Something Really Big—and Good—in the World

Five members of Penn’s Class of 2015 have won the first round of President’s Engagement Prizes, for four projects that include building a rainwater catchment and purification system in Kenya, designing a home-care rehabilitation program for cardiac patients, creating a school and community clinic in Ghana, and supporting a national empowerment and advocacy network for girls in high school.

President Amy Gutmann established the prizes last August [“From College Hall,” Sept|Oct 2014]. Open to seniors in Penn’s four undergraduate schools, they provide $50,000 for living expenses and up to $100,000 to implement the selected projects in their first year after graduation.

“Penn values putting knowledge to work for the good of society and the good of communities,” says Gutmann, explaining the thinking behind the awards, which she calls a key component in Penn’s commitment to local, national, and global engagement in the Penn Compact 2020. “We have lots and lots of prizes that reward students for academic achievement; the Engagement Prizes reward more than that.”

While all of the winners are “excellent students,” what sets them apart is their “amazing ability and an amazing eagerness to put their knowledge to work.” Each had already been active in helping communities while at Penn. “What we’re doing with these prizes is enabling them to move on right after Commencement and do something really big in the world.”

(From left to right) Adrian Lievano EAS’15, Matthew Lisle EAS’15, Jodi Feinberg Nu’15, Shadrack Frimpong C’15, and Katlyn Grasso W’15.

That bigness—the prizes are the largest of their kind in higher education, Gutmann says—was part of the point. Penn wants them to be to civic engagement what prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall, and Gates are more generally. “We want these to be any student’s first choice if they want to go out post-Commencement and do something that does well by doing good,” she says.

In all, some 25 projects were submitted, involving 37 students—an impressively large and varied group given the extensive application process, which included an original proposal, a “realistic budget,” a recommendation and continuing participation from a faculty mentor, and buy-in from a community partner. Each of the submitted projects met those requirements, and the fact that so many faculty mentors were “more than willing and eager to give their time—unrecompensed—to support these projects” was also “pretty impressive,” she adds.

The pool of applications was so strong that the selection committee, which included representatives from each undergraduate school, was unable to stick to the announced limit of three winning projects, Gutmann notes. Luckily, “given the generosity of the donors”—Judith WG’81 and William G. Bollinger; Lee Spelman Doty W’76 and George E. Doty Jr W’76; and James S. Riepe W’65 WG’67 Hon’10 and Gail Petty Riepe CW’68—“we were able to support four.”

For their winning project, Adrian Lievano EAS’15 and Matthew Lisle EAS’15 proposed to develop and implement a rainwater catchment and purification system in Kimana, Kenya. After installing the system, their group will continue to provide support and education to the community. Stanley Laskowski, a lecturer and academic advisor in the master of environmental studies program, is their faculty mentor for the project.

Jodi Feinberg Nu’15 plans to set up and evaluate a home-care model for cardiac rehabilitation that aims to bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient care so that patients can continue to make progress in their recovery. She’ll be working with New York University Langone Medical Center and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York on the project, and her mentor is Terri Lipman GNu’83 GrN’91, the Miriam Stirl Endowed Term Professor of Nutrition, professor of nursing of children, and assistant dean for community engagement in the School of Nursing.

Shadrack Frimpong C’15 will return to his impoverished home village of Tarkwa Breman in Ghana to establish a school and clinic there. The Tarkwa Breman Model School for Girls and Community Clinic will educate young girls in the village, and will also provide services to people in Tarkwa Breman and seven other nearby villages. Frimpong’s mentor is Harvey Rubin Gr’74, professor of medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine.

Katlyn Grasso W’15 will use the prize to extend her work with GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high-school girls that she founded. Her project will give participating students the chance to launch advocacy campaigns that address issues in their community, as well as strengthen girls’ confidence and personal growth nationwide. Grasso is being mentored by Lee Kramer WEv’07, director of student life at Wharton.

Besides the good work that the prizes will undoubtedly make possible, notifying the winners also made for one of Gutmann’s best days as president: “Never have I had five calls in a row that were so joyful,” she says. “They either shouted for joy or cried for joy.

“So, we’re off and running,” she adds. “Now I can’t wait to bring them back to speak to other students and tell us what worked, and what didn’t work, and what kind of satisfaction they’ve gotten out of being an Engagement Prize-winner.” —J.P.

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