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Courses and Curriculum

Penn I-MPA students do intensive and exciting coursework in three capacities: as individuals, as members of a five-student or six-student Leadership Task Group (LTG), and as collaborators in class-wide exercises and projects.

Each LTG functions throughout the year and across the ten-course curriculum as a small-group shared learning community. Each LTG’s members are advised and mentored by the same I-MPA faculty member.

The I-MPA program’s curricular structure

One course (I-MPA 601) that focuses on critical issues in governance and human well-being; another course (I-MPA 604) that immerses students in the latest and best interdisciplinary thinking about cross-sector (government, business, and nonprofit) collaboration; and, a third course (I-MPA 605) that surveys competing theories and concepts concerning leadership effectiveness.

Four courses, each of which imparts academically well-grounded but practical and applied lessons—one in economic reasoning (I-MPA 602); another in quantitative reasoning (I-MPA 603); a third in moral reasoning (I-MPA 606); and, a fourth in program evaluation (I-MPA 607)—that together are essential to effective and ethical problem-solving leadership.

Three courses—one individual, one small-group, and one class-wide—each of which challenges students to draw creatively on the evidence-based concepts, illustrative case studies, and best-practices techniques imparted throughout the curriculum: an individual biographical analysis of a consequential global leader (I-MPA 610); a small-group project focused on the energy needs and economic development challenges now facing India (I-MPA 608); and a class-wide effort dedicated to generating actionable proposals for addressing “global greying” and China’s elder care crisis (I-MPA 609).   The I-MPA Class of 2022 concludes its I-MPA studies by defending its proposals in both the small-group capstone course (I-MPA 608) and the class-wide capstone course (I-MPA 609) before a diverse, multinational body of scholars, practitioners, and other experts.  I-MPA alumni who meet the requisite academic criteria and wish to revise and expand their individual capstone paper (I-MPA 610) in the summer following graduation are eligible for a Fox Leadership International Alumni Research and Service (FLIARS) Fellowship that pays between $3,000 and $6,000.

The ten I-MPA courses

5 Fall Semester Courses

Over the last 200 years, despite wars, famines, and plagues, human beings in virtually every corner of the globe have become more likely to live longer, healthier, wealthier, and better overall. But global progress in human well-being has been neither linear nor universal. Moreover, humankind now faces several unprecedented existential threats to human life itself, including nuclear weapons proliferation, global warming, and the persistence or spread of drug-resistant infectious diseases including ones once thought to be nearly eradicated.

What are the most important indices of human well-being and how, if at all, can they be well-measured? What explains the variance in how people today are faring both between and within given nations?

And what must happen if the next century-long chapter in the annals of global human well-being—the chapter to be written between now and the year 2120—is to be a tale of greater health, wealth, and happiness for all or most people worldwide, including not just we the living but billions of people yet to be born?

This course is primarily concerned with exploring “governance”—how diverse governmental institutions partner or collaborate with nongovernmental institutions (families and social networks; neighborhood or community groups; nonprofit or social sector organizations; and for-profit firms), and with the governments of other nations as well as transnational NGOs, to maintain or improve human well-being.

Students sample and assess multiple and competing approaches to reforming public administration (also referred to as “public management”) and “creating public value,” including through “strategic management in government.” The course spotlights six global human well-being challenges—the “6 E’s”—and encourages students to initiate a search for potentially promising programmatic approaches to each:

  • Elder care with a focus on China
  • Education with a focus on Africa
  • Economic development with a focus on Latin America
  • Energy with a focus on India
  • Environmental protection with a focus on the United States
  • Epidemics with a focus on global public health pandemics like Covid-19

This course introduces students to key economic concepts such as scarcity, efficiency, monopolies, and other markets to investigate the notions of economic efficiency in a competitive marketplace.

In addition, this course equips students to discover how efficiency is affected by distortions relevant to public policy, especially regulations, externalities, and incomplete information. From the macroeconomics side, we cover both short-run topics, long-run topics, and the effects of government debt.

Students in this course practice applying these principles to the range of decisions that public sector executives have to make in order to understand the trade-offs inherent in any public policy or program.

Many governments, businesses, and nonprofit or social sector organization leaders around the globe are drowning in numerical and statistical data. The challenge they face is not only how to organize, parse, and analyze the data, but also how to utilize it effectively and in real time. This course is uniquely designed to enhance your ability to use data effectively for real-time problem-identification, definition, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Leaders across the world increasingly recognize the necessity of working across boundaries through various forms of collaboration. Collaboration across the government, nonprofit and business sectors has become more prevalent and important, but, at the same time, also more complicated. This course helps students understand the theory, policy, and practice of cross-sector collaboration. Students learn the purposes collaborations may serve, the forms they take, what skills and techniques are required, and the steps involved in initiating, sustaining, and evolving them. Students also learn the characteristics of the three sectors, the roles and contributions each can make to successful collaborations, and the competitive forces that are often at work in the collaborative process—as well as their possible implications.

