Building Global Bridges
Penn’s links to India, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

By Amy Gutmann | An old English proverb says, “Let everyone praise the bridge that carries him over.” Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I recently traveled to Asia to connect to our alumni there and to underscore Penn’s global presence. My trip filled me with an appreciation for the magnificent global bridges that link Penn to India, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Scores of Penn students and families from these and other countries have helped construct our strong bridges to Asia; so have the Penn faculty whose expertise in teaching and research continues to bolster educational, economic and cultural development across the continent.

Penn has the oldest and strongest ties to South Asia among American universities. We began teaching Asian culture to U.S. soldiers during World War II, and launched the first Asian studies department in 1948 [“Gazetteer,” Jan/Feb]. Our ties with India are particularly close, including the highly regarded Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), the world’s only institution of its kind, which provides vital information to that country’s business, academic, and public-policy communities. These ties are spawning new opportunities for collaboration with India, including several under exploration by our schools of nursing and education.

Wharton’s Global Alumni Forum held its 10th annual session in Mumbai during my visit. Wharton’s impressive reputation in India was illustrated by the fact that the session broke all attendance records. India’s Finance Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram, spoke movingly about the challenges and successes of the world’s largest democracy.

While Penn boasts the largest Ivy complement of students from India, I was impressed to see just how many extraordinarily talented students India is producing, and how much they prize Penn as an educational destination.

During this trip I observed at close range the important roles that Penn alumni and families play around the world—and their desire for closer ties to their alma mater. I was thrilled to discuss Penn’s future aspirations with hundreds of alumni and families, among whom are prominent figures in finance, arts and culture, business, and technology.

For example, industrialist and philanthropist Harsh Goenka, parent of Anant W’03 and Vasundhara C’06, is an extraordinary collector of contemporary Indian art. Visiting with Harsh in his gallery-office and viewing works by eminent 20th- and 21st-century artists with him was enlightening and enriching. I also met with Hital Meswani C’90 W’90 and Anil Ambani WG’83, financial leaders who are active engineering and Wharton supporters, along with many other leaders on Wharton’s Asian Executive Board.

I reconnected with my own family’s past in India. Not only was the house my father lived in after relocating from Nazi Germany still there, one of its current occupants remembered my father. I never could have imagined such a gracious welcome. I was able to capture a truly life-saving chapter of my family history.

Surveying the island of Singapore from the top of the Capital Tower, one grasps the country’s vital strategic role as the commercial crossroads of Asia. Cosmopolitan but casual, Singapore abounds with pedestrian and vehicular bridges that enrich its character, along with a metaphorical bridge that links the country to Penn. The initial link was our founding partnership with Singapore Management University, with Penn’s Deputy Provost Janice Bellace as its first president. New joists have been added through student, faculty, and distinguished alumni such as Seng Tee Lee W’50, a prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist, who showed me the fabled Bird Garden as we discussed the links between the United States and Asia.

Last spring’s successful Wharton Global Alumni Forum reinforced our ties. Now our bridge is extending to other disciplines; for example, School of Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis recently contributed her expertise on nursing education to Singapore’s Ministry of Health.

Beijing’s Forbidden City, the vast former home of China’s emperors, is now a bustling tourist attraction. I was struck by the magnitude of its transformation from an utterly secretive compound enclosed by high walls to an open, cosmopolitan thoroughfare. One might make the same observation about all of the Asia I experienced during this visit.

My discussions with senior government officials and leaders in education and business in Beijing underscored Penn’s interest in strengthening and expanding our bridges to the People’s Republic of China. Among the high points was dinner with Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing, whose son, niece, and chief advisor are Penn grads.

The Graduate School of Education created the first collaborative doctor of education program with Beijing University. Now, we are developing new teacher-training programs with several Chinese universities. I came prepared to explore opportunities for student internships, study abroad, and other collaborations. However, I never could have anticipated that Vice Premier Chen Zili would recite the Penn Compact by heart to the Chinese press!

