Category Archives: Elise B.

The Sweeten Piano: A Daily Reminder

Author: Elise Betz

On Monday, February 13, a very special gift arrived at the Sweeten Alumni House – an ebony satin, Boston Performance Edition, baby grand Steinway piano. It’s no coincidence that it arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day because the piano was a gift in honor of Penn Trustee and past Penn Alumni, President Paul C. Williams, W ’67, given with love by his sweetheart, Leslie Berger. There is a special story behind this gift – Sweeten is a “home” at Penn for Paul and a love for piano has great significance in Paul and Leslie’s relationship.

Paul was awarded Penn’s greatest honor in November, the Alumni Award of Merit.  Here are a few details about Paul’s passion for Penn:

You have said that Penn’s alumni should “expect a lifetime of engagement and enrichment from their alma mater” – and you have made it your personal mission to make good on that promise.   It is hard to find a corner of the Penn community you have not touched with your inspiring engagement.

Beginning as a Penn student, you embraced a commitment to giving back to the community.  You were the campus coordinator for the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a tutorial project in the neighborhoods surrounding Penn and you served on the board of the Community Involvement Council.  Your impulse to help others has only intensified over time and Penn has been the fortunate focus of your generosity of spirit.

You reconnected with Penn around your 25th reunion, becoming a member of the Board of Overseers for our School of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and a member of Penn’s Board of Trustees (as an Alumni Trustee) in 2000.  In 2003, after you were named to the board’s Executive Committee, you participated in the Presidential Search Committee that selected President Amy Gutmann.  The same year, you were elected president of Penn Alumni, representing over 290,000 Penn alumni around the world, a key leadership position you held for five years.

You have been described as someone who knows how to bring people together and to help them be their best.   That is good news for all the Penn alumni who have benefited from your cheerful team building, tireless advocacy, and legendary commitment to your many volunteer roles.  You have served on a long list of committees, including Academic Policy, Development, Honorary Degrees & Awards, and Neighborhood Initiatives.  You have invested countless hours meeting with the leadership of Penn’s alumni diversity groups, attending their events and supporting their mission to make Penn a supportive, nurturing and academically exciting place for one and all.

Off campus, you were Penn’s ambassador in Chicago during the many years you lived there.  You founded the regional advisory board, hosted and attended events, and graciously welcomed administrators, faculty and staff visiting the Windy City.  You played an instrumental role in garnering support for initiatives such as the Chicago Regional Endowed Scholarship.

Your personal philanthropy is evident everywhere on campus – from your support for undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and building projects, to your funding of faculty term chairs, undergraduate research grants and special projects in Kelly Writers House.  You underwrote the purchase of a piano for one of the residence halls.  In response to a presentation made to the Trustees by members of the Provost’s staff, you provided the funding to expand Penn’s efforts to address the problem of underage drinking on campus.  A practice room in the newly renovated Music Building bears your name.

Your friends in Alumni Relations know you as the strategic thinker who identifies needs and finds ways to meet them.  As a thoughtful colleague, you always remember to send birthday greetings.  As a quiet deliberator, your sense of humor is both subtle and nuanced.  As a good natured Penn Alumni president, you were thrilled to receive a Penn blazer with your nickname embroidered on the inside pocket, P-Dubs.  In recognition of the significant contributions you have made to this University over many years, Penn is delighted to present you with the 2011 Alumni Award of Merit.

Penn will forever be indebted to Paul for his leadership and to Leslie for her unwavering support.  Thank you for this extraordinary gift, a daily reminder of what is important in this world.

Watch this short video of the first person to play the piano (she found out about it through our Twitter feed!):



Filed under Elise B., The Arts, The Sweeten Life

Push Ball: An Old Tradition Reborn

Author: Elise Betz

The Penn Traditions program revived an old tradition for the Penn Park opening on September 17.  On a beautifully cloudy late summer afternoon, the 21st century Push Ball was unveiled almost 103 years after the tradition started.    For five brief years in the early 20th century, the Push Ball Fight surfaced as one of the traditional confrontations between University of Pennsylvania freshmen and sophomore classes. The first Penn Push Ball Fight took place on Franklin Field on October 22, 1908.

The ball to be pushed was always quite large in size. The ball used in the first fight was six feet in diameter.  The fight began with the ball in the middle of the field and the two opposing classes lined up on their individual goal lines on opposite ends of the field. The point of the fight was to move the ball over the opponent’s goal line. At the sound of a whistle, the members of each class rushed to the huge ball and tried to score a goal, hopefully by straight clean line as in football rather than by means of slugging matches.  It looked like this:

Here is an original news article about the Push Ball Fight in 1912:

The reborn Push Ball is ten feet in diameter.  The first step was inflating it – we did so with a leaf blower.

We then got it to Penn Park and it was a smashing success the second it hit the grass.

The Penn Traditions program adapted the rules a little bit and let the kids, young and old, push the ball around the field and into the goals “free style.”

