A Layered Approach

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

By Blake Cole

When we converse about our favorite TV show or debate the issues of the day, most of us are unaware of the complex processes that make this communication possible. One of the many strengths of research at Penn is our faculty’s drive to unpack everyday phenomena. Our cover story, “Widening the Lens on Language Study,” does just this, examining language across fields as diverse as psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy, education, computer science, and artificial intelligence in order to investigate big questions like how babies learn language and how accents develop. 

We explore further how multiple approaches can lead to solutions in “From Cityscape to Lab Space,” which tells the story of how Penn faculty and students are bringing scholarly attention to issues and neighborhoods too often swept under the rug. From teaching philosophy to first-graders to analyzing road dust for harmful pollutants, these faculty and students are making the city a better, safer place to live in. 

The Healing Word” is a more personal journey through the life and career of anthropologist Deborah Thomas, who uses many approaches to give voice to those affected by violence. In a career that began by promoting social change through dance and now addresses the wrongs of the past through documentary filmmaking, she is giving strength to those in pain and helping future academics step outside the bounds of conventional research to increase their impact on communities. 

Penn students and alumni are leading their own efforts to reveal truths and make a difference in society. The students featured in “The Stories We Tell” are on a uniquely important quest to understand Penn’s involvement with slavery in the University’s earliest decades. Student investigators pored over archives from the University, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and a database of Pennsylvania tax records. 

And in the alumni sphere, “Launching Liberal Arts Careers” highlights how the Penn Arts and Sciences Professional Women’s Alliance is connecting female students and recent graduates with accomplished alumnae for mentorship and career exploration. 

Why (Women’s) Politics Hasn’t Changed That Much” sees political scientist Dawn Teele examine why a record number of women are running for office in November’s midterms and beyond, while our alumni Q&A, “From the Printing Press to Online Marketplaces,” tells of a career in tech that has roots in 17th-century advancements. And in “Sustainability in Action,” we follow our intrepid students as they travel to Berlin and Rotterdam to meet architects, activists, engineers, and policymakers involved in ambitious sustainability projects and policymaking. 

For some fun—but still rigorous—scholarship, check out our Insomnia section, which this time around includes an academic investigation into UFO conspiracy theories, and a profile on a student who is catalyzing social change one pair of sneakers at a time. 

With each issue, we look forward to sharing the stories behind the exciting research coming out of Penn Arts and Sciences in a way that speaks to the intellectual and dreamer within us all. Thanks for reading.