New faces and fresh ideas on campus in the not-so-quiet off-season
By Amy Downey
h, summer. It’s a time when most undergrads head home, MBAs charge off to internships, and a different kind of energy settles on Locust Walk. This being Wharton, you know the campus doesn’t hit snooze until September. On the contrary, it’s buzzing with summer programs that are open for business. After a highly selective application process, hundreds of bright young minds—including some Wharton students who stick around—arrive eager to tackle research, pre-college programs, internships, and more. For high-school scholars spending a few weeks here, these early academic experiences affect the trajectory of their studies and offer their first tastes of college life. As for the undergrads who stay on to do research and the students from around the world who come for the chance to learn here, the work they do is just as diverse as they are. This is also a prime opportunity for professors to identify and encourage candidates for Penn’s PhD pipeline. Here’s a look at some of the bustle—and, of course, that signature Wharton hustle—on campus in the summertime.
Start ‘Em Young
One of the school’s original pre-college summer programs is Leadership, Education, and Development, or LEAD. Back in 1980, execs from Johnson & Johnson—then called McNeil Pharma—wanted to diversify their staff and worked with Wharton to introduce young people from different backgrounds to business education. The result was LEAD, which is managed by Wharton associate director Teran Tadal and is now used as the model at half a dozen other college campuses. Bernadette Butler, a Wharton undergraduate administrative coordinator who works closely with LEAD, calls it the School’s “boutique” program: Although more than 1,000 high-achieving students from all over the country apply, just 30 are accepted, making it Wharton’s smallest cohort.
At its core, the three-week intro to finance unfolds over three tiers. First, students meet with Wharton faculty to learn about topics like marketing and entrepreneurship; they also get Q&As with top-level execs from companies like Google, American Express, Morgan Stanley, and, of course, longstanding LEAD partner J&J. Next, they make on-site visits in Philly, D.C., and New York to see how companies are run. And finally, the capstone project: Students create a business strategy and pitch it in a business-plan competition. (The best ones advance to regional bouts.)
LEAD stands out because it draws kids from all backgrounds and means. “What I find most rewarding is when students who come from less than advantageous opportunities hold their own and compete against this cohort of students who have been afforded so much more,” says Butler. “I love what it does for those students. When they come here, the programs pull them out of the box that’s been created for them, whether it’s culture or financial restrictions or parental influence. It makes them think and interact differently.”
Not all of the students end up enrolling at Wharton or Penn—over the past couple of years, about 10 out of each 30 are accepted to the university—but the small group stays connected after the program ends. They reach back to LEAD, too, and eventually return to campus to share their industry know-how with the newest summer students. Christopher Bradie W92 G04 GRD12, associate vice president in the Division of Business Services at Penn, participated in the 1987 program. “I don’t think any of us thought that we’d create such strong relationships over such a short period of time,” recalls the Chicago native. “But fortunately, we were wrong—a significant number of us have remained in contact over both time and distance.”
Nearly 20 years after LEAD was created, another program grew out of its model. Called Leadership in the Business World, or LBW, it has a similar framework: Rising high-school seniors meet with Wharton faculty and professors, travel to businesses, and have a business competition at the end of the four-week program. (LBW is also overseen by Tadal.) The difference? LBW’s group is bigger—160 students—and it draws from all over the world, even as far away as Shanghai and Bangkok. Residential teaching assistants are recruited to help manage the large group, which is a win-win: “There are students who need to work for the summer, and our TA positions are paid,” says Butler. “So they support us by being role models for high-school students, and they can start the ball rolling on an internship or future job opportunity for themselves.”
Upperclassmen in high school who want to learn from Penn Engineering and Wharton profs (and possibly bank some college credit) can spend three weeks in July at the Management & Technology Summer Institute, or M&TSI. One class of 2013 M&TSI alumna is Rui Jing Jiang W18, who went on to attend Wharton and co-found Avisi Technologies, winner of the Y-Prize and President’s Innovation Prize. (Read about Avisi’s invention aimed at treating glaucoma in the Watchlist.)
