Report card for Agenda

How are we doing?

Quite well, according to a new progress report describing goals met under the Agenda for Excellence, Penn’s five-year strategic plan released in the fall of 1995.

The comprehensive plan envisioned a university on the leading edge in teaching and research. It called on Penn to work smarter to save money, to transform the undergraduate student experience, to embrace new technology that helps it fulfill its mission, to invest in new facilities, and to work with its neighbors to improve the community.

According to reports from the front lines, the strategy outlined in the Agenda is working.

Take technology, for instance.

A Towne Building classroom has been outfitted to allow faculty to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning. The room is equipped with computers, wireless and high-speed Internet access, broadcast capability, video screens and a whiteboard whose text can be displayed on the Web.

Larry Gladney, professor of physics, said of the room, known as the Innovative Learning Space, “You can go into the room and not be aware that any of the technologies are there.

“The emphasis is not on scheduling regular classes [in the room] but to use it for any number of special events that professors want to try out without having to commit a whole semester to it.”

As part of the transformation of the undergraduate experience, the Agenda called for undergraduates to become a more integral part of the research side of the University’s mission. According to Michael Portnoy (C/EAS’02), a student in Stouffer College House, that has happened.

“I think that in general, undergraduates are spending more time working with professors doing research,” he said.

Portnoy himself exemplifies the trend. Since freshman year, he has worked with Professor of Computer and Information Science Max Mintz on a project where undergraduate students programmed Sony robotic dogs to play competitive soccer.

The Agenda’s bricks-and-mortar component also won praise from Portnoy. “I think the physical facilities have improved a fair amount,” he said. “I think the renovated Houston Hall is a great place for students to socialize and study.”

The progress report gave Penn high marks overall for meeting the Agenda’s goals, though it also noted that some work remained to be done.


Originally published on May 3, 2001