When Penn President Amy Gutmann called Shadrack Frimpong to tell him he won a President’s Engagement Prize, she heard him scream in excitement.
If the College senior is successful, the $100,000 prize from Penn will help build a girls’ school and community clinic in his village of Tarkwa Breman, Ghana, making the community healthier, better educated and stronger.
But there will be another likely result for the village: Almost everyone will know Penn — a University more than 5,000 miles away — and will have experienced first-hand what Penn stands for. As the University expands its global reach in the 21st century, the school is focused not only on making an impact around the world, but also ensuring that the name Penn has the same meaning for individuals in Ghana, in China and elsewhere as it does for those in Philadelphia.
“What our goal is, very broadly speaking, is to bring the world to Penn and Penn to the world,” Gutmann said. “Our mission is going global, to become more inclusive, to become more innovative and to have a greater impact, both at home and around the world.”
Gutmann points to the President’s Engagement Prizes, as well as the Penn World Scholars Program, the Perry World House and the Penn Wharton China Center as examples of the University “making a bold statement to how committed Penn is to being an American university with a truly global perspective.”
In the inaugural year of the President’s Engagement Prizes, two projects are making investments to solve problems beyond the borders of the United States. In addition to Frimpong’s project, Engineering seniors Adrian Lievano and Matthew Lisle are going to develop a water purification system and community education program in Kimana, Kenya. Gutmann hopes that these projects will not only make an impact in their respective communities, but also foster more worldwide relationships for Penn.
"[Shadrack] is absolutely committed as a man who has succeeded, despite odds, to enabling, not just his four younger sisters, but every girl to having that same opportunity,” Gutmann said. “My highest hope is that one of those young girls could aspire to come to the University of Pennsylvania one day.”
Building a global brand
William Burke-White, Deputy Dean for International Programs at Penn Law and the Inaugural Director of the Perry World House, believes that the University’s international initiatives are simply building on existing globally-focused projects at Penn. According to Burke-White, these existing projects will benefit greatly from additional resources and support, as well as the “branding and recognition that they deserve.”
“A lot of what is going on at the University level is trying to embrace what is going on here at all of the schools and centers and giving it a big platform in way that is more meaningful,” Burke-White said. “Sometimes it doesn’t all come together in a way that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.”
Wharton marketing professor Cassie Mogilner, whose research focuses on branding, explained that universities like Penn have to be strategic about their brand as they spread their reach around the world.
“The important point for a university is to, like with any brand, figure out what their sources of differentiation are,” Mogilner explained. “Importantly, the points of differentiation need to be compelling and appealing.”
She added that while companies sometimes localize their brands to appeal to a specific region, universities should generally keep a consistent message while going global, as anything else could potentially undermine their brand.
According to Burke-White, although all 12 of Penn’s schools have developed various programs to address important global challenges, not everyone realizes that these programs have come from Penn. There are even cases where someone involved with a project “doesn’t know where Penn is or what Penn is.”
“We’ve all been overseas somewhere or at a dinner somewhere and when you say you’re from the University of Pennsylvania, you get a blank look back and they don’t realize that you are actually from a premier Ivy League school,” Burke-White said.
This predicament, however, “has changed a lot in recent years as Penn is better known and recognized around the world,” he said.
When the Perry World House opens in April 2016, it will be a central hub for all of the globally focused activity on campus and will host visiting faculty and scholars from around the world.
“When scholars come to visit, not only will they leave knowing where Penn and Philadelphia are, but they will also feel a part of this community,” Burke-White said. “It’s a long-term strategy that will really raise our profile and identity in years ahead.”
Throughout her world travels, Gutmann has noticed that Penn has developed a stronger international reputation and is not deterred by the fact that the University is still sometimes confused with Penn State.
“Whether it is India or China or London, there are people who 10 years ago had never heard of the University of Pennsylvania, and now they want to come here, or if they are parents, they want their children to come here,” Gutmann said. “I am proud that we are the University of Pennsylvania, and we do want more and more people to know who we are.”
Lost in translation
Though the Perry World House will not focus on any particular regions, Burke-White sees certain areas of opportunity for Penn like more work on the ground in China and India. He also sees room for growth in Latin America, especially given Penn’s active alumni base in Brazil. The long-term strategy for each region, he says, is to build name recognition, build an alumni base and develop research partnerships.
Penn is using this strategy in China, where it opened the Penn Wharton China Center this past March and continues to foster a growing alumni base. While Wharton is widely known in China, Penn has, in some ways, not received the same name recognition as its peer schools.
Some Chinese students at Penn believe the popularity of the Wharton name in China is the result of the increasing emphasis on business education there.
“I think people in China know Wharton better than Penn, but it’s mainly because we all read about Warren Buffet when we were young,” Eric Yifan Xu, a College and Engineering sophomore from Nanjing, China, said.
Claire, a Wharton senior who did not want to use her last name, echoed Xu, adding that Chinese parents are really pushing their children to go to business school to increase their job prospects.
“When I first came here I was in the engineering school,” she said. “Most of the parents I know gave their children pressure to transfer into Wharton because it was the ‘good part.’”
Sherry Wang, a Wharton senior from Shanghai, says that there is a “very sharp contrast” between the recognition of Penn and Wharton in China, a country that places a very high value on brand names.
“Back home, many people think that Wharton is definitely more prestigious than Penn; I don’t think most people know that Wharton is a part of Penn,” Wang said. “A lot of people don’t recognize Penn in China because they think of it as a state school.”
Wang added that when one talks about Penn in Chinese, they refer to it as “UPenn” or “University of Pennsylvania” because the Chinese name for Penn is too easily confused with the Chinese name for Penn State. However names like Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Wharton are recognized easily by their Chinese translations.
It’s not clear whether this disparity is the cause for Penn’s decision to not name the center simply the Penn China Center. Nevertheless, Gutmann is confident the right choice was made.
“I think with the Penn Wharton China Center, we’re doing it exactly right — this is a win-win,” Gutmann said, when asked about the naming choice. “The fact is that Wharton is, and I am very proud of the fact that it is, a prominent part of the University of Pennsylvania, and we’re running with that.”
She further explained the factors behind the decision.
“The way we run in the case of the Penn Wharton China Center is that because business schools have gone global before a lot of other parts of universities, we are proud of having a center that is called the Penn Wharton China Center,” she said. “And every school in this university and every dean of those schools is strongly supportive of that.”
Wharton is not the only school to help lead an international initiative. The Perelman School of Medicine was a driving force behind the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, which even writes on their program website that they go by “UPenn” so as to not be confused with Penn State.
Mogilner sees the naming of the Penn Wharton China Center as an advantageous decision from a branding perspective.
“It’s leveraging that strong brand equity that Wharton has in China and internationally and then it’s sort of makes an endorsement, in that case, to the Penn brand,” Mogilner said. “It is highlighting that there is a relationship, and that relationship is beneficial and it is not suggesting any disconnect.”
Gutmann is very enthusiastic about Penn and Wharton becoming more well-known around the world.
“The reputation of the University has increased and the reputation of Wharton has increased and there is a great synergy,” Gutmann said. “It is a rising tide with all ships.”
Staff Reporter Ruihong Liu contributed reporting.
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