Sam Ware C’13 jokingly refers to “the A-bomb going off” when he hears the word in a class or spots it in an assigned reading. He means that in a good way.
In this case, the A stands for Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, where Ware spent 10 weeks last summer through Penn’s International Internship Program and the Center for the Advanced Study of India.
He and another student intern from Penn were charged with analyzing the retina clinic’s patient flow and then offering suggestions to optimize it. “I was never in charge of a project like that, especially in a foreign country,” he says. “My proudest moment was when we presented our findings to the doctors. They’d allotted 45 minutes for our presentation, but instead they wound up discussing it for an hour and a half, arguing among themselves about what we’d found and our recommendations.”
As a uniquely large and deep-rooted eye hospital network, Aravind sometimes arises in Ware’s classes as a health and societies major—most recently, in a class on social innovation. The teacher had asked students to read a 1993 Harvard Business School case study on the eye hospital. During the discussion, Ware piped up: “I’ve actually been there and seen it firsthand.” Recalling it now, he adds, “I think my teacher was impressed, and the other students had a lot of questions about what was in the case study. I think I learned so much more about it from having a firsthand experience there.”
Fostering these eye-opening (quite literally, in Ware’s case) student experiences—experiences that ideally they will bring back to campus and share with their peers—is a critical part of Penn’s global strategy.
“In the 21st century, students are going to have to know a lot about the world,” Emanuel says. “We’re entering an increasingly globalized world and they need to be prepared to engage with it. They’re not going to be able to ignore what’s happening worldwide, no matter what they’re doing in their lives. We want to prepare students as best we can for that. They need to be educated, and they need to be comfortable in the world.”
The strategic plan envisions that particular education taking several forms, including study and work abroad. In the 2010-11 academic year alone, some 2,000 students studied abroad at some point and another 206 participated in global research or internships. Those numbers aren’t insignificant, but the University hopes to expand study and work abroad opportunities still further in the next few years and to develop a post-graduate scholars program that will offer students overseas experiences after graduation.
There is also a focus on connecting some of the 20,000-plus alumni who live outside the US with visiting students. Last fall, nearly 12,000 miles from campus, Mariah Deters C’14 discovered how enjoyable—and valuable—those interactions can be. She was spending a semester at Beijing’s Peking University when a Penn professor put her in touch with an alumnus who lives and works nearby. The current and former students met up to drink coffee and chat about the latter’s work as a global strategist.
“Before I knew it, we were talking about the restaurants on campus and it turns out we like the same thing at Greek Lady—the lamb gyro,” Deters recalls, referring to the popular campus food-truck turned sit-down restaurant, now located on 40th Street. “It’s extremely nice to know that anywhere you go in the world, there will probably be someone within a 100-mile radius who has also eaten at Greek Lady. It really does create a sense of bonding.”
“These alumni contacts are tremendously influential,” Emanuel adds, “and I think we have not used them as well as we should.” He hopes to link every student who goes abroad with at least one alumnus who lives in that area. “We have very well-connected alums,” he says. “They can host students, maybe they can help find jobs that our students might participate in. They could even facilitate the research of our faculty.”
Right, the faculty. There are several initiatives aimed at them in the new plan, including a greater emphasis on global research and teaching.
“Whether we want it to be or not, the world is a much more complex and interconnected place than it’s ever been,” says Mauro Guillén, director of Penn’s Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies. Guillén has co-taught an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on globalization for the last 12 years, enrolling more than 80 students each time it’s available. The class explores the causes and effects of globalization and looks at economics and religion as global forces. “It is a very comprehensive class,” he says, “and that’s what makes it so appealing.”
Its slant is quite different from anything you would have found in a lecture hall 20 years ago, when professors were focused on the US and Europe as primary actors in globalization, Guillén says. “There’s much more focus on other places now,” he adds. “The actors of globalization are no longer in just one part of the world. They’re China, India, Brazil, Turkey, parts of Africa. Now we need to explore the interconnections instead of looking at everything from one perspective. Penn has been at the forefront of that approach.”
To encourage more courses like Guillén’s—which is co-taught and cross-listed under anthropology, sociology, and history—last fall the University announced a forthcoming series of undergrad classes called “Cross Currents.” Each course will be designed and co-taught by faculty members from at least two of Penn’s four undergraduate schools and will explore a topic “with broad appeal that lends itself to multidisciplinary approaches.”
In his course, Guillén sees students from all four schools at Penn. “I think the reason is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re preparing yourself to become a doctor or a researcher or a historian or a biologist,” he says. “Pretty much every field of knowledge these days has been reshaped by globalization. We need more classes that cut across topics and span multiple regions in the world. We need to do more.”