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Penn has a longstanding commitment to global engagement, dating all the way back to Ben Franklin. That commitment is now stronger than ever with the recent appointment of a vice provost for global initiatives and the creation of a five-year strategy to increase understanding of global challenges, foster international engagement by students and faculty, and maximize Penn’s impact around the world.

BY MOLLY PETRILLA | Illustration by The Little Friends of Printmaking
Sidebar | Fostering Penn Spirit Abroad

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I hover over India and when it turns red, I click. INDIA: 27 opportunities appears in a tidy red box. I scroll through research grants and overseas classes. The Law School is sending students abroad for a human rights fellowship. Wharton is offering an immersion program. I could take an architecture course or join a photography studio in Mumbai—well, I could if I were a School of Design student.

Still in India, I glide from Student Opportunities to Faculty Projects. There are 67 of those. A clinical trial is examining tuberculosis treatment in adults with advanced HIV. Wharton is looking at “high-end outsourcing activities.” Michael X. Delli Carpini C’75 G’75, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, is helping a fledgling university develop its own school of communication.

On my last stop, Alumni & Alumni Clubs, I discover 1,433 Penn alumni living in India and four clubs to support them. (Two are for Wharton grads, one for law alums, and then there’s a general India Alumni Club.)

My international adventure doesn’t stop in South Asia. This map, part of the new Penn Global website (, is peppered with student, faculty, and alumni activity all over the world. Belgium? Twenty-seven faculty members are working on projects there. Japan? Some 1,942 alumni call it home.

It’s staggering, really, to sit down and, with a few clicks, discover Penn’s international reach—a reach that will be further expanding over the next five years thanks to a new vice provost, a new five-year strategy, and a host of new initiatives, including this mesmerizing map.

Global engagement has a long history at Penn, starting with its bespectacled founder Benjamin Franklin. He headed to Paris in the late 1770s charged with a critical task: convince the French to support America’s independence efforts.

The British weren’t happy to see Franklin in Europe, especially as it became clear that the French loved him. Aristocrats embraced his intellect. His face appeared on men’s watches and snuffboxes. Women styled their hair to resemble his fur cap. By 1779, Franklin had not only completed his original task, but had also become the first American minister—ambassador, we would say now—to be received by a foreign government.

In addition to his talents and achievements as a publisher, author, inventor, Founding Father, and scientist, Franklin was the country’s first diplomat. It only made sense, then, for his growing University to also embrace the wider world.

Starting under Franklin and continuing through the 19th and 20th centuries, Penn welcomed international students; sent its own students to study abroad; and established classes, offices, centers, and associations to solidify its place in the global arena.

When Amy Gutmann was named the University’s eighth president more than 200 years after Franklin’s French success, she vowed to take Penn’s global engagement to still greater heights. She included “engaging globally” in the Penn Compact, and in 2005 she became the first Penn president to visit India. As she wrote in the Gazette that same year: “We are building on a solid foundation to create a new vision of local and global engagement. It is not an exercise in noblesse oblige … Rather, it is a collaborative, integrated approach to teaching, research, campus development, and economic activity that will boost Penn’s capacity to serve our society and humanity” [“From College Hall,” Sept|Oct 2005].

The question became how to make this new vision for engagement happen. Data on the University’s global efforts were scattered across schools and offices. There was no unifying point of contact, no central resource to keep track of everything Penn was up to abroad. To address that, in 2011 the University named Ezekiel Emanuel as its first vice provost of global initiatives—a post that came in addition to the Diane v.S. Levy and Robert M. Levy University Professor’s appointments in the Wharton School and the Perelman School of Medicine.

“I think the president was very clear about the basic goal when they hired me,” Emanuel says. “We needed to coordinate what we were doing in global activities, and we needed to have a strategic vision of where to invest the University’s time, effort, and resources.”

There was one problem: “We didn’t actually know what we were doing,” Emanuel explains with a chuckle. “We had no inventory. The extent of what was going on was literally unknown. When we pulled all the data together, we were shocked by how many things people are doing [abroad]. It was surprising, and not just unknown to us, but unknown to everyone else. Faculty and student researchers in India, for instance, didn’t know about other Penn people who were studying or doing research there.”

After gathering all the relevant information, Emanuel and his team in the new office for global initiatives drew up a five-year strategy. Released in December, the “Strategic Framework for Penn’s Global Initiatives 2012-2017” is built around the core values of “understanding, engagement, and impact” and rests on three “strategic pillars”:

 Prepare students for an increasingly globalized society.
Strengthen Penn as a global agenda-setter.
Promote healthy, inspiring, productive lives.

 “I think you can be laissez-faire about [global activities] and just let things happen, in which case we might not maximize our impact, or you can try to be strategic about it and encourage people to do things that really are best for Penn,” Emanuel says of developing the new strategy.

