Category Archives: Academics

New Beginnings

Hey guys! My name is Kaila Brown and I am the new Graduate Assistant for the Penn Alumni Office. Words cannot express how excited I am for this new opportunity!

Penn Alumni Grad Assistant

Kaila Brown, GEd’15

I made the great move from Atlanta to Philadelphia, roughly a week ago and ever since then every day has been filled with Philly adventures and new beginnings. Orientation for the Graduate School of Education began bright and early Monday morning. It was truly exciting and inspiring to sit in the ballroom surrounded by some of the brightest minds pursing their love for various aspects of education. There are, both, international and domestic students of all races and backgrounds, and it will be such a pleasure to have these diverse opinions and thought processes shape class discussions. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending my specific program’s orientation where I was able to meet my fellow cohort and some of the faculty. I will be earning my Masters in Higher Education. Even though I only spent a few hours with my cohort I already know this is going to be an insightful year learning from a range of students who all bring something different to the table. Every person I met matched my excitement about the quick year ahead! I begin classes tomorrow and can’t wait to learn from some of the leading lights in the field of Higher Ed.

While I know that it will be challenging, I am so thrilled for this next year and can’t wait to see all that it has to offer!

 

Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

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Amazon River Expedition

Author: Anthony DeCurtis, Distinguished Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program & Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone

I’m not a specialist on South America to any degree whatsoever, so I was surprised – and delighted! — to be invited to be a faculty host on a Penn Alumni cruise along the Peruvian Amazon. I’m a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at Penn and my writing for Rolling Stone (where I’m a contributing editor) over the years about the likes of the Rolling Stones, U2 and Billy Joel has made me no stranger to wild life, though not the sort I was likely to find in one of the world’s most remote jungles. The advantage of my non-expert status, however, was that I fully shared the sense of wonder and adventure that characterized the redoubtable Penn alums on board. As soon as everyone understood that such questions as “How deep is the Amazon in this inlet?” were better addressed to our fearless and profoundly knowledgeable guides, Robinson and Juan Carlos, than to me, we all settled in to our journey and had an unforgettable time.

So what exactly was I doing on the La Amatista, the beautifully appointed small expedition river vessel that was our home on the Amazon? February 2014, the month of our cruise, marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in the United States, so one of my lectures focused on that peerless band and the ongoing impact and significance of its music. A second lecture recounted the equally long and riotous career of the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones. Of course, this being a Penn cruise, the alums aboard requested a third lecture about writing strategies, which I was happy to provide – and I got a few tips myself! On the evening after my Beatles talk in the afternoon, our guides and other crew members performed a selection of Beatles classics on the top deck to a wildly appreciative audience. Any footage or photos that might conceivably emerge of me singing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “From Me to You” while holding a glass of tequila have been fabricated, I swear!

But before all of that transpired, we first flew into Lima on a Friday and stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection, a superb hotel. After breakfast there on Saturday morning, we toured Lima’s colonial section, including Casa Aliaga, which was built in 1535 by a family who came to Peru with the Spanish conquistador Pizarro. That setting prompted a discussion with our local guide about the complexities of honoring the country’s colonial past. The Convent and Museum of St. Francisco, meanwhile, included a stroll through the site’s catacombs, which are filled with the bones of tens of thousands of local residents.

The following day we flew to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, which can only be reached by airplane or boat. Iquitos grew enormously during the rubber boom in Peru a century ago, and the downtown area features a two-story building that was used as a warehouse by Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, the rubber baron who is the subject of German director Werner Herzog’s gripping 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo. On Monday we visited the thriving Belen market, which, among its many herbs, foods and native wares included aphrodisiacs that tempted some of the more daring members of the Penn crowd. On the bus ride afterwards to Nauta, where we would board La Amatista, we stopped to visit a manatee rescue center, one of the many sites attempting to preserve the hugely important ecosystem of the Amazon. We were able to feed some of the manatees, which was fun and quite moving.

