Invention and Reinvention

In “From College Hall,” President Gutmann reports on how the winners of the inaugural President’s Engagement Prizes have fared over the past year as they have moved to implement their proposed projects. I don’t know if any of them ever studied with Karl Ulrich, but a familiarity with the Wharton professor and serial innovator’s work could have helped prepare them for the unexpected turns their efforts took along the way.

(Spoiler alert: they all did fine anyway.)

But future prize-winners—or anyone with a concept or product that they’d like to see have an impact on the world—might want to read associate editor Trey Popp’s feature profile of Ulrich, “Method Inventor.” Ulrich holds 24 patents, in a staggering variety of fields. He clearly has a special gift, but he’s nothing like the popular image of a driven, single-minded visionary entrepreneur.

For one thing, Ulrich is quick to acknowledge the role that chance plays in determining whether this idea is eagerly embraced or that new product flies off the shelves. He also “demystifies” the process of invention, encouraging students to put aside notions of creative genius and instead think of it “just sort of as a bunch of steps” that anyone might attempt. (Even a journalist, as Trey proved with his own creation inspired by Ulrich’s classroom approach.)

Director Mark Waters C’86 has reinvented himself several times as he’s successfully navigated the continually changing film industry. Until Molly Petrilla C’06 pitched the story on him, I don’t think I realized that he directed two of our family’s favorite movies from my older daughter Sara’s early-teen years: Freaky Friday starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as mother-and-daughter body-switchers, and Lohan’s career pinnacle, the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls, which we watched repeatedly on the DVD combo-pack we bought for Sara.

In “Director Gone Bad,” Molly describes Waters’ Hollywood journey, which has featured work in a variety of genres, and his latest comedy, Bad Santa 2, due out in November, which leaves the PG world far behind. Molly was told it will be much raunchier than the notoriously dark and foul-mouthed original. (Our younger daughter Lily just turned 12, so we’ll probably be sticking with his old stuff at home.)

On a campus as big and diverse as Penn is now, it can be hard to fathom the impact that a campus organization like the Christian Association—founded in 1891—could have in its heyday. We perhaps haven’t always done justice to the CA’s rich history, but “The Christian Association at 125,” by Dave Zeitlin C’03, should go some distance toward rectifying that.

In its early days and through the mid-20th century, the CA played an outsized and pioneering role in Penn students’ engagement with Philadelphia, where it ran settlement houses and summer camps serving the city’s poor, and as far afield as China. The piece also highlights the organization’s championing of progressive causes in more recent decades, and its continuing presence and importance to the community and today’s students “doing the modern-day version of what was done a while ago,” in the words of CA director Rob Gurnee.

The National Park Service is also celebrating a milestone; 2016 is the centenary of its founding. But the parks system might never have come about without Ferdinand Hayden Hon1886, the explorer-scientist and Penn professor for whom Hayden Hall is named. Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 explains in “The Man Who Put Yellowstone on the Map.”

Finally, in “Googling Cuba,” Alyson Krueger C’07 tells how Brett Perlmutter C’09 was instrumental in giving the company a head start in opening Cuba to the internet. President Obama got the headlines with his history-making trip to the island last March, but Perlmutter was there waiting when he arrived.

—John Prendergast C’80

Share Button

    Leave a Reply