Courses and Curriculum

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

Each LTG functions throughout the year and across the eight-course (10 c.u.*) curriculum as a small-group shared learning community.

The I-MPA program’s curricular structure

One course (I-MPA 6010) that focuses on critical issues in governance and human well-being; another course (I-MPA 6040) that immerses students in the latest and best interdisciplinary thinking about cross-sector (government, business, and nonprofit) collaboration; and a third course (I-MPA 6060) that surveys competing theories and concepts concerning leadership ethics.

Three courses, each of which imparts academically well-grounded but practical and applied lessons in leadership and problem-solving—quantitative reasoning for public decision-making (I-MPA 6030); economic reasoning for strategic decision-making (I-MPA 6055, 2 c.u.); and leadership and global public health (I-MPA 6080).

Two courses, one of which counts as 2 c.u. toward the 10 c.u. required for graduation, and each of which challenges students to independently apply the curriculum's core theories, key concepts, evidence-based techniques, and illustrative case studies: a group-organized, class-wide capstone project on global aging in which students, guided by leading experts, immerse themselves in issues pertaining to the "eldercare crisis" in Southwest and East Asia, and evaluate public-private programs that serve the most vulnerable older subpopulations in several Chinese cities (I-MPA 6095, 2 c.u.); and a highly structured but individually researched and written biographical analysis of a consequential global leader (I-MPA 6100).

The eight I-MPA courses

Four fall semester courses

Over the last 200 years or so, despite various significant setbacks, human beings all across the world have become more likely to live longer, healthier, wealthier, and better overall. However, global progress in human well-being has been neither linear, nor universal, nor stable. What must happen if the next century-long chapter in the annals of global human well-being is to be a tale of greater health, wealth, and happiness for all or most people worldwide?

While there is no simple answer, this course argues that human well-being is best promoted and preserved only under conditions of good governance. But what is governance, and what is good governance? How has the theory and practice of governance changed over the last several decades, and how should it develop into the future? How can public managers act more strategically and effectively in the face of existent crises and emerging threats? What sort of partnerships can and should public agencies enter into with non-governmental actors in order to define and solve critical problems? Through classic texts, case studies, and group discussions, this course will explore these and other questions while giving students the practical knowledge needed to become boundary-spanning public leaders.

Knowing how to understand and use quantitative data is, increasingly, a skill critical to success in the government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors. While numbers, statistics, and graphs abound, leaders across these sectors struggle in knowing not only how to organize, parse, and analyze data, but also how to utilize it effectively and in real time to cope with adverse conditions, solve problems, and achieve desirable outcomes. This course is uniquely designed to enhance your ability to use data effectively for real-time problem-identification, definition, decision-making, and problem-solving. In this course, students are introduced to key concepts, principles, protocols, and analytical tools and techniques relevant to quantitative reasoning, statistical analysis, and three separate but related problem-solving leadership skills: (1) describing and forecasting general social, economic, and civic trends; (2) measuring performance and results; and (3) evaluating particular social, economic, and civic interventions or programs. Students learn and apply these skills in relation to several cases.

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.

Economic reasoning is key to strategic decision-making. This course has two parts. In Part I, students are introduced to important elements of economic reasoning, both at the microeconomic and macroeconomic levels. At the microeconomic level, topics include supply and demand, production and cost analysis, market structure and competition, market failure and the role of government. At the macroeconomic level, the course covers topics such as measuring aggregate output, economic growth, unemployment and inflation, and international trade.

In Part II, students practice applying these economic principles to the range of strategic decisions business firms face. Why business firms? Together with the government and the nonprofit sector, the business sector has a profound bearing on human well-being. For socially responsible business leaders, the challenge is to formulate successful strategies that grow firm profits, and satisfy its employees, shareholders, and customers, while also benefitting, or at least not adversely affecting, wider communities, whether local, regional, national, or transnational. Especially when facing less scrupulous business competitors, aggressive government regulators, or adversarial nonprofit advocates, civic-minded business leaders grapple with this challenge every day. How can business leaders formulate strategies to gain and sustain a competitive advantage at home or abroad? By applying economic reasoning, we will discuss firm decisions on prices, quantities, and costs, and firm decisions regarding which industries and geographic markets to enter. Moreover, we will examine how firms interact with each other through competition and collaboration. In addition, we will explore how these decisions are affected by the forces and trends in the overall macro economy.

Four 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.

This course takes an interdisciplinary and contemporary approach to global health addressing health disparities in developing countries. Through lectures, readings, case studies, and group discussions, students learn and apply such concepts or techniques as the measure of disease burden, health and human rights, women’s reproductive rights, health economics, and cost benefit and benefit analysis. The main case study concerns certain acute public health problems in developing countries such as India, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and others. By many public health indices, including rates of life-threatening infectious diseases, access to healthcare delivery, life expectancy, and rates of foodborne illnesses, developing countries face huge and still largely unresolved public health challenges. Millions of people in developing countries die each year from diseases that can be prevented by access to certain medicines and mitigated by participation in particular programs. Focusing mainly on malaria and other communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases in developing countries, students describe, analyze, and evaluate multiple and competing anti-malaria approaches and programmatic initiatives.

Note: This 2 c.u. course meets once a week for lecture and twice a week for recitations. This 2 c.u. course fulfills one of two capstone requirements.

Program evaluation involves two separate but related skills: forecasting general social, economic, and civic trends; and evaluating particular social, economic, and civic programs. In this course, students learn key program evaluation concepts, principles, and techniques and then apply them in problem-solving exercises related to global aging with a focus on Asia. The elderly population of Asia is projected to exceed 900 million by the year 2050. In East and Southwest Asia, public health policies are just beginning to support "healthy aging in place," and pension systems are not yet well-developed. In this expert-led, group-organized, and class-wide capstone course, students learn about global aging and explore the humanitarian, economic and public health dilemmas posed by eldercare in East and Southwest Asia. By 2040, China alone is projected to have more than 400 million people age 60 or older. Students do individual and task group projects regarding how leading Chinese governmental bodies, ranging from national, provincial, and district-level ministries to the Chinese Communist Party, have defined the eldercare challenge; promoted "public-private partnerships" (or "PPP") programs; advanced community-based "healthy aging in place”; addressed the need for more geriatric medical practitioners and nursing professionals; and more. The last segment of the course is a multi-week research and writing project in which students describe, analyze, and assess China's subpopulation of "three needs" elderly citizens, and identify, evaluate, and prescribe reforms to existing PPP eldercare programs. The course concludes with a student-led presentation of the class's capstone report before a distinguished, multilingual, and multinational group of experts and leaders from the worlds of government, business, and the nonprofit sector.

Note: This 1 c.u. course fulfills one of two capstone requirements

Global leaders must work across three different types of boundaries: interpersonal boundaries, which involve relations with people who differ from oneself demographically, personality-wise, and otherwise; institutional boundaries, which involve 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 arguably exemplify ethical and effective boundary-spanning leadership. Working quasi-independently with an assigned I-MPA advisor, each student produces a ten-point "Mini-Biographical Analysis" (M-BA) of a single significant global public leader. The M-BA is conducted as an advanced research and writing project that results in a 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.