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Each three-hour weekly class meeting features presentations from one professor and one industry leader, highlighting the interactions between theory and practice. 

Credit: Gillian Diebold

For the first time, students have the chance to take a half-credit course in cryptocurrency, which aims to be the first in a series of student-organized courses on new technologies. 

"Managing Disruptive Change: Cryptocurrencies," held in the second half of this semester, is focused on the recent history and theory of cryptocurrency and the business behind it. 

Each three-hour weekly class meeting features presentations from one professor and one industry leader, highlighting the interactions between theory and practice. The course was spearheaded by the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board following student demand, Wharton sophomore and WAB member Alex Berger said.

Management professor Mauro Guillén, the faculty director for the course, said there are currently 60 students enrolled — 29 from the Wharton School, 20 from the College of Arts and Sciences, 10 from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and one from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. 

Wharton senior Katherine DeVore, who is currently taking the class, said she has enjoyed learning about hot topics in the industry that current employers are looking for experts on. 

“I would recommend this course, especially to anyone who is interested in going into the payment industry or anyone interested in blockchain," DeVore said. "I feel like a lot of what we want to see in terms of courses is reflected in what we think employers are asking for and where our careers are going to go and where our interests lie."

Berger said when developing the course, the WAB surveyed Wharton undergraduates to determine which topics students were most interested in, and cryptocurrency stood out as the top contender. He said the board hopes the class will be the first in a series of "Managing Disruptive Change" courses focused on the business implications of new technologies.

After choosing a course topic, the WAB reached out to Guillén to ask him to direct the course, a role which involved developing the curriculum and finding six Penn professors and seven industry experts to serve as guest speakers. Guillén said he currently conducts research on cryptocurrencies and the relationship between demographics and technology. 

“As we are trying to create a class on the forefront of thought, bringing in a professor who is also in the forefront was a no-brainer," Berger said. "Getting him as an advocate for the program and someone who sees the value and can see the long-term value of this, year-in and year-out, was amazing for the program." 

Management professor Saikat Chaudhuri, one of the featured lecturers of the course, said his session focused on blockchain, the record-keeping technology behind bitcoin. He and Alka Gupta, an advisor at investment company Hard Yaka, highlighted the strategical implications of blockchain through case scenarios and discussions of blockchain's uses in health care, financial services, and retail.

Chaudhuri said industry-focused courses are less prevalent at Wharton, making the WAB's success at organizing the course even more impressive.

“I think the structure here is a little bit different. At Stanford, for instance, you frequently have, say, Reid Hoffman, who founded LinkedIn, come in and just organize a course," Chaudhuri said. "For us, we’re a bit more conservative, we want to have a bit more theory and foundational material.” 

Guillén said the course reflects Wharton's openness to student feedback. 

“We the faculty, we don’t have all of the ideas. We want you, students, to tell us what you find missing in the curriculum," he said. "I think this class is proof that we are open as a faculty, and also as the Wharton School, to your suggestions, and we are eager to act on them."