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Scholarship and Service
Penn's role in the community combines both.
By Judith Rodin, CW'66
Many saw the Presidents' Summit for America's Future as a celebration of the tradition of service, of giving, of caring that has been part of our national fabric from the beginning. Others, more cynical, saw it as a photo opportunity, no more, no less. Still others saw it as an excuse for government to abandon its citizens, particularly its children, to private sector and volunteer initiativesan abdication, if you will, from providing the basic care the richest nation on Earth should be willing to provide its citizens.
Whatever one's view of the Summit, it is true that millions of Americans do offer their time and talents in service to othersas Americans have done for generationsand they improve the lives of those in need. Nowhere is this giving and caring demonstrated in more meaningful ways than at your alma mater. Last year, our students, faculty and staff gave some 75,000 hours to voluntary community service. And three examples from this year: Hundreds of Penn volunteers worked to renovate a home in West Philadelphia with Habitat for Humanity, spruced up city streets during Spring Clean, and organized an exciting and productive day-long conference on linking academics and service in West Philadelphia. All of this workand morehas had an enormous impact on thousands of lives.
President Clinton has asked college and university presidents to do everything possible to engage their students and faculty in community servicebecause our society needs them and their enormous skills and abilities. I agree, and Penn is committed to meeting all five goals for youth service set forth by the organizers of the Presidents' Summit. But the complexity and demands of today's society require more than traditional volunteerism.
The problems of America's cities are well documentedissues of poverty, of crime, of physical decay. For urban universities, like Penn, the choice is to build walls, real or imagined, or to become engaged with our communities in an effective and proactive way. There is no choice, really. If we were once disconnected and aloof, we must now be focused and open. If we once built walls, we must tear them down.
Urban colleges and universities are in a unique position to push the envelope of voluntary service, and expand its results, through their development of academically-based community service programs. And while it is happening elsewhere, few do it better than the University of Pennsylvania. The "service learning" programs go well beyond the alleviation of individual miserybeyond feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, or tutoring the "slow learner"to bring about structural, enduring community improvements such as effective public schools, neighborhood economic development, and vital community organizations.
These academic programs find synergy in the combination of scholarship and service, in their application of theories in practice. And the interaction of theory and practice are a part of Penn's "genetic material." It is an essential and valuable feature of our academic programs, our campus life, and our intellectual style. In a typical Penn program, a student performs volunteer service as part of an internship that is coordinated with scholarly researchto the mutual benefit of research and service.
For example, Anthropology 210: Anthropology and Biomedical Science sends students to the Turner Middle School near the campus. Working with parents, teachers and the youngsters themselves, undergraduate volunteers help families learn more about healthy eating and nutrition and build a body of knowledge that otherssocial-service agencies, school districts, hospitals and otherscan draw upon. Also, over the past seven years, these undergraduatesmore than 150 of themhave helped Turner develop textbooks, a for-profit food stand to promote better eating habits, and after-school clubs in health and health-related professions, ensuring that the results of their efforts will continue in the future.
Penn is committed to these partnerships with our West Philadelphia neighbors and in other parts of the city. We offer more than 50 courses that engage students in this way. And, we will do more.
Increasingly, urban colleges and universities will move toward academically-based community service because they realize that their health, and the health of their communities, is inextricably entwinedand because it is the right thing to do. The 21st century will present many new challenges. The Presidents' Summit reminds us that these challenges will be met best by an engaged citizenry, including students whothrough academically-based community serviceare both enhancing their minds and expanding their hearts.
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 6/17/97