2020 Best & Brightest: Katherine Ku, Wharton School

Katherine Ku

The Wharton School At The University Of Pennsylvania

A pursuer of new experiences and deep, meaningful relationships.”

Fun fact about yourself: I lived in the Turkish village of Yassihoyuk for 2.5 months while working on an archaeological dig.

Hometown: Cerritos, California

High School: Gretchen Whitney High School

Major: Economics (Concentrating in Management), Anthropology

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Course: Organizational Behavior (Mgmt 238)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Wharton Undergraduate Cohort System – Co-chair (2019-present), President (2018-2019), Freshman Director (2017-2018), Freshman Representative (2016-2017)
  • Wharton School Department of Management – Organizational Behavior Consortium Research Assistant (2018-present)
  • Penn Appétit – Culinary Director (2018-2019), Online and print content contributor (2017-2018)
  • Joseph Wharton Scholar (2016-present)

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Oliver Wyman; New York City, NY; Summer Consultant
  • MilkCrate, LLC; Philadelphia, PA; Client Success & Business Development Intern
  • Gordion Archaeological Project; Yassihoyuk, Turkey; Excavation Registrar

Where will you be working after graduation? Oliver Wyman – Consultant

Who is your favorite professor? Professor Adam Grant has been one of the most influential figures during my time at Wharton. His class on organizational behavior was extremely engaging and relevant to students like me who are transitioning in the workplace. Adam not only encourages his students to create genuine, lasting connections with each other and with MBA mentors, but he also establishes sincere relationships with each individual student. Despite his fame and busy schedule, he takes time to meet with us one-on-one to not only answer questions related to class but to support us in our individual endeavors and struggles. He is truly one of the most empathetic and selfless people I have ever met.

What did you enjoy most about your business school? Coming to Wharton has given me a wealth of diverse experiences and allowed me to meet people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. As a cohort leader, I’ve met hundreds of students who all have different ambitions and come from all corners of the Earth. Wharton has also given me the opportunity to travel to places like Patagonia in Southern Chile through its Leadership Ventures program, where fellow students and I immersed ourselves in nature for an entire week at one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? Throughout the last few years, I’ve learned the importance of building and maintaining deep relationships. Too often, I’ve found myself making friends or meeting people once and just letting them go. I often underestimate the value of seeing a friendly face in class, even if it’s someone who was on my management group project team years ago. Those rich connections have meant a lot to me, especially when classmates and professors have gone out of their way to help me, whether it be with a case interview or simply encouraging me to keep chugging on.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? Building off my previous answer, I’ve continually surprised by how broadly a business education can be applied. Though many Wharton graduates choose careers in finance or consulting, a Wharton education is extremely versatile. I’ve met students who are incredibly talented cooks who want to open their own restaurants as well as those who want to want to improve the healthcare system or create innovative new mobile apps. It sounds obvious, but business students are talented and interested in so many fields outside of strictly “business” ones. In any case, business education can be instrumental in countless career pursuits.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I am particularly proud of my role in the Wharton Undergraduate Cohorts system. As a freshman, I joined the organization as a Freshman Representative, continued to serve in a different role every year, and am now the Co-Chair. This means I have the honor of leading a group of 30 incredible student leaders. The mission of Cohorts, which is to create inclusive communities and support systems for first-year Wharton students, is especially important to me since coming to Penn can be a difficult transition for many students. Through Cohorts, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of students, engaged in mentorship relationships with other leaders and had the opportunity to leave my mark on Wharton. I remember being hesitant and soft-spoken in my first year and was even nearly not invited back to be a Cohort leader my second year. However, I continued to work hard and dedicated countless hours to the Wharton community, which has allowed me to serve as Co-Chair, one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life thus far.

Which classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate, Jacqueline Chan. She is one of the most empathetic and dedicated people I have ever met. She has been an RA since her sophomore year and constantly gives endless support to her residents, even though she, more likely than not, has more than enough on her own plate. Beyond this, she is part of so many people’s support systems and I know that many other students and I feel extraordinarily lucky to know her. She encourages me to step out of my comfort zone by getting to know new people around campus and is also constantly trying to better herself as a person, intellectually and professionally.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mother is truly a force of nature. Beyond the standard things one would appreciate one’s mother for, she constantly pushes the envelope and challenges what I believe I can accomplish. She is a boundary pusher, the first of her family to move across the planet to raise her two daughters and someone who is never afraid of what others might think. She is constantly setting an example for me as someone who isn’t afraid to reach for what she wants while acting as an extremely effective support system for me. Without her, I surely would not be where I am today or would have crashed and burned long ago.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Regardless of where my professional experiences take me, I want to be in a position to help others or make a positive impact on the community. Also, I would love to eventually start my own organization or even just an initiative that would challenge me as a leader and further a cause I truly believed in (for example, protecting the environment or standing up for women’s rights).

What are your hobbies? I love to travel and see the outdoors; several months ago, I also started a travel blog to reflect on my experiences, which has helped me further appreciate and remember all the places I’ve been and people I’ve met. In addition, I love to rock climb and meet people in the climbing community. Typically, when I am walking between classes or just doing chores around the house, I also enjoy listening to podcasts, such as Radiolab, Invisibilia, and Stuff You Should Know.

What made Katherine such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Katherine has fully taken advantage of what Penn has to offer academically by combining a degree in economics at Wharton with an anthropology degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. This rich academic perspective has helped Katherine bring a multitude of perspectives into the classroom enlivening any discussion she took part in. An ability to bring in a wealth of perspectives also informed her outstanding leadership style. She is both a passionate and compassionate leader with a bright future ahead of her.”

Utsav Schurmans, PhD
Director, Research and Scholars Programs
Wharton Undergraduate Division