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Welcome Back From the President

January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17

A Vibrant Intellectual and Professional Home at Penn

Happy New Year and welcome back to Penn!  Returning to my office from home after winter’s break, I watch our community assume a familiar rhythm, and see our campus come alive with the activities and excitement of a new semester. I feel fortunate to have a vibrant intellectual and professional home to return to after the holidays. That Penn is truly a home was foretold by our founder, Benjamin Franklin, when he noted that, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”

Of course, the strength of any home depends on the strength not only of its members, but also of its community. Penn is stronger when we engage with our neighbors. Last fall, Penn received a well-earned national recognition for our local engagement efforts when we were named “Best Neighbor” among national colleges and universities. Since a New Year is often a time for reflection, I thought this the perfect opportunity to reflect on our ongoing engagement and its impact on our local community.

To survive and thrive, a neighborhood, like a home, must first be built on a strong economic foundation. Our economic commitment to West Philadelphia has produced a robust micro-economy on and around campus, resulting in increasing retail sales, employment, homeownership, and small business development. In fiscal year 2010 alone, we purchased more than $100 million in products and services from local businesses in our own backyard.

Penn’s purchasing power creates job opportunities for members of the community and stimulates growth. To cite just one example, despite the Great Recession, Telrose Corporation, a West Philadelphia-based business that supports many of our offices, has grown over four-fold, profiting from more than $4 million in Penn business last fiscal year. 

Our wider economic impact is also evidenced in our most recent economic impact study, commissioned this past fall and released just this month. In the City of Philadelphia, we are the largest private employer, generating $9.5 billion in total expenditures, up more than 45 percent over the past four years! We also support 57,000 jobs and $4 billion in earnings, and contribute $170 million in taxes. We remain an economic, as well as an intellectual, powerhouse.

Of course, a strong local economy, like a strong neighborhood, depends on the health, education, and well-being of local residents. At Penn, we are always looking for new ways to increase the depth and breadth of engagement to enhance the welfare of our community.

In the last year alone, more than 1,800 students volunteered in community schools, worked in neighborhood health clinics, and participated in other civic initiatives as part of their academic experience. The diversity of their work reflects the diversity of their skills and interests, ranging from computer literacy courses for local residents taught by students in SEAS; to care for more than 350 local senior citizens provided by the School of Nursing at the LIFE Center; to free tax preparation services for low-income families courtesy of Wharton.

We are especially involved with improving education for schoolchildren who live and learn in our neighborhood.  At the Penn Alexander School, students from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade benefit from the expertise of our Graduate School of Education students and faculty, and the dedication of students from across all of Penn’s schools who serve as student teachers, interns, tutors, after-school club leaders, and pen pals. Boys and girls at the school achieve excellence in literacy, math, and science. In fact, on the 2009 PSSA proficiency exams, the fifth graders at Penn Alexander not only exceeded the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania averages by significant margins, but also outperformed students at Masterman, one of the most impressive magnet schools in the nation.

In the area of public health, clinics such as the Drew Health Collaborative, the Penn Mobile Trials Unit, the United Community Clinic, and the Sayre Health Center provide information, free testing and screening, free pre-natal care, and counseling support to our neighbors. In conjunction with Penn Medicine and the Netter Center, students and faculty from the Schools of Dental Medicine, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Policy & Practice work to keep our community, our home, healthy.

Along with a robust economy, and engaged residents, there is one more thing a neighborhood needs: an environment that enhances the quality of life. 

In December, Mayor Michael Nutter recognized the importance of green spaces to the overall quality of community life by announcing an ambitious new plan, Green 2015. The plan pledges that the city will partner with communities, local institutions, the philanthropic community, and the private sector to assemble acreage that, “connects people to parks” in underserved neighborhoods throughout the city. Transforming existing land into publicly accessible green space is exactly what we are doing in West Philadelphia, through the efforts of Penn Connects, our award-winning campus development plan.

The most visible and transformative project currently underway through Penn Connects is the soon-to-be-completed Penn Park, our University’s “front lawn.” At the foot of the Center City skyline, along the west bank of the Schuylkill River, this 24-acre urban park will offer exceptional recreational and athletic expanses. In less than a year’s time, we will have transformed what was once a desolate strip of asphalt, concrete, and neighborhood blight into an environmentally sustainable park that will further Penn’s standing as a model urban academic community. The Weave Bridge, completed in 2009, will also connect Penn Park with the existing recreation and athletic fields south of Hollenback Center.

To complement Penn Park, we will soon begin work on Shoemaker Green, our college commons next to the Palestra. Shoemaker Green will be a welcoming space of lawns, trees-lined walkways, and sitting areas.  Both a destination and a pedestrian route from Locust and Smith Walks to Penn Park, it will provide additional green space for recreation and relaxation for the Penn community and our local community. Taken together, Penn Park and Shoemaker Green will add 25 percent more green space to our campus home, already one of the greenest and leafiest urban campuses in the country.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote that “Where we love is home….”   For me, and for all of us who are part of the Penn community, I know that this is why we think of Franklin’s University as home. As we return to Penn and begin another semester with the members of our Penn family, as we again engage the, “food and fire for the mind” we find here, let me wish each of you a New Year filled with health, hope, and happiness.

AMy Gutmann Signature

--Amy Gutmann


Almanac - January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17