For those with dreams of launching the next Warby Parker, each June through August, Wharton hosts five entrepreneurial-focused sessions—all two weeks long—during the Global Young Leaders Academy, or GYLA. The emphasis here is on global: The majority of the students are foreign. Forty-six countries have been represented so far, with the greatest number of participants from India, China, and the UAE. “This type of material typically isn’t taught in high school, which makes it interesting for students considering business careers,” Serguei Netessine, vice dean for global initiatives, says of the curriculum. Faculty might lecture the kids on entrepreneurship and other aspects of business literacy, or on modern interpersonal skills like social responsibility. GYLA is just one initiative in the Knowledge@Wharton High School program, a free online resource for high school kids and educators from around the world offering content—articles, videos, podcasts—that focuses on business education.
The experience also doubles as an intro to college life, from sleeping in dorms to eating on campus—cultural adjustments that are particularly key for international students considering an American education. And the demand is high—GYLA is kicking off a new finance program this summer in which kids will study subjects like investments and ethics, and the program is looking to add a data analytics camp next summer.
“We want to make it a very inclusive program, and we especially want to see children of alumni applying,” says Netessine, explaining that the GYLA acceptance rate is much higher than those of some other summer programs. And in an effort to make GYLA more accessible, this summer Wharton is testing out scholarships, both partial and full, for the new finance program. “We want to make it not just for the people who can pay,” says Netessine. In that spirit, Knowledge@Wharton High School presents other affordable experiences, including online classes and a highly popular investment competition that attracted thousands of teams this year, all through its online portal. (Read more about Knowledge@Wharton and its mission to educate both young and young at heart in 20 Years of Knowledge at Wharton.)
For the College Crowd
Independent research—specifically, 20 hours a week—is the goal for the 10 Wharton undergrads chosen for the Wharton Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, or SPUR. “When they apply, they have to find a faculty member who is willing to mentor them on their idea,” says Utsav Schurmans, director of Wharton Research and Scholars Programs. How often mentor and mentee meet varies by faculty member and depends on the type of research. Participants are also provided with on-campus housing and a $3,000 stipend; after 10 weeks of research, each presents a final written report.
Projects can cover a wide range of topics. Take, for instance, Ayca Deniz Ergin C19 W19, who wanted to study the 21st-century Chinese art market’s growth and work with Wharton economics professor and artist Gizem Saka. Ergin’s stepping-off point: How are the art boom of the past decade and China’s social, political, and economic happenings related?
Another student, Corey Parker W21, looked at the NBA draft and, with guidance from statistics professor Abraham Wyner, considered how to evaluate draft-pick decisions. Is one methodology best at predicting a future star? Schurmans, whose own background is in archaeology, helps make the connections between Penn students and possible advisors. “I had to get a quick understanding of the faculty and what student might make a good match,” says Schurmans, who also oversees SIRE and WGRIP (see below).
“What’s neat about being involved in research is getting an understanding of how facts come about and how to evaluate a statement. Sometimes it’s not simple,” explains Schurmans. “So the research hits home in a useful way—it gives the students critical-thinking skills.” Butler adds that the SPUR scholars benefit from living in a community of like-minded students: “They can learn from one another and sharpen their skills.”
Another bonus of programs like SPUR: They help students figure out how much they like doing research. Some may not have considered a future in the field—or perhaps didn’t know how it would logistically work. But with a little exposure, they can end up in a doctoral program.
“When I ran the numbers, I saw that we didn’t have broad representation for who chooses to do research,” says Schurmans. “I realized we needed to do more to bring students in and give them a seat at the table.” With inclusion in mind, the Summer Research-Early Identification Program encourages undergrads—not just exclusively Wharton’s—and especially those who are historically underrepresented to apply. (The program is run through the Leadership Alliance, a national consortium of more than 30 academic institutions.) Students from all over the U.S. are paired up with Wharton faculty members or mentors for eight to 10 weeks of one-on-one summer study.
