Along a Continuum at Wharton
By Julia Florence and Denise Holmes
For Black History Month, we share an extraordinary story about inclusion and belonging at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania over the years.
A Sea Change from the Post-WWII Era to Today
In the mid-1940s, Hettie Simmons Love heeded her mother’s encouragement and became the first documented African American student of either gender to attend The Wharton School. The native Floridian also stood out as only one of two women in the class of 1947. Through serendipity, Love joined a study group with three male classmates who treated her as their equal, but career options eluded her upon graduation; no employer was interested in offering her an opportunity. Nonetheless, Love became a champion of her alma mater and worked to increase minority representation in its student body. This serves as a testament to her having felt a part of the Wharton community, which could have easily been problematic for one of just two women and the only African American in her class.
Lana Woods, a 1990 Wharton grad, later learned of Love’s experience at their alma mater some 40-odd years earlier than her own. Not only were there marked differences in the demographics of the student body by the late 1980s (her class included 32 African American students and 11 women of color), but Woods – in sharp contrast to Love – faced no obstacles as she carved out a typical career path of a Wharton MBA. Like Love, Woods went on to become a big booster for her alma mater. Noting that she “recognized [her]self as standing on [Love’s] shoulders,” Woods tells Love’s story more fully and powerfully here in this piece from fall 2017.
Fast forward another few decades in Wharton’s history for another remarkable first – in the fall of 2020, Erika James, an organizational psychologist with a distinguished record in higher education administration, was named the 17th dean of The Wharton School. James is both the first African American and the first woman to hold this role. When the trailblazing dean and the trailblazing alumna met at Wharton in May 2021, Dean James presented Mrs. Love with a Penn Pioneer Certificate and acknowledged how much Mrs. Love’s legacy meant to her, as shared in this children’s picture book. In the book’s afterword, Dean James writes, “I always advise students with big dreams to bet on themselves, and Mrs. Love’s example makes clear the possibilities that await for those who do just that.”
Wharton Through the Eyes of a Cooke Scholar
In the spirit of Dean James’ advice, and Mrs. Love’s accomplishments, Cooke Scholar Anastasia Jones’ story shows the power of going after big dreams and being surrounded by a strong support system. Jones is one of the exceptional individuals whom the Foundation has supported since entering 8th grade and becoming a Cooke Young Scholar. She went on to become a Cooke College Scholar after graduating from KIPP: Gaston College Preparatory as valedictorian, and received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the The Wharton School in 2015. She recently received her MBA from LeBow College of Business at Drexel University as a Cooke Graduate Scholar in 2020.
“I applied to six [undergraduate] schools but I knew that if I got into Wharton, that was my choice,” said Jones. “It’s the number one business school. I am from Gaston, North Carolina – those opportunities feel like they would come once in a lifetime. I told myself that if I were ever given that chance, that I had to shoot for the stars.”
As a Black woman who graduated from The Wharton School, Jones recognized the names of Hettie Simmons Love and Dean Erika James immediately. Their legacy represents a shift in the business school world and higher education administration as a whole.
In her four years at Wharton, Jones learned how to build the confidence to network, which didn’t come naturally at first – her high school in Gaston, North Carolina was predominantly African American, but at Wharton, she sometimes found herself as the only Black student or the only Black woman in the classroom. If there were other Black students in her classes, they were often international students whose background differed from her own. She found community by getting heavily involved in campus organizations, like Black Wharton Undergraduate Association, and participated in several dance teams, including step, Afro-Cuban, and hip-hop dance, and community service groups.
“I really tried to make sure that I built relationships that felt authentic and organic to me personally and professionally,” said Jones. “My time at Wharton taught me the power of relationships.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Wharton, Jones joined J. P. Morgan as a financial analyst. When she completed her MBA, she started working with Bank of America, where she is currently a Project Manager. She credits the support of her role models, KIPP teachers, advisers, Cooke Scholar community, and particularly her mother and Nana, for helping her achieve each milestone thus far.
“Build connections and relationships with your peers, and your professors,” said Jones. “All of that plays together in your ultimate success. I think that’s a metaphor for life – if you go alone, you’ll only make it so far. If you have people to support you, the boundaries in how far you can go and how far you can push the boundaries in the frontier of your own life is just limitless.”
Jones carries her experience at Wharton with her to this day.
“One piece of advice for young Black women,” Jones said, “is to try to find someone who looks like you that’s where you want to be, and build that relationship.”