Simona Vigodner is a member of the M&T Class of 2022 who transferred into the Program after her first year at The Wharton School. She comes to us from Fort Lee, New Jersey and is pursuing a dual degree focused on Computer and Information Science, Finance, Marketing & Operations Management. We connected to learn more about her interests, her experiences in high school and at Penn, and her decision to transfer to the M&T Program.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your high school experience:
In high school, I was the overcommitted-doing-everything student. My high school in New Jersey was composed of seven vocational academies, and I was in the Academy for Business & Finance. I was also a competitive ballroom dancer driving 1.5 hours to practice four times a week from NJ to Brooklyn, NY, leading my school newspaper as Editor-in-Chief, volunteering, and doing a bunch of business clubs. I was on my school’s debate team and was the head of marketing for our school store, which is where I got to channel all of my entrepreneurial energy. I was writing short stories for fun and studying hard. Always working hard and always stressed! I loved everything I did and spent my time with people who also were crazy about what they did, whether it was science or art or medicine. I loved to think I was living a double life of student by day, dancer by night.
How did you discover Penn?
As I mentioned, I was in the Academy for Business & Finance in high school but it was also a very STEM-intensive school. Naturally, then, through my college counselor and high school alumni, I found out about Penn. I visited about three times before I applied and fell in love with the practicality but flexibility of the education. I love Penn!
Sum up your freshman year in three words. Why those words?
- Eye-opening: This is cliché, but freshman year involved a lot of introspection as I figured out who I was and who I wanted to be. It’s really easy to get caught up in the crowd, even up to this day, and I think my first year at Penn was about being open-minded, seeing new things, and figuring out how to integrate everything into the framework I had known for the first 18 years of my life. I realized the importance of sleep and my health. I realized that sometimes, a movie night with a friend or a long walk was more important than studying a few extra hours for an exam. Sometimes, it was the other way around. It was all about getting in tune with myself!
- Motivating: I was continuously inspired by the people I met every day in various grades and majors. I went to start-up competitions, attended info sessions, sat in on random classes, and just took it all in. I found mentors and role models and best friends. I was in awe of the sheer diversity of intellectual pursuits, personalities, and auras around me. I had no idea where I fit in among them, but I finished freshman year filled with this exciting energy that I wanted to channel in order to achieve some kind of goals while I was at Penn.
- Challenging: From academic to personal challenges, freshman year was not all rainbows. I learned to deal with obstacles in my relationships, classes, and everything in between. I was homesick at times. I was stressed and tired at other times. I’m grateful for these challenges because they forced me to test my resilience and ask myself the hard questions.
What did you hope to achieve applying to M&T?
I have always been an individual who enjoys learning new concepts and channeling multiple parts of my brain. What I wanted was an education and community that allowed me to walk away seeing the world through both an engineering and business lens. I also knew that being surrounded by others who value this as well, yet might be pursuing different engineering or business majors than myself, was an enriching environment to be in. I love technology, innovation, and challenge. I thought applying to M&T would provide me with the resources and network to tune into these passions further, while learning as much as possible. I was right! It is such a unique educational experience to take an economics class in Huntsman Hall at 9 AM, then walk to the engineering quad and see the same concepts in the form of a mathematical model, or to consider how an algorithm relates to a business concept I learned.
How has it been so far? Did M&T play any role in your internship as an Investment Banking Summer Analyst?
M&T has been amazing. Most importantly, I love the community. Every time I speak to M&Ts, both current students and alumni, I am inspired and filled with energy to pursue my dreams. Every M&T differs from other M&Ts in interests and academic pursuits, but this is precisely what makes the experience special; I feel motivated to push myself to new levels and channel my intellectual curiosity into enriching endeavors. On the academic side, I enjoy studying the world through an engineering and business lens. I am empowered in my knowledge and am grateful for the network I am a part of. I also love studying not just business and engineering separately but focusing on the intersection of these two areas.
Many M&Ts helped me prepare for my internship recruitment process and guided me in figuring out what internship I wanted to pursue. Furthermore, M&T has impacted the way in which I approach and think about my work at my investment banking internship. I believe it has provided me with an analytical framework, the ability to understand details, and a determined work ethic — skills important to the job. My work last summer also required me to understand financial valuation and strategy, technological innovation, detailed calculations and metrics, and macroeconomic conditions from a quantitative and qualitative lens, which are concepts that I have studied in engineering classes, business classes, and electives. Overall, M&T played a crucial role in equipping me with both the soft and hard skills necessary to succeed in my internship.
What is something unexpected about M&T that you discovered?
Despite the fact that everyone in M&T studies engineering and business, we tend to shape our educational journeys and approaches differently. While we are united by our intellectual desire to have the knowledge from both degrees, everyone marches to the beat of their own drum. I continue to be in awe at the amount of creativity and initiative M&Ts have, from starting their own companies and pursuing crazy passion projects to creating first-of-their-kind campus events while being a part of the student government. Everywhere I look on campus and beyond, there is an M&T student making some kind of impact. Beyond this, I did not expect the level of community M&T brings.
What are your long-term dreams and aspirations?
A bit cliché and vague, but I want to build something that touches the lives of many individuals and is something that I am proud of. I want to look at my life’s work and see a piece of myself reflected in it. My goal is to feel as though I had given my all, in creative and mental energy. I’m still figuring out what this looks like concretely. I also hope to achieve enough such that I can be a role model and mentor for other young women. However, besides my career, I aspire to be someone that others can turn to, respect, and look up to in my personal as well as professional life.
“In her spare time, Simona likes to….”
Write short stories, go to social dancing events (not during COVID), and get outside!