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The Penn Fellows Program
aims to bring mid-career faculty
into full bloom
.

BY MOLLY PETRILLA


A doctor, a statistician, and a sociologist stop by Penn President Amy Gutmann’s house for dinner one night. What happens afterward is anyone’s guess. One of them might become the next provost, another the head of a large-scale research program, and one might ultimately wind up the next University president. At least, that’s what the masterminds behind the Penn Fellows program are hoping.

Launched by the Provost’s Office in the spring of 2009, the Penn Fellows initiative was created for mid-career faculty who show promise of becoming academic or administrative leaders in the future. Each spring, a new “class” is added, about a dozen strong, and for the next two years they meet for informal monthly dinners with administrative leaders—Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price, Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli W’85, and Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations John Zeller.

“The idea is for [our Fellows] to gain a more general understanding of how the University operates so they can think more broadly about faculty governance,” Price says. “Often, excellent potential leaders never step into those roles because they know so little about them.” And for those who do make the leap, he adds, “the learning curve is steeper than it has to be.”

There are some impressive resumes gathered around those dinner tables. There’s John L. Jackson Jr., an expert on racial identity who is the Richard Perry University Professor of Communication and Anthropology [“Proof of Concept,” Sept|Oct 2008]; Sharon Thompson-Schill, the Class of 1965 Endowed Term Associate Professor of Psychology and Neurology, who specializes in the neurological basis of memory and language; Charles Branas, an associate professor of epidemiology who is an expert on improvements to public health; and the list goes on. Intellectual diversity is part of the point. Meeting some of Penn’s most luminous rising stars, many of whom he might never have crossed paths with otherwise, has been a highlight for Fellow Randall Mason, an associate professor of city and regional planning in the School of Design who is an expert on historic preservation in American cities. “The School of Design is like a small neighborhood in the big city of the University,” he says. “I’m getting to explore the ‘big city’ through interpersonal relationships with other Fellows. That’s a great opportunity.”

Rebecca Bushnell, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said it would have been “fascinating and delightful” to have had access to such a program during her pre-administration days at Penn. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for our faculty to get out of the small communities they’re in and find ways to connect with larger University missions.”

The Fellows aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program. They frequently have the chance to bring scholarly companions to these monthly dinners, so the advantages spill over. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for their guests and consultants,” Price says, adding that it “confirms my faith in the extraordinary ability of Penn’s faculty to choose outstanding researchers, scholars, and leaders.”

On that note, here a few of the 2009 and 2010 Fellows.

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FEATURE: Finishing School by Molly Petrilla
Illustration by Mark Allen Miller | Photography by Sabina Louise Pierce
©2010 The Pennsylvania Gazette


 

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