“As our world has become more interconnected, Penn’s role in the world has grown exponentially,” Gutmann says. “We now have a strong strategic framework to guide our future global initiatives … Our global strategic plan will focus our efforts and lead Penn to even deeper levels of global engagement in our teaching, research, and public outreach.”

Here’s how.

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.”

Global Penn
by the Numbers

number of alumni living outside the US

percentage of undergraduate students from outside the US

countries they represent

percentage of graduate and professional students from outside the US

1 in 3
faculty members engaged in global activities

partnerships Penn has with universities around the world

number of conferences held at Penn in 2011 pertaining to global issues

number of students who studied abroad at some point in academic year 2010-11 (including non-credit activities)

Source: Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives

In March
the University announced that it would create a campus home for its far-flung efforts. Located at 3803 Locust Walk and expected to open in two or three years, Perry World House—named for Penn Trustee Richard C. Perry W’77 and his wife, Lisa, who are providing a $10 million gift—will “play a central role in Penn’s efforts to educate a new generation of leaders and scholars,” providing a central hub for global activities and initiatives, Gutmann says.

While the design remains to be worked out, the facility will draw inspiration from its next-door neighbor, Kelly Writers House, with an inviting space to convene on the first floor and offices and rooms for meetings on the second. In addition to providing a gathering place for faculty and students from across Penn’s schools, it will house the new Global Solutions Program, dedicated to analyzing and developing innovative policy solutions to global issues.

Perry World House will be perhaps the most visible, tangible outgrowth of the University’s new strategy for global initiatives. It will also be one of the only bricks-and-mortar approaches in that strategy.

In the early 2000s, “international branch campus” became a buzz term in higher education. The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education reported that there were 78 international branches of American colleges and universities in 2010, each of which offered degree programs taught in English. Nearly 80 percent of those branches had been opened after 1999.

The new overseas outposts were meant to serve international students seeking American educations and American students studying abroad. Yet some people saw the branches as more fad than fixture. Inside Higher Ed described them as “the flavor of the month or, perhaps, the decade” in 2011. The flavor had begun to fade by then, with some schools shuttering their international branches and others scrapping plans to construct new ones. As one professor told the Associated Press, also in 2011: “The gold rush mentality of the 2000s is over.”

Even as other institutions raced to build campuses abroad in the early 2000s, Penn hung back—and in its new global strategy, the University has no plans to start developing international branches. “We’re an institution dedicated to education and research and really making a difference in the world,” Emanuel says. “Building branch campuses is a real-estate business.”

As Guillén puts it: “I just don’t see why you need a degree program in Singapore or China or Abu Dhabi in order to be a university that engages globally. We should instead be using the resources we already have in new ways.”

Rather than degree-granting campuses, Penn is building up small centers in East and South Asia—specifically, the Penn Wharton Center in Beijing and the Delhi-based University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India. Emanuel says those facilities are meant to provide a physical location for international student interviews, faculty research, classes, and conferences. “All of that is really important,” he adds, “but you don’t need a campus for it. You can have a very modest, efficient office.”

Beyond that, the University will continue its quest to “improve the world and afford the opportunity for healthy and inspired lives to others,” Emanuel says. “It’s what we do in the Botswana-UPenn Partnership [“Prognosis Botswana,” Mar|Apr 2007]. It’s what we do in the Penn Med Guatemala Health Initiative. It’s what we do when we’re engaged in training with other universities.” Under the new strategy, the University will develop more of these partnerships in four major regions: China and East Asia, India and South Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

With that and everything else the University is working toward abroad, it will be a busy five years, certainly. What does Emanuel hope to see at the end? “Our goal is to have Penn leading in engagement in a variety of places in the world,” he says. “I would like to see our footprint and our programs really enhanced in many, many different countries.”

Back on the Global Penn website, I’m still clicking. In Brazil, I discover a Wharton “Global Modular Course”—meaning an intensive three-to-seven-day workshop held abroad—titled “Managing in Emerging Economies: Energy & Infrastructure in Brazil.” In Sweden, I find 27 faculty projects, including a brain injury study for youth hockey players and a clinical trial for rare diseases. I see 624 alumni and four clubs in Australia.

Finally, curious to see what will happen, I try clicking on the United States. 0 opportunities. Of course. This site isn’t about everything that Penn is doing in Philadelphia and around the country—the things we so often read about or even witness firsthand. It’s about celebrating the University’s global reach and watching as that reach expands day by day, year by year. The globe-trotting Ben Franklin would be proud.

Molly Petrilla C’06 writes frequently for the Gazette and manages the magazine’s arts & culture blog.


There are nearly 1,500 alumni living in India today and another 1,500 reside in China. As presidents of the Mumbai and Beijing Alumni Clubs, Ramanan Raghavendran ENG’89 W’89 LPS’13 and Loretta Evans GEx’95 have each spent several years fostering strong alumni communities in these countries’ major cities.

