Like every college and university in the world, the Wharton School moved to online instruction in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak in March. To pull off this herculean feat, dozens of staff members worked from their homes to move 625 courses taught by 250 professors in a matter of days. The academic experience is at the heart of the School but that’s not the only element that was affected by the social distancing mandates.

Conferences, annual campus events, student clubs, and competitions were reimagined and redesigned from the ground up — on limited time and with brand new constraints. In many cases, new insights have emerged that may persist well into the future.

Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Challenge

In May, the annual Penn Wharton Startup Challenge was divided into two days and spanned multiple time zones with 28 student startups pitching judges live via BlueJeans. While the event was held online, the heart of the event remained: student teams met with industry experts and received valuable, constructive feedback on their ventures. “The whole event was really just a testament to the flexibility and adaptability of our students and alumni. Their willingness to try something new was fantastic,” said Cathy Ogur, Associate Director of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship.

A woman wearing a black sweater appearing via webcam smiles widely.
Felicity Johnson, WG’20 reacts to the news that she won the $30,000 Grand Prize at the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge on Saturday, May 2, 2020.

Felicity Johnson, WG’20 took home the $30,000 Perelman Grand Prize as Founder of My Virtual Veterinarian — a virtual veterinary portal for pet owners. John Hurst, WG’20, V’20 acted as advisor to the startup. And to cap off the two-day event, viewers tuned in to a panel discussion on entrepreneurship with Prof. Mauro Guillen, Kathryn Stewart, Mike Vaughn, and David Smith.

“By being able to make events available virtually, you just open up the opportunities for so many more people to join. And I can definitely see us having a combination of in-person and online events moving forward,” said Cathy.

A Virtual Datathon

The Wharton Customer Analytics (WCA) Datathon, sponsored by Baring Private Equity Asia, pivoted to a five-day event hosted on BlueJeans. The structure was the same as prior datathons: 15 teams of Penn and Wharton undergraduates and Wharton MBA students analyzed two years of financial data and presented revenue-enhancing solutions to a panel of Wharton Customer Analytics leaders. The competition was a success and more teams registered for the virtual event than prior in-person datathons.

“This is by far the largest Datathon we’ve done. The thing that struck me just from a logistical standpoint was how everybody was able to log in at the same time and how we had literally no technical issues. It was probably more flawless than the in-person one we did with Electronic Arts and you would have never known that these [students] were working in this virtual environment and in different circumstances.” said Matt Gray, Senior Associate Director of Operations for WCA.

Wharton Live from Executive Education

Wharton Executive Education pivoted in March from on-campus programs to 100% live virtual programming. The first live virtual program, a custom program designed for the Nanyang Business School, was up and running in only a week.

This fall, Executive Education transitioned more than 35 on-campus open-enrollment programs to a live virtual format, leveraging the advantages of remote learning while providing the interactive and challenging learning experience of the in-person curriculum. Wharton LIVE Virtual Programs are taught by the same Wharton faculty as the on-campus program and each class maintains a small size of no more than 40 students for optimal learning and engagement.

“The format worked quite well for us to get to know one another and the content was at a high level that kept everyone interested,” said a recent participant who attended the Venture Capital live virtual program in May. “The fact that the Wharton LIVE program was online was a big selling point; I was able to take advantage of a learning opportunity that would not have been possible for me otherwise.”

Fast Forward: COVID-19 Video Series

In response to the health crisis, Wharton released a 10-part video series, FastForward: COVID-19, that features faculty insights on the expected impact the pandemic will have on key industries and what the world will look like one year from now.

From insights into The Future of the Market with Prof. Jeremy Siegel to the impact on The Global Economy, Geopolitics, and Higher Education with former Dean Geoffrey Garrett to The Future of Entrepreneurship with Wharton’s Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship Prof. Karl Ulrich, leading professionals explore the pandemic’s widespread impact on all aspects of the business world in this educational video series.

Wharton Business Daily: COVID-19 Special Reports

Wharton Business Daily, airing live on SiriusXM Channel 132, spotlighted several special reports on COVID-19 that featured discussions with industry professionals regarding pandemic insights, impact, and future projections.

To address the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the economy, Wharton created a new undergraduate class, “Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty.” The special report on Wharton Business Daily featured insights from six professors who taught the class.

The Business of Sports Without Fans

From the NBA’s “bubble” strategy in Orlando to the MLB’s fan cardboard cutouts, major league sports were forced to reinvent gameplay. Faculty Lead of the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative and Wharton Prof. Adi Wyner led a panel discussion with industry professionals on the future of sports, both during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic world. Panelists discussed the challenges and new opportunities sports business leaders will face as they navigate a new world of sports without fans. Replay on LinkedIn »

LinkedIn Live Sessions: Penn Wharton Budget Model

The live sessions on LinkedIn continued with Penn Wharton Budget Model faculty director Prof. Kent Smetters‘ discussion, “Coronavirus Policy Responses: Health and Economic Effects of State Reopenings” on May 5, 2020. The integrated model analyzed the potential health and economic impact of U.S. states reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home orders. Replay on YouTube »


— Mike Kaiser and Erin Lomboy

Posted: October 20, 2020

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