As part of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology's new series of integration initiatives, the inaugural M&T summit was held Saturday at the Singh Center for Nanotechnology with a focus on health.
The first-ever summit featured M&T alumni speakers and health-specific senior design project presentations. The M&T program is a selective dual-degree program between Penn Engineering and Wharton.
M&T Director of Integration Sangeeta Vohra organized the summit with the goal of creating “a place to bring all the players together” by building a conference that draws together alumni, faculty, and students.
While the summit will address a different theme of societal importance each year, Vohra chose health for the first conference with the mindset, “What’s more important than health care?”
While Vohra shared that health care is “dear to [her] heart” given her previous job as director of biotechnology at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, where she was closely associated with health care, health is also a theme common to all majors across the School of Engineering.
The main event took place in the afternoon when keynote speaker Scott Snyder, the Senior Vice President, Managing Director, and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Safeguard Scientific, presented on technology trends. Snyder spoke about gathering data through machine learning and the importance of “turning that data into value.”
He also spoke of the issue of privacy that comes with collecting data. “Ultimately, building trust with users is a key part,” Snyder said.
Snyder emphasized the importance of connecting fields, claiming innovative breakthroughs will come from “outside your swim length.” In other words, it’s important to look into fields around your own. He warned, however, not to “expose your idea until you have it baked enough to get successful feedback.”
The day started with a keynote presentation from Houston Astros General Manager and 1989 M&T graduate Jeff Luhnow on pro sports in the era of big data and wearables. The rest of the morning was split between two panels consisting of M&T alumni. The first panel focused on big data analytics in health. The second panel centered around technology innovation and the changing business of health.
Alumni enjoyed how the summit showcased the integration of engineering and business. 1986 M&T alumnus Stephen Fromm noted that “there wasn’t the same kind of coherent effort to have collaboration” when he was a Penn student.
The conference presented an opportunity during the afternoon for alumni to learn about students’ work on senior design projects. 1989 M&T alumnus Andy Kuzneski said the student presentations were his favorite part of the day. "Seeing how far the program has come and the quality of students is pretty cool,” Kuzneski said.
The first-place team, Lifewatch, earned a prize of $2000 for developing the first wearable epinephrine auto-injector for patients with anaphylactic allergies.
M&T faculty changed the senior design project expectations for M&T students this year by introducing the Integration Lab which requires M&T students to do a business analysis for their project. The goal of the business plan addition is to encourage M&T students to learn that it is important to “wear their Wharton hats” while they are building, according to Vohra.
While some seniors were initially upset by the extra work of creating a business plan for their teams, most were ultimately happy they were pushed to understand the business side of project building. M&T senior Eric Helfgott felt it brought a new perspective to his team’s ideas. “When you’re thinking only from the engineering side, it’s really easy to get caught up in the nitty gritty and not really think about how the product could develop into a real business,” Helfgott said. “With this kind of endeavor it makes it very clear how you go from not only a concept into a product but also a business.”
The summit and Integration Lab are all part of M&T faculty’s push to further integrate the program’s two degrees. Vohra said she felt M&T provides two parallel tracks with no integration in between. With the summit, she hopes to further integrate the program.
“In the past what you’ve seen is most people go the finance route and if you’re doing M&T and you’re just going finance then you should just go single degree Wharton,” Vohra said.
M&T senior Rafael Dimaano said that during his freshman year, he felt M&T students had to choose among “diverging paths very strictly” in terms of choosing a finance career or engineering career rather than searching for fields that overlap the Wharton and Engineering sides of M&T learning. He said the summit helped show that the program is "not such a strict division of paths necessarily." For example, he found the panels an interesting chance to learn about applications that expand beyond just software.
In an effort to promote entrepreneurial thinking from the start, Vohra and M&T Director Gad Allon created a freshman seminar this year to help students learn how they can integrate their learning from both places right from the start. The seminar includes guest speakers and M&T alumni who present on their research and career paths to help “freshmen, full of energy, to really see all that’s out there," Vohra said.
Vohra said the program plans to hold "the signature event" every year and that future topics may include sustainability and energy.
The goal of M&T’s new integration initiatives, including the freshman seminar, Integration Lab, and inaugural summit, are to “create knowledge, disseminate knowledge, and re-engage our alumni in recreating knowledge,” Allon said at the summit’s closing remarks.
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