Monthly Archives: March 2014

Filming Puerto Rico with #RBQuests

By: Lisa Ellen Niver

Recently my friend, David, told me, “Walk through the open doors.” It reminded me of the inspiration from the gate at the University of Pennsylvania: We will find a way or we will make one.

I spent last week in Puerto Rico filming with Richard Bangs and White Nile Media in conjunction with Orbtiz and the Puerto Rican Tourism Board. I enjoyed everything from kayaking at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar to meeting golf greats and brothers, Jesus and Chi Chi Rodriguez as well as taming the “Beast,” which is the name of the highest zipline on the planet at Toro Verde.

chi chi golf st regis

Everyday had a highlight of a different kind as meeting people and hearing their stories was incredible. I loved working on the different video segments as we searched to elucidate adventure, family and LGBT travel. Meeting recently or nearly married couples for our romance segment was sweet and diving to 94 feet with sharks and eels was unforgettable.

richard juan lisa interview

Traveling has always been a part of my life. It was a treat to be part of this team and I cannot wait to see the ten video segments unfold in the hands of a professional editor. I plan to share them all with you as soon as possible and am so excited to see how they all turn out.

sunset dry forest puerto rico

I learned at the University of Pennsylvania that I could make things happen from founding a magazine for the College of Arts and Sciences with a few friends to doing medical research. I created a thesis that brought together ideas from several departments and figured out that even on sunny days in February a California girl needs a coat in Philadelphia. All of my experiences have shown me that when the door opens, you should walk through to the other side.

Thank you for all your support of my site, WeSaidGoTravel, my YouTube channel that just went over 190,000 views and this next journey. More details on my #RBQuests adventures, see the posts from last week: Old San Juan, Livin’ La Vida Loca, Meeting Sports Giants, and Adventures in Western Puerto Rico. Coming soon is the Go Pro underwater dive video as well as Go Pro video from the BEAST!

See more from Puerto Rico on our #RBQuests Tagboard at

toro verde lisa
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar2
Sunrise Wyndham Grand Rio Mar
Ramon Lisa Agua de coamo
Ramon Hooping Agua de coamo
Lisa and Juan Mr Gay World
Jose Enrique
Frank Ed dive boat Copamarina
Edward Copamarina
didrik richard dry forest


Comments Off on Filming Puerto Rico with #RBQuests

Filed under Lisa Ellen Niver, Travel

Did you know that the Penn Bookstore has a rewards program for Alumni?

By: Jason S.

Well you do now. And the first perk is 25% off spirit gear for just signing up. So go out and get that Penn hat you’ve always wanted. It’s Friday and you deserve it.



Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Benefits, Jason S.

Penn Alumni Travel Cuba 2: Part 2

Cuba 2 074

Author: Alyssa D’Alconzo, GED ’04, GRD ’11

As Faculty Host and Penn Professor Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw’s recent post suggested, Cuba was an economically, politically, and culturally fascinating country to visit. There was something new to see, learn, and experience around every corner, and we certainly made the most of our time in Havana. What follows is a brief overview of our day-by-day itinerary. The memories, feelings, and lessons we took away are difficult to articulate in a blog post, so I encourage you to experience it yourself on the Penn Alumni Travel 2015 Cuba departure!

Saturday, January 18: MIAMI/HAVANA

We had a fantastic group of Penn Alumni and friends on our trip.

Cuba 2 101

After convening in Miami, we flew to Havana and connected with the rest of the support team for the week.

Cuba 2 629

Front: Bus Driver Jaoquin; Center: (left to right) Tour Guide Yuni, Tour Director Ute, Professor Gwendolyn, Staff Host – me!; Back: Translator John

We checked in to the Saratoga Hotel

Cuba 2 308

for lunch and began the first in our series of lectures. Pepe, the former deputy minister of foreign affairs, gave us an introductory lecture on Cuba’s current economic and political reality and joined us afterwards for dinner at El Aljibe, a State-run restaurant.

