“This pandemic has thrown us a lot of curveballs,” presidential nominee Liz Magill noted in a January interview [“Gazetteer,” this issue]. The immediate context was the process that led to her selection to succeed Amy Gutmann as Penn’s next president, which included both in-person meetings (while the Delta variant was waning) and an announcement of her selection absent public fanfare (while Omicron was in the ascendant), but it certainly applies more generally.
Looking back at what I wrote in this space two months ago, I see an implicit assumption that the pandemic was slipping into the past tense. Not so, not yet. In this issue, we offer two prominent voices in the effort to craft effective mitigation strategies and share accurate information about COVID—Ezekiel Emanuel in “Gazetteer” and Bob Wachter C’79 M’83 in “Alumni Profiles”—on what it will still take to get us there. Also in “Gazetteer,” we report on how Penn handled the challenge of the Omicron surge in starting the spring semester.
When I spoke with Magill—who is currently executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia, in which post she has taken a significant role in managing the impact of the pandemic on that campus—she talked about what she had come to realize and appreciate about “the DNA” of Penn. She pointed to the University’s “mix of pragmatism, creativity, and humanity”; its longstanding commitment to “use what it does to better society”; and its “excellence without a trace of self-satisfaction or complacency.”
George Matysik CGS’10, the subject of our cover story, “The Hunger to End Hunger,” by associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03, certainly exemplifies those qualities—along with an extraordinary energy and persistence. Higher education seemed out of reach for Matysik when he graduated high school in a hardscrabble Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, but a job as a janitor at Penn, where he mopped floors and cleaned toilets in College Hall and the Towne Building, allowed him to take advantage of the University’s tuition benefit for employees to earn a degree in Penn’s then College of General Studies (now Liberal and Professional Studies) as an urban studies major.
After stints in politics and at other nonprofits, in 2019 Matysik became the executive director of the Share Food Program, the city’s largest hunger relief organization. Since then, with COVID both increasing the need for the program’s services and creating new challenges to providing them, Matysik has expanded the group’s workforce and broadened its reach in communities within and around Philadelphia—and is still looking for new ways to accomplish its critical mission whatever the future holds.
The impact on animal healthcare of the pandemic-fueled explosion in pet ownership is just one of the stressors affecting veterinarians, who in surveys report themselves more prone to depression and suicidal thoughts than the general population. Others include sometimes crushing student debt, comparatively low salaries, lack of respect and inflated expectations from clients, and even cyberbullying.
For “Rescue Mission,” frequent contributor Kathryn Levy Feldman LPS’09 talked with Carrie Jurney, who did post-graduate study at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine and is the current board president of the support group Not One More Vet, about her organization’s mission and efforts. She also interviewed key faculty and staff at Penn Vet about the school’s ongoing programs to enhance student and alumni well-being.
(By a sad coincidence, while this story was being prepared for publication, my family lost our beloved cat Katie. Though almost 19 years old, she was still active—until an apparent blood clot suddenly left her unable to walk or stand. The compassion and patience of the doctor and staff at our local vet’s office as we worked through the decision to euthanize her was an enormous comfort to us and a reminder to me of the incredible value of veterinarians’ work, at Penn and elsewhere.)
Why this issue looks different. Due to supply chain problems and a paper shortage widely affecting magazines, this issue is printed on different paper than our regular stock. We have also had to reduce the page count. We hope to be back to our usual length and look by next time!
—John Prendergast C’80