Once we boarded La Amatista later that Monday, it seemed as if our journey had finally begun, despite all that we’d seen and done already. Each of the next four days we rose early and set out in two small skiffs that each held about twelve of us. Juan Carlos and Robinson were compelling guides – smart, funny, insightful and deeply appreciative of all the glories the Amazon contains. They spoke excellent English and shared personal stories of their upbringing with us in casual presentations during dinner on the ship – one of the absolute highlights of the trip. They taught us how to fish for red-bellied piranha – okay, they fished and aided us in the illusion that we were fishing, gently helping us to reel in our catch – and pointed out the endless appearances of squirrel monkeys, toucans, vultures and macaws. One lazy afternoon a group of pink river dolphins frolicked near our skiffs, and an ordinary day suddenly turned magical. Every sunrise and sunset was just breathtaking, the sky seeming the only possible sight that could draw your attention away from the magnificent river and trees.

The residents, called riberenos [Please note: tilde over the n], of the many villages we visited were uniformly friendly and welcoming. We would hike through the jungle and then sit with them to hear their stories and purchase their strikingly colorful goods. In one village a female shaman spoke to us about the mystical and medicinal qualities of many of the plants in the region. She then performed a cleansing ritual, which was riveting.

By the time we reversed our trip – back to Nauta, then Iquitos, on to Lima, and then, finally, home – we had received an invaluable education in one of our planet’s ecological treasures. As I’m sure you know, the Amazon is under siege by the demands of our modern world. Our last night on La Amatista was the occasion of a spirited discussion about the future of the rainforest and of the Earth itself. Problems abound, of course, but the conversation was inspiring, a vivid reminder that we are all custodians of the world’s treasures, whether we are at home in our houses and apartments or sailing on a river that runs deep into the very heart of our entire human history. The connections felt palpable, and still do.

 

Amazon Group

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Congratulations to the Class of 2014

Author: Janell Wiseley

 

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comm-4Comm-7Comm-2

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I’ll Be Seeing You

Author: Carolyn Grace, C’16

Hit play and start reading!

It’s been a week of “lasts” here at dear old Penn – yesterday was my last chapter meeting with Sigma Kappa, today was my last day of classes, and Friday will be my last rehearsal with Counterparts.  Normally, I’d be excited for the closing of yet another school year.  Summer’s just around the corner, and I’ll get to spend it with so many of my friends who are choosing to stay in Philly!  But for one reason or another, I don’t feel that excited.  At least not right now.

Maybe it’s the rain (sorry, I mean MONSOON) outside.  Maybe it’s the looming papers and final exams that I have in the next couple weeks.  Or maybe it’s the realization that I’ll be boarding a plane next semester instead of driving 45 minutes to move back on campus.  Whatever it is, I’m sad to be nearing the end of my sophomore year.  It was hard getting back into the swing of things when I returned to campus this past August, and it by no means got any easier.  But in spite of all that, I can say with confidence that it was better than my freshman year.  I was presented with new and exciting opportunities, and more importantly I met new and exciting people, people who I am honored to call close friends.

I found this picture in my room earlier this afternoon:

It’s the first picture of me from this academic year, the first day of NSO to be exact.  I definitely had no idea what the year was going to be like, but that didn’t stop me from goofing off with my friends!  That seems to be the best way for me to combat the anxiety of not knowing, acting silly.  Hopefully, I can keep a similar lightheartedness as I enter my semester abroad next year.

I wonder what my last picture from sophomore year will look like.  I guess I don’t really need to know right now.  There’s fun in not knowing.

Until next year, dear Quakers.  I’ll be seeing you.  Thanks for reading :)

 

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Mayor’s Scholarship

Author: Kristy Crocetto, Administrative Assistant to Penn Alumni Regional Clubs

Sweeten Alumni House

E. Craig Sweeten Alumni House

With the education crisis looming over Philadelphia, it is more difficult than ever for inner city high school students to obtain the resources and support to stand out during the college admissions process. For those hoping to attend Penn, however, there is an advantage available to bright young scholars local to the area.

