For nearly eight decades, the Fels Institute of Government has been the “epicenter of public service at Penn,” according to Fels Executive Director David Thornburgh.
This year, the Fels Institute is celebrating its 75th anniversary at Penn. As part of this historic occasion, it is hosting a series of events to bring attention to the institute both on campus, in Philadelphia and throughout its alumni network.
“A 75th anniversary is a time to celebrate, to reconnect the past with the present with the future and to reaffirm the impact that we’ve had and the values that we stand for,” Thornburgh said.
Among the events are a celebration dinner in October and a number of special speaker panels.
“It’s a real landmark — 75 years of positioning future leaders in government and the nonprofit sectors. Particularly, many of our state, local, national and international leaders have gotten degrees from Fels,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “The focus on educating people for public service is something that’s at the core of what Penn stands for.”
Thornburgh agreed, adding that the events will bring out some of the key ideals and goals of the Fels Institute.
“The events are a way to bring the celebration to life and get people together, remembering why we’re here, recommitting to our purpose and demonstrating what we do, why we do it, why it makes a difference.”
For the planning of the anniversary programming, Fels has created the 75th Anniversary Advisory Committee that includes faculty, students, alumni and others involved in the public sector, as well as several honorary co-chairs, such as Gutmann, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and School of Law adjunct faculty member and former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
“I am happy to join in the effort to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Fels Institute, which has, for so many years, been so important in training generations of fine public leaders and managers,” Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Rebecca Bushnell wrote in an email. “We hope that students will learn more about the programs that Fels has to offer, at this time when we are celebrating its history.”
In addition to invigorating the alumni presence, one of the main goals of the 75th anniversary festivities is to bring awareness to the institute’s role in the Penn community.
“Fels is a very practical and useful program for anyone interested in tackling problems relevant to the public sector,” Fels student Rachel Cahill wrote in an email. “I have enjoyed the program’s flexibility, and the opportunity to take classes with students from across the university.”
Fels graduate Anuj Gupta — another 75th anniversary committee member — added that he believes the school’s prominence has been increasing nationally.
“The 75th anniversary offers the chance to highlight the vast and important contributions that Fels graduates have been making at every level of government for decades,” he wrote in an email. “I am very proud of my Fels degree and I was more than happy to play a role in celebrating the school’s anniversary when I was offered the chance.”
Thornburgh added that the message, “Purpose, Practice, Possibility,” that is displayed on a series of flags that line Walnut Street is meant to spread Fels’ message to the entire Penn community.
“This a place with a strong sense of public purpose,” he said. “We care very much about the practice of public leadership and if you put those two together you create new possibilities for a brighter future.”
As the number of events commemorating the 75th anniversary picks up, one of the aims is to continue increasing Fels’ visibility across campus, as well as to prepare for the future of public service.
“We’re one of the oldest programs in public leadership in the country. We’ve had an enormous influence in terms of training and educating people who actually engage in public service. We take a very practical view of the world,” he said. “I’ve come to think that Fels is really a small — but very valuable — jewel in Penn’s crown.”