In the ongoing pursuit of business knowledge, Wharton has long embraced the concept of lifelong learning. Executive Education programs and online certificates improve skills and build credentials. Almost all students talk about lifelong learning after they earn their degrees. But what about before?

Therein lie the opportunities for the Wharton Global Youth Program, which postulates that business learning should begin as early as middle and high school. “We have extended Wharton’s learning spectrum to become the first business school to engage pre-college students worldwide,” says the program’s executive director, Eli Lesser. “While some students get this education in their youth, many do not. Very few experience the business education that Wharton can provide.”

Renewed Focus and Growth

For several years, Wharton served high-school students through programs like Leadership in the Business World. Knowledge at Wharton started publishing a business journal for high-school students in 2011, and it has since expanded into an investment competition and on-campus programs.

In 2019, the newly formed Wharton Global Youth Program consolidated these activities and began robust development. It now offers online, on-campus, and on-site programs; credit-bearing courses; competitions; and weekly published content, all of which leverage Wharton instruction and analysis to introduce business education to young people. “Millions of students are aspiring to study business as undergraduates,” says Serguei Netessine, Wharton’s senior vice dean for innovation and global initiatives and a professor of operations, information, and decisions who oversees the program. “Nobody among business schools is catering to this market. We have a unique potential.”

Students in a lecture hall seated with laptops.

High-schoolers on campus for summer programs

During the pandemic, Global Youth moved most of its curricula online and created solely online programs like Future of the Business World and Global Youth Meetup, an online community for virtual students. Despite the shift to fully virtual learning, enrollment in summer programs doubled. Now, under the leadership of Lesser and with the work of a full-time 11-person team, Global Youth offers eight on-site programs — including Essentials of Finance, Data Science Academy, and Essentials of Entrepreneurship — that brought students back to campus in 2022. This past summer, with a mix of in-person and online learning, more than 2,200 students attended the full suite of Global Youth programs.

Deeper Business Insights

Lesser and his team have forged collaborations with the Wharton community to grow their vision for the high-school market. Faculty members tailor and teach content, Wharton students serve as teaching assistants, alumni share expertise and career insights, and faculty-led groups like Wharton Interactive integrate business education tools into Global Youth instruction. “It’s hard to start new things in academic institutions,” says Netessine. “This time, it was surprisingly easy. People said, ‘Wow, why haven’t we done this already?’”

“Thinking about finance and investing didn’t start until I signed up for the competition,” says Global Youth student Esha Singaraju.“ This program has taught me everything.”

Wharton faculty have been among the program’s biggest champions. “High-school students are ambitious and talented but also audacious and coachable,” says associate management professor Tyler Wry, who designed and taught the inaugural Essentials of Innovation program on Wharton’s San Francisco campus in July. “I also like to think that I can give them a new set of lenses to look at the world and how to use business as a responsible tool.”

Global Youth students welcome those deeper business insights. Esha Singaraju, a senior at Marvin Ridge High School in North Carolina, has competed a few times in the program’s Wharton Global High School Investment Competition. Her team won the 2020-2021 competition and took third place the following year. “Thinking about finance and investing didn’t start until I signed up for the competition,” says Singaraju. “This program has taught me everything.”

Esha Singaraju presenting in front of other people.

Esha Singaraju presents during the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition’s 2022 finale.

Singaraju credits her success in part to a community of supporters like the Wharton Club of Charlotte, N.C., in which her mother, Sree Singaraju WG15, is active. Club members gave Esha’s team advice on their investment strategy. “Esha understood the complexities of the finance industry,” notes Sree, manager of startup solutions architecture at Amazon Web Services. “She built the confidence to talk about things with her peer group and leaders.”

Alumni welcome the prospect of giving their teenage children the chance to experience Wharton and discover business. Global Youth supporters Andrea Vittorelli WG92 and his wife, Suk Han, believe that introducing younger students to economic education is critical. “The ability to come up with solutions for any sort of problem has to do with being exposed to a variety of perspectives,” notes Han. “Instilling that kind of flexible thinking into younger people is a game changer.”

Vittorelli, the global chairman of J.P. Morgan’s Insurance Investment Banking Group who served as a judge in the spring 2022 finals of the Wharton Investment Competition, has seen that mental flexibility in action. The competition involved thousands of high-school students from 64 countries, culminating in the top 10 teams presenting their investment strategies to him and a panel of professionals. “These students are not scared by the notion of trying to understand a Monte Carlo simulation,” Vittorelli observes. “By learning about that, they learn about the world. That is an incredibly valuable extension and enrichment of the Wharton brand.”

Equitable Access to Business Education

Global Youth is leveraging that brand power in ways that also make business education more broadly accessible. In January 2021, it launched its Pre-Baccalaureate Program for high school juniors and seniors to take credit-bearing undergraduate coursework at Wharton. It’s the School’s first-ever dual-enrollment offering.

The Pre-Baccalaureate Program has become the nexus for Global Youth to reach communities that can’t always access a Wharton education. Through its “Embedded Pre-Bacc” model, Global Youth partners with nonprofits like Steppingstone Scholars in Philadelphia and the National Education Equity Lab, an education justice organization, to bring college-credit-bearing courses to high-schoolers in historically underserved communities. Students take customized Wharton courses in their high schools with the help of Wharton teaching fellows and support from their classroom educators.

Flavio Serapiao presenting at the front of a classroom.

Leadership in the Business World program leader Flavio Serapiao instructs students.

The latest embedded course is Grit Lab 101: The Psychology of Passion, Perseverance, and Success. Ed Equity Lab chose several schools for its launch in September 2022 under the guidance of Angela Duckworth, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics. “The course is unusual in emphasizing both the science and practice of mindsets and skill sets underlying grit,” says Duckworth. “The questions we ask and answer in Grit Lab 101 are intrinsically interesting and personally relevant to high-school students.”

Both Netessine and Lesser see Global Youth as an entrepreneurial startup with strong growth potential. They are exploring new business models and looking for partners to create custom programs in the U.S. and globally. Training high-school educators is also a key priority. Professional development seminars and workshops in areas like personal finance would pay dividends, suggests Lesser. “Just imagine all the students we could impact by training business and finance teachers,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”


Published as “Teach the Children Well” in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Wharton Magazine.