Out of Boundaries

“Makes you want to go back to college.”

That was the first thing our art director, Catherine Gontarek, said after reading “Proof of Concept,” associate editor Trey Popp’s story profiling the first half-dozen Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professors to be appointed. (Two others have been named since Trey finished reporting the story, and more are planned. Funding for PIK professors is a key element in the University’s overall push to increase faculty support in its current Making History fundraising campaign.)

Each PIK professor holds appointments in two separate schools within the University; the idea behind the program is to highlight the importance of teaching and research that cuts across traditional academic boundaries. In concept, such efforts can seem laudable and even necessary, but also a bit yawn-inducing. It’s hard to get past the abstract notion—that, yes, drawing on different academic disciplines sure sounds like a good way of addressing complex issues—to grasp what specific practical differences such an approach make in solving the world’s problems and otherwise advancing knowledge.

Trey’s piece brings that reality home. These six individuals are all lively, brilliant, totally engaged thinkers and teachers, excited by their work and exciting to hear talk about it. However arbitrary some of the academic boundaries they span may be, their experience seems to have left them unusually open and curious, alert to opportunities for insight wherever they may present themselves. (And, one hopes, given our cover treatment, possessed of healthy senses of humor.)  Go back to college with them on page 32.

In sports, despite—or because of—wall-to-wall media coverage, the boundary between players and journalists has become well nigh impenetrable, nowhere more so than in the National Football League. But Stefan Fatsis C’85 managed to breach it by becoming a (sort of) player, spending the 2006 training camp and preseason with the Denver Broncos trying out as a field-goal kicker. Along the way, he got a unique inside view of the modern NFL and a taste of the extraordinary, constant pressure athletes suffer for their shot at success or survival on the field. Fatsis tells the tale in A Few Seconds of Panic, excerpted in this issue, and talks about the book in an accompanying interview.

Emeritus professor of English and distinguished poet Daniel Hoffman sensed something distinctive in Marilyn Nelson G’70’s work back when she took a class with him as a graduate student in the 1960s, and he helped get her first book published. Nelson went on to make her mark in a variety of poetic genres, and especially to create poems for young people that render African-American history and experience in complex, vivid language. After a long career at the University of Connecticut (and a stint as the state’s poet laureate), Nelson took a gamble, sinking all of her savings into the purchase of a nine-bedroom house in rural Connecticut and converting it into a writer’s retreat called Soul Mountain. Freelancer Meredith Broussard profiles this poet who “demands a double-take” in “Lady Marilyn’s Wing.”

—John Prendergast C’80

Sept|Oct 08 Contents
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