If you lead only people like you (demographically, personality-wise, or otherwise), who like you (such as your friends or fans), and who you like (whether personally, professionally, or otherwise), then you are unlikely ever to lead many people, solve any major public problems, direct any large or complex organization (business, nonprofit, or government)—or lead on anything like a global scale.

Global leaders must work across three different types of boundaries: interpersonal boundaries, which involve relations with persons who differ from oneself demographically and in other ways; institutional boundaries, which involves working across government, nonprofit, and business organizations; and international boundaries, which involves both individual and institutional engagements that are carried on across national borders.

This course introduces students to the latest and best empirical research literature on leadership.  Students explore how to identify one’s own leadership-relevant traits, skills, and signature strengths, and how to learn from past and present global leaders whose careers exemplify ethical and effective boundary-spanning leadership.

5 Spring Semester Courses

In a world filled with multiple and competing human well-being needs, not all of which can be addressed or acted upon fully or at once, which human well-being goals or purposes ought to matter most, which problems ought to be considered most deserving of attention and action, and which goals, purposes, or problems should be treated as top priorities with respect to their claims on attention, resources, and action? Under what, if any, conditions, should accomplishing certain human well-being ends be thought to justify policy or programmatic means that involve largely or wholly sacrificing other goals, purposes, or human well-being ideals and interests in the bargain?

Students explore how, whether, and to what extent effective boundary-spanning leadership is, ought to be, or can be made synonymous with moral or ethical boundary-spanning leadership, and by which understanding(s) of “morality” and “ethics.” Through classic and contemporary readings and case studies, students study several different philosophical and religious writings and traditions that might usefully inform the moral reasoning of present or future leaders who seek to promote human well-being by solving local, regional, national, or global problems.

In this course, students are introduced to key concepts, principles, protocols, and techniques relevant to two separate but related skills: (1) forecasting general social, economic, and civic trends; and, (2) evaluating particular social, economic, and civic programs.  While exploring many other cases, students focus special attention on forecasting general trends, and evaluating particular programs, in relation to the capstone case for I-MPA 608 (energy in India) and the capstone case for elder care in China (I-MPA 609).

Within the next few decades, India, which today has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita per year of only about $2,000, will be not only the most populous nation in the world, but also potentially one of the most perilously energy-deficient nations in the world. While India’s roughly 1.4 billion people now use more than 800 million tons of oil each year, its government has articulated several far-reaching plans to shift more into such renewable energy sources as hydro, wind, solar, and bio-power.

But there are enormous obstacles to India’s various plans for achieving energy security, and each energy security plan will affect economic conditions and environmental protection in ways that are far from entirely easy to predict. This course equips students to describe, analyze, and assess multiple perspectives and competing plans related to energy in India.

With exclusive access to reflections on the challenge by selected top experts and leaders, each student, working with four or five other students in a Leadership Task Group, does a final I-MPA capstone paper delineating and defending one actionable, evidence-based idea for achieving energy security in India in a way that minimizes adverse economic and environmental impacts.

According to World Bank estimates, today’s People’s Republic China (PRC) is home to about 220 million people age 60 and over, and that number is expected to rise to 400 million by the year 2040. Not only is the PRC’s elderly population going to more than double in size between now and midcentury, but the health problems of the coming generations of elders are also likely to be worse than those of their predecessors. While the norm of filial piety remains strong, almost sacred, in China, the PRC’s leaders and ministers, Chinese leaders in other sectors, and average Chinese citizens, have all recognized that relying on children as primary caregivers for elders in Chinese society is simply no longer as feasible as it once was.

Students examine the practical, humanitarian, and public health dilemmas posed by a sub-population of sick, old, alone, and poor citizens that numbers in the tens of millions. They learn how leading Chinese governmental bodies, ranging from national, provincial, and district-level ministries to the Communist Party of China, have defined the problem; promoted “public-private partnerships” (or “PPP”); advanced community-based “healthy aging in place;” addressed the need for more geriatric medical practitioners and nursing professionals; and more. Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars and practitioners at Penn and Tsinghua University associated with the Joint Project on Eldercare in China (J-PEC), the class crafts a report in which it describes, analyzes, evaluates, and prescribes one concrete proposal to improve the present and future well-being of the nation’s most needy elderly citizens.

What is your LTSP—Leadership Traits and Skills Profile—and what are your leadership-relevant signature strengths as a present or potential problem-solving leader in whichever sector and whether working domestically or internationally? What might you learn about your own LTSP and how to refine it by examining the lessons in leadership and life to be learned by researching a significant global leader, whether classic or contemporary, living or dead, mostly liked or loved or mostly disliked or even hated? Working quasi-independently with an assigned I-MPA advisor, each student follows the ten-point “Mini-Biographical Analysis” (MBA) protocols imparted in I-MPA 605 and produces a well-sourced Mini-Biographical Analysis on a single significant global public leader. This course is conducted as an advanced research and writing project that results in an individual capstone paper that is deemed by the I-MPA faculty to be within the realm of professional if not publishable quality.


*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.