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January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17


The College House Deans
Back Row, Standing:
Dr. Suhnne Ahn,
Ryan Keytack,
Dr. Frank Pellicone,
Dr. Marilynne Diggs-Thompson,
Dr. Christopher Donovan,
Alison LaLond Wyant,
Stephanie Weaver,
Patricia C. Williams;
Front Row, Kneeling:
Dr. Krimo Bokreta,
April Herring,
Dr. Utsav Schurmans

Partners in Residence

We are Penn’s 11 College House Deans.  Explaining exactly what we do, in fact, can be one of the greatest challenges that face us in our positions. We are a rather diverse lot, and serve 11 undergraduate Houses that differ considerably not only in the architecture of our spaces, but also in the living/learning programs we have created and the populations we serve. We have significantly different academic interests and professional trajectories.  Some of us came to our roles having earned doctorates in fields ranging from anthropology, sociology, and geology, to musicology, English, and Italian literature. Others came to these roles from student affairs positions, directing budgets, advising student groups, coordinating academic programs, and training various organizations about group dynamics. 

While we bring different experiences to our work—a unique type of work that requires us to live in our jobs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months per year—we share a very strong commitment to our students and our purpose. On any given evening, when most of Penn’s staff is long gone, we bear the responsibility of remaining on call for any emergencies that might arise in any one of our Houses. We gladly take on this challenge, rotating the chief point of contact amongst ourselves. Those of us outside of our circle of House Deans might imagine that we are constantly responding to crises: well-meaning people suggest that we are the people, “living in the trenches” and we are, “on the front lines.” Certainly, each of us might have some sort of, “war story,” but living on Penn’s campus with our extraordinary students, faculty, and staff has provided us with many great rewards and satisfaction.  

We often are the agents of the University who help parents and students deal with separation from each other. We hope that every parental phone call will be like the father who earnestly asked, “Our son respects you. We think that he is too worried about getting into med school. Will you please let him know that we love him and want him to be happy?” We are often the first to learn of students receiving prestigious grants and awards, and feel pride when they perform in plays on campus or on the court of the Palestra. Alongside them, we watch political debates and late-breaking news stories that help shape their views of the world. When they can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, we provide a comforting meal or share a place at the table with our own families. And some of us are excellent cooks!

All 11 of us serve as pre-major advisors for the College of Arts and Sciences. We also are responsible for the recruitment and training of our undergraduate Resident Advisors and our Graduate Associates who help us in our mission. Many of us teach the students with whom we live, and gladly share our own scholarship and academic growth with them.

Night after night, we open our doors to faculty for casual dinners and discussions about their academic interests, allowing faculty a glimpse into the “unknown” life of their students outside of the classroom. Here, in our private apartments and House meeting spaces, the focus can be on learning for learning’s sake rather than boosting a G.P.A. Through the College of Arts and Sciences, we sponsor Majors Dinners for students so that peers as well as undergraduate chairs can describe all that certain academic disciplines have to offer them both at Penn and beyond. Choosing one’s major can be a daunting challenge, but bringing the discussion to the dinner table, right where a student lives, helps make that task more manageable.  

As House Deans, we have the rare opportunity to participate in the development of our students from the time prior to their arrival on campus, to the happy day that they graduate. Under our leadership, students create meaningful and sometimes provocative programs, whether for cultural enrichment or in response to the needs of our communities. When those needs do arise, we connect students to our vast network of colleagues in Penn’s plentiful resources across campus.

We are expert organizers who build connections between our students and faculty, staff, departments—even caterers and plumbers. Not surprisingly, this takes a fair amount of effort and planning, but this is how we bridge the classroom and life at home in the College Houses. Our goal is to bring the University of Pennsylvania home to our residents, whether working with CURF, Public Safety, the Music Department, the four undergraduate Schools, Penn Athletics, Development, the President’s Office, or any of the other departments and resource centers with whom we interact on a regular basis.

We do our jobs as House Deans with pride and determination.  We even keep our students connected to Penn after they graduate.  We helped initiate, in fact, the College House Alumni Ambassador program. Alongside our neighbors, the Faculty Masters and Fellows in our Houses, we remain ready to partner with all students, faculty, and staff who would like to connect with our residents; living among students, we are the best positioned to do so. We are your partners in residence.

—Patricia C. Williams, Du Bois
—April Herring, Fisher Hassenfeld
—Christopher Donovan, Gregory
—Suhnne Ahn, Harnwell
—Frank Pellicone, Harrison
—Stephanie Weaver, Hill
—Krimo Bokreta, Kings Court English

—Marilynne Diggs-Thompson, Riepe
—Ryan Keytack, Rodin
—Alison LaLond Wyant, Stouffer
—Utsav Schurmans, Ware

Contact us at:  collegehouses@pobox.upenn.edu



Almanac - January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17