Penn's Netter Center Celebrates 25 Years

As the Netter Center for Community Partnerships marks a major milestone with 25 years of community projects, Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and founding director, spoke with President Amy Gutmann about how the Center’s efforts mirror the strategic vision of the Penn Compact 2020.

A Conversation with Penn President Amy Gutmann and Ira Harkavy, Associate Vice President and Founding Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

Amy Gutmann: So, can you believe it, Ira, 25 years and the Netter Center has united the power of Penn's research and teaching with the potential of our West Philadelphia community.

Ira Harkavy: Mm-hm.

Amy Gutmann: And the impact has been enormous, and it's been enormous on our campus because we have these eminent faculty who get involved in teaching and research in the community. They bring the best students, and who really love civic engagement.

Ira Harkavy: Mm-hm.

Amy Gutmann: And then what you've done is really made us a model for the whole society, and the world.

Ira Harkavy: Thank you, you know, I have to say the faculty's role here has just been dramatic. We have something like over 60 faculty and staff every year working in ABCS courses, academically-based community service courses, which, as you know, involve the top scholars at the university working in the community and doing something different from other universities. If you think about this, Larry Gladney, associate dean, as you know—

Amy Gutmann: Mm-hm.

Ira Harkavy: Of natural sciences teaches a course on the Community Physics Initiative, and he has his students learn physics by teaching physics, and therefore, the students at these high schools in West Philadelphia get physics taught that they've never had taught before. The greatest contributions to knowledge are made when the talents and energies of young people and faculty members are directed together at the most pressing problems of our time.

Amy Gutmann: The Netter Center is absolutely central to the Penn Compact 2020, and the Penn Compact 2020 lays out the strategic vision that the Netter Center hits every mark on.

Ira Harkavy: Mm-hm.

Amy Gutmann: Inclusion, innovation, and impact, being a model for how universities, as anchor institutions, engage with their community—

Ira Harkavy: Absolutely.

Amy Gutmann: And make a difference. That, to me, just is proof, it's what scientists call an existence proof—

Ira Harkavy: Right.

Amy Gutmann: —of the Penn Compact 2020. If there's one thing that the Netter Center's about, in one word, maybe two words, it's community partnerships.

Ira Harkavy: Absolutely, you learn best when people bring knowledge from the academy and knowledge from the community together. That's the way you bring real knowledge and bring about real change.

Amy Gutmann: And across divides.

Ira Harkavy: And across divides.

Amy Gutmann: There are too many divides—

Ira Harkavy: Absolutely.

Amy Gutmann: —that don't meet in our society, and the Netter Center brings—

Ira Harkavy: Brings it together.

Amy Gutmann: —brings it together.

Ira Harkavy: That's key to locally—And it's key to democracy.

Amy Gutmann: Yes.

Ira Harkavy: It's key that we can talk and work together, and working on real projects, so Penn improves, because we're able to learn more, do more together. And the community members get resources they never would've happened before to improve the quality of life and learning in the community. So it's really core to our partnership, and core, really, how this country should be, so we're very proud of that.

Amy Gutmann: So am I.

Ira Harkavy: Right, that's true.

Amy Gutmann: And let's never forget the most important thing that the Netter Center, and Penn, does day in and day out, and that is launch these amazing students into the world to—

Ira Harkavy: Absolutely.

Amy Gutmann: —not only are committed to civic engagement and to doing good, but learn about it—

Ira Harkavy: Absolutely.

Amy Gutmann: —or credit.

Ira Harkavy: That's exactly why—

Amy Gutmann: —but also from their hearts and minds to really make a difference.

Ira Harkavy: In a certain way, I think that really is the main emphasis, to turn their natural idealism into practice, to realize—

Amy Gutmann: Bingo, yes.

Ira Harkavy: —what Benjamin Franklin has said about the purposes of our great institution, which is education for service, but doing it through engagement in the world.

Amy Gutmann: Here's to the Netter Center, here's to our friends and alumni, and Barbara and Edward Netter, who make this all possible, and here's to 25 more years of doing good by bringing knowledge into the world.

Ira Harkavy: Thank you so much, Amy, that's terrific. Thanks so much.

Amy Gutmann: Aw.