In Houston Hall’s Hall of Flags on Tuesday evening, members of the Penn community were quick to network and share ideas around café tables. Among those gathered were staff, faculty, and students across Penn, from the Weitzman School of Design and Penn Medicine, the School of Arts & Sciences and the Graduate School of Education, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the Office of Social Equity and Community. The recipients of the 2023 Projects for Progress (P4P) awards joined their peers and mentors, along with previous P4P award recipients, at a reception. The director of the Office of Social Equity and Community, Nicole Maloy, introduced the event. “This work in Philadelphia is a priority for Penn. Penn is made of its people, and this is but a small cross section of the hundreds throughout the University who do this work year round.”
“Today is a day,” she added, “for us to celebrate you, to acknowledge you for choosing to help make lives better.”
University Provost John L. Jackson Jr. offered welcoming remarks. “The folks in this room awarded the prize have done what brought me to the academy,” Jackson said. He explained the origin of P4P: In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Penn established the fund to draw students, staff, and faculty to the design of pilot projects to address societal issues. The projects encourage the use of Penn research and introduce new ideas for meaningful impact. Jackson added, “Penn is committed to social justice and community empowerment, but our greatest asset is our people.”
“The awards represent a unique commitment from students, faculty, and staff to solve real world problems in ways that have positive impacts,” Jackson said. “The teams are personally invested in the meaning and significance of the work, and see the results firsthand.” And, Jackson added, “we recognize how much this work inspires others.”
University chaplain and vice president of the Office of Social Equity and Community Charles “Chaz” Howard presented the awards. He began by acknowledging the reality of the day. “It has been a hard year on campus and in the world,” he said.
“On this day, Jan. 30, 1956, in Montgomery Alabama, in the middle of a boycott of segregated transit, Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was firebombed.” His wife and daughter were unharmed, but supporters showed up at the house with weapons. King, Howard continued, told the crowd, “We cannot solve these problems with violence.” The problems of racism, oppressive poverty, violence, health and education disparities are still present, said Howard, who wondered aloud, “So, how do we solve them? A glimpse into a portion of the answers is here today.”
First to receive their award was The Breathing Room cohort: Joseph Brand, the site director at the Sayre University-Assisted Community School at Penn’s Netter Center; Dyan Castro, project manager and research associate for Penn Praxis in the Weitzman School; Heather Klusaritz, director of the Division of Community Health at the Perelman School of Medicine; and Amanda Peña, a 2023 graduate of the Master of City Planning program at Weitzman.
The Breathing Room: A Wellness Space for Youth at Sayre High School was developed collaboratively by Penn students and Sayre students. The space will lend itself to data collection and analysis in order to address racial disparities in public school infrastructure and social determinants of health.
Positioned for Success was awarded for providing academic support and enrichment, high school preparation, and mentoring services to middle school students in Philadelphia in the child welfare system who have been affected by gun violence and/or parental incarceration. The team is comprised of Taussia Boadi, a sociology undergrad in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences (SAS); Cheryl Nandi, a criminology undergrad in SAS; and Ariane Thomas, the director of the Professional Counseling Program in Penn’s Graduate School of Education.
Lastly, United Community Clinic was awarded for addressing and combatting disparities in accessing care for minority and immigrant populations. It will work in conjunction with local leaders and organizations to facilitate health screening, primary care, and women’s health care directly within these communities. The team from Penn Medicine is comprised of Michael Beers, the Robert L. Mayock and David A. Cooper Professor of Medicine in the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division; Cindy Christian, assistant dean of Community Engagement and director of Interprofessional Education; Megan Doherty, director of operations and programming at the Center for Global Health; and Richard Wender, professor and chair of family medicine and community health and executive director of the Center for Public Health Initiatives.
Closing the ceremony, Howard acknowledged the selection committee, who identified the winning cohorts from a competitive pool of applicants, and noted that their work had only just begun again: The deadline for the 2024 P4P applications was on Jan. 28. To the winning 2023 cohort, Howard concluded: “I salute you all.”