Global Engagement


The University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design has a culturally diverse community, with students from 38 U.S. states and 37 countries. The faculty includes instructors from Africa, North and South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. We recognize that design is an increasingly global enterprise; cross-cultural understanding and global thinking are required to succeed professionally and advance the public good, which are both central to the School’s mission. Preparing students to become leading practitioners or scholars demands not only a conceptual understanding of difference, but direct experience of diverse geographies, histories, and populations.

Developing Meaningful Global and Cross-Cultural Understanding

Across the School, we encourage students to explore issues affecting the built and natural environment in communities around the world, and we facilitate cross-cultural awareness, sensitivity, and exchange. The Weitzman School aims to provide every student with the opportunity to travel internationally in a fall or spring elective studio or a summer program; there is a dedicated Travel Week every semester to encourage participation. In 2017, students travelled to Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Cartagena, the Galapagos Islands, Pienza, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Seoul, Tijuana, and Tokyo. In each travel studio, students are introduced to the cultural, economic, and political histories of their site with the expectation that their work will be informed by their first–hand experiences of these dimensions during their visits. The departments of architecture and landscape architecture have ongoing collaborations with schools, governments, and businesses on three continents that support faculty research and student exchanges. Outside of studios, the study of history and theory engages students in using different cultural lenses to understand the built environment and artistic production. Select courses in historic preservation and city planning take up international policies, such as the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda, and this year the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy rostered two new courses focused on the geopolitics of energy and the global energy system. The Department of Fine Arts offers courses dedicated to cross-cultural understanding, such as “The Chinese Body and Spatial Consumption in Chinatown” and “Re-imagining Tiananmen Square.”

Fostering Curiosity and Competency in the World

The Weitzman School encourages a global outlook outside of the curriculum as well. The School’s five programs bring more than 50 renowned designers and scholars—many of them from abroad—to campus every year for lectures. The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy awards funding on a competitive basis for both undergraduate and graduate students to attend international conferences; participate in internships abroad; work on research projects with international travel components; and participate in non-credit based learning opportunities overseas. Historic preservation faculty conduct research in China, Cuba, England, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Turkey, and the UAE through cooperative agreements with national agencies. PennPraxis, the center for applied research at the Weitzman School, has expanded its mission to include design, planning and ecological challenges worldwide, in both urban and rural contexts. For example, in 2017, PennPraxis enabled three Weitzman students to travel to South Africa and Botswana, in partnership with Penn Center for Global Health, to develop new approaches to medical product design and improve the accessibility of health resources.

Addressing Major Global Questions  

Although the School supports a wide-ranging research agenda on the built environment, faculty from various departments have converged around several interconnected topics of relevance to developed and developing nations: climate change, water, agriculture, energy policy, urbanization, transportation infrastructure, immigration, and cultural heritage. Weitzman faculty have led a series of studios on river landscapes and cities of the monsoon in India, which were supported by the Mumbai government and business community, and the Srishti School of Design, Art and Technology in Bangalore. The Weitzman School is committed to continuing its engagement in India; Professor Anu Mathur’s spring 2018 studio will travel to the Rajasthan Desert, and she recently submitted two proposals (as a lead and as a collaborator) to the India Research and Engagement Fund. Faculty from all five of the School’s departments are engaged in multiple ongoing projects in China, including a multi-year initiative funded through the China Research and Engagement Fund. The Weitzman School has partnered with leading academics and practitioners from some of the fastest-growing cities in China to address the conservation of buildings, districts, and landscapes; the use of "intelligent" urban systems; and the applications of regional and mega-regional thinking to improve quality of life. Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture Richard Weller is studying the clash between biodiversity and urban growth in 36 global hotspots; his online atlas is a major new resource to NGOs and policy makers as well as designers and planners. Landscape architecture and city planning faculty have published extensively on informal settlements, particularly in South and Central America, and on speculative development in Europe and Africa.

Catalyzing Transformative Ideas Impacting the World

A steady stream of research with global implications originates in the Kleinman Center and the Penn Institute for Urban Research (IUR). From 2015-17, the Center awarded research grants to faculty for studies of energy-related topics in Canada, China, Cuba, and Rwanda. The Center hosted Visiting Scholars from Australia, Brazil, France, and India. Penn IUR Co-director and Professor of City and Regional Planning Genie Birch co-edits Penn Press’s City in the 21st Century series on international urbanization; she is also president of the General Assembly of Partners, an international platform for urban issues comprising 1,200 organizations and 58,000 networks. In 2016, Birch led a delegation of City and Regional Planning PhD candidates to Ecuador for Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development. This year, the Kleinman Center and Penn IUR teamed with Perry World House to lead a delegation to the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur in February 2018, following a series of white papers on sustainable urban development. The recently-launched Ian L. McHarg Center—a think tank for combatting climate change where populations are most vulnerable—will help position the Weitzman School as a global leader in urban ecological design.

Support for International Students and Activities

The Weitzman School has developed a number of specialized programs to welcome and integrate an increasing number of international students into our community. A mandatory orientation for incoming international students featuring the Director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) introduces many of the social, cultural, and academic practices associated with studying in the US and provides opportunities for students to interact with other international students and faculty at Penn. The School sponsors social events throughout the year, often in partnership with student affinity groups, to recognize our multi-cultural community, such as a celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year, Indian and Latino Culture, and Thanksgiving. The School also provides financial and logistical support for international students exploring important issues facing their countries of origin, such as the newly formed Urban China Collective (UCC). The Weitzman School actively promotes the University’s support services for international students. The Associate Director for Student Affairs works closely with CAPS to present programs aimed at reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health services and linking students to therapists and other practitioners who speak their native language. The Associate Director refers students to the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program, the Marks Family Writing Center, and the Weingarten Learning Center, and he has recently introduced a public speaking workshop series specifically for international students. The Weitzman School also works with ISSS to hold information sessions and individual appointments in Meyerson Hall at least once a semester to encourage students to seek guidance from ISSS.

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