Penn Partners
Connection and collaboration build strong communities.

 

Sept |Oct 2010 contents
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  By Amy Gutmann | Among my greatest joys as president of Penn is welcoming a new group of students to campus each year just as summer begins its slow march toward fall. Since the beginning of my tenure, I have had the pleasure of greeting six classes at Convocation, each one more academically talented and diverse than the last. It is inspiring to look out on thousands of bright and expectant faces and imagine the ways in which those ambitious young women and men will thrive at Penn.

Today, our students are using technology to connect long before they arrive on campus. By midsummer, more than 2,100 incoming freshmen had joined the “Official UPenn Class of 2014 Group” on Facebook to chat about favorite bands, course selection, and College House assignments. They shared the first lines of their admissions essays; they posted their first reactions to the Penn Reading Project book, The Big Necessity by alumna Rose George G’94; and they discussed ways to get involved on campus.

For these young adults, connection is commonplace, and collaboration begins with just a few clicks. Combine that level of technological fluency with the fact that nearly 70 percent of college freshmen cite “helping others” as one of their highest priorities and you will begin to get a sense of our students’ tremendous capacity for transformative action. While they are at Penn, our responsibility is to help them find ways to serve communities, to cultivate their creativity and intellectual interests, and to bring their increasing knowledge and understanding to bear on the world.

Despite tough economic times and the temptation to turn inward, Penn has maintained an outward-looking perspective and has continued to nurture mutually beneficial local and global partnerships. Nowhere is our commitment more apparent than in West Philadelphia, where our students, faculty, and staff are hard at work with families, community leaders, and local organizations to improve quality of life for all residents. Last fall, Penn received national recognition for our efforts when the Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships named us a “Best Neighbor” among national colleges and universities.

Public service initiatives complement our students’ work in the classroom and are as diverse as our 12 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Wharton students, for instance, provide free tax preparation services for low-income families; School of Engineering and Applied Science students help local residents learn to use computers; and PennDesign students lend their talents to local projects, most recently by designing a sustainable apartment building that provides shelter for women and children who were previously homeless. College students chronicle the history of West Philadelphia on an interactive website, and Nursing students care for local senior citizens at the LIFE (Living Independently for Elders) Center. These and other programs coordinated through the Fox Leadership Program, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and Civic House provide students with a variety of opportunities to explore their interests and make a positive difference in the community.

As we work to change individual lives for the better, we also direct our energies and resources to develop best practices in areas such as public education. At the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia, students and faculty from the Graduate School of Education combine advanced educational methods with an appreciation for the unique needs of the community and help to instruct 550 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Since 2001, Penn Alexander has grown into a model university-assisted school, and its students continue to achieve excellence in literacy, math, and science. As an outside management partner with Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, we are sharing all that we have learned at Penn Alexander over the past nine years to help revitalize low-performing public schools throughout the city.

Some of Penn’s most successful programs also garner national attention and are held up as models for colleges and universities across the United States. Recently, Penn’s Netter Center received a three-year $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. Augmented by a $100,000 local match, the funds will be used to expand the highly successful Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative to include more high school students from West Philadelphia. Today, 20 local schools participate in the nutrition program, and eight of those schools have gardens where students can get hands-on experience growing their own produce.

As we continue to enhance initiatives that bolster civic engagement, community health, and public education, we also continue to forge ahead on some of our most ambitious campus improvement projects.  Penn Park, the most visible and transformational campus improvement since Locust Walk, is well on its way to being completed and eventually will provide both an inviting gateway to campus and much-needed green space for the community. The park will also connect to Shoemaker Green, a tree-lined lawn next to the Palestra with walkways and sitting areas, and the recently completed Weiss Pavilion.

Just a short distance down 33rd Street, Penn’s state-of-the-art medical complex rises dramatically from the former site of the Philadelphia Civic Center. Within a year, the Translational Research Building will open, joining the Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and the Roberts Proton Therapy Center. This suite of buildings offers local and regional residents advanced treatment options and the opportunity to take part in clinical research without the inconvenience of traveling. Patients visiting our newest facilities are just some of the tens of thousands of people who receive preventative, emergency, and acute care at Penn Medicine.

While continuing to engage the local community and to create a more beautiful and environmentally friendly campus, we also contribute to economic growth in our own backyard. Penn’s overall goal as an anchor institution is to help Philadelphia flourish by increasing visibility, ensuring environmental sustainability, and supporting responsible development. In fiscal year 2009 alone, we purchased more than $85 million in products and services from community businesses, 81 percent of which went to businesses owned by women and minorities.

As the city’s largest private employer, we also provide jobs for thousands of area residents. Consistent with our commitment to rising from excellence to eminence, we work especially hard to ensure that our employees feel valued—and our employees appreciate the effort. Last spring, the men and women who work tirelessly to ensure that the University runs smoothly commended Penn in the 2010 Top Workplace survey by the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, leading to our ranking as the number one employer in the education and healthcare industry.     

When it comes to the relationship between universities and their communities, good fences do not make good neighbors. Penn and West Philadelphia both have benefited tremendously from tearing down barriers and building something new and mutually beneficial together. Our good work ripples out beyond the limits of the University City District and helps to create a more vibrant Philadelphia—one that not only conjures up the fondest sentiments of our founder, Benjamin Franklin, but also fires the imaginations and fuels the exploits of new generations of Penn students.
 

 

 

©2010 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 8/25/10