Projects for Progress, two years in

An Oct. 17 event celebrated the achievements of six teams working to promote equity and inclusion in Philadelphia by addressing health care, education, and systemic racism.

A group of people in front of a PowerPoint that reads "Penn Projects for Progress"
The Projects for Progress awards reception celebrated the 2021 and 2022 recipients. 2021 recipients are pictured with Charles “Chaz” Howard, University Chaplain and Vice President for Social Equity & Community. (Image: Eddy Marenco)  

In 2021, three Projects for Progress (P4P) teams set out to improve the quality of life in West Philadelphia: one by addressing the primary care needs of homeless and underserved people, one by revamping the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center, and one by addressing the COVID-induced learning gap in elementary school students and educators. An Oct. 17 event celebrated the work of these teams and their 2022 counterparts. Six P4P groups have received awards since the initiative’s inception.

First awarded in 2021, the Projects for Progress are managed by Penn’s Office of Social Equity & Community, which distributed $100,000 each to three teams of Penn students, faculty, and staff working to promote equity and inclusion in Philadelphia by addressing health care, education, and environmental justice. 

For Caroline Watts of the Graduate School of Education, the award’s timing was crucial. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many students in the School District of Philadelphia were out of the classroom for more than a year. A joint team from the Graduate School of Education and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships worked to address this gap, wrapping Netter’s annual summer programming in an added layer of academic and mental health support. The award also funded school-year support for educators at 15 schools in West and Southwest Philadelphia, including professional development, algebra readiness clubs, and mental health consultation.

“With the Projects for Progress award, we were able to put our ideas into action at a time when resources were urgently needed to help students and teachers return to in-person learning,” Watts says. “This award enabled us to respond to critical learning and development needs and to provide children with a joyful in-person experience after a long period of isolation.” 

Ricky Brathwaite, a Ph.D. student at the Perelman School of Medicine, is part of a 2022 P4P team that is working to lower the burden of cancer disparities in West Philadelphia. The award provides funding for cancer education and screening kits while helping the team demystify cancer research participation through conversation, all concentrated in West Philadelphia. “It helps us change from ‘their’ community to ‘our’ community by actively reallocating resources through service to meet people where they are,” Brathwaite says.

The group has partnered with other agencies and organizations to extend their reach, and plans to expand their mission beyond colorectal cancer to include HPV testing as new at-home tests become available, in addition to providing free breast and cervical cancer early detection at events with mobile health units. The group is looking to “best serve the community with the work we do,” Brathwaite says.

The additional groups in the 2022 P4P cohort include the Economic Justice Partnership, which trains first-generation college students, students of color, and high school students to do peer coaching on financial education, and The Public Schools as Equity Infrastructure Studio+, a collaborative partnership working to design and implement public school campus upgrades that embody a new system-wide vision for schools as equity infrastructure.

The 2023 applications will go live on Jan. 17. Applications are due by Jan. 29.

A woman holds up a glass award
Claudia Melendez holds her 2022 award.

2021 recipients:

Shelter Health Outreach Program – Community-Based Primary Care:

Evelyn Gotlieb, Wharton 2021— undergraduate, concentration in health care management and policy, minor in chemistry

Junduo Liu, College of Arts & Sciences 2022 – undergraduate, double major in biochemistry and health & societies, minor in bioethics

Michael Hagan, College of Arts & Sciences 2022— undergraduate, major in neuroscience

Ian McCurry, Perelman School of Medicine 2022— doctor of medicine program

Deepti Tantry, College of Arts & Sciences 2022— undergraduate, major in neuroscience, minor in health care management

Mentor: Joseph Teel, Perelman School of Medicine– associate professor of clinical family medicine and community health

Bridging Gaps and Building Capacity: Student and Educator Supports for School Reopening in Learning Network 2

Caroline Watts, Graduate School of Education— director, Office of School & Community Engagement; senior lecturer, Professional Counseling Programs

Diane Waff, Graduate School of Education – professor of practice; director, Philadelphia Writing Project

Zachary Herrmann, Graduate School of Education— executive director, Center for Professional Learning

Marsha Richardson, Graduate School of Education— senior lecturer, human development & qualitative methods

Regina Bynum, Netter Center for Community Partnerships—director of teaching and learning, University Assisted Community Schools

A Collaborative Initiative to Renovate and Optimize the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center

Erica DePalma, formerly of the Water Center— research program coordinator, Earth and Environmental Science Department

Chinedu “Ocek” Eke, School of Engineering and Applied Science— director for graduate students programming, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Anna Balfanz, Netter Center for Community Partnerships— senior research coordinator

Cooper Yerby, School of Arts & Sciences 2023— doctoral program in earth and environmental science

2022 recipients:

The Economic Justice Partnership:

Brian Peterson, director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center

Khusi Shelat, Wharton 2023– undergraduate, statistics

Soloman Thomas, Wharton 2023— undergraduate, management/entrepreneurship & innovation. 

An initiative to lower the burden of cancer in West Philadelphia:

Roderick Brathwaite, Perelman School of Medicine— Ph.D. student, cell and molecular biology, cancer biology

Carmen Guerra, Perelman School of Medicine— Ruth C. and Raymond G. Perelman Associate Professor of Medicine

Erin Hollander, Perelman School of Medicine— MD/Ph.D. student, cell and molecular biology, cancer biology concentration

Claudia Melendez, School of Arts & Sciences 2023— undergraduate, neuroscience/international relations, chemistry minor

Michael Noji, Perelman School of Medicine— Ph.D. student, cell and molecular biology, cancer biology concentration

Armenta Washington, Abramson Cancer Center and Perelman School of Medicine—research coordinator senior, Office of Diversity and Outreach

Public Schools as Equity Infrastructure Studio+:

Anna Balfanz, Netter Center for Community Partnerships— Academically Based Community Service coordinator

Ellen Neises, Weitzman School of Design— executive director of PennPraxis and Laurie Olin Professor of Practice

Akira Rodriguez, Stuart Weitzman School of Design—assistant professor, Department of City & Regional Planning

Elinor Williams, Graduate School of Education— Ph.D. student, education policy

Corey Wills, Stuart Weitzman School of Design and School of Arts & Sciences—graduate student, master of city planning, master of environmental studies

Visit the Projects for Progress website for more information, or email