Cuba 2 016Cuba 2 024

Sunday, January 19: HAVANA

Our first full day in Havana started with a lecture from architectural historian Miguel Coyula

Cuba 2 026

and continued with a walking tour of Old Havana.

Cuba 2 319

It was during Miguel’s talk that we learned about “fan lights”, arches filled with stained glass, which we saw all over the city.

Cuba 2 068

After learning why Miguel considers Havana a little piece of Europe in the Caribbean,

Cuba 2 061

our tour concluded with lunch near the cathedral. Moneda Cubana was our first visit to a paladar, a restaurant in a private home that operates with the special permission of the Cuban government.

Cuba 2 106

In the afternoon we visited the homes and studios of some of Havana’s leading artists. The arts have long presented Cubans with an opportunity to cautiously express their views on society, and we had fascinating conversations with Maria, Frank, Adrian, Alex,

Cuba 2 123Cuba 2 125

and Kdir.

Cuba 2 134

In the evening, most of our group took the opportunity to listen to and dance with the famous Buena Vista Social Club!

Cuba 2 160

Monday, January 20: HAVANA                                              

Our morning lecture on this day was by Maria Antonia Fernandez Mtinez who discussed rural and urban agriculture in Cuba.

We continued to the small, hilltop village of San Francisco de Paula to see Finca La Vigía, the house where author Ernest Hemingway lived for 20 years

Cuba 2 195

and saw, on the grounds, his fishing boat Pilar.

Cuba 2 227

On our way back to Havana, we stopped for a brief visit to the village of Cojímar, the setting for The Old Man and the Sea.

Cuba 2 258

We stopped on the drive back to Havana for lunch at a paladar, Doña Carmela, before returning to the hotel.

Rounding out a busy day was a private, after-hours tour of the Ceramics Museum,

Cuba 2 351

an incredible private classical guitar concert by Luis Manuel Molina, and dinner at a nearby restaurant, San Felipe.

Cuba 2 359

Tuesday, January 21: HAVANA

Our wonderful faculty host Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw was our lecturer today!

Cuba 2 446

After learning about art depicting Colonial Cuba, we journeyed to the Museum of the Revolution, which vividly describes Cuba’s history from Colonial times through the winning of independence to the revolution.

Cuba 2 475

With a bit of free time afterwards, some guests paid a visit to the Hotel Nacional, a historic hotel once frequented by famous actors, artists, athletes, writers, and mobsters.

Cuba 2 504

Later that evening we visited the Ludwig Foundation for the Arts for a presentation on Cuban Art.

Cuba 2 512

The Foundation President hosted a cocktail reception and homemade buffet dinner on the penthouse terrace, and we dined with young Cuban artists.

Wednesday, January 22: HAVANA / MATANZAS / VARADERO

Time to hit the road to see more of the country! Departing for Matanzas, we stopped en route at the Bacunayagua Bridge, the highest in Cuba, with beautiful, panoramic views of the nearby valley.

Cuba 2 522

Upon arrival in Matanzas, we toured the Castle of San Severino, which included rooms exhibiting Santeria (an Afro-Cuban religious tradition) and slavery as part of UNESCO’s project “The Route of the Slave.”

Cuba 2 548

We continued to the homes/studios of two artists, Daylene, a photographer, and Borodino, a painter,

Cuba 2 593

before enjoying lunch at the beautifully restored Xanadu, the former Dupont Mansion built in the 1930s.

Cuba 2 621

Finally, we arrived in Varadero to rest for a night before more sightseeing in Matanzas.

Cuba 2 685

Thursday, January 23: VARADERO / MATANZAS / HAVANA

Making our way back to Havana, we stopped at the Pharmacy Museum in Matanzas

Cuba 2 767

and attended a private, a capella choir concert.

