Diversity & Inclusion
Entrepreneurs / STEM / Youth

Inside Penn’s tech entrepreneurship institute for teens

Penn's Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology Summer Institute (M&TSI) brings an impressive cohort of high schoolers to West Philly every year.

From last year's Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology Summer Institute at Penn. (Courtesy photo)

Have you ever been in bed, alone, sleepless, upset at yourself and the world for not facilitating a peaceful night’s sleep?
Well, soon there may well be a solution for your woes: one of the many projects worked on at Penn’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology Summer Institute (M&TSI) is a potential “pillow of your dreams” — complete with an LED-integrating vibrating alarm, a touchpad, temperature and fullness regulation, and, most importantly, an L-shape that makes it a worthy cuddle buddy.
This is the future, or so the M&TSI program hopes. One of its aims in bringing high school students who are science “all-stars” together for a three-week intensive summer program every year is that these students go on to become leaders working at the intersection of business and engineering.
The Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology (M&T program) is a dual-degree program run by Wharton and Penn Engineering. The Summer Institute is a program designed to give high school students an insider’s look at this kind of specialized interdisciplinary work, with the vision to expose these minds to the current goings-on at the intersection of business and technology — through workshops and lectures with Penn faculty from both schools, and from field visits to tech companies in Philadelphia and New York.
The M&TSI program is now 12 years in to giving high school students a taste of what college is like. These students, who come from all over the world, go through a rigorous application process — much like that of the college application — and are typically taking the highest level physics and calculus courses that are available to them. So in a sense, some of the world’s youngest technologically inclined minds gather and live at Penn every summer.
The curriculum is designed to give them a taste of everything that there is to offer at M&T, at the engineering school, and at Wharton. In daily classroom sessions, they are introduced to product development, innovation and marketing. Faculty from both schools share their personal research, and the students spend good amounts of time doing lab work: coming up with product concepts, prototyping and even conducting market analysis amongst their peers.
In past years, cohorts have worked on projects ranging from multi-sensory alarm systems to smart refrigerators. Jeff Babin, curriculum director of the summer program, emphasizes the importance of giving participants equal exposure to engineering research at Penn and marketing and economic analysis through sessions at Wharton. Periodic trips to companies like Comcast, Morgan Stanley and DreamIt Ventures are also key, he said. In this way, the program offers a rare exposure into the spaces in which the corporate and academic worlds meet.
Overall, the M&TSI program is a really intense, solid sneak-peak into the domain of undergraduate work, into what it looks like to be working at the exciting, fast-paced intersection of technology and business, and into what it’s like to make products that cater to a world that is increasingly yearning for the constant consumption of new technological innovations.
With about 55 students attending every year, the cohort has averaged about 64 percent male over the last three years. The composition of the 2015 group was 68 percent male and 32 percent female, according to M&TSI officials.
When asked about outreach to underrepresented groups such as women and low-income students, Megan Whitman, administrative assistant at the M&T program, said, “We do outreach to all-girl schools and we work with QuestBridge to bring one student from that program into M&TSI per year.”
QuestBridge is a national program that connects low-income students to universities and scholarships — but with tuition at $6,500 per student for the three-week course, some say this is not a significant move towards inclusion. Babin said that though they try to keep the gender ratio balanced during the admission process, fewer girls end up enrolling, for reasons that they are still unsure of.
Within the existing framework of the program, giving these students insights into issues of accessibility and exploitation would be a step towards creating well-rounded tech leaders — and where better to do this than in Philly, where the tense relationship between the for-profit tech world and low-income communities of color is fertile ground for sustainable, cooperative, socially responsible development?

Companies: Penn Engineering / University of Pennsylvania / Wharton School

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