After a global tour, The Power of Penn returned home on April 2, welcoming more than 1,100 alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends to a vibrant Campaign celebration at Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House.
Recently restored by Penn alumnus Sam Olshin, C’82, GAr’86, the historic Met was an ideal setting to celebrate an institution so deeply embedded in Philadelphia’s past and so firmly committed to its future.
President Amy Gutmann opened the program by detailing how the pillars of the Penn Compact—Inclusion, Innovation, and Impact—guide the Campaign priorities. She cited increased support for students from low- and middle-income families and FDA approvals for Penn-generated cancer therapies as being among the many ways impact is radiating from Penn’s campus into the world.
Tonight is all about opportunity that transforms lives. It’s about action that changes the world.”Penn President Amy Gutmann
President Gutmann also highlighted impactful new capital projects, such as the Penn Museum’s Building Transformation, which will restore the only pharaonic palace in the world outside of Egypt; the Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, designed to be patient-centered and highly adaptable to changing needs over time; Tangen Hall, Penn’s new hub for student entrepreneurship; and the New College House West, which will add another state-of-the-art living-and-learning community for Penn students.
After the opening, President Gutmann introduced the Knowledge for Good faculty panel: Robert Vonderheide, Director of the Abramson Cancer Center and John H. Glick Abramson Cancer Center Director’s Professor at the Perelman School of Medicine ; Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of History of Art at Penn Arts and Sciences; and Mark Yim, Faculty Director of the Integrated Product Design Program and Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn Engineering.
Vonderheide warmed hearts with the story of Emily Whitehead, a childhood survivor of leukemia who, thanks to the CAR T therapy developed at Penn, is now 7 years cancer-free and ready to tackle her next big challenge: high school. “What’s wonderful about Emily’s story is that it’s repeated again and again,” said Vonderheide. “And we’ve only just begun. Just two days ago, [Assistant Professor of Medicine] Mark O’Hara presented results at a national meeting showing very promising immune therapy for pancreatic cancer.”
Shaw took the crowd on a virtual trip to Cuba, describing her course that brings students to Havana to meet artists—and sometimes brings those artists back to Philadelphia to enlighten campus with their gifts and experiences. She went on to describe how she taps into Philadelphia’s history and multiculturalism to enhance her teaching. “I regularly teach classes in Old City,” Shaw said. “Philadelphia is a really easy place to teach American history and American art. The city has transformed, but it’s still really similar to the way things were 200 years ago.”
Yim brought a pocket-sized drone designed by one of his former Engineering grad students, Matt Piccoli—the world’s smallest self-powered flying robot—to show that sometimes, big impact comes in small (and affordable) packages. He also emphasized that the Integrated Product Design program’s focus is on designing products with not only practical application, but also practical pricing. Yim sung the praises of students working across disciplines at the program to have practical, real-world impact.
“We get students who are very diverse,” Yim said. “Artists working with engineers, working with business people, all super passionate about making a device or a product that can help people.” He noted one current student-developed product that brings this to light: a biodegradable pregnancy test, where the impact will be felt in both women’s health and the environment.
Before and after the program, the Met’s halls buzzed with energy and excitement. Lively conversations took place among friends old and new. Across the Met’s two floors, large illuminated panels demonstrated initiatives across Penn’s schools and centers that are making a direct impact in Philadelphia, including Penn Dental’s PennSmiles mobile clinic, Penn Vet’s Shelter Medicine Program, and the PennPraxis Neighborhood Preservation Toolkit developed at the Weitzman School of Design.
The evening gave Penn friends a chance to come together in celebration. It also served as an inspiring reminder that no matter how far Penn reaches globally, its impact begins in Philadelphia.
“Every day, the people of Penn are at work advancing knowledge for good,” Gutmann said in wrapping up the program. “You share in that effort, and your presence here tonight means so much to us. Together, truly, we are the Power of Penn.”
As The Power of Penn Campaign marches on, Penn will continue to create new opportunities to make a positive difference for our neighbors and around the world. With a solid foundation of support from friends and alumni, the possibilities are boundless.
Or, as Vonderheide said when asked by President Gutmann to describe Penn in three words, the “sky’s the limit.”