“Embracing our different cultural backgrounds lets us see each other in a different lens and cements relationships. It’s a fun, interesting dynamic to see people excited to celebrate and share their traditions.” – Kim Cowperthwaite, Global Class Manager

The Wharton MBA Program for Executives celebrates diversity and inclusivity, welcoming students from a variety of countries and cultural backgrounds into its Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Global cohorts. Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students represent a community of people from more than 20 countries, with a wide range of traditions, languages, and religions. During Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we explore how Wharton EMBA students and staff embrace cultural diversity and contribute to the vibrant campus community.

Exchanging cultural traditions

Students in the Wharton EMBA program form strong bonds with their classmates every other weekend as part of the program’s  residential format. On Friday nights you may find Wharton students enjoying dinner together, exploring the city’s nightlife, or attending a campus event.

“Our students like to celebrate what their classmates bring to the program from a cultural perspective,” said Kim Cowperthwaite, the Class Manager for Wharton’s Global cohort. “Diwali and Lunar New Year are two of the most popular events we hold on campus. I was in the beginning stages of planning the Lunar New Year celebration when Grace and Sindy reached out and offered to help.

“When our students are passionate about something, it energizes the campus community. Grace and Sindy took real ownership of this event which made it especially meaningful. We had a great time celebrating a holiday that is really important to a lot of students in the class. Embracing our different cultural backgrounds lets us see each other in a different lens and cements relationships. It’s a fun, interesting dynamic to see people excited to celebrate and share their traditions.”

Grace and EMBA students, staff, and family smile in the traditional Chinese dresses donated by Grace’s sister Yvonne
Kim Cowperthwaite, Class Manager for the Global cohort, laughs as he holds a plate of rabbit-shaped Lunar New Year cookies.

How a Lunar New Year celebration came together on campus

“It meant a lot that the program staff were already planning to celebrate the holiday,” said Grace Wu, WG’24, whose family emigrated from Guan Zhou, China to San Francisco in 1997. “Earlier this year, some of our classmates brought traditional Indian dresses for students to wear to the Diwali celebration. Sindy and I thought it would be fun for our classmates to wear traditional Chinese dresses to celebrate Lunar New Year. These cultural traditions are opportunities to bring people together and get to know each other on a more meaningful level.”

Sindy Wang, WG’24, grew up in Shanghai and first came to the U.S. to earn her MS in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University. “Lunar New Year is the most important festival for Chinese people,” said Sindy. “It’s a time to visit relatives and reflect on our lives over the past year. Each city has different cuisines; people in southern China eat sticky rice balls for the celebration, and people in northern China eat dumplings. My memories of Lunar New Year are of good food and family bonding.”

Wharton EMBA students and staff helped Grace and Sindy decorate the San Francisco campus for Lunar New Year two weeks in advance, hanging paper lanterns and banners displaying Chinese characters in the dining hall.

“After two full days of class on Friday and Saturday, WEMBA staff stayed behind to help us decorate campus for the event,” said Sindy. “We were all tired and ready to go home, but the enthusiasm of our classmates and Wharton staff alike motivated us to transform the space and make it special for the holiday.”

Wharton EMBA students are welcome to bring their partners and children to campus during these special events. “We had close to 30 family members and kids come to the Lunar New Year celebration,” Grace said. “The kids especially liked the fortune cookies, the cute stuffed-animal rabbits, and the lion dance, which is a traditional performance believed to bring good luck in the new year. Dancers wear colorful lion costumes and dance to loud drums and cymbals to scare away evil spirits from the previous year and bring prosperity and happiness to the community.”

Grace’s sister, Yvonne Wu, donated traditional Chinese clothing and decor for the event from Jing Ying Gift Shop, the small business she owns in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood.  “My family is a big supporter of my education,” says Grace. “I’m the only sibling out of five to have a four-year degree, and they are proud that I’m earning my Wharton MBA. My sister generously donated these beautiful dresses so our students could wear them at the celebration and fully immerse themselves in and embrace our culture.”

Lion dancers performing a traditional dance to bring good luck in the new year

— Kendra King  

Posted: May 1, 2023

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