Be curious, be open-minded, and be ready for opportunities to come in any direction: that’s the advice that Aria Penna ‘25 (BUS) gives to any student looking to make the most of their time at UConn.
Hailing from Madison, Penna graduated from Daniel Hand High School with the intention of becoming a lawyer. Under UConn’s Special Program in Law, Penna planned on graduating in three years and attending law school.
But, after becoming involved with the Werth Institute as a Werth Innovator during her first semester, Penna found a new calling in entrepreneurship, innovation, and business. And since then, she’s taken advantage of every opportunity that’s come her way to explore her interests and build experience in the field of finance and technology.
To start, Penna knew she wanted to build a network with students and alumni early on. During her second semester, she joined Netwerx as a student intern, further immersing herself in the Werth ecosystem to form a better understanding of how business operates.
“If you know that you want to reach out to alumni, but you’re not sure how you want to start building out your professional network, Netwerx is a really great place to get that development started,” she says. “It’s a great first step when you get to UConn.”
After the end of her freshman year, Penna embarked on her Werth Innovator project. Titled “Intern Input,” Penna aimed to spotlight student internship experiences, shifting the focus from the perspective of employers to the perspective of students.
She created a platform where students could share their internship experiences including day-to-day activities, what they learned, and the impact on their future careers. Like any other first big project, this endeavor proved to be a big challenge, Penna says, but it provided valuable insights into the process of transforming an idea into a tangible product.
“I still carry what I learned with me today,” says Penna. “The Werth Institute is awesome and I can’t speak highly enough of it.”
Aside from the Werth Institute, Penna also joined Hillside Ventures and the UConn Consulting Group — two student-run organizations that Penna has been able to strengthen her involvement in over the past two and a half years.
According to Penna, Hillside Ventures is UConn’s student-run venture capital fund. It supports companies either founded by UConn alumni or that are in the insurtech, sportstech, edtech, or sustainability industries.
Penna is currently the sustainability lead for Hillside Ventures, an initiative started by Werth Innovator graduate Noah Sobel-Pressman. He responsibilities involve working with a team of nine analysts to make decisions on startups to invest in based on trends in the sustainability industry. Through Hillside Ventures, she’s been able to learn more about and invest in companies like EnviroPower, a Connecticut-based, UConn-founded company that has developed a more carbon-efficient boiler system; and Rebound Technologies, an industrial refrigeration company that uses more natural refrigerants.
“Climate change is a problem that we’re all experiencing collectively together, and I wanted to look at sustainability from a business lens perspective,” says Penna. “It’s been really interesting seeing how companies are adapting to the new regulatory environment.”
Joining the UConn Consulting Group has also provided the invaluable experience of working with real clients and real companies. Penna recalls a project where the consulting group was tasked with expanding partnerships and product lines for a financial company called Figure.
“We’re working with a company that has a problem, and we, as the student consultants, are trying to solve that problem throughout the course of the semester,” says Penna. “We’re making the slide decks from scratch and we’re using primary and secondary data. It’s just a great way to get real world consulting experience.”
Penna is now working for Figure as a business analyst intern. She credits UConn’s strong alumni network and her involvement in these organizations for helping her land this opportunity.
“Being able to pick the brains of people who have been in my shoes before through these different organizations has been immensely helpful,” she says. “It’s just wonderful to be a part of all these experiences that are really developing me as a professional and a person.”
Despite her many commitments at UConn, Penna has also found time to study abroad. Over the summer, she participated in UConn’s Summer Business in London program where she took classes and interned at a non-profit. She is also currently participating in a Leveraged Buyout (LBO) Case Competition through the UConn School of Business, working alongside a team of students to simulate what happens when a public company goes private.
After graduation, Penna wants to work in financial services as an investment banker. Through venture capital and consulting, she’s learned what to look for in a company and how to take it to the next level — and now wants to learn how to help companies undergo capital raises, mergers, and acquisitions.
“Investment banking is definitely where I see myself starting off my career,” she says. “From a birds-eye view, just getting to see two companies coming together or why a company would need to raise money and if they should do it with debt or equity really interests me.”
“And then getting into more of the specifics. What should the pricing structure of that transaction be? What covenants need to be in place? So there’s a little bit of that legal element as well that also interests me still,” she says.
Looking back, it’s thanks to a combination of curiosity, a drive to learn, and regularly checking her email that Penna was able to find all of these opportunities her freshman year, she says.
“I think I just really went where my interests told me to go and was able to find a niche for myself in these different organizations,” she says.
“It’s given me a lot of industry experience before starting my full-time career, which I just think is so valuable. I’ve made mistakes, been able to pivot from them, and learn through feedback in these different organizations. Now, I feel really confident going into the working world.”