Penn: At Home in the World

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Faculty, students, and staff have embraced the goal of global engagement with tremendous energy and far-ranging expertise.

By Amy Gutmann | In 2008, when all eyes were fixed on the global economy, a milestone slipped quietly by. For the first time in all human history, the world’s city dwellers outnumbered those living in the countryside. Just three years later, the number of people on the planet surpassed seven billion. This development did garner attention, since anyone over the age of 45 at the time was born into a world of fewer than half that number.

These events only hint at the enormity of the changes on the way. By the year 2050, demographers predict there will be nine billion people living on the planet, two thirds of them living in cities. Currently a billion people—mostly in Africa and Asia—face food insecurity and regularly experience hunger. So the question urgently arises: How will all those nine billions be fed?

Meeting that challenge will require just the kind of broadly collaborative, discipline-blending out-of-the-box thinking that we do so well at Penn.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that the world’s first international conference examining urbanization and food security occurred on the Penn campus in March. Feeding Cities: Food Security in a Rapidly Urbanizing World brought together leading scholars and public policymakers from around the globe. The Penn Institute for Urban Research hosted the conference in partnership with the School of Veterinary Medicine and guided by a steering committee of Penn faculty and staff from nine of our 12 schools and six centers. The conference reflected two preeminent achievements of our Making History campaign. It demonstrates how Penn is uniquely suited to bring the very best minds from across disciplines to bear on the truly big challenges we face. And it shows how, more and more, we will be doing this work in a global context.

Increasing Penn’s global engagement is a core mission in our Penn Compact. Across the University, our eminent faculty and outstanding students and staff have embraced this goal with tremendous energy and far-ranging expertise. They have helped us make significant strides. Penn is leading the way in developing initiatives that embrace three fundamental goals: preparing our students for an increasingly globalized economy; strengthening Penn as a global agenda-setter; and promoting healthy, inspiring, productive lives all around the world.

In many ways we have already made considerable progress. Of our undergraduate student body today, 13 percent come from outside the United States representing more than 100 countries. Penn has one of the largest communities of international students in the Ivy League. Since 2006, we have further strengthened our international student community through our innovative Penn World Scholars Program, which offers financial assistance to outstanding student-scholars chosen from a geographically, linguistically, and culturally diverse pool of outstanding applicants. The Penn World Scholars Program advances international engagement by enabling Scholars to meet with global leaders here and abroad, engage in hands-on civic learning, and fully participate in campus life.

The program brings to Penn students as richly divergent as Sohaib Khalid Hashmi from Pakistan, a bioengineering senior who published a paper in the Pakistan Pediatric Journal and back home captained his parliamentary debate team; sophomore Elena Kvak, who worked as an English tutor, edited her school newspaper, and was president of the Friends of the Orphanage in her native Uzbekistan, where she hopes to one day return to open a hospital and improve healthcare policy; and first-year student Remy Manzi, who survived the genocide in his native Rwanda that claimed 100 members of his extended family, and plans to return after graduating Penn to work to give his country a better government. This year, our World Scholars come from 41 countries spanning six continents, broadening the experience of all our students on the Penn campus while providing unique opportunities for our World Scholars to one day make invaluable contributions to life and society in their home countries.

Making ourselves open to the world benefits more than Penn. As the child of immigrants, I am keenly aware of the incalculable value that new people from new lands bring to this nation. In April I joined with dozens of other university presidents from the Ivy League and peer institutions in speaking out in favor of immigration reform. We are at our best when our academic communities embrace the most talented people from around the world. The United States of America is at its best when it does the same. We must increase access to American opportunity for talented international students, not diminish it. By the same token, I believe it is an educational and economic imperative that we build an expedited path to citizenship—such as the DREAM Act—for the tens of thousands of undocumented college-age Americans, many of them born and raised in this country, who are in an untenable circumstance through no fault of their own.

Global engagement of course means much more than bringing high-achieving international students to our campus. Approximately one third of Penn faculty report that they engage in global research and teaching, across 180 countries. Outside of Europe, this includes four key regions with high concentrations of activity: China and East Asia, India and South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Penn also has a network of over 25,000 alumni living outside the United States with more than 120 clubs promoting their ongoing connection to our University. The full breadth and scope of Penn’s global engagement is more than can be effectively portrayed in a single column. But as they say, there’s a website for that, <> , where you can find extensive information and resources about the myriad ways Penn connects around the world. I invite you to spend a few minutes exploring the Penn Global Activities Map found there, which provides an intriguing visual representation of the scale of our international involvement.

Over time, the true measure of Penn’s global engagement will be how effectively we integrate a global perspective, global teaching, and global opportunities into the daily lives of our faculty and students. That aspiration received a powerful boost in March when University Trustee Richard Perry and his wife Lisa generously established a new World House at Penn. The Perry World House will be in our heart of campus at 38th and Locust Walk. Perry World House will be our new global hub where faculty, students, and eminent international scholars will come together to explore matters of worldwide importance. It will serve as a locus for building Penn’s presence abroad and strengthening our opportunities for thought leadership on global issues. Its innovative spaces will attract leading thinkers from around the world and enhance the flow of ideas between Penn and international policymakers. Major conferences, publications, and high-profile speakers will bring added expertise and outreach to the exciting work being done day-to-day at Perry World House. In every way, the Perry World House will make Penn’s position as a leading global university even stronger.

In decades to come, issues like the great global food challenge will intersect with other far-ranging challenges such as the obesity epidemic, climate change, energy, fresh water supply, pandemic diseases, economic equilibrium, and other issues we cannot even foresee today. Solutions will come most readily to those who work creatively across boundaries of discipline, specialty, and diverse national perspectives. Increasingly, those answers will come from Penn: an eminent American university that is at home in the world and welcomes the world to its home.

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