full-time business school student. My schedule has been so much more flexible than when I was working, allowing for things like reflection, travel, and afternoon walks with my husband Jeff. I will really miss Philadelphia, as the city has been a wonderful home to us for the last two years. I’ll miss the collegiate environment of UPenn and the amazing speakers and classmates I’ve gotten to listen to and learn from daily over the last two years. And I’ll very much miss the amazing diversity of my fellow Wharton classmates, so many of whom have become good friends; getting to learn from so many of them about their industries and cultures has been tremendous.
MBASchooled: What are you most proud of from your MBA experience?
Katie: As cliché as it is sounds, I’m proud of all the “stretch experiences” I took advantage of in business school, from standing up and telling 70 first-years my life story during orientation, to working with an Executive Coach to improve on some of my personal areas of development, to dancing in front of the entire school (I’m a horrific dancer). I really did learn a lot from all these experiences. (Editors Note: Katie is an excellent dancer…)
MBASchooled: What’s the most important lesson you learned in business school?
Katie: Business school just affirmed that I never want to stop learning, pushing myself, and broadening my perspective. One lesson that came up repeatedly in several classes that I hadn’t learned much about previously is the power of heuristics and biases (like confirmation bias, anchoring, overconfidence, and similarity attraction), and how we all fall prey to them constantly. I hope that greater awareness about how these biases affect me will lead to better decision-making throughout the rest of my life and career.
MBASchooled: What part of you has undergone the most transformation while in business school?
Katie: I think I’ve emerged from business school a bigger feminist than I was before (which is saying something, because I already was a feminist!) There were several classes that focused on the data today and how much further we still need to go as a society (big props to Adam Grant for being such an advocate for women in the workplace!). Being at Wharton during the election was also a powerful experience; I voted for Hillary Clinton in the morning with my husband, I listened to Jessica Bennett, the author of Feminist Fight Club, speak at lunch that day on campus, and I took a photo with dozens of other excited Wharton women on what we thought was going to be a historic day for all women. November 8 taught me how much harder we still need to fight. On a more positive note, the Wharton Women in Business Conference this past fall was one of the more empowering and inspiring days I’ve had. And then in a sort of culmination, on my last day of Wharton classes last week, I had the privilege of hearing Sheryl Sandberg speak on campus; it was amazing to see how many of my Wharton women classmates posted photos of the event, calling her a personal hero. It was uplifting and reminded me that hopefully when my kids are my age, we will have many more women C-suite executives like Sheryl Sandberg to look up to.
MBASchooled: Who is someone who has had a positive influence on you while in business school?
Katie: I was lucky enough to be a part of the Leadership Fellow Program at Wharton; our group of 40 second year students received leadership training every Friday of last spring, helped run orientation for the first-year students in August, and then served as their mentors throughout the school year. We became an incredibly tight-knit group, and all 40 of them have had an incredibly positive influence on me; they’ve always held me accountable to my goals and personal standards, they’ve made me question and grow my beliefs, and they’ve become amazing friends that I know I’ll keep for the rest of my life!
MBASchooled: Is there anything that you haven’t gotten to do that you wish you had done?
Katie: A few small things, but nothing really! I would love to visit my international Learning Teammates in their home countries someday – Germany, France, Brazil, and China!
MBASchooled: Where do you hope to be in five years?
Katie: Jeff and I are looking forward to heading back home to the Bay Area, where I suspect we’ll be for quite a long time! In five years, I hope to be helping take my family business, Blach Construction, to new heights. And I also hope to be working with non-profits to fight for a more equitable workplace and country.