Turning Ideas Into Action

Monday, November 21, 2016

By Steven J. Fluharty

Steven J. Fluharty, Dean and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience. Photo credit: Candace DiCarlo

President Gutmann’s vision for Penn embraces transforming knowledge that originates here into solutions for pressing needs, locally and globally. This vision is not only shared by the School of Arts and Sciences, it is woven into our strategic plan, Foundations and Frontiers. The urgent need to find more sustainable ways to meet our demand for energy and to reexamine our relationship with the environment; the possibilities that the new frontiers of understanding the mind present for everything from someday halting the progression of neurodegenerative diseases to reversing the brain and behavioral impact of childhood trauma; the imperative to understand and address the harmful consequences of pervasive inequality in our society: these are all areas that we at Penn Arts and Sciences have prioritized, recognizing the potential to maximize our impact on society.

Expanding our impact through policy spheres is another priority of our plan. This includes building on the work of faculty like Emilio Parrado, an immigration expert and professor and chair of sociology. He and his colleagues have partnered with a local grassroots immigrant organization and have put in motion a process to measure and document the immigrant experience of Latinos in South Philadelphia. With funding from the School and the Netter Center, he has also incorporated service learning into a sociology course that exposes researchers and undergraduates to immigrant communities. The School will be expanding engagement like this through our new Making a Difference in Diverse Communities program, which will support initiatives that engage teams of students and faculty in research and services within various local, national, and even international communities.

Policy research is also being advanced by a new hub in the School’s Fels Institute of Government, called the Fels Policy Research Initiative (FPRI). One of the first activities undertaken by FPRI has been to award seed funding, provided by the School, toward interdisciplinary policy-
focused projects. Among these are a project led by Professor and Chair of Criminology Richard Berk, with Cary Coglianese of the Law School, to engage social scientists broadly in discussion of improving government through the new frontiers of machine learning. This conversation, as well as Berk’s own research on applications of big data to problems in criminal justice, have profound policy implications for some of our nation’s most pressing social issues.

In keeping with our commitment to global inquiries, our faculty, students, and centers continue to engage in scholarship and service all over the world. We seek to expand unique opportunities like the summer internships offered through the Center for the Advanced Study of India, which have been placing students in a wide range of organizations in India since 2008 (see p. 60). At the same time, we continue to bring the world to our campus. Just weeks ago, I introduced the President of Mongolia at an event co-sponsored by our Center for East Asian Studies and the newly opened Perry World House. And with the recruitment of key senior scholars including Beth Simmons, the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Law and Political Science, our faculty strength in international relations is stronger than ever.

The School’s strategic plan is providing a blueprint for all of these initiatives, and more. I for one am looking forward to watching the innovative ideas of our faculty in action, the inspiring initiatives of our students, and the many ways that the impact of Penn Arts and Sciences will be felt in communities locally and globally.