Penn Alumni offers a series of “Antiracist Education and Action” programs

Graphic for Penn Spectrum on the Road event, “Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest,” scheduled for 07/14/2020, 7-9PM EST.

Given the current racial tensions and incidents involving police brutality around the country, the Penn Alumni’sAntiracist Education and Action” series is timely and important. Starting as soon as tomorrow, the events range from a Zoom chat with Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) as he answers questions about his latest Black Lives Matter-centered cover story, to a discussion of the importance of Penn Alumni’s James Brister Society. The series has come into fruition concurrently with the announcement of Raymond S. Markowitz President’s Distinguished Professor CJ Taylor as Penn Engineering’s inaugural Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Find the full listing of events (to date) below.

Zoom Q&A with Penn Alum and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM PT/9:00 PM ET
Join Penn Club LA and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) for a timely and topical discussion on Tuesday, June 30 at 6 pm PT. Jamil will discuss his recent cover story in Rolling Stone (The Power of Black Lives Matter) and issues relating to the current social justice movement around Black Lives Matter and racial inequity in America.
Host: Penn Club of Los Angeles
Featuring: Jamil Smith C’97 
Click here to register. – –

La Casa Latina Combating Anti-Blackness Book Club

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM EDT
Please join us in reading and discussing: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. Join us Tuesday, June 30 at 6pm EST for a virtual discussion on the book!
Please RSVP at to receive Zoom link.
Host: La Casa Latina
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Solidarity and Allyship: LGBTQ and Black Communities

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 8:00 PM EDT
Due to Covid-19 and civil unrest in the country, this year’s PennGALA / YaleGALA annual Pride party has been rescheduled and in its place, we will be hosting a conversation about Pride, allyship and solidary between the Black and LGBTQ communities. We invite you to participate in the conversation as our speakers take us on a journey to explore how we can support and advance our communities. Click here to register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Host: PennGALA & YaleGALA
Featuring: Malik Muhammad, Associate Director of the LGBT Center and Thomas Simsarian Dolan, Yale C’05 
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Diversity at Penn: An Introduction to The James Brister Society

July 9, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
Our speakers will discuss Diversity & Inclusion, their experience as Penn students, and the importance of the James Brister Society.
Host: James Brister Society, Penn Club of San Francisco
Featuring: Trustee Ramanan Raghavendran, ENG’89, W’89, LPS’15, Trustee Patricia Martin, MD, M’85, Trustee Michael Barrett, ENG’89
Click here to register. 
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Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest

July 14, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
With a focus on current events, police brutality, juvenile justice, and prison reform how are activists today forging change for our communities?
Host: Penn Spectrum on the Road
Speakers: Sara Reese Lomax, C’87, Judith Browne Dianis, W’87
Click here to register. 
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Penn Alumni Reading Club

Discussion will be held in August – date and time to be announced soon
Host: Black Alumni Society, Alumni Education


Data Science Masters students tackle the mental health crisis and more at the Spring 2020 DATS Presentation

Presentation still from Pedro Peterson’s “Screening for mental illness from mobile phone data: a detection of psychotic symptoms.”

This year’s Spring 2020 DATS Presentation featured a wide variety of insightful and relevant topics. Below, you’ll find a list of the presenters, in addition to some project goals and key takeaways.

A hierarchical bayesian approach for tagged playlist generation”

Presenter: Anish Jain
Advised by: Eric Bradlow
Conclusion: “There’s a very high degree of heterogeneity in moods/activities definition across music listeners, and there’s quite a high degree of homogeneity in definition of genre across music listeners.”

“A data set for training QA systems to answer questions about novels”

Presenter: Yonah Mann
Advised by: Chris Callison-Burch and Clayton Greenberg
Goal: “Given a context which is a document or a set of documents, can you teach a system to answer questions in that context?”

“Understanding film characters and their social networks through a gender lens”

Presenter: Weizhen Sheng
Advised by: Ani Nenkova
Conclusion: “Gender affects how characters are portrayed and impacts their role in a social network.”

“Predicting the career success of NBA players from college statistics and draft timing”

Presenter: Jimmy Gao
Advised by: Shane Jenson
Inspiration: “As a diehard basketball fan, I constantly follow the NBA draft, and the draft stakes are pretty high right now. The increase in salary cap: this allows a lot of players to demand very expensive contracts.”

