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Fast Talk: Philly Soul

Ivory towers no longer, universities today drive the vitality of their communities, says Penn president Amy Gutmann.

Fast Talk: Philly Soul

Amy Gutmann

President, University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Gutmann, 57, took the helm at Penn in 2004. Her mission quickly became to reshape the university for the 21st century. Her Penn Connects project, a $1.94 billion development between campus and the Schuylkill River, will be completed by 2030.

"The notion that a great urban university could advance academically and at the same time drive a city and an economy forward used to be a theory. Well, that theory has proof in Penn. We contribute $9.6 billion annually to the regional economy and are Philadelphia's largest private employer. But we need to further embrace our role as an economic engine.

We're building nanotechnology, neurobiology, and proton therapy centers that will have a multiplier effect. They will bring young professionals to Philadelphia for jobs in high-tech fields that are not just life enhancing but also life saving. Another important part of Penn Connects is transforming an ugly 24-acre industrial zone—the largest land purchase in our history—into a vibrant neighborhood with environmentally sustainable architecture and inviting green space and walkways that literally connect us to our community.

Other universities have pushed science and technology economies ahead, representing the type of growth we envision—Stanford and Silicon Valley being the most obvious example. But Penn is a real urban university with disadvantage in its midst. What's generating excitement and support in Philadelphia is what our growth is going to mean for development in these communities. Our directive is to make the university ever better, but we see that as part and parcel of making Philadelphia the next great city."

A version of this article appeared in the May 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.