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COUNCIL: State of the University

October 26, 2010, Volume 57, No. 09

Provost Vincent Price

Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to be with you today to report on the state of our university. I say “our” university quite deliberately, as I would like to focus my presentation on the value of collaborations across Penn.

It is often said that Penn is decentralized. This view is perhaps a result of having so many different centers of activity and diverse avenues of research.

As Provost, it is my honor and privilege to work at the crossroads of all this activity and to help catalyze academic partnerships. Working closely together, we make a virtue out of so-called decentralization. Collectively, we bring to life the values of integrating knowledge at the heart of the Penn Compact.

As we assess the state of our university, we see this power of collaboration across academic initiatives, research, diversity, and arts and culture.

To reinforce the importance of collaboration, we began emphasizing academic themes two years ago.

This year’s theme of Water has already galvanized the Penn community around critical global issues of conservation, sustainability, and waste.

Next year’s theme of Games, which we just announced, promises to bring the same mix of interdisciplinary activities to another provocative and wide-ranging topic.

Academic theme years have become a natural fit for the Penn community because so much of our research already draws from partnerships and integrating knowledge.

The innovative work of Penn graduate students often exemplifies this kind of research.  This past spring, for example, we awarded six GAPSA-Provost Awards specifically for Interdisciplinary Innovation. 

Projects funded by these grants are advancing such interdisciplinary topics as the role of music in language acquisition, the different conceptions of “peace” in different disciplines, and the influence of molecular genetics on the social behaviors of owl monkeys.  

I am especially pleased by the strides we have made in introducing undergraduates to the excitement of research. More than half of this year’s projects funded by the University Research Foundation involved undergraduates working directly on research with faculty mentors. 

In our most recent Senior Survey, the percentage of students who reported participating in non-credit research with a faculty member rose dramatically from four years ago. 

This is due in large measure to the great work of CURF and the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring (PURM) Program, which pairs students and faculty in one-on-one, hands-on research projects. 

This initiative has grown exponentially in the past few years, with thanks to the generosity of President Gutmann, whose $200,000 gift allowed PURM to add ten rising juniors to the program. 

If we turn our attention to faculty research, we see that faculty in all 12 Penn Schools have responded with extraordinary energy and creativity to the stimulus funding challenges of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Penn has received almost $200 million in stimulus funding, across more than 400 successful grants. 

Many of these exciting projects bring together multiple Schools in new and cutting-edge knowledge. 

Design, Engineering, and Medicine have all been part of a National Science Foundation grant to create energy-efficient building materials modeled on the flexibility and sensitivity of human cells.

SEAS, Design, and Wharton have been key partners in a $130 million grant from the US Department of Energy to establish an Energy Innovation Hub at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This facility will bring together academic institutions and economic development agencies across the state of Pennsylvania. 

Most immediately, Penn’s new Translational Research Center, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, will open early next year. This world-leading facility will allow us to directly integrate advancements in research with hands-on patient care in the treatment of a wide range of critical diseases.

Over the next year, we will be welcoming to campus our first group of Postdoctoral Fellows for Academic Diversity, an important new program that helps ensure we are creating the diverse academic leaders of tomorrow.  

On the undergraduate side, as many of you know, we have had similar success with diversity initiatives such as the Summer Mentorship Program for Philadelphia high school students, which now runs all year long, and new forms of outreach to LGBT applicants in the Admissions Office, which no doubt contributed to Penn’s having just been named by Newsweek as the most gay-friendly college in America.

And we continue our work to diversify Penn’s faculty. I am pleased to note the thriving Penn Forum for Women Faculty, which brings together professors from all 12 Penn Schools to create opportunities for networking, best practices, and advocacy that benefit faculty all across Penn.

Later this year, we will be issuing a new Progress Report on Minority Equity in Penn’s faculty, which helps quantify progress in diversifying the faculty while helping us perceive areas of improvement in which we need to redouble our efforts in the years ahead.

A final area of cross-campus collaboration that is perhaps less well-known involves the partnerships among our arts and culture institutions, as well as their collaborations with our academic units and their efforts to engage students, faculty, and staff. 

I have invited leaders from four of these institutions to tell us more about the importance of these initiatives. I am pleased to introduce:

• Professor Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English, Director of the Kelly Writers House, and Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing;

• Claudia Gould, Daniel W. Dietrich Director of the Institute for Contemporary Art

• Richard Hodges, Williams Director of the Penn Museum;

• Loa Traxler, Andrew W. Mellon Associate Deputy Director of the Penn Museum; and

• Lynn Marsden-Atlass, Director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and Curator of the University Art Collection. 

Al and Claudia will begin by telling us about the year-long seminar jointly sponsored by ICA, Kelly Writers House, and the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW).


Almanac - October 26, 2010, Volume 57, No. 09