Wharton | San Francisco COO Talks about New Role and Plans for a new Facility

When Bernadette Birt joined Wharton last September as COO of Wharton | San Francisco and executive director of the West Coast EMBA Program, she brought with her 20 years of experience working at Northwestern University, particularly in that school’s EMBA program. “This job at Wharton provided many exciting opportunities and I was ready to do something new,” she says. “Not only are we moving into a bigger facility, but we are growing the MBA for Executives Program and executive education offerings here as well as strengthening Wharton’s presence on the West Coast.” We asked Bernadette to talk more about her role at Wharton | San Francisco and what the new facility will be like.

Q. What does your position at Wharton | San Francisco involve?
A. As COO, I’m overseeing the campus structure and looking at how everything that happens here fits into our plans. The other half of my job is serving as executive director of the executive MBA program. So I work closely with our whole San Francisco team on issues like recruitment, admissions, student life, career management, alumni engagement, and alumni programming. We are also working with the Philadelphia campus on a daily basis since all of our programming aligns with the School’s goals as well.

Q. What has been the highlight of your position so far?
A. Definitely, it’s working with the students. Our executive MBA students are so motivated and driven to get the best possible education. For 24 months, they are adding this program on top of their already busy lives with immense work, family and community commitments and they are trying to get the full MBA student experience during that time. I learn so much every time I talk to them.

It’s also interesting to see how connected our students are to so many amazing people. They bring in very high-level speakers who are of great interest to their fellow students. For example, the CMO of Oracle, Judith Sim, just came here to speak at the invitation of one of our students and every seat was full. It’s energizing to listen to the wide array of senior leaders who join us on campus and they help us build connections in the business community.

Q. Why is Wharton | San Francisco moving? Where will the new facility be located?
We’re moving in January because we’ve outgrown the current space. Our new facility will be in the Hills Brother Plaza, which is at 2 Harrison Street on the Embarcadero — just four blocks from our current location. Unlike our current building where signage is not allowed, we’ll have a very visible sign indicating that we are the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania right on the Embarcadero so everyone will know we are here. And we’ll have the entire 6th floor, providing 30% more space. Two of the classrooms will seat up to 70 people and a larger classroom will accommodate up to 150, which is necessary since we plan to slightly grow our class sizes. We’ll also have more dining and special event space as well as gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and the water, making us truly feel that we are part of the West Coast.

Q. What kind of technology is planned for the new facility?
The facility will be state-of-the art while allowing for future developments. We’re working on ways to use technology to better link Wharton | San Francisco with the Philadelphia campus. We have so many amazing speakers here that we’d love to share with the East Coast students and, likewise, we’d love to hear from their speakers. Also, sometimes there are special faculty presentations that would enhance the learning experience for students on both coasts. We’ll always have faculty on the ground here, but for certain occasions, having better connectivity between the coasts will really enhance the learning experience.

Q. What else will the facility be used for?
In addition to our executive MBA program, this will be a great facility for executive education programs as well as our programs that support entrepreneurship. Overall, it will be a wonderful environment in which to foster growth for the school, our students, alumni, and the business community.