“Penn’s strength is connected to the greatness of the community it shares,” says Glenn Bryan, the assistant vice president of community relations in the Office of Government and Community Affairs. “We’re here and we’re not going anywhere and the community is not going anywhere, so it’s important that we find mutual ways of working together to benefit both the University and the community.”
A West Philadelphia native and Penn alum, Bryan can recall when relations between the University and its surrounding communities were not that good. He says one of the things that has kept him at Penn for almost two decades is the University’s commitment to being an anchor institution in the community, city and region.
“I always felt Penn could be an eminent university through its local engagement,” he says. “It’s important that our local engagement efforts are maximized, especially in these economic times.”
In addition to his day job, Bryan is a classically trained keyboardist who has jammed with the likes of Carlos Santana and the late Grover Washington, Jr. He has played at a number of campus events, including Commencement for the last 12 years. He helped establish the Jazz for King performance held during the University’s annual commemoration of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is one of the supporters of Irvine Auditorium’s Curtis Organ, the 11th-largest pipe organ in the world.
The Current sat down with Bryan to talk about the University’s community engagement initiatives, being a proud Penn parent and his musical influences.
Q. You were recruited to Penn by Ira Harkavy, founding director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Did he have a main selling point about the University that won you over?
A. Penn just offered a lot of challenges. It always felt like a challenge to me to come here—being from West Philadelphia and being from Penn—to try to work within the University to improve relations with the surrounding communities. Actually, I first worked in what is now the Netter Center. Ironically, years ago I was a work-study student for four years in the former Office of External Affairs, which was a smaller, scaled-down version of our Office of Government and Community Affairs.
Q. What do you enjoy about working at Penn?
A. The dynamic nature of the work that I do, the new opportunities that present themselves each day. Working with the dynamic staff, faculty and students. Working in a multicultural environment of scholars and leaders. You don’t get that opportunity working at many places. The opportunity to interface with so many talented individuals committed to Penn. There’s never a dull moment; there’s never a dull day. A major reason why I stayed this long has been President Gutmann’s commitment to local engagement through the Penn Compact. I took her on a tour of the community when she first arrived several years ago just to show her firsthand the opportunities and challenges ahead of the University. The tour and resulting discussions spoke clearly to how Penn’s vision of eminence would be realized.
Q. What are some of your responsibilities as assistant vice president of community relations?
A. I’m responsible for managing and growing relations with the surrounding communities in support of Penn’s local engagement efforts. The major focuses of our office are economic inclusion, health care and education activities. I provide support and guidance to our schools, departments and centers regarding their local engagement activities. For example, the School of Nursing has a wellness fair coming up for seniors in the area. The senior population in West Philadelphia has increased in the 2010 census. We have also expanded relations with other neighborhoods, such as Center City, Grays Ferry and South of South, near Penn at Rittenhouse.
Q. How have Penn’s relationships with the surrounding communities improved since you first started working here?
A. There are more effective and meaningful interactions of mutual benefit. We have formal mechanisms for speaking to the community that we really didn’t have before—the First Thursday community meeting. It meets monthly, early in the morning. It brings together over 100 community leaders, civic organizations, other nonprofits and elected officials to provide information regarding Penn and the community, and to problem solve issues that arise. We have special topics that are presented each month, ranging from sustainability to jobs, to education, to health, to what’s happening on campus, the development that is going on and how it may or may not have an impact on the community. So it’s a proactive approach to working with the community.
We’ve created more opportunities for the community to work with various departments at Penn, whether it’s Annenberg or Athletics or the Museum. There is a lot more collaboration within the University. That’s grown. It feels like we’re one university now. Economic inclusion is an area that I’ve focused on a lot since I’ve been here, how we can enhance the economic climate of the area through our purchasing and working with local businesses and minorities and women. Also working with the local minority/women labor pool on construction jobs here at Penn. The other aspect is how we can work in terms of increasing hires from the local communities. That’s part of the economic inclusion bucket: purchasing, construction and hiring. That continues to be a major focus of our local engagement efforts. I call it effective sustainable local engagement.
Q. You met your wife, Nina, while you were a student at Penn and you are the father of two Penn alumnae, Khalilah ‘00 and Gina ’10. How does it feel to be a Penn parent?
A. I felt very proud to see my children graduate from Penn. It was an experience. I was very heart-warmed to see that. All of my children have done work in the community. Our son, Glenn Jr., jumped ship and went to Drexel. All of them have a community focus. It’s been a joy to see them grow and become who they are.
Q. How would you describe the music that you play?
A. I don’t like to put my music in a particular genre. I guess if people hear it, they would say it’s jazz-influenced, Latin-influenced, world-influenced because there’s Caribbean, there’s classical. I like different kinds of music and I like how you can blend all those different genres and styles.
Q. Who are your musical influences?
A. They range from John Coltrane to Carlos Santana. Miles Davis. Pat Metheny. Bach. Handel. I’m all over the place. Tito Puente. Celia Cruz.
Q. Do you listen to hip-hop or R&B?
A. I listen to everybody. I listen to Trey Songz, I listen to Usher, Rihanna. I listen to Dave Matthews, I listen to Los Lonely Boys, anybody that you can name. I think music is the universal language. Where would we be without it?
Originally published on April 7, 2011