“Being a nontraditional student at Wharton is an asset, not a liability. If you come here with a nontraditional background, expect to stand out from the class—but in a good way.”

Being a nontraditional student at Wharton is an asset, not a liability. In my first week at school, I expected that telling people I literally worked in the circus would be embarrassing. To my surprise, I was often told that I had the coolest job in the class. Funny thing is, I came to Wharton’s MBA for Executives program because I thought their jobs were cool. If you come here with a nontraditional background, expect to stand out from the class—but in a good way.

I have a music degree — no background in business at all. It quickly became clear that I was in the company of a wide spectrum of people and careers. There are consultants, doctors, engineers, journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs. It was comforting to know that I was not the only one starting from scratch in business education. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and what people do for a living is not necessarily relevant to who they are or the potential they have. It is our life experiences that have bonded us, not just our careers.

I have yet to meet someone unwilling to help a fellow student struggling with a concept, idea or project.

The first few weeks are especially hard—you’re remembering study habits and learning to juggle responsibilities. And it takes some people longer than others to get these concepts down. The rest of the class is helpful: because everyone already has a successful career, we’re not competing against each other for jobs or grades. There isn’t a sense of trying to edge each other out. Everyone is very supportive with assignments, projects and prepping for exams.

I went from not understanding the meaning of “entrepreneur” to talking to StubHub co-founder and former CEO about a business idea. I met him through the Wharton Business Plan Competition — something I never intended to do until a class project in a Global Modular Course inspired me to put together a proposal for a live entertainment startup. The process of creating a business model, pitching it to investors and then getting feedback was tremendously valuable.

One of the investors who I pitched to on campus was Jeff Fluhr, the Co-Founder and CEO of StubHub, who is also a Wharton alumnus. We had a drink together, and he told me all of the challenges he saw in my business plan. The whole cycle is something most entrepreneurs never experience, certainly not that quickly. This opportunity was only possible because of Wharton and its strong network.

What I’m noticing overall is I’ve become a confident outspoken leader in the workplace.

My company recently went through a challenging period, which resulted in widely publicized layoffs. I realized I wasn’t concerned about job security—even though I was still in my first year of Wharton, I knew I had more opportunities now than ever before and had a network of people I could call on at any time. This new-found confidence has been a game-changer for me at work, how I communicate with my team and how I think about my future career path.

In looking forward in my career, I’d rather be at the cutting-edge rather than the trailing-edge of change. I came to Wharton so I could have the opportunity to switch careers because the entertainment industry is changing so fast; it’s unlikely that what I do today will still be relevant in 20 years. I have my eyes wide open, exploring different career paths, learning about my classmates’ professions and reflecting on how that might impact my future. The entertainment industry has always been very broad. Today it’s often hard to separate technology from entertainment. Being focuses on the Bay Area and close to the tech and entertainment companies that define the industry today helps expand my horizons.

Wharton has opened doors I can’t even see yet. The reasons I came to Wharton are different from the reasons I will be glad to have gone to Wharton. I’ve been surprised and humbled by my own ability to speak and present confidently in front of the class, and in events such as the Business Plan Competition. When I am told by someone that they see me as a leader, I find myself surprised because I did not have this view of myself before coming here. The experiences I had and the experience I’ve gained will help make my dreams a reality after I complete my Wharton MBA.

— Gavin Whiteley WG’14

Posted: March 21, 2016

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