Since the early 20th century, Chinese students have benefited from Penn’s strength in architectural education. Now, as China develops at breakneck speeds Penn Design is launching a new collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing to create a joint Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies under the co-direction of our own Dr. Ali Malkawi and Tsinghua Professor Yi Jiang. I was delighted to help inaugurate this program along with naming benefactor, Penn Design overseer, and two-time Penn parent David T.C. Chan and his wife, Iris. The David Chan Center’s work has the potential to transform building design, while stimulating new opportunities for collaborative development across Asia and around the world.

Another “virtual” bridge links Penn with Hong Kong. One of the world’s major financial centers, Hong Kong has long looked to Wharton to educate its financial leaders. We are all pleased that Wharton’s next Global Alumni Forum will take place May 25-26, 2007, in Hong Kong.

I received a fascinating analysis of Hong Kong’s unique political, cultural, and environmental challenges by Dr. Raymond K. F. Ch’ien Gr’78 and his wife, Hwee Leng Whang G’75. A former member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council and one of Hong Kong’s most prominent business leaders, Dr. Ch’ien has been a member of the board of overseers of the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Ch’ien gathered a stimulating group of educational and civic leaders and government ministers, many of whom heard my address to the Asia Society in Hong Kong the following day.

I spoke to the Asia Society on the importance of finding common ground through deliberation rather than feeding simplistic extremism. I also reaffirmed the role of higher education in fueling constructive global partnerships among individuals and communities.

Over the years many distinguished international Penn alumni returned to their own countries to make important contributions. China’s Liang Sicheng and his fiancée Lin Whei-yin are eminent examples. After studying at Penn in the 1920s, they fulfilled internships in the United States and Europe. Upon returning to China in 1928, they pioneered China’s architecture education, with an emphasis on research and preservation of ancient Chinese architecture. They also led a design team to create the national symbol of The People’s Republic of China.

Today, Dr. William W. M. Cheung D’81 GD’82, a dental school overseer, is one of the leading dental professionals in Hong Kong. Robert Zou WG’94 is founder, chairman and CEO of China’s first chain of privately owned dental clinics, and has relied on Penn’s School of Dental Medicine for training expertise. Alice C. King CW’63, also the mother of two Penn grads, owns and directs the Alisan Fine Arts Gallery, which showcases the work of contemporary Asian artists.

A great bridge projects pragmatism and poetry. I observed firsthand how fervently our alumni and families embrace their Penn roots. They cherish their years at Penn. I heard many moving stories of powerful life-changing experiences—some of which may well have shaped the course of history. I learned that China’s Foreign Minister Li just happened to be wearing a Penn tie when he met with (then) Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabeel Shaath WG’61 Gr’65 Hon’96. Putting first things first before the discussion turned to geopolitics, Mr. Shaath asked Mr. Li how to obtain a similar tie. Shared remembrances of Penn between two chief diplomats paved the way to advances in international understanding.

It was gratifying to see recent international graduates embracing their Penn roots. Our Hong Kong Club’s scholarship event, which drew many younger alumni, raised funds to support a Penn scholarship for a student from Hong Kong, a talented young woman whom the Club is sponsoring. With this successful program, the Club is writing the prologue to our Penn World Scholars initiative, which will strengthen our global perspective.

We have set our sights for Penn even higher as we pursue global eminence, beginning with global inclusiveness. We see Penn attracting more of the best and brightest students from all backgrounds and countries, regardless of family income.

Currently, our commitment to need-based financial aid applies to students from the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Now we are launching the Penn World Scholarships, a global initiative to attract the best and the brightest students from all backgrounds and countries, regardless of family income. The Hong Kong Penn Club Scholarship is a model of how alumni can support this initiative.

We will bring more international faculty to our campus, and provide them with innovative teaching and research opportunities. And we will engage more broadly and deeply with local and global communities, including our valued alumni.

Already our efforts are sparking an exciting response. A London-based corporate representative who read about my India visit in a Mumbai publication online initiated conversations with Wharton about sponsoring scholarships for deserving students from India and China. We hope other businesses, organizations, and individuals will follow this exciting lead.

This trip was one of many sure steps that Penn is taking to advance our global reach. We have moved ever closer toward becoming the urban American research university that people turn to for expertise and leadership in improving our world, locally and globally. Let us continue to strengthen the magnificent bridges that carry us forward.

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/05/06

MAY|JUNE 06 Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue’s column