“Screening for mental illness from mobile phone data: a detection of psychotic symptoms”

Presenter: Pedro Petersen
Advised by: Ian Barnett
Asks the question: ” What if it were possible to help tackle the mental health crisis? Even if diagnosed, perhaps a close monitoring could help on treatment.”

“The carbon shock: investor response to the British Columbia carbon tax”

Presenter: Akshay Malhotra
Advised by: Frank Diebold
Takeaway: Market fear is upticked by “the idea that once a carbon tax or some sort of similar legislative policy is introduced, companies [are left with] all these assets that no longer produce value” (“stranded assets”).

“Predicting academic success of Masters students using application data”

Presenter: Karen Shen
Advised by: Boon Thau Loo and Ira Winston
Goals: “Create a data-driven approach to help admissions staff identify which students will struggle to graduate and which students will succeed in the Penn Engineering Masters Program…find which factors in the application profile are most indicative of future academic performance.”


Pivoting to meet critical needs: Penn Health Tech and others unite to produce PPE amidst crisis

HUP Nurses sporting shields produced by the face shields Rapid Response Team

Every year, Penn Health Tech (PHT) hosts a call for proposals that center the organization’s ethos: developing solutions that merge the fields of medicine and engineering.

This year, with the ethos still in the foreground, the specific goals changed.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we rapidly pivoted to create an initiative that we call the Rapid Response Teams,” said Victoria Berenholz, Executive Director of PHT.

Berenholz, together with Brian Litt, Dr. David Meaney and Dr. Kevin Turner, quickly assumed leadership roles.

Each of the 7 teams of the initiative focused on a specific need that included face shields, telemedicine carts, intubation PPE, and emergency ventilators.

Neil Ray, an ER doctor at HUP who worked with the initiative, felt the pressure early in the pandemic’s insurgence.

“It was a very scary time…we didn’t know much about how it was transmitted,” said Ray. “We needed face shields and we needed masks, we just didn’t have the resources to get them.”

Mark Yim – Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Director of the GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab – opted to be a part of the face shield team. Although the need for shields was dire, hospital protocol was constantly changing requirements. Designs should not be too close to the face (so as not to cause fogging), they should be secure and comfortable, and they should be reusable.

A shortage of suitable materials such as PETG, PET, and cellulose acetate meant they might have to get particularly resourceful. Consequently, vendor delays and other hiccups threatened an already tight timeline. The urgency of the situation was ever looming.

“We were thinking we might need to get soda bottles and cut them up,” said Yim. “Clear plastic was why most of the vendors were having problems with [producing] face shields.”

The team didn’t need to resort to recycling bin raids to secure materials, and the process moved forward into production, marked by 3 phases: 1) design and prototype, 2) 3D/foam production and 3) riveted production. The second and third phases followed the team’s progression from their first 2 design types: foam (the easiest to make) and 3D printed, to the riveted. Hospitals’ preferences for the riveted model, in addition to it being easier to construct than the foam, contributed to the production of roughly 10,000 riveted models alone.

At the Pennovation Center, CIS staff member Charity Payne — Associate Director of both the GRASP Lab and PERCH (Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub) — led a team of volunteer students responsible for shield and short band attachment. Afterwards, they were sent to Gaby Alvaro (GRASP Lab) and her team in the Levine Lobby for long band attachment and final assembly. Together they helped contribute to the creation of 1000-2000 shields per day.

“As a result of you guys’ hard work, we’ve had face shields, not only in the emergency department, but in the ICUs, and every floor, “ said ER doctor Ray in a virtual recap meeting. “You were actively impacting patient care, in a time when we needed you guys the most. “

Overall, the initiative was responsible for the production and delivery of over 15,000 shields to 5 Penn Medicine hospitals: Chester, HUP (5,000), Pennsylvania, Presbyterian and Princeton.  Roughly 200-300 volunteers came together to make this happen, most of which hustled into formation to finish assembly of the riveted models at the end of phase 3.

Despite these impactful results, PHT’s ED knows there is still more work to be done.

“[We] continue to source opportunities for new projects,” said Berenholz. “Even as we move out of this acute crisis phase.”

** Click here to submit proposals for the Rapid Response Teams **
** Click here for more in-depth coverage