New Resources for Academic Success

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Penn’s new Weingarten Learning Resources Center is a “model for the nation and the world.” Photo ©Catherine Tighe

Student Center Dedication | “Thank you, Daddy, for giving me and everybody else’s sons and daughters the opportunity to meet the same success [at Penn] that you did—about a hundred years ago,” cracked College senior Amanda Weingarten, speaking at the dedication of the Weingarten Learning Resources Center in the former Stouffer Dining Commons, for which her parents, Jeffrey W’70 and Susan Weingarten, were the lead donors.

More seriously, Weingarten noted that her own learning disability means that “without the guidance of brilliant learning instructors and specific testing conditions,” she would not be able to perform to her true academic ability. While some of the “uninformed” may still believe she and others with disabilities are “not good enough students” to be at Penn, she said, the new space “gives a visual affirmation that, in the words of another student in the program, ‘Someone out there thinks that students like us deserve this.’”

The center, designed by CDA&I Architecture, houses the Office of Learning Resources and the Office of Student Disabilities Services. According to Dr. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, vice provost for University life, the idea was to consolidate and “further improve” facilities for students with disabilities by providing a range of learning resources and services in a single location, as recommended by an external-review team. “The newest campus center is student-focused and purposefully designed,” she said, calling it “a model for the nation and the world for comprehensive disability services, enhanced learning experiences, and intellectual development.”

The center serves undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. The new facility at Stouffer Commons contains a student study lounge, computer lab equipped for individual and group work, four computer rooms with technologies adapted to students with disabilities, and proctoring rooms for accommodating students with disabilities during exams, as well as instructional, meeting, conference, and library space. The center also features wireless capabilities, and a white-noise system to reduce distraction and provide privacy.

“A lot of what I’ve written and talked about has to do with justice and access, and this center is just emblematic of those two important goals of our University and our society,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann at the dedication. “We celebrate much more than a beautiful new space that does justice to the talent, strength, and character of students with disabilities. We also celebrate a commitment to inclusion and accessibility that the University of Pennsylvania has honored in word and now all the more in deed.” 

Gutmann said that Penn is “at least 10 years ahead” of its peers in terms of serving the needs of students with disabilities, and for one basic reason: “Long ago, Penn shed the presumption that any student clearly bright enough to be admitted here did not need any additional academic supports,” she said.  

The center will ensure that “students with disabilities have the resources they need to continue blossoming into extraordinary men and women,” added Gutmann, crediting the “vision, hard work, and generosity of many people in our Penn family” and, in particular, the “support and imagination of two absolutely great families”—the Weingartens and Ann CW’71 and Eric Gleacher, for whom the reception area at the center is named.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Jeff Weingarten thanked those who had “the sense of adventure and sense of humor” to admit him to Penn 40 years ago, and credited the sacrifices of his parents and the help of a scholarship in allowing him to attend the University. Echoing President Gutmann’s promise, in her inaugural speech [“From Excellence to Eminence,” November/December], to increase access to a Penn education to all qualified students regardless of income or race, he called on the University to “make it increasingly possible for women and men, regardless of learning style, to benefit from that great Penn education.” By making the University ever more inclusive and providing students with the facilities and resources they need to succeed, he added, “we can attract, educate, and graduate compassionate and empathetic leaders in a world sorely in need of leadership.”—J.P.

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