November 3, 1998
Volume 45
Number 10

$10 Million from Annenberg Foundation:

Undergrad Aid, Political Science Chair

During Friday's meetings of the University Trustees, President Judith Rodin announced a $10 million gift from the Annenberg Foundation of St. Davids, Pa., made possible by the Hon. Walter H. Annenberg and his wife, the Hon. Leonore Annenberg.

The gift is evenly divided as

  • A $5 million challenge grant for undergraduate scholarships and related recruitment activities, under which the University will establish an Annenberg Scholars Program for "truly outstanding young men and women with demonstrated leadership abilities and financial need"; and
  • A $5 million grant to endow a chair in political science and fund the creation of a new institute relating to one of the Agenda for Excellence's six priorities, American and Comparative Democratic and Legal Institutions.

Under the latter portion, Penn will recruit a distinguished scholar who will hold a primary appointment in the School of Arts and Sciences as a member of the Political Science Department, and a secondary appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication as a member of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Dr. Rodin's announcement said. This grant will also be used to establish a new Institute for the Study of Democratic Institutions and Government under the auspices of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the scholar recruited to fill the endowed chair will also head the Institute.

The challenge grant for the scholarship program is contingent upon the University's raising matching funds by July 1, 2002, under the terms and conditions of the grant agreement. "This challenge to us is a marvelous affirmation of the confidence the Annenberg Foundation has in Penn and its students," said Dr. Rodin. "Walter and Lee Annenberg have made, and continue to make, an enormous contribution to advance the teaching mission of this institution, and it is no surprise that he, and Lee, understand how vital it is that we have the resources to continue to attract the nation's most able students to our undergraduate programs of study."

Dr. Rodin said that Annenberg Scholars will receive "strong, competitive financial aid packages" from Penn, including the maximum direct scholarship possible, depending on each student's individual need.

"We expect that Annenberg Scholars will be the leaders of tomorrow," she said. Penn expects to initiate the Annenberg Scholars Program by identifying, recruiting and supporting outstanding students who will enter Penn next fall as members of the class of 2003, and by identifying Annenberg Scholars from among "the very best" student applicants to succeeding classes.

"The Foundation and the University have had a long and very productive relationship," said Gail Levin, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation, adding that "demonstrated leadership abilities" among Annenberg Scholars might well be evidenced by extraordinary academic, athletic or musical abilities, political or entrepreneurial talent or demonstrated ability to rise above adversity.

She said that the Foundation believes that providing "quality educational opportunity" for students who are from poor or disadvantaged families has proven to be of great benefit to the University in particular and society in general.

The Annenberg Tradition: Both of the Ambassadors Annenberg are Penn trustees emeritii. He is the former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and chairman and president of the Annenberg Foundation, and she is the former Chief of Protocol of the United States.

The Annenberg Foundation has made numerous gifts to the University of Pennsylvania, including a grant of $120 million five years ago, then the largest ever made to a college or university by a foundation. Those funds were used to permanently endow the Annenberg School for Communication, which Ambassador Annenberg established at Penn in 1958, and to establish the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

  Penn/CHOP on Civic Center Site?

Mayor Ed Rendell announced at a press conference Thursday that the City plans to sell portions of the vacated Civic Center site to the University and Children's Hospital for $8 million, and that the institutions would build a $450 million research and treatment complex there. At presstime no University-released details were available, but the City's fact sheet and map indicated that the portion west of the auditorium (known as the Center Hall and the Exhibition Hall) would be demolished for the project.

Plant Genome Project: $4 Million to Penn's Dr. Joseph Ecker

Dr. Joseph Ecker, professor of biology and a member of Penn's Plant Science Institute, has been awarded a $4 million grant to continue his work on the large-scale genome sequencing of the flowering plant named Arabidopsis thaliana.

His work is part of a major national push to sequence the entire Arabidopsis genome by the end of the year 2000 and then determine the structure and function of every gene. The National Science Foundation and U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture are jointly funding the plant genome project at some $28.3 million in three-year grants--$13 million of it will go to a consortium of researchers at Penn, Stanford and Berkeley which includes the Plant Science Institute. The other $15.3 million goes to the Institute for Genomic Research in Maryland.

Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the mustard family, is a common garden weed, Dr. Ecker explained: Just as the fruit fly is a research model for animals, Arabidopsis, with five chromosomes and a small genome--roughly 100 million base pairs, about 1/3 of the human genome--has become established worldwide as the species of choice for molecular genetic studies of plant biology. Like the sucession of fruit fly generations, the plant grows fast--from seed to seed in six weeks.

"Since Arabidopsis does everything that most plants do," said Dr. Ecker, "we can probably take the information we're getting and apply it to tomatoes or soybeans or anything else. But the real power of genetic engineering in plants will be in modifying them so that they do novel things, for example plants can now make biodegradable plastic." Completion of the Arabidopsis project will help advance research efforts toward engineering green plants for disease and pest resistance, producing of energy-rich fuels and facilitating environmental remediation.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 10, November 3, 1998