Cuba 2 738

A visit to Ediciones Vigia, where handmade books are created, followed

Cuba 2 815

and preceded a stop at the studio of local sculptor Osmany Betencourt aka Lolo.

Cuba 2 830 Cuba 2 833 Cuba 2 836

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw led a talk about the Havana Bienal on the bus ride back to Havana.

Despite being tired from traveling, some passengers visited the Tropicana at night!

Friday, January 24: HAVANA

Our last day in Havana came quickly but also brought one of the highlights of our trip — attending an informal rehearsal of the Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba at the Teatro Nacional.

Cuba 2 893

We spent the remainder of the morning at the National Museum of Fine Arts with a curatorial tour focusing on its Cuban art collection.

Cuba 2 931

In the late afternoon, we drove by classic car

Cuba 2 938

to attend a private concert by Ars Longa

Cuba 2 965

at the Church of San Francisco de Paula

Cuba 2 955

before our farewell dinner at another popular paladar, San Cristobal.

Cuba 2 966

Saturday, January 25: HAVANA / MIAMI

We bade farewell to our fabulous tour guide, tour director, architects, artists, museum directors, students, and each other and departed for home.

Our time in Cuba was spectacular! If you would like to experience it yourself, e-mail Emilie LaRosa ( to be placed on the priority reservation list for our next departure, February 14-21, 2015 with Professor Sharon Ravitch.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alyssa D., Penn Alumni Travel, Travel

A Long-Expected Party

Author: Patrick Bredehoft


Diligence is the mother of good luck.

~Benjamin Franklin

Today, the Interview Program staff is preparing for a party.  Or rather, 52 parties.  Between April 3rd and 27th, alumni from around the world will be hosting local events to welcome the newest cohort of admitted students to Penn.  These events are sponsored by generous Penn alumni from dozens of interview committees (from Phoenix to Pakistan), and while each event will undoubtedly have a slightly different flavor, the common celebration of a Penn education is sure to be a constant.

We’re also doing our part to ensure that each admitted student event is stocked with red-and-blue party supplies, by shipping boxes of Penn-themed gear to more than 15 states and 20 countries.  So, if you happen to hear a chorus of “Hurrah, hurrah, Pennsylvania” coming from somewhere in your town during the month of April, don’t be surprised.  In fact, we’d encourage you to join in the celebration, and to help us welcome Penn’s Class of 2018 to the four incredible years that lie ahead!


Leave a comment

Filed under Interview Program, Patrick B., Sweeten Alumni House, Uncategorized, Volunteering

And The Winners Are…

Author: Janell Wiseley

The fourth annual Penn Alumni Travel photo contest has come to a close. The votes are in and the winners have been notified!

The contest was open to all participants who have taken a Penn Alumni Travel trip. Photos were judged on creativity and quality, as well as relevance to the specific category.  All photos were judged by Alumni Relations staff, Penn Alumni Travel faculty hosts, and our 2013 passengers.

You can view all photo contest submissions here.

Penn Alumni would like to congratulate the following winners

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Awards, Janell W., Penn Alumni Travel, Photos, Travel, Uncategorized

How Penn’s Research Inspires

By Robin Tauber Plonsker, C’86

On April 21, I will be running the Boston Marathon as a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT). This will be my first time running the Boston Marathon (something I’ve always aspired to do), but not my first time running for TNT. I have been a supporter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society ever since my husband Ted’s lymphoma diagnosis. Ted has been cancer-free eight years now, but my involvement with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has only grown. I started as a volunteer, have run several marathons for TNT, and am now an employee, thrilled to be working to support a mission so personally meaningful to me. It also gives me a chance to see firsthand the amazing breakthroughs being made right now in blood cancer research–research that The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is funding.