The Mayor’s Scholarship has a long history at Penn, dating back 1882, when it was called the Board of Regents Scholarship. In 1910, another exchange between the City and the University took place out of a need to build strong workers and leaders in the Philadelphia area, and it became the Mayor’s Scholarship. Since then, Mayor’s Scholars have received an aid package that meets 100% of their financial need, as determined by Student Financial Services.

Last night marked a milestone for the Mayor’s Scholarship Program, as it was the first time alumni and current recipients were invited to mingle and network amongst each other. 80 participants gathered at E. Craig Sweeten Alumni House, including Coach Jerome Allen, Dr. Herman Beavers, and Pamela Edwards, where the energy and excitement was palpable. Students were excited to mingle with alumni and alumni were excited to learn about the newest endeavors of the program.

Guest speaker, Shakirah Simley, graduated C’07 with a BA in Anthropology (with honors) and Urban Studies. At Penn, she successfully advocated for the inclusion of a United States cross-cultural analysis requirement to the College curriculum and won a living wage and additional benefits for campus security guards at Penn and Temple, as the co-founder of Penn Student Labor Action Project.

Over the past seven years, Shakirah’s food career has led her to the Bay Area to Italy and back again. She has previously worked on nutrition and recreational equity policy issues, on youth organizing campaigns, and owned her own small-artisanal jam business.

Shakirah related to the students, encouraging them to connect with each other and build a strong community while at Penn. She also urged them to follow their gut, even if they are not sure which professional pathway to pursue. She emphasized the importance of cultivating inner strength and recognizing passion and talents from within.

Talent was certainly apparent as I spoke with some of the current Mayor’s Scholars and board members. Carlos Carmona, Vice President of High School Engagement, spoke passionately about reaching out to local high school students. This year the Mayors Scholarship Program helped local students fill out their applications to Penn and walked them through the application process. They also hosted an ice cream social during Quaker Days, in an effort to build a sense of community amongst this year’s recipients. The program has also identified mentors for the incoming students, so that they have someone to reach out to in those difficult first months of college life.

These types of events and support systems are expected to multiply as the Mayor’s Scholarship continues to progress from an exciting scholarship opportunity to an active student support program.

The current Mayor’s Scholarship Program Board (pictured) is as follows:

Mayor's Scholarship Program Board

Mayor’s Scholarship Program Board

President: Betsy Modayil

Treasurer: Kelly Yao

Secretary: Brian Chau

VP Social Planning: Melanie Young

VP Mentor Development: Joe McCloskey

VPs Alumni Affairs, Internships, & Networking: Charlie Gress, Mia Garuccio

VP High School Engagement: Carlos Carmona

VP Educational Initiatives: Caitlin Weiss

For more information on the Mayor’s Scholarship visit: http://www.sfs.upenn.edu/mayors-scholarship/index.htm

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Q&A with Mark Alan Hughes, Penn Design Professor and Coursera Instructor

Author: Lauren Owens, Associate Director Open Learning

Mark Alan Hughes and Leslie Billhymer have created“Sustainability in Practice,” a massive open online course (MOOC) that begins on September 15th. I sat down with Mark Alan Hughes to learn about the course development process from the instructor’s perspective.

owens1

Lauren Owens: Let’s begin with the basics. What made you want to teach a MOOC?

Mark Alan Hughes: It was a number of factors. First, I wasn’t in the first mover generation. I knew who was doing it before I knew what it was, and that indicated how cool and timely the Coursera thing was. Second, it was clear the university was committed to engaging with faculty from as many schools as possible, so when Dean Taylor enthusiastically proposed it to the Design faculty, that was another signal. And third, after learning more about the platform, it was abundantly clear it was the next big thing, and experimentation [on the platform] was not only allowed but encouraged.

I think a lot of that encouragement reflects Penn’s Open Learning Initiative at least as much as Coursera. Every time we would lob an idea about a different kind of content or video, you were always so encouraging and enthusiastic it led us to invent as much as we could.

