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Perry World House Under Construction Credit: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles , Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

Penn’s presence as a global entity has been at the forefront lately, between the ever-present construction of the Perry World House on Locust Walk, and Penn President Amy Gutmann’s presence in China moderating the Silfen Forum just last week. On Wednesday, Penn in Latin America and the Caribbean is hosting a conference on Penn’s campus to further cement this global status.

The theme of this year’s inaugural conference is "Health: Equity, Access and Innovation." It will feature Amanda Glassman, who works in Washington, D.C. and is an expert on health in the developing world, as the keynote speaker. Two more panels comprised of three speakers each will round out the programming.

The goals of the conference are in line with PLAC itself — to foster a more cross-disciplinary approach in thinking about Latin America and the Caribbean.

Economics and Sociology professor in the Population Studies Center, Jere Behrman, said this is important because a challenge with studying Latin America and the Caribbean at Penn in the past has been that individual groups and researchers carry out their own activities in a relative vacuum, without much cross over.

“I hope [the conference] leads not only to greater awareness, but greater collaboration, and for that to span across the University, not only across schools but also between undergrads and graduate students,” Behrman said.

Behrman has personally been connected with Latin America through his research since he began working at Penn in the late '60s. He has conducted long-term research projects concerning ramifications of nutrition in children at a young age in Guatemala and the effects of student and teacher incentives in mathematics education in Mexico.

The conference and, in fact, PLAC itself, were both spearheaded by the School of Nursing a year ago. Both the Dean of the Nursing School Antonia Villarruel, and Assistant Dean of the Nursing School, Nancy Biller, were instrumental in getting it up and running.

After the first PLAC interest meeting, comprised of about 80 faculty from six different schools, the attendees decided that PLAC should hold an annual conference. The Nursing School stepped up again to take the lead for the inaugural event, and Villarruel coined the "Equity, Access and Innovation" theme.

“It’s a great theme to coincide with the pope’s visit to Philly," Biller said.

Biller added that one of her biggest roles, and one that PLAC will ultimately be involved with as well, is trying to provide opportunities for students to engage with Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, three Nursing students went to Oaxaca, Mexico to assist a microfinancing operation that wanted to get involved with the health of its community.

Already, there are 180 registrants for the conference, and two-thirds are students. Eight different schools are represented in addition to the Penn Health System, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the central administration, said Biller.

Next year, event organizers hope that another school or group at Penn will take the lead in choosing a theme and putting together the next conference. 

Behrman said that in terms of topics, “One that’s been bantered around about is migration and urbanization in Latin America.” 

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