Our 15 favorite stories from 2022

From interdisciplinary research and life-changing discoveries to a new University president and everything in between, this year at Penn has been one for the books. We document our favorite stories below.

student in classroom
Students from Paul Robeson High School mimicked Philadelphia topography using aluminum foil and pieces of sponge in a hands-on lesson about water quality and hydrology at the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center. Support from Penn’s Projects for Progress initiative is enhancing the resources the Center uses to run such programming.

This year is one that could never be simply defined. Faculty, staff, and students at Penn emerged from the thick of a pandemic and online learning, showcased our adaptability, and whole-heartedly immersed ourselves into a new normal—one with its fair share of ups and downs, but an undoubted appreciation for the power of community. 

The writers and editors at Penn Today, alongside our dedicated photographers, videographers, designers, and web developers, worked each day of 2022 to bring the stories of Penn to life. In total, we produced well over 1,000 original stories that touched on the arts, humanities, and social sciences; education, business, and law; health sciences; science and technology; sports; and campus and community writ large. 

We unveiled the intricacies of scholars’ life-changing research, we untangled important current events, we showcased our inspiring students, and we documented monumental happenings on campus (including not one, but two Commencement celebrations), while saying farewell to Penn’s longest-serving president and warmly welcoming our ninth

Narrowing down our 15 favorite stories from 2022 was no easy feat, but we provide an attempt below. Give each piece a well-deserved second read over break, and don’t sleep on our honorable mentions, either.

graduates celebrate on franklin field
Penn held its 266th Commencement celebration on Monday, May 16. The ceremony was held at Franklin Field and honored the Class of 2022.

From a pandemic, scientific insights poised to impact more than COVID-19 

Pivoting to study SARS-CoV-2, many scientists on campus have launched new research projects that address the challenges of the pandemic but also prepare us to confront future challenges.

Empowering refugees through education 

The student-led group Penn for Refugee Empowerment offers tutoring and helps refugee-resettlement organizations with after-school programming, childcare, home setup, and event assistance.

Tangen Hall brings together aspiring entrepreneurs across the University 

At seven stories and 68,000 square feet, the Wharton-led Tangen is the largest student entrepreneurship hub in the world.

Mask and Wig
The Mask and Wig Club made history when they took the stage Oct. 12-15 in the fall show, “Better Call Y’all,” the first gender-inclusive production since its founding as an all-male comedy group in 1889. The cast rehearsed at the Platt House for the Performing Arts.

The changing face of portraiture at Penn 

Efforts around campus aim to diversify those honored in portraits and rethink how to approach representation through art.

The future of forests 

With a warming climate, trees face an onslaught of changes—heat, drought, fire, flood, pests, and disease. How will they respond?

The return of the Penn Relays, directed by Steve Dolan

Dolan, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays, discusses the resumption of the world-famous meet after a two-year break, notable athletes who will be competing, new programming and features, and what makes the Relays so special.

The fossil hunter

Claire Conklin Sabel, a doctoral student in Penn’s History and Sociology of Science department, uncovers the findings of 18th-century amateur naturalist Elizabeth Thomas, along with artist and illustrator Alix Pentecost-Farren, who brings Thomas’ work to life.

Shapeshifting microrobots can brush and floss teeth

In a proof-of-concept study, researchers from the School of Dental Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science show that a hands-free system could effectively automate the treatment and removal of tooth-decay-causing bacteria and dental plaque.

Inside the Quaker’s head

Sophia Zehler recently earned her master’s degree from the Fels Institute of Government. The first-generation Cuban American also spent the year as Penn’s mascot, her third mascotting position in five years.

At the Annenberg Center, 50 years of experimentation

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new season and a planned building expansion. Penn Today looks back at the Center’s history—and where it’s going under Penn Live Arts.

Sophia Zehler in Quaker costume
Most people who don mascot suits are male, meaning Sophia Zehler, who identifies as female, falls in the minority. “Some roles are male-dominated and that’s something I’ve learned to maneuver,” she says. “I was not shocked that I was one of the few.”

Bolstering environmental education in Cobbs Creek

Through a Projects for Progress award and other University support, students in West Philadelphia are gaining greater access to STEM learning resources at the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center.

Iran protests, explained 

Historian Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, an expert on modern Iran and gender in the School of Arts & Sciences, discusses what sparked the protests and why they’re important.

Making Mask and Wig history 

The 133-year-old comedy troupe becomes gender-inclusive, opening auditions to all undergraduates this fall, recruiting 20 new members, 14 of them female-identifying.

A ‘new beginning’ for Penn 

The University celebrated the inauguration of Liz Magill, its ninth president, on Friday, Oct. 21.

At COP27, Penn showcased its diverse climate expertise on the world stage 

More than 30 representatives from the University traveled to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for two weeks of negotiations at this year’s United Nations climate change conference.

Honorable mentions go to the following stories: 
Mentor support for the first-generation college experienceThe ‘music’ of one poet’s words, translatedQ&A with Penn’s Interim President Wendell PritchettSARS-CoV-2 is moving between humans and wildlifeInspiring the next generation of archive scholarsNine questions for Penn’s ninth presidentExploring Mongolia with an insider’s view, no luggage necessaryCan nature-inspired designs affect cognition and mood?A robot made of sticks; and Turning carbon emissions into rocks