Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania has long been a pioneer in education. Over the years, the institution has consistently stayed on the cutting edge—from launching the world’s first collegiate business school in 1881 to welcoming the first woman president of an Ivy League institution in 1994.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and a new opportunity for innovation arose to support students with the evolved skill set they need to advance in an increasingly digital world. In partnership with 2U, the University of Pennsylvania sought to develop a portfolio of 12- to 24-week boot camps in a variety of tech disciplines, which now include coding, cybersecurity, data, fintech, UX/UI, project management, and digital marketing, the newest boot camp announced earlier this year.
“We find boot camps to be a real sweet spot, and a wonderful complement to degree programs,” says Rita McGlone, executive director of professional and organizational development at the University of Pennsylvania College of Liberal and Professional Studies. “Many students who enroll in our programs already have degrees, but are looking to upskill or reskill—they’re changing careers or seeking advanced technical skills to do their job better. They find that enrolling in a boot camp is a highly rewarding way to do that. It's a completely immersive experience: by the time the program is over, they really are walking out with a core competency they didn't have before.”
Here, we sat down with McGlone and Dr. Robert Hollebeek, professor of physics emeritus and faculty director of Penn Boot Camps, to learn more about the partnership—from its formation in 2017 through the present day.
Launching an Outcome-Focused and Scalable Partnership
When seeking a digital transformation partner, the University of Pennsylvania was hopeful that the boot camps would yield great student outcomes. “2U has always met our goals,” explains McGlone. “We wanted to create a high-quality program that was very rigorous and compatible with the University of Pennsylvania’s premium brand. Together with 2U, I think we’ve really done that. The 2U team helped us develop content that was thoughtful, comprehensive, and completely market-driven.”
“Another benefit of working with 2U is being able to scale so quickly,” she continues. “We’re able to get new programs launched and out into the marketplace within a short six-month window after identifying a need. That’s definitely something we couldn’t do on our own. With the help of 2U, we've been able to be very timely and relevant.”
Companies really like coming to us because they know that our students are taught both theoretical and applied concepts. They can hit the ground running and do the job from day one, which is what employers are looking for.— Rita McGlone, executive director of professional and organizational development, University of Pennsylvania College of Liberal and Professional Studies
Reaching More Diverse Populations of Learners
Last summer, the University of Pennsylvania continued to expand its reach with 2U through high school programs. “This is extremely important to our university mission,” says McGlone. “We've been offering high school STEM programs for many years, in topics ranging from biomed and chemistry to neuroscience and math—you name it, we’ve run it. After already having worked with 2U to develop technology boot camps, launching new high school programs together just seemed like the perfect marriage.”
When it came to identifying the right course topics, coding and data analytics were natural choices. “Computers play a major part in our personal and professional lives,” says Dr. Hollebeek. “Many people are intimidated by programming, but if you work reasonably hard you can learn how to code. It’s not something that’s totally foreign to the human intellect. The sooner we introduce high schoolers to coding, the sooner they will become fascinated and be able to swim in fast waters. Data analytics is another in-demand field, so it’s important that students have the opportunity to study that from an early age as well.”
Shaping Career-Ready Learners
Over the past four years, the University of Pennsylvania has seen its programs shape a series of remarkable student outcomes that have directly impacted Philadelphia’s technology landscape. As McGlone shares, “We've had over 800 participants graduate through our programs, and at least 200 or more are working for companies in our region, including Comcast, JP Morgan, Booz Allen Hamilton, Johnson & Johnson, Vanguard, IBM, and Amazon Web Services. Our graduates are definitely making a dent in the local economy.”
“One of the things we keep hearing from employers in the area is how well-trained our students are,” she continues. “Companies really like coming to us because they know that our students are taught both theoretical and applied concepts. They can hit the ground running and do the job from day one, which is what employers are looking for.”
2U’s approach is really success-driven. Each program has dedicated student success managers that support students throughout the entire process. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.— Dr. Robert Hollebeek, professor of physics emeritus at University of Pennsylvania and faculty director of Penn Boot Camps
Reflecting on these outcomes, McGlone credits the programs’ career services staff for guiding students on the path to professional success. “Our career services staff helps students get not just a job, but the right job,” she explains. “That's another reason why employers feel like students are ready to start from the get-go: when they go out and apply for a job, it's a job that they really are well-suited for. That makes a big difference, in terms of shaping successful outcomes.”
“2U’s approach is really success-driven,” adds Dr. Hollebeek. “Each program has dedicated student success managers that support students throughout the entire process. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. The career services team is also an extremely valuable part of the program, preparing students to navigate the job market. Applications don’t spend a whole lot of time in front of a recruiter or hiring manager, so it’s essential to make a strong first impression. Through career services, students learn what to emphasize on their resume to stand out.”
Driving Impact Through Innovation
Looking ahead, the University of Pennsylvania is excited to expand upon its current offerings and continually drive innovation with 2U. “We definitely are going to continue launching new boot camps,” says McGlone. “2U has helped us understand market demands and identify high-impact opportunities for meeting student needs. This is a great partnership, and we look forward to continually evolving to support learners throughout their careers.”
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