The day ended after many happy alumni, students and their families enjoyed the new Push Ball, taking advantage of the photo ops it provided.

Final step?  Deflating the ten foot ball.  Not as easy as you might think.  It took 6 adults almost a full hour to take the air out of this Penn tradition.    It won’t stay deflated for long – it is clear that this new old Penn tradition has some momentum!  Look for the Push Ball on campus at Homecoming, November 4 – 6, 2011!

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Filed under Campus Life, Elise B., Traditions

The Secret Life of a Penn PhD Student

Author: Elise Betz

I have had the privilege and horror of getting an intimate look inside the life of a Penn PhD student. It is nothing like the leisurely, fun life of a Penn undergrad. There is no Spring Fling, Hey Day or happy hours at Smoke’s.  It consumes you pretty much 24 hours a day for 4, 5, 6, sometimes even 7 years. From my perspective, this is how I have interpreted the experience:  Penn does an excellent job of wooing you into the program because our PhD students are the best and brightest in the world and we are competing with some pretty serious schools.

The students come to Penn to work closely with a faculty member who is world-class in their field.  It’s all sunshine and roses until classes begin, then the reality hits – it’s just not possible to read eleven scholarly books every week or write a research proposal in one semester. The class, entitled “Research Methods,” can bring even the most scholarly scholars to tears. More tears and several classes later, it’s time for the Qualifying Exams. These tests determine whether you can continue in the program or get dropped to go back to the real world in shame. Three full days of writing on topics that you can only try to predict.

This preparation period is when you go “underground” and hunker down with towers of books, articles, charts, notes, videos, gallons of coffee and a variety of sweet and savory snacks. There is a table in the library that is yours – because you are there 14 hours a day.

The PhD students will tell you that the day they begin Qualifying Exams, is the smartest day of their life – they will never be that smart again.   Then there is the dissertation – PhD insiders call it a “journal article on steroids.”Days are spent trolling coffee shops for peaceful places and productive nooks. Oh, and by the way, Penn PhD students are teaching classes too.  I am astounded and amazed by the self-discipline of these brilliant creatures.

PhD students are told there is an easy time management formula you can follow, which varies somewhat by institution and discipline, but proves fairly accurate across the board. It typically looks something like this: you should be spending 75% of your time and effort on research, 50% on teaching, and 40% on classes. The bad news, of course, is that the math doesn’t add up. That becomes the biggest problem – time.

I am in awe of the Penn Ph D students. They are creative, driven, and fun. They are also the future leaders of academia.  I will end with what I have learned NOT to ask PhD students:

  1. How’s the dissertation going?
  2. When do you plan to get real job?
  3. Of what practical importance is your research?
  4. Have you published yet?
  5. So, does this mean you won’t be a “real” doctor?
  6. When do you finish?


Filed under Academics, Elise B.

A Little Healthy Competition

Author: Elise Betz

 Regardless if you’re an alumnus, a staff person, or a student here, Penn people love competition! We will play anything with anyone for the glory of victory.  We descend from a long lineage of competitive spirits; individuals who strive to succeed regardless of the obstacles. For example, check out the weather conditions for this football game in 1898.

Penn vs. Cornell, circa 1898

The Alumni Relations Staff is no exception – we especially love competition.  At our recent staff retreat held at the Mask & Whig Club in Center City  Philadelphia, we played our own variations of games based on The Newly Wed Game, The Gong Show, and Family Feud.

Staff retreat poster, featuring our most-beloved campus mascot after the Quaker: Squirrels

We also competed in a relay race (consisting of a hula-hoop competition, a corn hole toss, a word magnet de-scramble,  and a race against the clock with a Slinky).  And, yes, there were prizes for everyone who played fairly…

Me and Nicole after we demonstrated our mad juggling skills. We are for hire!

We tons of fun while “competing” and we bond and it’s healthy, but the fact remains that  most of us play to WIN. At the end of the day, however, we remain a united team, even if some of us (I won’t mention any names) are better at relay races than others…

The Alumni Relations staff in our team t-shirts.

So, in this same competitive spirit, I invite you to take part in our first ever contest on Frankly Penn:

I will personally send a prize to the very first person who can correctly tell me the final score  (and who won!) of the football game photographed on that snowy day in 1898.  Just email me with your answer, and show your Penn pride and knowledge.  Hurry, you’ve got lots of competition!

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Filed under Elise B.

Front Row Seat

Author: Elise Betz

I had the best seat on Franklin Field for Commencement.  Why?  Because I acted as the “Stage Marshal.”