Evans has been living in China for nearly a decade now. “I thought I’d stay for a year, but then I got here and I liked it,” she says. “I’m able to do really exciting things here.” That includes starting a new business, the Gartell Group, Inc., which focuses on consulting, software development, and geophysical technical services. It also includes leading the Penn Club of Beijing for the last three years.

The alumni club hosts a combination of “social, learning and just plain fun” events, Evans says, from a Chinese New Year festival to student meet-and-greets to seminars for those interested in starting a China-based business.

“I really am delighted when someone finds an event on our website and just shows up,” she adds. “We were having an event for [Engineering] Dean Eduardo Glandt [GCh’75 Gr’77] once and an alumnus from New Jersey just happened to be in Beijing on business and came by. I was so thrilled! If we have a presence like that and people know they can come while they’re in town, that makes me so happy.”

Raghavendran helped co-found the Penn Club of Mumbai several years ago after noticing a “large alumni presence” in the Indian city—close to 1,000 people, he says. The club hosts a formal gala and an informal mixer each year, along with smaller events that showcase visiting Penn professors or center on stimulating themes.

“For our annual gala, we don’t look for outside luminaries,” Raghavendran says. “We specifically time it to coincide with trips to India by Penn deans and it is they who keynote the gala. We’ve been fortunate in having SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell, Dean Glandt, and Admissions Dean Erica Furda [C’87] all find time in their busy schedules to speak with alumni.”

A managing partner in the private-equity firm Kubera Partners, Raghavendran serves on the advisory board for Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India and the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India, the New Delhi-based counterpart of CASI. He’s also chair of the India Secondary Schools Committee for Penn Admissions.

Asked about devoting so much time and energy to these international volunteer roles, he says that “my volunteer work at Penn has offered some of the most rewarding experiences of my life … The better question is how could I not help our students and alumni connect or re-connect with Penn? It has been a great honor.”

Benjamin Hardy Nu’13 W’13 already had a glittering resume when he arrived at Penn. On top of his academic achievements, he’d won a national public-speaking competition in his native Australia and raised $20,000 for charity as prefect of his Sydney school. He could have easily continued his education there, but instead he moved to Philadelphia and enrolled in Penn’s Nursing and Healthcare Management Program, which grants dual degrees from Wharton and the School of Nursing.

“One of my high-school teachers was a Yale alum,” Hardy says. “It was through him that I even heard of the opportunity to come to America [for college]. He instilled in me this childish dream to study abroad. I didn’t know what to expect or where it would take me or whether it was even possible for me because I wasn’t from a well-off background, but I had this dream of coming to America for university.”

Hardy applied to several American colleges in his senior year of high school. He visited Penn shortly after receiving his acceptance letter and found “something I thought only existed in fairytales, really,” he says. “Even though the college atmosphere was quite intimidating to me, at the same time everything felt so close and welcoming. I loved what I saw.”

He’s not the only one. As far back as 1908, Old Penn — as the Gazette was then known — boasted of the University’s students: “their homes encircle the globe.” Today, 15 percent of undergraduates come to Penn from outside the US, as do 27 percent of graduate and professional students. Those numbers comprise one of the largest international-student populations in the Ivy League, according to Gayle Christensen, executive director for global initiatives.

The University’s strategy for global engagement lays out a goal of attracting “the best and brightest international students and better integrat[ing] their diverse perspectives.” One way that’s happened—and will continue to happen—is through the Penn World Scholars Program, which launched in 2006.

There are currently 41 undergraduate students in the program, including Hardy. They’re selected based on their academic and leadership achievements, their financial need, and their career goals, and they receive substantial aid packages—“the best possible financial aid that the institution can provide,” Christensen says—which encourages them to leave their home countries and pursue a Penn education.

They come to the University from Swaziland, Kenya, Cyprus, Jordan, Lithuania, Brazil—and Australia. Some are debate and public-speaking champions. Some are accomplished volunteers, musicians, athletes, writers. As the program lays out in its mission statement, Penn World Scholars aims to “enhance the Penn community by welcoming the most outstanding students from diverse cultural backgrounds and regions of the world and fostering their growth as the leaders of the future.”

Now a few weeks shy of graduation, Hardy is planning a career in healthcare administration. While he’d like to run a hospital someday, he’ll start out as a healthcare consultant in Boston Consulting Group’s Summit, New Jersey, office. He’s been impressed by Penn’s robust international-student population, but he’d like to see the numbers keep growing.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of international students may not know about the educational opportunities that exist here in the States,” he says. “They just go to university in their home city and call it a day. I think it’s really important to assemble a population of students who have had different experiences and really have a lot to offer. I have a lot of friends from Penn who are now going back to their home cities and rebuilding the infrastructure. That’s something they wouldn’t have been able to do if they hadn’t come here.”

Welcoming international students to campus is equally important for the Americans at Penn, Christensen says. “When we look at what our strategic plan is trying to do, we really want to bring the world to Penn,” she adds. “By having such a diverse and large group of international students, we’re able to make Penn a global experience for all of our students.”

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