The Wharton Program Where MBA Students Are The Teachers — And Prisoners Are The Students

The Wharton Program Where MBA Students Are The Teachers — And Prisoners Are The Students

Inside SCI Chester. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections photo

Tierney Fairchild and her husband, Greg Fairchild, founded Resilience Education in 2012. Greg is a professor at Virginia Darden and Tierney is an education specialist with an MBA from Darden and a doctorate in education, leadership, and policy studies.

The two started thinking about how to make business education accessible for incarcerated people when Darden’s dean gave Greg a letter a man sent him from a nearby prison. The man had requested advice to create a business plan because he felt starting his own business was his only viable option for a job once he was released. He was certain employers wouldn’t hire him because of his felony conviction, Tierney explains.

In response, Greg and four of his students launched a course in the men’s prison. The following year, Tierney taught for the first time in the local women’s prison. “That was the beginning of what we realized was going to be a very powerful educational experience,” she says, “both for our incarcerated learners, to bring them business and financial and entrepreneurship education, and (for) the MBA students who were eager to contribute to this social issue.”

The workshops have now expanded to three top business schools — Darden, Columbia, and Wharton — and six correctional facilities. Resilience Education also has a professional network that connects graduates of the workshops who have since been released from prison with MBAs who can aid them in their job search and business efforts, providing mentorship, opportunities, and resources.


Phillips speaks highly of the Wharton MBA students who participated in the first iteration of the new workshops. “I have faith in them and they have not let me down,” he says. He explains that these students came from many different backgrounds, in terms of both their career and upbringing — some were already knowledgeable about the carceral system, and some had personal connections to it. Others knew very little going in. “What (these students) share is a desire for social change and a real experiential opportunity to be a part of something which is meaningful, not just a classroom thing, but something where they are participating in the solution,” Phillips says.

Phillips plans to expand the Wharton workshops to more correctional facilities and get more UPenn departments involved, including the law school, medical and nursing schools, and undergraduate college. He is working with Wharton and Resilience Education to release an online version of his mass incarceration course to make it easier for other schools to start their own prison education workshops. He is already thinking about other plans — providing tablets to people returning home from prison to help them access resources and mentors, incubator space for those who want to start their own business, and more.

Phillips says mass incarceration and the challenges of reentry are complex issues without an easy fix, but he has been inspired by his students’ energy and desire to be a part of the solution. He’s also witnessed a major uptick in recognition of the problem by the American public and its political representatives.

“There’s hope and there’s progress,” he says. “There’s momentum … despite it being an incredibly difficult problem to solve. Among the difficult problems we have to solve as a society, this is actually one where I think we can make a lot of progress.”


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