Igniting Minds, Transforming Markets: Jacobs Scholars Impact at Wharton and Beyond

This is the first in a periodic series that highlights the impact of student support programs.

Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs, G'79, GRW'86 (center), has helped MBA students like Swati Bhatia, WG'22 (left), and Anthony Kariuki, WG'23 (right), hone their quantitative skills.
Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs, G'79, GRW'86 (center), has helped MBA students like Swati Bhatia, WG'22 (left), and Anthony Kariuki, WG'23 (right), hone their quantitative skills.

The venture capitalist Marc Andreesen once described software as “eating the world.” He might as well have been talking about data: According to the World Economic Forum, the total amount of data housed online can now be counted in zettabytes. One zettabyte is 1021 bytes — or the equivalent of the combined storage of about 100 billion typical laptops.

Figuring out what to do with all that information is a challenge, to say the least. But for Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs, G’79, GRW’86, that wealth of data — which shapes everything from asset prices to global markets — provides an opportunity to rationally guide investment decisions.

Over the past three years, 30 MBA students enrolled in the Quantitative Finance major have been selected as Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs Scholars in Quantitative Finance, benefiting from a program designed to equip Wharton graduates with the same tools that Dr. Jacobs uses to navigate the markets.

For Swati Bhatia, WG’22, that knowledge has proved invaluable in her current role as a product manager at Google who specializes in the application of cutting-edge AI software to the cloud. Although her day-to-day work might seem far removed from the earnings calls that move the stock price of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, up or down, her training in quantitative finance allows her to see how her team’s work fits into a much bigger picture.

“You’re able to take these principles out to the workplace,” she says. “You’re able to do backend data analysis — that can help you make a decision for the product that you own in terms of how this will be perceived: how are the analysts going to respond to it?”

Bhatia also benefited from the close ties she developed with her fellow Jacobs Scholars, with whom she frequently shared classes. “Everybody had very different dreams,” Bhatia says. “And that just opened up my perspective.”

For Anthony Kariuki, WG’23, the dream is to eventually return to Kenya, where he hopes to develop the country’s capital markets, a task for which he has been readily equipped as a Jacobs Scholar. As he sees it, Kenya could become the Hong Kong or Singapore of Africa but needs professionals trained in quantitative finance to attract more capital. “When you have that knowledge — the skills, the tools to price assets,” he says, “that’s when you’re able to create a market to match people who need assets with people who have the financing.”

Having recently accepted a position at Goldman Sachs in the firm’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications group, Kariuki plans to hone the skills he acquired as a Jacobs Scholar before returning to Kenya with the goal of increasing the number of publicly traded firms on the Nairobi Securities Exchange.

“I would really love to see Kenya get to the point where we have so many companies listed that you can have something like an ETF,” he says — an exchange-traded fund that agglomerates the securities of multiple firms.

Both Bhatia, now one year removed from Wharton, and Kariuki, who just received his diploma, also found that the financial support that comes with being a Jacobs Scholar gave them additional flexibility to pursue their dreams. “I could focus on getting a job that I really wanted,” recalls Bhatia, “instead of thinking about my loans.”

For his part, Dr. Jacobs is delighted with the evolution of the Jacobs Scholars program. “I am pleased to see that my original vision for the Jacobs Scholars as a cross-disciplinary program is coming to fruition,” he says. “This year’s cohort of Scholars has experience and training in fields as diverse as neurobiology, physics, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and applied mathematics.”

In Dr. Jacobs’s view, the skills imparted by the program will only prove more meaningful over time. “As new technologies such as generative artificial intelligence emerge,” he adds, “quants will be at the forefront of harnessing those technologies to produce better outcomes for their clients and communities.”

“They want to make an impact,” he says of Jacobs Scholars like Bhatia and Kariuki, “and I believe we can help them with that worthy goal.”