Jess Stokes, WG’21, and Wei Wei, a student in the Graduate School of Education, worked on a WISE Fellowship project with the Philadelphia Zoo to grow their student science program — and expand their impact.

When the Philadelphia Zoo sought to deepen their understanding of the impact of their science education program, they applied to be a client for WISE, Wharton’s social impact consulting program.

WISE Fellows Jess Stokes, a first-year MBA student, and Wei Wei, a student in the Graduate School of Education, consulted for the Zoo. In this interview, they reflect on what they learned from their work. It turns out that advising the Zoo on impact metrics had a big impact on Jess and Wei, too.

Tell us about the WISE Fellowship project you worked on for the Philadelphia Zoo.

Stokes: “Last year, the Philadelphia Zoo launched a science education program at a nearby low-performing public school. Their program was so successful with seventh and ninth graders that they decided to pilot a more intensive curriculum with second grade this year, visiting the classroom on a weekly basis throughout the duration of the academic year.

The Zoo wished to understand the magnitude and type of impact they were having on the students, and how to communicate that to current stakeholders and future school partners. Our team conducted a thorough literature review to assess best practices for measuring growth in science knowledge, empathy, and conservation-mindedness. In addition to providing the Zoo with a custom suite and timeline of measurement tools, we also designed a visual year-in-review ‘impact scorecard’ that could be used in meetings with board members, donors, and school administrators. During our final presentation, we gave strategic direction for implementation as we shared our recommendation for a three-year plan to scale the program.”

How did this project inspire you?

Wei: “The Philadelphia Zoo project was an excellent opportunity to work with a group of people who are genuinely passionate about bringing quality educational resources to underserved communities. What encouraged me and touched me most is that people came together with different perspectives to propose, discuss, and generate the best ways to deliver engaging science learning experiences for kids. I feel so lucky to be a member of this team.”

Stokes: “I appreciated this experience immensely because it allowed me to stay involved with PK-12 education while working towards my MBA. I believe that innovation in the classroom is necessary and important to prepare the next generation for a changing world. I was constantly inspired by the creativity and dedication with which the Zoo was pursuing this work, as well as their determination to make their resources accessible to as many students as possible. I was so inspired by the Zoo team’s efforts and the CEO Vikram Dewan’s vision for the future that I have committed to continuing my work on a parallel project in Spring 2020.”

How did you leverage your experience at Penn while working on this project?

Wei: “As a master’s student in education, I contributed to this project by using my learnings in innovative teaching methods and practical assessment tools. This project also gave me the valuable opportunity to get hands-on experience in applying theoretical knowledge to solve real-life educational problems. More importantly, by working on this project with Philadelphia Zoo, I got to understand the challenges surrounding science education for students from underserved communities in Philadelphia.”

Stokes: “This project allowed me to bring my professional experience as an educator, as well as the research and analytical skills I have cultivated as a Penn undergraduate, and now graduate, student. The training I have received in communications, study design, and leadership were especially useful. It was also helpful to use my teaching mindset as a guidepost to ensure that what we were advising the Zoo to create was user-friendly for all stakeholders — students, teachers, parents, and administrators.”

How did this experience impact you?

Stokes: “I was shocked to learn that of the 13 public schools within a 5-mile radius of the Philadelphia Zoo, only 35 percent offer science education before high school. I have become far more aware of the challenges that the Philadelphia school system currently faces, but also convinced that project-based learning programs like the one the Zoo is implementing are the key to fixing these issues. This experience also changed my perspective about the impact that zoos can have. Hearing from the Zoo’s CEO has inspired me to believe that we do have the power to reverse the damage we have done to our planet if we commit to that mission as a community. Especially in the midst of the bushfire crisis in Australia, with over one billion animals lost, it is impossible to ignore the need to evolve our way of life so as to save the place that we and so many living creatures call home. I am proud that this project has granted me the opportunity to use the skills I have learned at Wharton to support the Zoo on a mission to raise conservation-minded and empathic citizens that will help preserve our planet and the amazing animals that live on it.”

Wei: “The experience made me more determined to continue working in the educational field as a researcher to support institutions like the Philadelphia Zoo provide quality learning experiences for students with limited learning resources. I really appreciated the chance to work as a WISE Fellow with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. This valuable experience not only enhanced my research skills and developed my growth mindset, but it also made me more certain about my passion for education.”

Learn more about the Zoo and get involved:

Posted: January 24, 2020

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