Name: Namrita Narula
Hometown: Highland Park, Ill.
Major: Finance and business analytics concentrations in Wharton, minor in urban studies
Activities: Wharton Women, Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement (PennSEM), Penn Civic Scholars, Penn Sikh Organization, Adam Grant's Impact Lab, Oracle Senior Society, 2020 UN Millennium Fellow, former member of the Student Federal Credit Union (SFCU)
34th Street Magazine: Urban studies and business is a unique mix. How did you decide to pursue that?
I declared it relatively late for a minor—it wasn't until my junior spring. I was feeling a bit lost and looking for a purpose. I realized I was using my extracurriculars to fill this hole of wanting to pursue social impact, but also study business. I didn't really know any of the root causes of the problems I was seeing in Philadelphia and trying to solve through business. I realized that the best way to understand the root causes and to make myself better at doing the service I am doing is to study it through URBS. The URBS Department at Penn is so wonderful. I've been filling up my senior year taking a bunch of URBS classes.
Which activity at Penn are you most passionate about?
I would say that there's two: Wharton Women and PennSEM. I'm currently the president of both.
Wharton Women was something I wanted to join before I came to Penn. I was excited about it because gender equity was something I was really involved with in high school and throughout my whole life. Coming to campus, I got involved in Wharton Women immediately in the fall of my [first] year. I found a home and a family, and fell in love with what the organization stood for. My [first year] spring, I had a chance to serve on the board as VP of membership development. In 2020, I had a chance to come back on board and serve as the VP of philanthropy. I was really excited by this role, as service has been the core of my Penn experience and is something that's really important to me. I love that Wharton Women stands for using our toolkit to give back.
Now I am president of Wharton Women. I'm focusing on a bunch of different things, including trying to make Wharton Women more of an accessible community, and focusing on intersectionality and inclusivity. It's all about figuring out how we can leverage the resources we have to not only help students, but to help West Philly and beyond. Wharton Women has given me the opportunity to combine my interest in business with my passion for social justice, female empowerment, and diversity.
PennSEM is the other club I’m president of. We have two primary branches: consulting and an impact startup accelerator, Spire. This year, I’m working to spearhead an initiative to teach students in West Philly how to start their own social enterprises and empower them to help their community while being entrepreneurs.
Can you tell me more about your nonprofit, Seeds of Knowledge?
I started Seeds of Knowledge when I was 14. My mission is to help children learn the importance of healthy eating through a year–round gardening experience, and to combat the food insecurity that exists in the Chicagoland. I worked with the city of Highland Park, which is where I'm from, to launch a campaign called “Feed the Meters, Feed Your Neighbors.” I took three old parking meters that the city had and shaped them to look like giant vegetables with the help of some local artists. If you go to my city, you'll see a five–foot–tall carrot, pea pod, and a meter with fruits and vegetables painted on it just sitting on the sidewalk. The goal is for pedestrians to walk by and put their change in. Every month in high school and during my first couple years at Penn when I went home for breaks, I used the change to purchase fresh produce for the food pantry. During that time frame, I was able to purchase over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce. My junior year at Penn, I handed over the keys to the food pantry so they could enter the meters more frequently, since I was at school.
My goal was to install one in Philly, but when the pandemic happened, I realized it probably wasn't a good idea to install a meter where everything was based on contact—people shouldn't really be touching each other's change and emptying the meters. That said, food insecurity is still an issue I'm super passionate about. The work with my own nonprofit inspired me to work with other nonprofits in Philly. It's always going to be something that is a really big part of me, but I've kind of shifted gears and started finding other topics that I'm really passionate about and want to tackle in my final year at Penn.
You're pursuing so many admirable initiatives. What would you say drives the ambition you have to make change in the world around you?
I think what drives this is that I'm a practicing Sikh. A core tenet of Sikhism is something called Seva, which means “selfless service." My parents always instilled this in me growing up—this drive to take part in acts of kindness without thinking of getting anything in return. Service has always been rooted in me. At Penn, my desire to keep doing good has continued not only because of Seva, but also because, as Penn students, we have so many opportunities at our fingertips. We can do pretty much anything, and we're met with Penn funding and resources. It only feels right to take advantage of some of Penn's resources and give them back to the community that Penn occupies.
Do you have any unique quirks or interests?
I'm a really big foodie. I have a foodstagram, @nomnomnomz_, and I love baking. When I was little, instead of going to normal summer camps, I went to baking and cooking camps. I love spending time in the kitchen and exploring restaurants—my favorite thing to do is eat. Last year I learned how to make chocolate, so now I can make any kind of chocolate you want.
What's next for you after Penn?
I’m heading to New York City to work in finance in the consumer retail industry. In a few years, I hope to launch my own consumer retail company focused on sustainable fashion. It's also a dream of mine to start a fashion line focused on body positivity or something like that, so hopefully we'll get there. I've also always wanted to start a food truck, but I don't have my license. That'll hopefully be a good motivator to get one. I just know down the line I want to do something to make positive change, and to make people smile.
Last song you listened to?
What's something people wouldn't guess about you?
I love dancing, but I especially love hip hop. I feel like when people first meet me, they think I'd like more of a calm genre of dance, but I love hip hop.
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
It would be flying because I'm really clumsy. My [first] year, when I was running around on campus and had a bunch of back–to–back classes, I would honestly trip on Locust once every two weeks. Flying would be super helpful.
There are two types of people at Penn …
People who throw their overripe bananas away and people who use them to make banana bread.
Which are you?
Definitely the latter—with chocolate chips. I can't trust the first.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.