Student Perspective: How My Fellowship Helped Me Reimagine The Future

Newly minted graduate Alexandra Tomlinson, PH’15, SP2’14, reflects on her time as a Wharton Social Impact Fellow. Alexandra spent the fall semester working on research and market analysis with Turner Impact Capital, an investment firm that “seeks profits with a purpose.”

photo-1424298397478-4bd87a6a0f0cEngaging, challenging, inspiring and humbling. These are the first words that come to mind when I reflect on my time as a Wharton Social Impact Fellow.

The experience, thus far, has truly been the highlight of my time here at Penn.

The term social impact never crossed my mind before starting graduate school. Knowing that I wanted a career and life focused on serving those less fortunate, I simply accepted the likelihood that I would be forever clawing my way through, trying desperately to make a difference. Shortly after arriving on campus and beginning graduate school, this belief was quickly debunked, as I was immediately immersed in a world full of opportunity and the social impact was everywhere.

Despite the various avenues that were tailored to social impact and social change, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a student team that would work with Turner Impact Capital — founded by Wharton alumnus Bobby Turner (W’84) — and spend the semester investigating new and innovative ways to drive profits with purpose.

Prior to joining the Wharton Social Impact Initiative as a student fellow, the idea of the triple bottom line was nothing more than an idealistic term. However, after meeting with the Turner Impact Capital team and learning the ins and outs of real world social impact work, I realized how tangible this idea could be. The opportunity to sit and discuss the nuances of the social impact world and learn how to drive profits while changing lives has been absolutely life changing.  It is often noted that what you learn in a textbook pales in comparison to what you learn on the job.

As a Wharton Social Impact Fellow, the real world experience I gained has not only prepared me, but also inspired me, to re-imagine my future.

To date, Turner Impact Capital has built a portfolio primarily focused on creating more opportunities for children to receive a quality education by building charter schools in underprivileged communities. The success of their model has led to a desire to explore other areas where strategic social impact investment could be a catalyst for change.

This exploration was what my team and I were charged with this semester.

We worked closely with the Turner Impact Capital team, building a detailed market analysis, developing in-depth research documents and presentations that illuminated opportunities to translate their innovative and impactful charter school model into other important impact areas, such as increasing access to adequate health care.

What seemed to be a never ending rabbit hole of research was quickly focused and streamlined under the counsel of the Turner Impact Capital team and the final presentation was a unique opportunity for hands on experience and feedback that will serve as a spring board of further thought, deliberation and development.

Although the semester, and thus the Fellowship, came to a close, as graduation nears the experience will serve as a springboard for the next step along this journey.

Alexandra Tomlinson is a second year Master’s of Public Health Student at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She graduated from the School of Social Policy and Practice in May of 2014 with a Masters of Science in Social Policy. Passionate about innovative ways to engage both the private and public sector to improve health outcomes for underserved populations, Tomlinson plans to pursue a career in social impact upon graduation in May.