By program’s end, they’ve gained practical training and are required to present a paper on what they’ve learned. They also attend a conference with Leadership Alliance students from other universities—800 undergrads in total—where findings are presented and discussed. “Ask a bunch of students to come up with a question that’s important to them. If the group is diverse, you’re going to come up with questions you’ve never thought of before,” says Schurmans, adding that diversity can open up different avenues of research and potentially lead to breakthroughs—all by simply shifting perspectives.
Schurmans is excited about another opportunity that’s making its debut this summer: the Philadelphia Summer Internship Awards. The program is inspired by the Wharton Public Policy Initiative, which partners with donors to help fund several students who have accepted unpaid or under-paid internships in D.C. Now, the School will help defray the costs of five Wharton undergrads doing interesting work at Philadelphia nonprofits or government entities—like, say, interning at the Mayor’s Office.
A Place For Everyone
For Joanne Levy, the Summer Undergraduate Minority Research program, or SUMR, has long been a labor of love. This summer, SUMR will celebrate its 20th cohort. At the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, where Levy is deputy director, SUMR aims to reach underrepresented groups (i.e., low-income, racial-minority, and first-generation college students) and introduce them to the world of health services and health policy research. “We started the program because we thought we had some amazing students at Wharton, but none of them would know to consider research,” says Levy, who is also associate director of the Wharton Health Care Management PhD program.
At first, SUMR only recruited Penn students, but it has opened up regionally and now includes undergrads from all over the nation. The call for diversity is being answered: Last year’s group of 23 scholars came from 16 different universities, representing a mix of Ivy Leagues, state schools, and historically black colleges.
Individually, the students work on faculty projects that are rooted in health-services research. Some projects are data-oriented, involving surveys and focus groups, while others—evaluating the ethical and practical grounds for investing in immigrant health, for example—are more analytical. There’s little downtime over the 12 weeks, because the group also squeezes in a GRE prep program, weekly faculty seminars, a writing course, and two conferences before a final presentation of its research. Still, team-building excursions are made a priority every other weekend, whether it’s to nearby Morris Arboretum or the annual SUMR beach trip to Margate hosted by emeritus professor Arnold “Skip” Rosoff W65. Special this summer: the 20th anniversary symposium in July, for which dozens of former students and alums will come back to campus to speak on health-care equity and disparity.
According to Levy’s numbers, of the 255 SUMR alums, about 20 percent go on for PhDs, and more than 95 percent stay in health care, whether as physicians, analysts, or consultants. Another popular move is getting a master’s degree in, say, public health or epidemiology before moving on to a PhD program. Victoria Perez C08 GRW15, who was in the 2007 SUMR cohort, credits her mentor, Guy David, a professor in Wharton’s Health Care Management department, with encouraging her to pursue a PhD. (Together, they researched the market for substance-abuse centers.) Now an assistant professor at Indiana University, Perez studies the effects of Medicaid design on provider decisions as well as the entry and exit decisions of hospitals—similar to work she did as an SUMR scholar—in addition to other research. “Health care is an exciting field,” says Perez, “and I have yet to find myself running low on questions to study.”
Over the years, Levy has seen increased participation by mentors of color—something that was scarce when the SUMR program began. “It’s really important to make sure, especially in health care,” she says, “that the questions being asked are from all perspectives and that you have a diverse input of ideas.”
Last year, Wharton debuted the Summer Math and Science Honors program, or SMASH, which invites 35 rising high-school sophomores to study STEM for five weeks—at no cost—and then return to do it again for the following two summers. Penn is the first Ivy and Wharton the first business school to offer the three-year college-prep program. Butler explains that SMASH’s mission is to “level the playing field” for students who might not normally consider the STEM subjects because they live or go to school in underrepresented communities that don’t adequately prepare them in such fields. (At the helm of the nonprofit behind the nationwide SMASH program is Eli Kennedy WG04.)
