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Kal Penn speaks at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology during a rally for Sen. Barack Obama this past month. This week marked the end of his time as a Penn professor. Credit: Lionel Nicolau

Actor Kalpen Modi-more fondly known as Kal Penn - conquered Hollywood after his hit movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. But, with students raving about his Asian American Studies class as the semester ends, it seems Modi has conquered something perhaps more significant than teenage humor: the field of academia.

"I was a little skeptical at first about what credentials gave him the right to teach a class at Penn," said a College senior and Cinema Studies major who requested anonymity because all students enrolled in the class signed a waiver saying they would not talk to non-class members about its content.

"By the end of the class, I realized it wasn't his academic credentials that got him here, it was his experience in the field - which is equally valuable," she said.

Modi, who served as an adjunct professor in the Asian American Studies Department, taught ASAM 109: Images of Asian Americans in the Media this past semester. His interest in teaching at Penn stemmed from the lectures he had given about how race and gender identity play out in the media, in addition to Penn's robust ASAM program which Modi discovered last November.

"What I really found most interesting was the ability to take the experiences that I had as an actor and find how they were socially relevant," Modi told The Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this semester.

Despite juggling the teaching stint with filming for the FOX hit TV series "House," Modi was accessible and took a keen interest in his role as a teacher, according to his students.

He scheduled multiple office hours on various days and organized group lunches at which smaller groups of students from the approximately 80-person lecture class could sit down with him to discuss class material and Modi's life experiences.

"He did much more than a regular faculty member would normally do," Asian American Studies director Grace Kao said. "In some ways, he brings more to the classroom."

One College senior in the class said that Modi even led a recitation on a day when the regular recitation instructor planned to cancel class.

Aside from his efforts to be available and approachable, students said they also appreciated his alternative teaching style and the unique life experiences he brought to the classroom.

A College junior said he "emphasized the value of the assigned readings by relating it back to what he went through as an Asian American actor."

She added that though Modi was very professional, his humor "definitely added a spark to his class."

Kao said she has heard "great things" about Modi's time here.

"He's a different kind of person compared to a regular standing faculty member," she said. "I think he did a great job."

Kao added that there were still no plans to have him teach again here in the future.

When asked if ASAM was planning on bringing other Hollywood names in to teach, Kao responded that the department is not actively pursuing any leads.

"Anything is possible," she said. "I would never say never."

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