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I often hear Penn called a “hot” school because we attract highly talented students who work with eminent faculty in our 12 schools and collaborate with local and global communities to put knowledge to work in the world. This summer, however, Penn’s “hotness” transcended the colloquial. Punishing temperatures made many a flower along Locust Walk droop. In late June, a thunderstorm that promised welcome relief from the humidity felled the mammoth American elm that had shaded the front of College Hall since 1896.

Given the meteorological vagaries of the past few months, we all have reason to look forward to the beginning of the semester with even more anticipation than usual. Goodbye, stifling summer. Hello, energized autumn. Whether you’re a freshman or a seasoned Quaker, I welcome you to campus for a new academic year and encourage you to take advantage of all that Penn has to offer this fall.

For our newest undergraduate students, the semester is already underway. When members of the Class of 2014 settled into their College Houses last week, they unpacked their highlighted copies of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Penn alumna Rose George. The non-fiction work illuminates the unseen world of sanitation and its tremendous impact on both human health and the environment around the globe.

In addition to providing a shared academic experience for all incoming students, the Penn Reading Project selection also complements the academic year theme, and New Student Orientation activities were just the first of many events scheduled during Penn’s Year of Water. Starting Sept. 19, students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to clean up Philadelphia’s waterways during “Penn’s River Rescue: A United by Blue Cleanup Week,” and, on Sept. 28, “Water on the Walk” will bring local sustainability organizations to campus for a midday information fair. Early in October, our celebration takes a scholarly turn when our Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosts “Water and Ancient Civilizations,” a conference that will examine the significant role that H2O has played in the formation and longevity of some of the world’s greatest civilizations.

Water will be everywhere this semester, but the fall schedule is also packed with plenty of non-Coleridgean lectures, performances and activities. The upcoming midterm elections, for example, present a special opportunity for students to participate, perhaps for the first time ever, in the political process. Long before polling places spring up in November, Penn Leads the Vote will be helping citizens register and mobilizing voters. PLTV is eager to enlist new student members and to top the nearly 90 percent on-campus voter turnout that Penn boasted in 2008!

Another special feature of the fall semester is the expansion of the popular Eco-Reps program to all College Houses. Penn can reach the environmental goals set forth in our Climate Action Plan only with the help of our students. Throughout the year, ambassadors in each house will be promoting alternative transportation, energy and water conservation, and proper waste and recycling practices. If you adopt sustainable habits that reduce your environmental footprint, you help make Penn the environmentally “hot” school.

Encouraging responsible day-to-day decisions in each of our campus buildings is just part of the plan. Every day, Penn is getting greener on the inside and on the outside. When you have a free moment, take a stroll down Walnut Street toward Center City and check out the, shall we say, “cool” progress we’ve made on Penn Park. Looking south from the bridge, you can watch crews move the earth and imagine the playing fields and open space that will soon grace the eastern edge of campus.

In three year’s time, Penn Park’s lush, green spaces will connect to Shoemaker Green, a tree-lined lawn next to the Palestra with walkways and sitting areas, and the new Weiss Pavilion at Franklin Field. This trio of campus projects is good not only for the body, the soul and the Penn spirit, but also for the planet. I look forward to the progress we will make this year.

After one of the warmest seasons in recent memory, it’s wonderful to welcome you back to campus and to be heading into autumn. This semester is packed with diverse opportunities to stretch the mind, to develop good habits and to get involved with our great community. Take full advantage of your time at Penn, one of the world’s “hottest” research and teaching universities — a distinction that, happily, is not always a literal one.

Amy Gutmann is the President of the University. She can be reached at

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