Vagelos Scholars Program In Molecular Life Sciences

The Vagelos Program in Molecular Life Sciences is an intense undergraduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, named after the distinguished alumnus and Merck CEO Roy Vagelos (class of 1950) and his wife Diana. Participation is allowed on an invitation-only basis, and acceptance is competitive. Because of Roy Vagelos's generous donation of over 15 million dollars to the University of Pennsylvania, the school is obligated to follow Mr. Vagelos's only condition for the program: that the Vagelos Scholars Program must appoint a director who is paid a salary that is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep a Vagelos Scholar would receive.

Focusing on the core principles of chemistry, mathematics, and physics, students take five courses per semester en route to either 1) a double major in two sciences, or 2) a major in chemistry or biochemistry and a submatriculated Masters degree in the same subject. Rather than concentrating primarily on classroom instruction, the program emphasizes the need for students to take an active role in research throughout the university, encouraging students to begin development of their future scientific careers. Included in the program are two paid summers for on-campus research and high levels of interaction with faculty during the academic year.

The Vagelos Program began in 1997 and has graduated five classes as of 2006. Over ninety percent of the students attend graduate or medical school after completing the program.

Program Details

A Vagelos Scholar is required to complete 40 credit units (c.u.) in order to graduate within the program. This requires a minimum of five c.u. per semester, though some choose to take more. Most students graduate with a major in biochemistry and then choose to either submatriculate to obtain their Masters during their undergraduate years or obtain a dual major in another science.

A freshman in the Vagelos Program takes General Chemistry I, Calculus I or II, and Principles of Physics (including lab). The student may choose to not take General Chemistry and instead take Honors Chemistry or Organic Chemistry. During a Vagelos Scholar’s first year, he or she will also be required to take the Vagelos Scholar’s Seminar taught by the program head, which exposes the student to the scientific community of a research university.

It is expected by the end of the freshman year that over fifty percent of those entering the program will leave due to other interests. Most leave because the university offers many attractive alternative academic and nonacademic opportunities to the college student.

Participation in a faculty research group, of which there are more than 600 located on campus, is strongly encouraged. Participants are encouraged to find work in a biomedical field, though anything related to their studies is acceptable.

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