Here is why I have that honor year after year. In 2004, when Dr. Gutmann was inaugurated, I was asked to be a marshal at the formal inauguration ceremony in Irvine Auditorium.  It was a wonderful event and my job was to seat all of the visiting representatives from colleges and universities.  I did my job very well and caught the eye of the Commencement planners.  They were impressed with my seating skills, so since 2004, I have been assisting the “stage party” at Commencement.  The “stage party” includes Dr. Gutmann, the Trustees, Deans, VPs, honorary degree recipients and the Commencement Speaker. Eminent people walk by me every year – Bono, Jodi Foster, Jon Huntsman, Denzel Washington.  The perks include saving front row seats for my faculty friends…

…And also getting to see exactly where Denzel Washington will be sitting.

I  also had the opportunity to watch the Class Board carry the flags in and to take a great photo of them in front of the stage:

Here is the view of the stage from my seat:

The best part of my marshal job each year is having the perfect seat to listen to the Commencement speaker.  This year, Denzel Washington delivered a moving and poignant speech – my favorite line: “Remember this: You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” A great reminder that we can’t take our possessions with us when we go…That what matters most are our day to day interactions with people.

The only thing I am taking with me are the memories. . . . many of which were made right here on this amazing University of Pennsylvania campus!

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Filed under Alumni Weekend, Commencement, Elise B., Memories of Penn

Spinning My Wheels? Yes and No!

Author: Elise Betz

Warming Up for Class

Ready to Go


Imagine thirty stationary exercise bikes lined up inside a health club studio. “Riders” are on each bike, spinning the pedals as fast as they can. The lights are turned down, loud, pumping music fills the air and an instructor with a headset sits atop a lead bike, and is barking  out commands.

The Spinning Room

“Climb out of the saddle,” she barks at the class. “Big hill coming! This is a big, steep climb – about 7 ½ minutes.  Grind it out!” The riders rise as one, pedals spinning harder as we grimace with exertion, sweat dripping off our bodies to the deep, bass beats of the Beatles “Come Together.”  A fifteen second recovery is next as we all gulp down liquids from the water bottle we are required to have on our bikes.  We then get back into the saddle for a 4 minute sprint to The Jackson Five’s “Dancing Machine.”

Ready to Spin

What I am describing to you is a spinning class.  What does this have to do with my role as Executive Director of Alumni Relations at Penn?  Everything!  While I am spinning my wheels, my mind is just as active spinning with thoughts.  I get some of my best work done on that bike!

On the Bike

Sitting on that spin bike, I have thought through the process of launching our new Shared Interest Group initiative – groups of  alumni who share common interests arising from their Penn co-curricular activities or professional career experience and desire to affiliate with each other as a subgroup of Penn Alumni. Look for it in the fall!  

Made it Through

I have imagined and executed in my mind new events for students as part of our “Penn Traditions: Building Our Community” program designed to keep our students connected to Penn for their lifetime.  Last night, I spent my 60 spin minutes willing it to be 74 degrees and sunny from Alumni Weekend Friday through Monday’s Commencement ceremony.  Alumni Weekend 2011 is going to be the best ever!  You see – I am doing very important things on that bike.  So, you will have me to (at least partially) thank for the glorious next few days just ahead!  One final thought. . .

Ben Franklin Quote

Ben Franklin couldn’t have said it better.

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Filed under Alumni Weekend, Elise B., The Sweeten Life, Traditions

I’m Not Afraid to Say the “L” Word

Author: Elise Betz

Penn Tree Planting on Campus

Eleven years ago, when I walked on to this campus for the first time as a University of Pennsylvania employee, I was terrified.  This was Penn!!!  Growing up in Bryn Mawr with two teachers for parents, I knew that Penn was the gold standard of academia.  And there I was.  Quickly though, my fear turned into fascination as I navigated this dynamic, complex, and extraordinary place.  That fascination has now turned into love.  Yep, I said it.  I love Penn.   I love the work I do.  I love the people, the buildings, and the energy.  I even love the smell of mulch in mid-March that surrounds the campus.  To help you understand my love for this place, here are just a handful  of things I have experienced through Penn in just the last two weeks:

  • “Minorities in the Media in the Age of Reality TV” panel featuring Richard Gay, Executive Vice President for Strategy at MTV and V, and Penn alum at Penn Spectrum On the Road.
  • “Life in the World of Theatre Today” event with seven Penn alumni in the theatre business in New York.
  • The Penn Traditions “Class of 2011 Tree Planting” where we planted a Legacy Sugar Maple in the heart of College Green in honor of the senior class.
  • A discussion by  four faculty members about restorative justice around the world.
  • A panel of undergraduate students, organized for our Gift Officers, who talked about their life at Penn,  facilitated by me.
  • Sitting in the audience at the “Models of Excellence” ceremony highlighting the remarkable achievements of Penn staff.
  • A yPenn young alumni event that drew 150 of our most recent graduates to celebrate Penn.
  • A tour of the murals in West Philadelphia preceded by a lecture by Jane Golden, Penn faculty member and Executive Director of the Mural Arts program.

And by the way, I also met the love of my life at Penn five years ago.  How’s that for a bonus?

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Filed under Elise B.