LO: That’s great to hear. Please share a little bit about your course – what makes it different?

MH: There are many courses that talk about sustainability, what is it, where does it come from, but Leslie and I call our course “Sustainability in Practice” because we’re fascinated by the traction sustainability clearly has in the real world of government and private enterprise as an organizing device for decision making and management. We use practice and practitioners to present a series of ideas about sustainability, rather than vice versa.

LO: What kinds of surprises did you encounter while creating the course?

MH: The production and the post-production have taken more time than I expected. Partly that is because we are trying to use some presentation technology that hadn’t been used before by Penn, and it’s a labor-intensive approach.  A more pleasant surprise has been the ease of recruiting guests for panel discussions. There’s a lot of buzz off-campus about online learning as well. Thirdly, I’m surprised how much I miss students in front of me, and it makes me realize just how conversational and Socratic my teaching style has become over the years. The Coursera experience has made me eager to be in the classroom with my Penn students.

LO: Do you have any tips for instructors who are considering teaching on Coursera?

MH: Coursera forces an instructor to think about the preparation and interests and circumstances of students in a way that students registering for your class on campus need not happen. So for the first time in decades I was thinking about who my students were going to be, because they weren’t going to be Penn students. That makes you rethink the level of the teaching. It reminds me of writing my weekly opinion column for the Philadelphia Daily News, which I did for about six years. Writing a weekly column for a major metropolitan tabloid newspaper was, for me, like holding the world’s largest Urban Studies seminar each week. It reminds me a little bit of that. Coursera is more organized and pedagogical, but at the same time it has that open enrollment that makes it more like reading a newspaper than taking a traditional course.

LO: We receive a lot of questions about recording videos, do you have any advice for those who might be camera shy?

MH: It seems to work best precisely when you are the same as you are in your classroom. So for people who spend a fair amount of time conveying material in the classroom, in lecture, the transition should actually be pretty easy. If it’s not working you probably want to modify your content more than your style. Then the trick becomes remembering that there are students on the other side of the camera. If you can do that, you’re going to be okay.

LO: Last but not least, how did you get Mayor Nutter to make a cameo in your promo video?

MH: I called him up. I was his Chief Policy Adviser and Director of Sustainability. He was happy to do it.

To see the promo video and learn more about Sustainability in Practice on Coursera, click here. For more information on Penn’s Open Learning Initiative, please see our website.

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Where in the World

Author: Carolyn Grace, C’16

Spring Break is slowly winding down for us Penn students, though I can’t say I’m entirely heartbroken.  While many of my friends spent the past week vacating in warmer climates, I stayed right here in good old Philadelphia, which wasn’t so bad until the Ides of March kicked in.  (Kudos to anyone who got the reference in that last link!)

I’m not that discouraged, though.  My time to travel will be here before I know it!  It was only a few weeks ago that I recieved my acceptance into the Columbia in Paris program through Penn Abroad :)  This September, I’ll be going back to France to study abroad for the entire Fall 2014 semester.

My acceptance e-mail.  I'm going to Paris!

My acceptance e-mail. I’m going to Paris!

I’m extremely excited about the immersion experience this program offers.  I’ll be taking classes at both Reid Hall (the institution designed specifically for study abroad students) and a Parisian university.  There are so many in the city, and I get to choose where I want to enroll!  I also have the opportunity to live with a host family, which I did this past summer in Tours, France with the Penn-in-Tours summer abroad program.

What I am most excited for, however, is the opportunity to live in Paris (skip to 1:45) for the semester.  I visited the city for three days during the Penn-in-Tours program.  I can only imagine what it’s going to be like living there for three months!

Staying with the Pixar theme :)

Staying with the Pixar theme!

I have my first abroad meeting when school is back in session.  It seems like such a long way off, and I certainly don’t want to rush the rest of this semester.  I can’t deny, though, that the sooner I’m back on a wine and cheese diet, the happier I’ll be :)  Vive la France !

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