“By equipping folks who may come from underserved communities with the skills to navigate the world of technology, we are empowering them to become part of the growing tech narrative,” says LaToya Tufts, Wharton’s SMASH site director. “We can move away from viewing technology as strictly white, male, and located in Silicon Valley.” SMASH students are prepped in STEM subjects they’ll encounter in college and take intro courses like statistics or economics. At Wharton, students come from within a 25-mile radius of campus, from Camden to the Greater Philadelphia area. U.S. News & World Report has called SMASH “perhaps the most ambitious program” to encourage African-American and Latino students in STEM fields.
To get a head start on their new college experience, incoming freshmen who are historically underrepresented can apply for the Successful Transition & Empowerment Program, or STEP. The concept is simple: check into a College House the week before orientation and get acquainted not only with the campus, but also with people who can help make their new experience at Wharton successful. (The program, including meals, is free.) And the guidance and support don’t stop once school starts—peer mentors and advisors check in with students throughout the year, offering advice on everything from time management to study strategies. The STEP community—the program was co-created by LEAD’s Tadal and fellow Wharton associate director Ufuoma Abiola—has now had nearly 200 outstanding cohorts over the past three years. •
Sports analytics are the big draw of the Wharton Moneyball Academy held every July. High-school juniors and seniors spend three weeks digging into data—most of the curriculum is based on Statistics 101 and 470 as well as advanced-level stat courses—and learning how to read and write “R code,” a.k.a. the magical programming that deals with stats and tendencies. (There’s also a broader one-week “training camp” available.) Meanwhile, more than 100 students enroll in the Wharton Sports Business Academy for four weeks to learn top-to-bottom core business topics, from marketing to ownership. Both programs mix in at least one academic field trip to sports facilities; last year, Moneyball students visited the Sixers’ swanky training complex in New Jersey.
Business as Usual
Of course, for Wharton’s Executive MBA population, school is still in session on both coasts; the 120 students in Philadelphia and the slightly smaller group (between 105 and 110 students) on the San Francisco campus, right on the Embarcadero, are as busy as ever. “We don’t think of the summer as being different,” says Peggy Bishop Lane, vice dean for the program, noting that summer classes make it possible for students to fulfill the same degree requirements as the MBA program in a two-year period. Depending on the year, WEMBA students are either in their first or fourth terms come summer—and if the latter, they finally get to choose electives. Says Lane, “Elective courses are like a rejuvenation.”
Wharton Goes Global
With the Social Impact Research Experience, or SIRE, students think up a project outside of Penn. Whether it’s abroad or elsewhere in the U.S., there’s one firm rule: The work must have social impact. Two recent Rhodes scholars, Adnan Zikri Jaafar C18 W18 and Debi Ogunrinde C16 W16, were also SIRE recipients. For Ogunrinde’s SIRE project, “Peace through Beauty,” she traveled to a socioeconomically disadvantaged area in Nigeria to meet micro-entrepreneurial women and understand the challenges they face up close. “Wharton research is a lot broader than you think,” says Utsav Schurmans, who leads the program. “It’s really about showing students what the possibilities are for taking their ideas, no matter what they are, to the next level.”
Schurmans also oversees the Wharton Global Research Internship Program, or WGRIP. Each summer since 2014, 15 undergrads have gone to almost every continent to conduct research. (They’re provided with a stipend for travel and housing expenses while abroad.) The learning starts even before they leave, as students pitch their internship plans for approval. One participant who had an interest in health care, Sharonya Vadakattu C18 W18, set up her internship as a research assistant for Rwanda’s then-Minister of Health. Says Schurmans: “It can be really empowering for students.”
Yet another option abroad is taking a Global Modular Course, available for undergrads as well as MBA and WEMBA students and stretching across the planet. The experience, which can range from three to seven days, is a combo of lectures and site visits, but format depends on the nature of the course. For example, there are three open courses this summer (Argentina, China, and Southeast Asia), but the students in Buenos Aires will examine the future of the country’s industrial sectors. “Studying, say, entrepreneurship in a different culture with different people is exciting,” says Peggy Bishop Lane. “It brings a unique set of resources.”
Amy Downey is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Published as “Summer Scholars” in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Wharton Magazine.