Wharton seniors reflect on their participation in Environmental, Social and Governance Initiative programs

Chief Sustainability Officer, sustainability consultants, and green investors are some of the new positions that are being created within the business world that take into account the growing focus on environmental, social, and governance issues.

At Wharton, the newly created Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative offers undergraduate students several curricular and co-curricular opportunities to explore these topics.

An Education Tailored to Solve Current World Issues

Michael Lentskevich, W’24, is concentrating in Business, Energy, Environment and Sustainability and Legal Studies and Business Ethics (Image: Sara Hoover)

Michael Lentskevich, W’24, is concentrating in Business, Energy, Environment and Sustainability (BEES), which is now a specialized Environmental, Social and Governance Factors for Business concentration.

With a strong science background, Lentskevich always knew he wanted to do something related to the environment and climate change, but also “pragmatic, data driven, and large scale.”

He enjoyed the range of different topics covered by the concentration.

“It allowed me to pursue a wide array of different careers without locking me into a particular type of field,” he said.

Lentskevich plans to pursue a career in environmental law after working on environmental strategy for a bank for the next two years.

“This concentration is in high demand right now from all sides,” he said. “There are a lot of careers that specifically utilize the knowledge gained in this concentration and even more of those that connect to it.

Related careers include ESG consulting, ESG investment funds, green deals focused investment banking, operations management, environmental strategy within corporations, and risk assessment insurance.

For students who are considering the ESGB concentration, Lentskevich recommends MGMT 2090: The Political Environment of a Multinational Firm.

“It is truly a culminating class that forces you to synthesize all of your knowledge and apply it weekly to specific case studies,” the senior said. “I have also used not only the concepts we learned in class but the specific tools during my summer internships and future work.”

He says the guest speakers were “phenomenal” and broadened his understanding of environmental management from an academic perspective and the professional one with exposure to possible careers within that field.

Future-Focused Learning

Fatima Figueroa, W’24, who is concentrating in Business Economics & Public Policy, took an ESG course offered in the Legal Studies & Business Ethics department, LGST 2150: Environmental Management, Law, and Policy, taught by Professor Sarah Light.

“Sarah Light is a wonderful professor who integrates her research beautifully into the class,” Figueroa said. “In this class, you learn about the delicate relationship between the environment and business and the role we play as future business leaders.”

The senior also appreciated that the course was cross listed as an MBA class.

“I benefited tremendously from listening to the experience brought in by the MBA students.”

LGST 2150 was Lentskevich’s favorite ESG course, in part because of the cross-listed component.

“It was full of very topical discussion as an undergrad/MBA mixed course and allowed me to see how law, business, and people intersect,” he said. “It was also very future focused allowing me to learn not only what happened in this field in the past but how it would be impacted in the years to come.”

His summer internship focused on environmental regulations, and he says the class allowed him to be more prepared than any of his co-interns.

“Professor Light is phenomenal and is able to help students find the value in this class no matter their core interests,” Lentskevich said.

Figueroa encourages other students to take at least one ESG course.

“Even if you decide not to concentrate, I would strongly recommend that you try at least one class because there is so much to learn,” she said.

Building a Strong Foundation in ESG

Another option for undergraduate students to deepen their ESG expertise is by being a Turner ESG Fellow.

Turner ESG Fellows are a group of 20-25 undergraduates across Penn who participate in a year-long program of speaker sessions, networking opportunities, and professional development across many ESG topics.

Sapphira Ching, W’24, is concentrating in finance and entrepreneurship, and knew she wanted to combine her passions for finance, innovation, technology, and ESG while at Wharton.

“I initially applied to the Climate Risk Fellows Program to learn more about addressing greenwashing in business, specifically the aviation industry, and that program evolved into the Turner ESG Fellows Program, so I was part of the inaugural Fellows class,” Ching said.

She was invited back this academic year to be a Senior Fellow, and is involved with the ESG Initiative’s Student Leadership Advisory Board.

During the Fellows program, Ching’s focus evolved from environmental and social factors to governance.

“Governance became especially fascinating to me,” she said. “I was particularly interested in the role that shareholders can have in terms of changing the direction of big business for the better. This helped increase my passion for impact investing.”

The senior co-wrote an article with another fellow that featured insights from Greg Hershman, Head of US Policy at the UN Principles for Responsible Investment.

Ching says hearing from academic and industry speakers who lead the ESG space provided the Fellows with a diverse set of insights regarding all three pillars of ESG.

“That helps Wharton undergraduates build a strong foundation to brainstorm how they want to support ESG through their business careers,” she said. “Personally, it further showed me that business is not just a tool to support sustainability and responsible business practices, but rather that ESG practices are essential for a successful business.”

Ching encourages students to apply to be a Turner ESG Fellow.

“I’ve met some wonderful people and learned so much,” she said. “A great aspect of the program is that the speakers and Fellows are interested in so many different areas of ESG, so you will definitely come out having learned a lot about other areas of ESG beyond your initial interests and maybe discover some new interests too.”

She says the program also led to unexpected opportunities might take you.

“Professor Djordjija Petkoski was one of the guest speakers, and now I’m working with him on an SDG/ESG-related conference with speakers from the IMF and ILO.”

Ching has also founded two student organizations with emphases on ESG and DEI within tech and entrepreneurship, the Penn Innovation Network and the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network @ Penn.

Her two favorite ESG-related classes were Management 2120: Social Entrepreneurship with Professor Valentina Assenova and Finance 2540: ESG & Impact Investing with Professor Christopher Geczy.

“I loved Management 2120 because Professor Assenova not only taught us the fundamentals of how to run a social enterprise but gave us a capstone project where we could immediately apply what we learned,” Ching said.

Professor Geczy in Finance 2540 taught many different key elements of ESG investing, from impact measurement to shareholder activism, she says.

“Both professors are leaders in their respective ESG fields, so to have had the opportunity to not only learn from them in a lecture format but also chat one-on-one with them and hear about their experiences was incredible.”

The three ESG clubs Sapphira leads at the 2022 Fall Activities Fair (Image: Sapphira Ching)

—Sara Hoover

Posted: April 26, 2024

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