Progress Report on the 21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience

The 21st Century Project, a major strategic initiative of President Judith Rodin and Provost Stanley Chodorow's Agenda for Excellence, began with President Rodin's October 1994 inaugural address, in which she described a model for the future of undergraduate education at Penn. "Implementing a 21st Century Undergraduate Education," by President Rodin and Provost Chodorow, appeared soon thereafter in Almanac (October 25, 1994). "The 21st Century Penn Undergraduate Experience: Phase One" was published for comment in Almanac Supplement, May 25, 1995. In January 1996 the first progress report on the project appeared in Compass. That report outlined the project in its second phase and described the responsibility of the Council of Undergraduate Deans, chaired by Provost Chodorow, for conducting its work. The current report continues from that point. In it, we present the project as it has developed as a whole, beginning with its vision and describing its three main goals. The progress of work on the project is indicated by annotated listings of its principal activities in 1996-1997.


The 21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience focuses on the education of leaders for the next century. As it continues its mission to provide a broad-based education in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as preparing students for professional careers, Penn must respond to the dramatic changes taking place in the world. The University will accomplish this by building on the educational philosophy and tradition established by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin proposed an educational program that would prepare students to serve their society as citizens; Penn continues to be guided by that proposition today.

Like us, Franklin lived in a period of rapid and radical change. He and his contemporaries were aware of the consequences of their leadership. In his manifesto for the founding of the University of Pennsylvania and in his Autobiography, he expressed the values and point of view of the self-made nation and the self-made man. These values united the practical with what Franklin called the ornamental--the theoretical and beautiful. The nation and the individual must unite the ability to get things done--to build a new life and a new public order in the New World--and to create and appreciate the principles--intellectual, moral, and aesthetic--on which the new constructions rested. This is the inspiration and foundation of Penn's educational mission, which unites theory, practice, and service to society. It is also the inspiration for the new directions we will take under the 21st Century Project.

The 21st Century Project serves the educational vision articulated by Franklin. Taking advantage of the intellectual riches of Penn's twelve schools located together on an urban campus, the Project aims to educate leaders--to create citizens as Franklin intended--by giving students experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Cognizant of the powers of new technologies to reshape higher education, the Project is at the same time a commitment to make Penn a premier place for undergraduate study, where students participate actively and directly in the creation of knowledge. In this sense, Penn seeks to make every student first a problem solver--a critical thinker and a user of knowledge--and then a problem seeker--a maker of knowledge.

The three interrelated goals of the 21st Century Project are

  1. To educate future leaders of the nation and of the world

  2. To create a responsive and highly supportive environment for student learning

  3. To create an intellectually dynamic and varied living experience for undergraduates

To educate future leaders of the nation and of the world

Undergraduate education at Penn is primarily carried out within the four undergraduate schools. They have done a superb job of molding programs that educate students in their diverse intellectual disciplines. We want to build on that education to allow Penn students to take full advantage of the range of intellectual opportunities afforded by a great research university.

The 21st Century Project will shape the curriculum of the future by developing an array of programs that teach the principal intellectual skills- -analytical thinking and oral and written expression--at the highest level, skills that range across all disciplines and all human intellectual activity. The curriculum of the future will use information systems and residentially based learning to extend undergraduate education beyond the traditional classroom and laboratory, reaching students where they live and at the times they prefer to work. Penn's commitment to research as a significant part of undergraduate education likewise envisions that learning will occur beyond the boundaries of the classroom and course schedule. Multidisciplinary programs that draw upon the strengths of all of Penn's schools will increase the potential for undergraduates to be engaged in creative independent work and will rely similarly on an expansive conception of the curriculum. Throughout this work, the University's enduring commitment of service to society will strengthen and unify the design of Penn's curricular and extracurricular programs.

Projects under way in 1996-1997

To create a responsive and highly supportive environment for student learning

The 21st Century Project is facilitating the convergence of Student Services Re-engineering, the expansion and improvement of Penn's housing stock, and the restructuring of Information Systems and Computing. These activities provide the University with an extraordinary opportunity to prepare for the next century. We recognize that Penn's academic priorities need the support of a wide variety of offices in the University, the work of which must be made seamless. The second phase of work on Student Services Re-engineering began in September 1996, guided by a new Student Services Restructuring Committee. Beginning with the model for student services developed in 1995-1996, the committee will assess current delivery of services by charting processes and data flow and identifying areas most in need of improvement. Areas to be addressed include recruitment, admissions, and orientation services; and educational and university life services, including financial services, academic advising and support, and career preparation.

Projects under way in 1996-1997

To create an intellectually dynamic and varied living experience for undergraduates

The 21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience intends to create a living environment for the academic community of the next century by integrating the intellectual and cultural life of the University into residential living. The initiatives in this part of the Project aim to enhance the living experience of undergraduates while preserving the variety and choices of living environments now available to Penn students.

Ongoing Initiatives, 1996-1997


The 21st Century Project will create an undergraduate experience centered on active learning, multifaceted academic programs, and research. It will create an environment for learning unparalleled by its peers. Finally, it will focus on the residential community of the University, to lay the foundation for an undergraduate experience that integrates social, cultural, and intellectual life at Penn.

--Judith Rodin, President
-- Stanley Chodorow, Provost


Volume 43 Number 12
November 12, 1996

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