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Having landed an investment banking internship with RBC Capital Markets the summer after her junior year, Wharton senior Lauren Cuzzaniti was, by traditional standards, on track to start a promising financial career.

The only problem? She hated it.

“It was sold to me as banking with a heart,” Cuzzaniti said of her intern position in municipal finance.

However, she didn’t buy it for long.

“Where I was working, they didn’t value the things I did,” Cuzzaniti said. “Even though we were supposed to be helping state governments, I didn’t see the passion for helping society that I had hoped for.”

Determined to bridge the disconnect she felt with a career in finance, Cuzzaniti returned to Wharton this past fall and decided to pursue a secondary concentration in Social Impact and Responsibility.

Cuzzaniti’s decision is becoming more common.

Since the Social Impact and Responsibility program was created in spring 2010, 16 students have declared the secondary concentration, said concentration advisor Lauretta Tomasco, the associate director of the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research.

This number is on the rise, she said.

Concentration advisor and Legal Studies professor Philip Nichols believes there are a variety of reasons for the increased interest in the Social Impact and Responsibility concentration.

“Given the social climate, the relationship between ethical failures and the most significant economic decline since the Great Depression … it is only natural that students are more aware of the sorts of issues that one studies in the concentration,” he said.

To complete the concentration, students are required to take four classes in a variety of departments, including Legal Studies and Urban Studies.

The idea is to devote more intellectual resources to understanding the relationship between business and social good, Nichols said.

College and Wharton junior Karina Sengupta declared the concentration just a few weeks ago.

Sengupta, who grew up in India surrounded by what she called “the paradox of wealth and poverty coexisting in close quarters,” has developed a strong interest in social impact and business.

“I had just taken a bunch of classes that happened to fulfill the requirement for the concentration,” she said.

“For students, [the concentration is] a way to learn and understand how they can develop quantitative skills and also explore opportunities for how social impact can be a driver for innovation,” added Sherryl Kuhlman, managing director of the Wharton Social Impact Program.

Sengupta believes more Wharton students need to develop this mindset.

“What I dislike in Wharton is the culture of greed, where finance is equated to paychecks — which is a gross misunderstanding of the crucial role finance plays in actually helping people,” she said.

Among the Class of 2011, 52 percent of all graduates pursued financial services and consulting jobs, with 3 percent entering the nonprofit industry and 3 percent entering government, according to Career Services data.

Comparatively, among the Class of 2010, 51 percent pursued financial services and consulting post-graduation, with 4 percent of graduating students worked in nonprofits and 5 percent working in government.

Kuhlman, however, warned that the numbers don’t tell everything.

“I wouldn’t want the only measure of success to be how many people go into nonprofit and social impact,” she said. “Having a strong business background is essential for solving these social problems.”

College and Wharton junior Daryl Poon agreed.

“In the long term, a lot of people want to go into social impact,” he said. “But in the short term, undergraduates want to complete two years in consulting or banking in order to acquire the skills they need.”

Poon, who has been heavily involved in social impact work at Penn, is graduating a year early in May to attend the Master of Finance program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Ultimately, we need financiers and people who work in social impact,” he said. “There is definitely room for both roles.”

Sengupta added that what the social impact field needs is not simply money, but talent.

“It needs people who can think about these problems, as well as create, implement and evaluate these solutions,” she said.

For her part, Cuzzaniti has accepted an offer to work at Bain & Company as a strategist consultant after graduation. While she believes the company is a good fit for her, she does not view it as a permanent job.

“A big reason I chose the firm was because of the many people at the firm who have a true passion for social impact,” she said. “I see the private sector as the best training ground for eventually being involved in social enterprise.”

Although unsure of when and how she will eventually become involved in social enterprise, Cuzzaniti is thankful that she decided to pursue the Social Impact and Responsibility concentration.

“I no longer feel like I merely have a trade school education,” she said. “I now feel like I have a broader view of the world and am going in the right direction to help solve problems.”

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