“We’re really excited to have you all here on campus. You are Wharton students, too, and this is your community.” – Eli Lesser, Director of The Wharton Global Youth Program and Wharton’s Senior Executive Director, Innovation & Global Initiatives.

The Wharton Global Youth Embedded Pre-baccalaureate Program is dedicated to opening doors and expanding minds by introducing high school students from across America’s geographic boundaries and cultural landscapes to the college experience. Forged into existence as an offshoot of The Wharton Global Youth Program’s non-embedded Pre-baccalaureate Program, the embedded pre-bacc program utilizes strong collaboration with local and national non-for-profit partnerships that work to connect Wharton with high schools and their students to identify suitable candidates for the program. Taught online by Wharton faculty members, the accepted classes embark on ten credit-earning weeks that feature learnings led by professors of the world’s leading business school. Over the course of these ten critical weeks, the School is actively engaged in important dialogue with program participants on the subject of their future success.

With a curriculum crafted by both Wharton’s world-renowned faculty and the School’s passionate Global Youth Program staff, the embedded pre-baccalaureate program is infused with practical, specific, and relevant information that includes tips-and-tricks on how to become a successful and well-actualized adult. With lessons delivered by the best and brightest in business education, these teachings are curated for immediate deployment in the students’ lives outside of the classroom; like how to manage one’s personal finances, or even how someone can rewire their brain to strengthen their own resiliency. In fulfilling this critical engagement with the youth who participate, Wharton introduces, cultivates, and enriches the relationship between high schoolers and the wider world of higher education. 

One of the greatest strengths of the program’s delivery model is providing the chance for high school students to take college-credit, Ivy League courses directly from their high schools. By admitting an entire high school class into the pre-bacc program, instead of evaluating and accepting only individual applicants, the School grants greater access to Wharton for more pre-college-level students. This includes connecting weekly with Wharton MBA instructors on Zoom, working virtually with University of Pennsylvania teaching assistants, and getting on-the-ground support from their classroom teachers.

Earning a college degree is no easy feat, and perseverance is key in achieving this major life accomplishment. That’s why Professor Angela Duckworth, the acclaimed academic and author of the world-wide bestseller, Grit: the Power of Patience and Perseverance, leads Wharton’s pre-bacc students on how to cultivate these qualities in a course Professor Duckworth created solely for this program.

Built for the embedded pre-bacc program and in collaboration with the School of Arts and Sciences, Professor Duckworth developed Grit Lab 101 for Wharton’s embedded pre-bacc students, the course named in reference to her acclaimed research on the subject. Not only does Professor Duckworth’s Grit Lab explore the human qualities that define perseverance, but it also instructs the students on ways they can build their own resiliency. As in any college undergraduate course, students will have an opportunity to learn from current research. But unlike most courses – non-Wharton courses, that is – Grit Lab encourages students to apply these ideas to their own lives and reflect on their experiences.

Another option for these embedded pre-bacc classes is to take the Essentials of Personal Finance course, led by Wharton Professor David Musto, who is also Wharton’s Director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance. Professor Musto’s class is designed to teach personal finance concepts and financial decision-making to high school students; and participants learn everything from defining and calculating simple and compound interest, to how the U.S. tax system works, to exploring ways to fund higher education and negotiate the best available financial aid packages.

For many alumni of the program, though, the greatest highlight of their Wharton experience remains to be visiting day: that unforgettable excursion towards the end of the course, when the School invites select high school classes in the tri-state area to the University of Pennsylvania’s historic Philadelphia campus for a day of fun, further learning, and witnessing a famed Ivy League institution firsthand. And for a majority of these embedded pre-bacc program students, visiting day at Wharton also marks their first experience stepping foot on a traditional university campus.

Pictured is some 40 students and four teachers from Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, KIPP D.C. Legacy College Prep, and KIPP D.C. College Prep, who traveled from New York City and Washington, D.C. to spend the day at Wharton. All are high school juniors, and who are also considered official embedded pre-bacc alumni. They visited Wharton and explored Penn’s campus during visiting day in December 2022. Here, they are posing with their instructor for their program’s “Essentials of Personal Finance” course, taught by David Musto (center).

Take Zach W., for example, who is pictured above with his fellow junior classmates from KIPP D.C. Legacy Prep, the Washington D.C.-based high school that successfully applied for the pre-bacc program. This photo captures the day that Zach and his schoolmates traveled from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and experienced an in-person session with Wharton faculty and staff; the first face-to-face meeting after months spent on Zoom, and a special opportunity to meet the program’s team of organizers and educators, whose presence Zach and his cohort only witnessed online for the previous ten weeks of instruction.

Those with whom the students met included members of The Wharton Global Youth Team; as well as one of the class’ instructors, Wharton Professor Dr. David Musto; and Wharton’s MBA teaching fellows and undergraduate teaching assistants alike; plus, officials from the National Education Equity Lab, who first worked with The Global Youth Program to connect Wharton with students from underserved communities regarding the embedded pre-baccalaureate opportunity.

Students also heard more great advice from Wharton’s Professor Kenneth Shropshire, an emeritus professor of legal studies and business ethics, who recently returned to Wharton as senior advisor to Dean Erika James for the new Wharton Coalition on Equity and Opportunity (CEO); and fueled by Professor Shropshire’s leadership, CEO is now tasked with helping fulfill Dean James’ strategic vision for the School, the Wharton Way.

During his time with Zach and his peers, Professor Shropshire encouraged the group to take advantage of their time on campus. “Ask the questions you want to ask and really envision if this is a place you could be for four years,” said Shropshire. Because, regardless of the students’ intentions to apply to Wharton or not, the program’s goal is not to sway its participants one way or another. Instead, the program seeks to inform, to educate; and, to teach its students how and why they should apply critical thinking and good choices to their lives moving forward, and what role higher education might plan in those possible futures.

Increasing opportunities in higher education for America’s youth is the overarching goal of this program. From the moment a participant steps foot on the School’s campus, Wharton wants their voices to be heard; like on Zack’s visiting day, when he and his peers provided critical feedback on their experience during an informal session with Professor Musto and Leslie Cornfeld; the latter of whom serves as the CEO of Ed Equity Lab, a critical partner for the successful launch of this important work.

Wharton has and will continue to welcome, introduce, and encourage these students to think deeply about their plans for pursuing education after high school. Regardless of a participant’s interest in attending Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania writ large, or if they decline to pursue secondary education all together, the embedded pre-bacc program believes that America’s young people deserve the opportunity to feel both confidence and ease when they step foot on a college campus. 

So, whether alumni of this program set their sights on Wharton, Penn, or some other institution of higher learning, Wharton will continue to strive for greater equity in educational spaces – and The Wharton Global Youth Program continues to expand in this mission, in lock-step with our partners in both Philadelphia and across the country.

Grace Meredith

Posted: April 10, 2023

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