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Pottruck says that sports can teach leadership much more when we "combine the athletic experience with the classroom experience, where we actually teach people all the things that we teach in the Wharton School about leadership.”


A recent $1 million donation by 1970 College graduate David Pottruck is helping launch the new Penn Athletics Wharton Leadership Academy.

Pottruck’s name may be familiar — he is the same University trustee who donated $10 million to renovate the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center in 1999, and the building was subsequently named for him.

This new program, specifically designed for student-athletes at Penn who compete at the varsity level, is a partnership between the Athletics Department and Wharton’s Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program.

The primary objective of the program is to develop the leadership abilities of Penn student-athletes through a series of workshops, lectures, experiential sessions and more. The academy will include Wharton professors, coaches, captains of teams and student-athletes.

Pottruck said in an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian that the goal is to ensure that student-athletes acquire the necessary leadership skills to help them not only in the playing field, but also in their academic and professional careers.

Incoming freshman student-athletes will be required to participate in the academy. After their first year, it will be up to to the student to decide whether or not to remain in the program.

1993 Wharton graduate Benjamin Breier, who played baseball at Penn, also contributed $500,000 in support of the leadership academy.

“What [Pottruck] has identified so successfully with this program is that the culture of leadership that is inherent in a competitive team setting provides an excellent ‘laboratory’ for training future leaders,” Jeff Klein, executive director of the McNulty Leadership Program, said in a press release.

Pottruck’s vision for the program comes from his own experience as the captain of the wrestling team and a member of the football team at Penn. But while athletics taught him valuable character lessons, like perseverance, he said he feels that he could have learned more about leadership.

“I think sports can teach leadership so much more if we can actually combine the athletic experience with classroom experience, where we actually teach people all the things that we teach in the Wharton school about leadership,” Pottruck said.

The idea for the leadership academy was conceived by Pottruck a year ago, and since then, it has been piloted by select groups of students. The program will continue with its piloting initiative throughout the next school year and will be launched full-scale in the fall of 2018.

Athletic Director Grace Calhoun said that Penn Athletics is committed to launching this partnership, especially in light of the success of the initial pilot.

While there are many sports leadership programs in colleges around the country, Calhoun added that what sets the academy apart is its partnership with Wharton.

“We’ve established a very powerful partnership because we know that [the athletics department] has a lot to learn from people who specialize in leadership development [from Wharton], and the professors have a lot of learn from watching what our teams do,” she said.

A dozen senior athletes who have shown great potential throughout their four years in the program will be named Pottruck Fellows — “the best of the best,” according to Pottruck.

“I hope that all of our student athletes will come away with a richer athletic experience and give them more tools to use when they leave the athletic competition of Penn and take it to their professional life in whatever field they are choosing,” he said.