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Credit: Zach Sheldon

Passion Projects, a program housed under the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board, is returning with its fourth class of fellows this spring. 

But for the first time ever, Passion Projects is collaborating with Wharton Wellness to use these personal projects as a way to promote mental health within the fellowship class and within the greater Wharton community. Wharton Wellness focuses on improving the mental health and wellbeing of Wharton students.

Wharton freshman and member of Passion Projects committee Gabriel Sokoloff said that the advisory board coordinated with Wharton Wellness because “exploring your passion not only benefits your academic work but also helps improve your mental health.” 

The purpose of the Passion Projects is to foster an environment where Wharton students can pursue projects and hobbies that they could not have otherwise explored within the University, Sokoloff said. In the past, fellows have published a Hot Cheetos cookbook, have built a computer from scratch, and have developed a photobook about study abroad experience in London. 

Passion Projects fellows are chosen from a pool of student applicants in the Fall semester and funded $300 to explore their passion over the span of the Spring. The entire process culminates with a final Symposium in the Spring where all of the fellows are able to present their projects to friends, family, and peers in the forum of the Jon M. Huntsman Hall. 

Wharton has a reputation of being a very competitive environment, Sokoloff said, and the goal of Passion Projects’ collaboration with Wharton Wellness is to change that culture.

“While [WAB] as a whole is focused on improving academic life at Wharton, we think that by improving personal life and letting people explore their passions, it thereby affects their academic work in a positive way,” Sokoloff said. “Passion Projects is meant to act as that outlet for students.”

He added that a big emphasis for this year’s program is building a larger Passion Projects community by constructing ways for them to bond as a whole, despite their differing passions. 

Sokoloff said mental health and wellness are very much tied to community engagement and personal connection, which is why the group's primary initiative for this year is to establish opportunities for all the fellows to bond, whether through smaller group meeting sessions or collective dinner outings.

“We are trying to get them to engage with one another, maybe explore each other’s passions and maybe talk about how them pursuing their work and their interests is helping them,” Sokoloff said.

Wharton junior Lea Chen was both a spring 2017 Passion Projects fellow and is a member of the Wharton Wellness and Passion Projects collective team. She said she has found that the collaboration between the two organizations fosters an environment where students can focus on their wellness and mental health in a way that lets them be authentic and do what they want to do.

Credit: Julia Schorr

“This is actually perfectly related to wellness because the things that you’re passionate about are the things that make you happiest and, in turn, the most well,” Chen said.

Many of the Passion Projects fellows have said that this intention is well translated in practice.

Wharton junior and Passion Projects spring 2017 fellow Jenn Tran said that it was really important for her to be recognized by the University in a way that wasn’t just academic because it pushed her to continue her passion for street art while still pursuing a Wharton degree.

“The fact that it was Wharton promoting and pushing me to do this project is so different from what Wharton usually pushes you to do,” Tran said. 

Chen also added that Passion Projects reveals a “new side” to Wharton students beyond their strictly academic endeavors.

“It gives more color to who they are as a person.”