In our cover story on the transition in Penn athletics, “Passing the Baton,” Dave Zeitlin C’03 describes former athletic director Steve Bilsky W’71’s approach to the job he held for 20 years: “Big ambitions. Big facilities. Big money. Big opinions.”
As the article makes clear, the results have been outsized, too. During Bilsky’s tenure, the University has put in place a set of athletic and recreational facilities that are second to none among urban universities and amassed an impressive array of first-place finishes, including the most championships in football and basketball in the Ivy League. (Some fans also point to one big failure, in the more recent middling to embarrassing performance of the men’s basketball team under head coaches Glen Miller and Jerome Allen W’09, who were hired by Bilsky, compared to the very successful previous tenure of Fran Dunphy, who wasn’t.)
Dave also spoke with new AD M. Grace Calhoun, who in her first days on the job was still basking in the glow of seeing historic Franklin Field out of her (temporary) office window, but will eventually have to keep alumni support and enthusiasm strong in the follow-up to athletics’ $125 million fundraising total in its part of the Making History campaign. A big turnaround for men’s basketball—and a smooth handoff in football from 23-year veteran head coach Al Bagnoli, who will retire after this season, to assistant Ray Priore—would no doubt help with that.
Towards the end of “The Journey of Salamishah Tillet,” Kathryn Levy Feldman LPS’09 quotes the scholar and feminist advocate (who is both a Penn alumna and English professor) as saying that her life’s work is to end violence against women and girls. That very large goal was forged in part by her own suffering as the victim of two rapes during her college years.
In addition to launching her career as a scholar and teacher, Tillet emerged from that trauma to collaborate with her sister Scheherazade on a multimedia performance piece chronicling her recovery called Story of a Rape Survivor and to create A Long Walk Home, an organization that counters sexual violence through visual and performance art and other programs.
Coming up with a “theory of everything,” as pioneering stem-cell researcher Robert Lanza C’78 M’83 did in his 2009 opus, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, involved some seriously big thinking. (Maybe also seriously wrongheaded: the book has sparked widespread criticism and ridicule, with quack being one of the milder epithets hurled at his head.)
But Lanza has been confounding expectations since he was a high-school freshman and won first prize at a science fair with a project that eventually found its way into the pages of the premier scientific journal Nature. In “The Lightning Rod,” Molly Petrilla C’06 tells how an inarticulate, neglected kid from Stoughton, Mass., became one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and about the controversies—plenty of them, even aside from Biocentrism—he’s stirred up along the way.
Beth Kephart C’82—who has written for us a number of times, as well as having been written about in the magazine [“More Light,” Nov|Dec 2011]—is a big fan of Gregory Djanikian C’71 and his work. In “The Moment and the Poem,” she traces the development of this “quietly ambitious” artist and teacher (he heads Penn’s undergraduate creative writing program), quoting graduate-school classmates, Penn colleagues, and students—and from several of his poems.
Finally, Vikram Dewan WG’78 has been managing some big changes at the venerable Philadelphia Zoo, where he has been president and CEO since 2006. In “Watching the Animals,” JoAnn Greco recounts how the former bank executive has presided over a series of new projects designed to make the most of the zoo’s constrained 42-acre site.