“The value in Professor Phillips’ course and Resilience Education: Wharton WORKS is just as much in the act of empowering these justice-impacted individuals as it is changing our own views and preconceived notions about prison in this country.” – Alec Shah, WG’24

There is growing recognition of the importance of education and training programs for incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism and enhance their chances of success after release. In response to this need, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania partners with Resilience Education to create Resilience Education | Wharton WORKS, which pairs Wharton MBA students in Professor Damon PhillipsReforming Mass Incarceration and the Role of Business class with incarcerated men at the State Correctional Institution – Chester (SCI Chester) in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Wharton will follow the same model with a larger MBA teaching group and the full Resilience Education curriculum in fall 2023.

Over the course of two semesters, Wharton students teach and empower justice-impacted individuals with business education and marketable skills. In addition to the connections they are able to forge beyond the Penn campus community, those who take Professor Phillips’ class earn credits for participating in this groundbreaking pedagogical initiative. 

Wharton Stories attended the graduation ceremony at SCI Chester, and caught up with four of the MBA students in Professor Phillips’ class. Of his greatest takeaways from the program, John Burgoyne, WG’24, discussed the impact this experience will have on his perspective as a future employer. “Thanks for both Professor Phillips and Resilience Education, we are now equipped with so much more information about how incarceration works in this country,” he said. “We will weave this issue front-and-center into our own future hiring decisions.”

John Burgoyne, WG’24, and Alec Shah, WG’23, share their takeaways from their course before the drive from Huntsman Hall on Wharton’s campus to the prison in Delaware County, PA.
Pictured here is one of the certificates of completion that each justice-impacted individual received upon their April 2023 graduation from the Resilience Education: Wharton WORKS program.

Led by Professor Phillips and Resilience Education, Wharton MBA students and justice-impacted individuals engage in a powerful information exchange 

Professor Phillips first taught Reforming Mass Incarceration and the Role of Business to a wider group of Wharton MBA students in fall 2022. This preceded the spring 2023 portion of the course, which saw sixteen MBA students from the fall class teach cases within Resilience Education’s flagship Financial Capability course to twenty incarcerated learners at SCI Chester.

Of the partnership, Professor Phillips said that providing business education to incarcerated individuals is an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration that affects many communities in the United States and specifically in the Philadelphia area.

“I am excited for this partnership that allows our MBA students, as future leaders, to both teach and learn from incarcerated learners,” he said.

A long-time champion of social impact and entrepreneurship within the business world, Damon Phillips is Wharton’s Robert Steinberg Professor of Management and instructs the School’s Reforming Mass Incarceration and the Role of Business class.

In April, the pilot class of incarcerated individuals graduated from the Wharton Works program in a celebratory moment witnessed by their Wharton MBA student instructors; plus Professor Phillips and Dr. Tierney Fairchild, C’89, the latter of whom serves as the Executive Director of Resilience Education. 

Of the graduation ceremony upon the course’s completion, both Professor Phillips and Tierney witnessed the justice-impact individuals receive their Wharton-branded certificates of completion. “Through our partnership, Resilience Education and Wharton are not only providing incarcerated learners with the tools and confidence they need to flourish in their communities; we are also creating a lasting impact on Wharton MBA students, who will go on to become leaders who actively promote social and economic justice in their respective fields,” said Dr. Fairchild.

Executive Director of Resilience Education, Dr. Tierney Fairchild (left), C’89, pictured with Resilience Education’s National Program Director, Bianca Bellino (right), in the lobby on Huntsman Hall on Wharton’s Campus. Tierney and Bianca both organized the program and coordinated the logistics of the visits between Professor Phillips’ MBA students and the justice-impacted individuals at SCI Chester.
Parting gifts: Camille, John, Alec, and Sush all receive necklaces with “Resilience” written in Morse Code, in addition to wrist-watches, from Resilience Education and Professor Phillips on graduation day in April.

The program fulfills an urgent civic mission while changing lives and shaping minds along the way

While Resilience Education | Wharton WORKS fulfills its mission in fostering personal growth and teaching business skills to incarcerated individuals, the Wharton MBA students who actually teach these classes are also empowered through the act of information exchange and knowledge delivery. The program emphasizes the development of interpersonal and leadership skills, as well as an understanding of ethical and social responsibility in business. Justice-impacted individuals learn how to market their talents and consider their post-release plans from an entrepreneurial perspective, and Wharton MBA students learn how to connect with a new and underserved community while learning the benefits of employing individuals with records on the teams they themselves will lead after graduation. 

Wharton understands that to do good, we must do well

The benefits of this partnership between Wharton and Resilience Education extend beyond the individual participants. By empowering incarcerated individuals with business education and entrepreneurship skills, the initiative can help break the cycle of poverty and crime, create jobs, and contribute to economic growth in underserved communities.

This initiative combines the power of business education and entrepreneurship with the goal of promoting personal growth and resilience among incarcerated individuals. It has the potential to create positive change not only in the lives of the program’s participants, but within the Wharton community and beyond. The Resilience Education: Wharton WORKS program is a testament to the power of collaboration between academic institutions and nonprofit organizations. 

Grace Meredith

Posted: April 28, 2023

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