Penn Welcomes the Class of 2020

The clamor of construction equipment has given way to the animated sounds of friendships forming and first college memories being made. The newest members of the Penn community moved into the newest building on campus, New College House (NCH), and the other 11 residences which collectively make up Penn’s unique College House system.

The Class of 2020 was met with much fanfare, as residential faculty, staff, and advisors welcomed them to campus—as did the Penn Band and Penn President Amy Gutmann.

“It’s the best College House ever on any university campus, designed from the get-go as a living, learning, and playing center,” Gutmann said of NCH. “It’s exceeded my wildest expectations, and the freshmen moving in here today are as excited as I am about it.”

That excitement echoed in the words of incoming freshman throughout the day.

Keira Bokreto, who grew up as a faculty child in King’s Court/English College House, said she’d always planned on going elsewhere to college. “I’m really happy I came to Penn, though. I did a lot of college visits, and I realized Penn has the diversity and international community I love, in addition to the support for interdisciplinary studies. I’m undecided on my major, and I knew I could explore here.”

The sentiment was shared by the father of Bethesda, Md. freshman Matthew Larsson. He says his son, a School of Arts & Sciences student, “has a chance to do a lot of diverse things here. He’ll be taking classes at Wharton and he might take some classes at the School of Engineering. It seems like Penn is a no-limit school.”

Campbell Grey, NCH Faculty Director and associate professor of classical studies, would agree. Grey is a veteran of the college house system, having served as resident faculty fellow for King’s Court English College House for the past nine years. He sees NCH as “an expression of our ideals as pedagogues and as mentors in the College House system and what students of the 2010s are looking for in a residential experience.”

Each College House has its own unique identity, and the vision for the NCH community is a global village. Building on a foundational value for global citizenship, programming will focus on promoting dialogue and creating experiences through which students can engage with the world.

Group photograph of Dr. Gutmann with incoming freshmen .

The vision is an apt one, as all of its inaugural residents belong to one of Penn’s most global and diverse classes yet: The Class of 2020 comprises students from 80 countries and 48 U.S. states. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, 49 percent of the Class self-identifies as students of color, eight percent self-identifies as LGBTQ, and 13 percent self-identifies as the first generation to attend college in their family.

One aspect of NCH’s Global Citizen focus will be an emphasis on sustainability education through discussion about the global economy and its influence on the environment, as well as local concerns.

It’s the best College House ever on any university campus, designed from the get-go as a living, learning, and playing center. It’s exceeded my wildest expectations, and the freshmen moving in here today are as excited as I am about it.

Penn President Amy Gutmann

The building itself is a strong expression of Penn’s dedication to environmental sustainability. LEED Silver Certified by the US Green Building Council, NCH receives half of its energy from Green Power and has a state-of-the-art rainwater catchment system, among other sustainability elements.

“That allows us to start our conversations about sustainability here in our own courtyard,” said Grey, who called these conversations, and the student-led initiatives they are sure to seed, the intended response to the “powerful and compelling charge that we live up to the ambitions of the building.”

He sees community-building as a key factor in living up to the lofty ambitions of NCH, whose very design facilitates interaction among all residents, including students, faculty, and staff. It is this interaction which he feels lies at the heart of the College House system.

“The College House system encapsulates the intimate faculty-student interconnectivity of a liberal arts college with the resources and opportunities of a major research university.”

The College House experience is so central to students’ time at Penn that many will return to visit their College House advisors years later.

“That’s why I love Homecoming,” said Grey, who hosts a houseful of former College Hall residents for brunch every year when they arrive to reconnect with him, his family, and one another.

“It’s magic,” he said.

Providing funds for the NCH project are Emeritus Trustee Stephen Heyman W’59 and his wife Barbara Heyman, and the Lauder Family, including Leonard Lauder W’54, Penn Emeritus Trustee and William Lauder W’83, Penn Term Trustee.

Group photograph of Dr. Gutmann with incoming freshmen and families.

  • Text by Christina Cook
  • Photographs by Daniel Burke