In fact, one of the most exciting research breakthroughs is happening right here at Penn. A team led by Carl June, MD, has developed a new treatment for leukemia that involves genetically engineering patients’ own immune cells to seek out, target and kill cancer cells. This new therapy has been tested in leukemia patients for whom all other treatments had failed. The results of the study have been nothing short of astounding, with the majority of patients–including children with the most common form of childhood cancer–achieving complete remission. This is research that The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recognized as promising and worthy of support as far back as 1992, long before it achieved the success it is having today. In fact, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has committed $20 million to this research over these past 12 years, including a current $6 million grant.


This remarkable new treatment developed at Penn is now being tested in other types of blood cancers and is a bright ray of hope for those battling these diseases. But there is more work to be done. There are more than a million Americans living with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Many are still desperately in need of cures. I am running the Boston Marathon to help raise the funds needed to find those cures. If you would like to help by making a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, please click on this link to my fundraising page:

Every donation helps accelerate finding cures for blood cancer patients. On their behalf and mine, thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest blogger

Have you registered yet?

Alumni Weekend will be here before you know it! Make sure to register today.



The countdown is on – 8 weeks to go!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Penn Traditions: The Good, The Bad, and THE RED & THE BLUE!

Author: Nicole Svonavec GEd ‘09

Every college student takes part in traditions on their campus as part of a unifying undergraduate experience.  I’ve attended and worked at several colleges so far, and Penn’s traditions stand out for their uniqueness, mass appeal, and staying power.  Experiences like Hey Day, Spring Fling, and taking a photo with your boo at the LOVE statue, have stood the test of time.  Creative Class Boards, Penn Traditions students, and other student leaders are forming new traditions (shout out to Holifest!) every year.

On the other hand, some traditions have faded into history.  And let’s be real, I’m feeling okay about that.  While I love reminiscing with our Old Guard alumni about retired traditions from their Penn days, I see a few good reasons to keep these in the archives:

“The Bowl Fight”

Although these strapping young lads look quite happy in the photo (from 1905), The Bowl Fight stands as one of Penn’s most historic, but also most sketchy traditions.  I’m not sure which one of these students was elected to be shoved INSIDE that bowl by his peers, but I would cry seeing our fabulous freshmen and sophomore duking-it-out on College Green in present-day.  Final verdict: This tradition is one of Penn’s best (craziest) stories, but a happily retired one.

Photo courtesy of Collections of the University Archives and Records Center

Photo courtesy of Collections of the University Archives and Records Center

“The Poster Fight”

(Note how many of these old traditions include the word “fight.”  Thankfully the advent of Pottruck Gymnasium seems to have given students a more productive outlet for their pent-up energy).  1905 was a busy year for traditions, and The Poster Fight stands as another fine example of class rivalries at their best/most intense.  The poster below (located in Sweeten Alumni House – come visit!) shows how “no blow was too low” when asserting your eminence over other classes.  Hopefully they all hugged it out at the end of the day.

poster fight3

“Kissing the Boot”
Everyone loves a good freshman rite-of-passage, but the 1940s-50s tradition of kissing Ben Franklin’s boot outside of Weightman Hall strikes me as a bit unsanitary.  Good thing freshman carried this out in early fall, because kissing a metal boot in the winter seems like it could cause the same nightmare as getting your tongue stuck to the flagpole in elementary school (Note: this did NOT happen to me, whew).

Photo and facts courtesy of Collections of the University Archives and Records Center

Photo and facts courtesy of Collections of the University Archives and Records Center

The Penn Traditions program is currently working on a new event (to launch in fall 2014) aiming to teach current students about some of these hilarious/spirited/dangerous traditions of the past.  If you took part in a really fun tradition on campus during your time at Penn, email so we can include it in our event!

*Thanks to the Penn Archives and Under the Button for inspiring this post!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Perspective, Campus Life, Historical, Memories of Penn, Nicole S., Traditions, Uncategorized, yPenn

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.


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academics, Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Lauren O, Uncategorized

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 !

Leave a comment

Filed under Academics, Campus Life, Carolyn G., Photos, Student Perspective, Travel, Uncategorized, Video, Videos