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Danien's Daughters

Elin Danien went from autodidact to Penn anthropology student at age 46. She found the college experience so fulfilling that she started a scholarship for other women.
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DR. LAURA Grindstaff, assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, is lecturing on how popular music "has never been just about the music." It is also, she explains, a reflection of the ideologies of different subcultures. When she mentions disco, a student seated in the second row of her class on Communication and Popular Culture can't help but chuckle.
   "Why are you laughing?" the professor asks.
   "I've lived through it," says the woman, whose sensible, short brown hair bears no resemblance to the red, Ziggy-Stardust-style that she used to wear. She remembers the 1970s and its musical variations all too well.
   The outspoken student in the Penn sweatshirt, jeans, and plaid sneakers is 41-year-old Barbara Hearn, mother of two, and the first on her side of the family to go to college. What brings her here, surrounded by students who weren't even born when she was going to dance clubs two decades ago, is a scholarship fund called Bread Upon the Waters, which pays tuition for gifted women over age 30 who are enrolled part-time in Penn's College of General Studies (CGS). Hearn expects to complete her bachelor's degree in communication in May and hopes to eventually go to graduate school and get a job in film or television production. She's just one of a few dozen women who have been given a second chance at educating -- and recreating -- themselves through the 11-year-old scholarship.
   The woman behind it all is Elin Danien, CGS'82, G'89, who at age 46 enrolled in CGS herself and turned an autodidact's interest in archaeology and ancient history into a disciplined course of study. Now 68, she is busy wrapping up her dissertation, an analysis of polychrome Mayan pottery from the Guatemalan highlands in the University Museum's collection; she expects to earn her Ph.D. in anthropology in May.
   Danien skipped college after high school to become "the great American actress." When that didn't happen, she switched to journalism and then to copywriting before meeting her husband, Wilton. While volunteering as a guide at the University Museum, she got the idea of taking a couple of classes at Penn. "I told my husband, I think I'll sit in on some courses, and he said, 'Why don't you take them for credit?'"
   With a smile as bright as the Mexican beads she wears, Danien says, "He never realized what he was letting himself in for." She earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology in 1982 -- Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude -- and her master's degree in 1989.
   While putting together her will, Danien decided she would like to leave some money for a women's scholarship. As a student she had met many women struggling to pay for their continuing education -- and some whose spouses weren't particularly supportive. Out of this concern emerged Bread Upon the Waters. "It's based on the biblical adage that if you cast your bread upon the waters, it will come back to you [many times over]," Danien says. She brought her idea -- and $1,000 in "seed money" -- to CGS. It grew "much faster than I had ever dreamed, thanks to Penn's good stewardship."
   Bread's endowment now tops half a million dollars, according to Richard Hendrix, director of CGS and associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Hendrix says he knows of two other scholarship programs for women in continuing education, but none like Bread that respond to the needs of part-time students. Continued...
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 12/16/97