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Wharton’s popular “Lunch & Learn” program, which began in 2007, encourages students to get to know their professors personally. | Courtesy of Pexels

Wharton students should know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch — except when the school pays for it.

Through the Wharton School’s “Lunch & Learn” program, a group of two to three students can invite a professor to lunch at one of four restaurants around campus. The school will cover all expenses up to $20 per person, including tax and tip; Wharton undergraduates, as well as other Penn undergraduate students who are currently enrolled in a Wharton class, are eligible to participate.

“The program started during my first year here, 2007, when I was asked to put together a program where students can take a professor to lunch — and the division would cover it — in the hope of creating stronger ties between students and professors,” Wharton’s Director of Student Life Lee Kramer said.

While the University as a whole also offers a “Take Your Professor to Lunch” program at the University Club, Lunch & Learn at Wharton provides a greater variety of options: Students can choose to eat at Pattaya, Mad Mex, Beijing or Baby Blues BBQ.

Since the program’s creation, response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it’s a great experience,” Wharton junior Laura Gao said. “In the classroom it’s a more professional atmosphere; you see [the professor] as an otherworldly being. And then when you start talking to them about their life outside the classroom, it’s a lot more personal.”

Students and professors are free to discuss any topics that come to mind; some students may ask about research opportunities or look to professors for insight, while many professors take the opportunity to tell students about their own experiences.

Gao recalled a lunch with Wharton professor Robert Jensen, who told students about his experiences researching developing markets before becoming a professor.

“He did a lot of backpacking,” she said. “He talked about a few times when he didn’t have a place to live, so he’d just sleep on someone’s roof in some rural village in India.”

An average of 220 students and 59 professors have participated in the program over the past three years, representing departments ranging from Accounting to Health Care Management. In follow-up surveys, 98 percent of students polled said that they would recommend the program to a friend, and the same number said that they would participate in the program again.

Wharton senior Sydney Yang said that she particularly enjoys the lunches because they give her the chance to build relationships with her professors.

“A lot of professors are interested in building a relationship with students, but it’s hard to have that personal connection point,” she said.

“It’s a really nice chance to get to know the students in a different way,” Wharton professor Phil Nichols said. “Students talk an awful lot in class, but they only talk about the subject matter, so you get to know them a bit, but only with respect to what you’re talking about. At lunch we all talk about what they want to do, what they’re interested in, their life experiences ... it’s really nice.”

Wharton is sometimes criticized for its competitive, pre-professional culture, but students and professors both said that the lunches were less a chance to network than to connect on a personal level.

“It’s more similar to eating with your family at home,” Nichols said. “It’s really just a nice, comfortable family kind of thing.”

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