Staff Q&A: Parker Snowe

STAFF Q&A/Parker Snowe helps Wharton MBAs get immersed in global business. He also helps them park their bikes on campus.

“It’s my way of saying, ‘This is the difference I can make.’”

A year ago, after 15 years of bike commuting, Parker Snowe treated himself to a Brompton folding bicycle.

He still gets a kick out of how easy it is to stow the bike on the R3 train—folded up to the size of a suitcase—then flip it open at the University City station and pedal to his Huntsman Hall office. No bike rack worries for Snowe. He simply packs up his Brompton and parks it in the Graduate Division kitchen.

Still, the avid cyclist—and associate director of international programs for the Wharton School—spends much of his free time advocating for the rest of the Penn biking community, whose on-campus experience could, he says, be a whole lot better.

As past president of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Snowe has lobbied hard to make bike racks standard equipment on SEPTA buses and to bring bike lanes to University City. After organizing a successful summer “bike valet” service on campus, Snowe worked with Penn Design to devise a more permanent solution to bike parking at Penn. Now that the designs are done, he’s leading the fundraising effort for the project. When he’s not busy with bicycle matters, Snowe serves as academic advisor to Wharton graduate students. He also manages the international exchange program and runs the Global Immersion Program. It’s a job he loves, he says, because he never knows what will happen on a given day. And if he gets stressed, he can always unwind on his bike ride home.

Q. Why do you bike?

A. I think it’s a healthy way to get around town. It deals with the health issue and the gridlock issue and the air pollution issue, and for me it’s a pleasant way to relieve stress and get my exercise every day. I try to use my car as little as possible. It’s my way of saying, “This is the difference I can make.”

Q. And you’ve found biking company at Penn?

A. Yes, there’s a subculture here at Penn, not just students, but staff and faculty, too.

Q. How has your work with the Bicycle Coalition intersected with your life at Penn?

A. One of the things we did was have regular meetings of staff here at Penn to see what we could do to make Penn more bike friendly. The campus lends itself naturally to this kind of thing … University City has the highest number of bicycle trips in the city. At that time the Streets Department was putting in bike lanes and we lobbied them to please put us at the top of their priority list. As a result, the Spruce Street bike lane was put in a few years ago. We also lobbied for more bike racks on buses. You’ll see SEPTA buses now have racks on front.

Q. A Penn Design team—with your help—came up with designs for new bike racks. Will that project come to fruition?

A. My friends at the Coalition reminded me that the cycle for Federal government transportation enhancement funding was coming up so I said, ‘Let’s apply for a grant.’ We’re still waiting to hear if we got the money, but I feel confident. The number of people coming to campus is only going up and the number of parking lots is not going up.

Q. So tell me more about this fantastic folding bike.

A. It’s the perfect commuting bike, since as it’s a folder you can take it on any public transit vehicle at any time. Regular bikes are prohibited from trolleys and peak-hour regional rail trains and permitted only on buses outfitted with racks. It folds/unfolds in about 30 seconds and since it folds up I never need to bring a lock. It’s super easy to use and quite fun. It has six speeds, a bell and a bracket on the front that carries a specially made bag about the size of a large briefcase. So I never need to carry a backpack. I also have outfitted it with a front headlight for nighttime riding. Oh, and please mention that I never ride without a helmet!

Q. Switching gears here, why don’t you tell me about the Global Immersion Program.

A. It’s a half credit course and the centerpiece is a four-week study tour to an international destination that’s globally significant in the business world. This year we’re going to China, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. Over the winter break we ran a two-week tour to India. Usually they spend about one week in each city, so for example with China week one is Taiwan, week two is Hong Kong, week three is Beijing and week four is Shanghai. We spend about three days each week meeting different companies, asking “How do you do business in Taiwan? What’s the business scene like?” When it’s over they have to turn in a 10-page research paper on some aspect of doing business there. It’s an international experiential education. If you want to learn about Chinese business and you don’t have a semester to spend studying overseas it’s a wonderful way to get exposure to it and at the same time go to the Great Wall and go on a junk boat ride in Hong Kong.

Q. Any unexpected adventures?

A. Once we sent a group to Indonesia the year the government started shooting the university students there. We were there in Djakarta at that time and we had to get an emergency evacuation out of Djakarta because our group was caught in the crossfire between the police and the student demonstrators. And we had to lay down the China program one year because of SARS.

Q. How do students sign up for the program?

A. They register for these courses just like any other at Wharton. It’s just a course with a really, really big text book fee.

Parker Snowe