Andrew “A.T.” Trader’s face is projected across the walls of Huntsman Hall’s room F90 not once, not twice but seven times. Though the Zynga and Madison Reed co-founder sits in his hip office in San Francisco, he maintains a sort of omnipresence in the classroom while he shares his experiences as a serial entrepreneur with the MGMT 265X class.
Trader, a 1991 Wharton graduate and a 1999 MBA , is one of the several Quakers in Silicon Valley who has joined Vice Dean Lori Rosenkopf’s experimental management course, “Culture and Institutions of the Tech Sector: Bridging Research and Practice” through telepresence technology this semester. The course is one of the two new initiatives led by Rosenkopf to allow students to have greater exposure to the tech and entrepreneurship sectors.
“We have two things going on this year because we have heard undergraduates saying to us, ‘We want more opportunities to engage with that geography, with that industry sector,’” Rosenkopf said, referring to both her course this semester and a half-credit industry exploration program set to take place in San Francisco this January.
As for the management course, students are able to engage with Penn alumni who are leading some of the most innovative companies in the Bay Area. Before each session, the class and their scheduled guest both read an academic paper on the tech sector and then come together to discuss it. The advanced technologies from Blue Jeans and CISCO that are used in the class allow for a virtual presence that is much more substantial than a simple Skype teleconference.
“It’s this immersive experience, and it has turned out that all these technology partners are excited about what we’re doing because it’s something different,” Rosenkopf explained with excitement. “We’re having this intimate discussion with this person who can, with their iPad, see all that’s going on in our classroom. It’s incredible. You don’t lose a word.”
Despite her appreciation for the technology — and the IT department that made it possible — Rosenkopf is looking for an even more interactive experience for students by taking them to the epicenter of the tech world, Silicon Valley. The separate Wharton Industry Exploration Program will be held at Wharton’s San Francisco campus from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11 and will feature an array of speakers from the tech industry, as well as visits to company offices.
Though the program will only last a week, longer opportunities in the Bay Area could be coming for Wharton students. Rosenkopf hinted that an undergraduate equivalent to the MBA semester at Wharton San Francisco may soon be in the works.
“We do hear that there is interest in longer-term sorts of opportunities, and we’re just starting to explore that as well,” she said. “Obviously, we are very aware of the MBA semester in San Francisco and we are assessing the cost and benefits of doing something ... like that.”
Nevertheless, the January program’s application window closed on Sept. 24 with high demand for the opportunity.
“We have 40 spots that we have planned on from the get-go ... and we have definitely exceeded those numbers,” Lee Kramer, the Director of Student Life for the Wharton Undergraduate Division said. “We’re quite content with the demand for the program in its pilot year.” Applicants will learn of their acceptance status in the next month.
Kramer added that he hopes the Industry Exploration Program will find success similar to that of the Wharton International Program, which now runs several trips each year. He explained that the program is meant to be flexible to allow for trips to other domestic industry hotspots, something Rosenkopf had also said about her experimental course.
“There’s a lot of ways that this model can be really flexible and again hit that goal of students being able to find and explore the area where they feel the most resonance,” she said.
It is clear that an increasing number of Wharton undergraduates are feeling this pull in tech and entrepreneurship as interest shifts from more traditional sectors such as investment banking and consulting. However, Rosenkopf highlighted that the statistics show the shift towards the tech sector is much more dramatic at the MBA level than the undergraduate level. But perhaps as these programs spearheaded by Rosenkopf grow, so too will Wharton undergraduate interest in the tech sector.
“I think we may be on the cusp of seeing a larger shift,” she said.
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