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A warm welcome to all at the start of a new academic year. This week marks the landfall 10 years ago of Hurricane Katrina. Entire communities were destroyed and more than 1,800 people died, underlining the urgent need for better understanding of issues ranging from climate change to civil engineering, public health preparedness to crisis communications. When we both remember back and look forward, we see that the legacy of Hurricane Katrina highlights the fact that higher education is called upon to understand humanity’s greatest challenges and serve as an educational force for public good.

Directing our knowledge to creatively understand and address issues of public importance is a notion deeply embedded here at Penn. Not only did Penn respond energetically to the humanitarian crisis of Katrina with immediate aid and thoughtful analysis as follow up, we also persisted in our knowledge-based response over time. Today, 10 years later, through our Fox Leadership Program, Penn is one of the only universities that still has student leaders on the ground in New Orleans contributing to — and learning from — the ongoing rebuilding efforts there. This adds to the hundreds of thousands of hours of pro bono service and care that Penn faculty, staff and students provide here at home in Philadelphia each and every year. Penn has grit for the common good.

It is with this heritage of engagement for the common good foremost in mind that I look forward to the second year of the President’s Engagement Prize. For seniors, this is an opportunity to earn your local, national or global engagement project the resources and recognition it deserves and needs for success. Last year’s winners spent the summer making great progress on their projects. They have been empowering young girls nationwide; engineering sustainable water purification systems for those who lack them; improving comprehensive recovery for cardiac patients; and building quality education and health care resources for communities that currently do without.

Imagine all you can achieve through your engagement project idea should you join their ranks. The President’s Engagement Prizes are a one-of-a-kind a start-up fund for full-time civic engagement. Prizes are awarded competitively, with winners receiving $50,000 for one year of living expenses after graduation and up to $100,000 in project expenses. Full-time undergraduates in the College, Wharton, Nursing or Engineering who will graduate in May, August or December of 2016 are eligible.

The scope and scale of your projects will be limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness that each of you brings to the process. This not only represents a profound opportunity to begin your professional lives by working to transform the lives of others; last year’s inaugural entries showed us how the very act of developing a proposal provides an invaluable ‘leg up’ in setting a meaningful course in your lives post-graduation. The Prizes are a unique opportunity to make that difference sooner rather than later.

I encourage you to visit our brand new website to explore the Prizes: I also hope everyone will make time to visit an information session this fall to learn more about the resources available to help create and submit applications.

As we kick off the fall semester at Penn, be sure to keep an eye out for another special announcement. Very soon, you will hear about a new Prize, one that will provide an equally powerful and prestigious opportunity for Penn students to make a difference. Only, for this Prize, the key word is Innovation. Stay tuned. And welcome back, everyone!

Amy Gutmann

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