David Grossman Gr’04 | Civic Scholars Executive Director
Allison Roland C’11 | Capstone Project: “A Call to Intervene: Humanitarian Intervention as a Global Obligation and the Case of Northern Uganda”
It starts with a phone call. A lot of kids who get accepted to Penn have impressive histories of civic engagement and academic achievement in high school. But a handful, for one reason or another, have stood out—which is why, along with their acceptance letter, they got a call followed by a personal letter from Walter Licht, asking if they would be interested in becoming a Civic Scholar. By the time they got off the phone, most of them were somewhere between curious and flabbergasted. Especially the members of that first cohort.
“Walter called me, and we had a great conversation,” says Sourav Bose C’11 W’11, who majored in biology and economics and crisis management and was also a member of the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management. “It was one of the reasons I came to Penn. Before that it wasn’t anywhere near the top of my choice list. After the conversation I was really excited. I just thought it would be a really cool opportunity. Other schools didn’t call.”
“Walter was really excited about the program,” says Allison Huberlie C’11, an urban-studies and political-science major and another civic superstar. (See “A Civic Scholar Sampler” on p. 36 for more on Huberlie and Bose.) “I thought it was really impressive that somebody had taken the time to really read my application and go through it and pick me out from a bunch of other people.”
When she came to campus a few months later, she met David Grossman, who took her out for coffee and ended up being her academic advisor. “I just remember thinking of David that he could be this enormously comforting and calming presence in my life,” she says. “And I’m the kind of person who needs that.”
Back then, when the candidates Googled the program, they got nothing. Some weren’t entirely sure what a “capstone project” was.
“I was, to be honest, a little confused,” recalls Sam Ribnick C’11, who graduated as a double major in history and modern Middle Eastern studies, and whose capstone project examined the African-American public-school system in 19th-century Washington. “There was absolutely nothing that you could look up about it. Walter said, ‘We’re starting this new program, and we’re choosing people who in high school were very civically engaged, and we’d like you to be part of the first class.’”
Ribnick laughs: “I figured the worst that happens is I have some extra work in college, but I’d have these great relationships with my professors. I was particularly excited to be in the first class, to be in the kind of shaping class, and taking ownership of that. So I immediately said Yes.”
Most of the Civic Scholars first met each other at PennCORP, the pre-orientation program that introduces interested freshmen to a broad array of community-service programs and people in Philadelphia. It’s sponsored by Civic House, the small white 1840s house in Superblock that serves as Penn’s hub for student-led community service and social advocacy.
Mark Pan C’11, an ebullient urban-studies major who has become “totally immersed in education issues” during his four years (he’s even taught hip-hop dance to local middle-school students), recalls that he was “still bright-eyed and incredibly honored to be chosen for the program.” Seeing the caliber and accomplishments of some of his fellow Civic Scholars was also “really humbling,” he admits.
“It was incredibly exciting,” he adds. “Really a cool thing to meet the other Civic Scholars and the other people in PennCORP. It was fascinating seeing all these people who cared about civic engagement all together.”
Not everyone loved it. “It was three days of waking up at 7:00, and they keep you till 11,” says Allison Roland C’11, a psychology major who, among other things, founded Penn’s chapter of MEDLIFE, a global-health organization that delivers medical care to low-income families in Latin America. “You’re so tired, you’re rushing from one thing to another—they have the entire day booked, no breaks really, and it was just popping in here, popping in there. I’m more about doing meaningful projects. I think they’ve made it a lot less packed since then.”
But in terms of opening their eyes to the range of community-service options—and serving as a spawning ground for some of the most lasting friendships that they would make at Penn—PennCORP seems to have been a success.
July | August 2011 contents