‘Tomorrow’s Thinkers and Leaders’ Discover Wharton During Global Youth’s Learning Day 2022

by Diana Drake

If you were in the vicinity of the Wharton School on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in Philadelphia, on Friday, April 22, you may have spotted a group of animated students taking selfies with the legendary statue of Ben Franklin on a bench (Franklin founded Penn).   

They could easily have been mistaken for photo-ready college undergrads, but in fact they were high school students on a mission. Engaged in an app-powered scavenger hunt, the students were solving the clues to discover all they could about Wharton’s past and present during the first Wharton Global High School Investment Competition Learning Day since 2019.   

‘So Much Good on the Horizon’ 

Learning Day was first launched in 2017 to enrich the experience of students and advisors traveling from around the world to campus each spring to compete in the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition. Its purpose – an extension of the core competition mission – is to expose students to new knowledge and perspectives around business, communications and, of course, university life on the campus of a world leader in business education. 

While Learning Day was sidelined during the pandemic, this year it returned in person – and with great style.   

Erika H. James, dean of the Wharton School, helped to kickstart the day’s program by welcoming not only the global investment competitors to campus, but also a group of Philadelphia high school students participating in the 2022 Steppingstone Scholars Equity Summit.  

Dr. Erika James, Dean of Wharton, welcomed students to campus.

“I’m honored to be in the company of so many of tomorrow’s thinkers and leaders,” said James, adding that she could relate to the students’ big decisions and opportunities as she helped her own teenage daughter navigate the college-application process. “Whether exploring the ever-evolving world of finance or examining how we expand equity-centered thinking, your forward-focused mindset is so absolutely necessary. Your drive and  determination, coupled with your ideas and innovations are proof that there is so much good on the horizon.” During a Q&A with the audience, Dean James she shared everything from Wharton’s diversity strategies to her status as a licensed motorcycle enthusiast. 

Learning Day 2022 embraced this theme of ideas and innovations. Following the program kick-off, investment competition participants, parents and advisors headed down Penn’s Locust Walk to take part in a day of activities and education, including the scavenger hunt, a panel discussion with past investment competition participants now studying at Penn, and a presentation on college life by three Wharton student ambassadors.  

The highlight of the afternoon featured an interactive session led by Angela Duckworth, a Wharton and Penn psychology professor who is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit that advances scientific insights that help children thrive. Dr. Duckworth is also author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. 

The Paramecium Parallel  

During her exchange with the students, Dr. Duckworth shared key insights from her research about how to live a happier and more successful life. She framed a part of the discussion around the commencement speech she will deliver in a few weeks to a group of Wharton and Penn students.  

Her best advice? Be like a paramecium, a single-celled organism that, despite not having a brain, survives quite well through trial and error.  

“You’re going to learn most of the things that you learn in life through messy, inefficient trial and error,” said Duckworth. “The most successful people, including Nobel Laureate scientists and truly world-class athletes at the Olympic level, have historically in their lives done more sampling and exploration than people who are not as great. Give yourself some time to try out majors and try out activities, quit things, but try to quit them after your commitment is over. More sampling now will help you become successful later in life.”  

As shadows fell over campus, the global investment competitors gathered on the 8th Floor of Wharton’s Jon M. Huntsman Hall for a networking “mocktail hour.” In a mere matter of hours, they would reconvene in the same room to present their investment strategies to a panel of finance professionals for a chance at winning the Global Finale (Click here to read about this year’s winners).  

Selfie with Ben on the bench.

But first, they seemed content to reflect on all they had experienced during Learning Day 2022. The earlier remarks of Eli Lesser, executive director of the Wharton Global Youth Program, resonated with the group.  

Each of us is on a learning journey, something you began even before you started school and a journey that will not end when you attend a graduation ceremony, whether high school, college, or even graduate school,” Lesser said. “As you begin learning on a university campus today, perhaps the next step takes a few seconds to consider what that means. Look around at this space, look at who is sitting next to you, listen to the ideas they are sharing, and think carefully about what you are being taught and if you agree or disagree with it. Use your voice to add to that conversation.”