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Professors Camille Charles and Rob Ghrist (Photos courtesy of Associate Director for News Amanda Mott)

On Tuesday, Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett announced the appointment of professors Camille Charles and Robert Ghrist to serve as the two faculty directors of the Office of Penn First Plus, a new office for first-generation, low-income students announced in the spring. 

The national search for the executive director of the office is ongoing, and it is unclear when it will be completed. 

As co-directors, Charles and Ghrist will help to oversee the office, which Pritchett and Penn President Amy Gutmann created as part of an effort to offer a centralized location for FGLI students to better utilize resources and to form a community, the spring announcement said.

The May statement also said that Penn students and faculty were involved in the "months of research" that led to the decision to create the office.

Still, some student leaders in the FGLI community have expressed concerns about the slow progress in filling positions, like that of the executive director, and about the lack of student input in forming the office.

College junior Daniel Gonzalez, chair of external operations and outreach for Penn Afro-Latinx and former mentorship chair for Penn First, a student organization for FGLI students, said he was slightly concerned about the ongoing search for staff in the department. 

“In terms of the hiring process and the organization, I hope that Penn’s very clear," he said. "I know that not all the positions in this program have been filled and I question how the structure will play out." 

Credit: Ben Zhao

College junior and Internal Outreach Chair for Penn First Sebastián González said he hopes the new office will build upon the FGLI program at the Greenfield Intercultural Center. 

“They have been spearheading the FGLI library, where students can go and pick up any books that they need for class," he said. "But it would be nice if that office could institutionalize it. That way, we know it’s something that will be available to us moving forward for many years to come.” 

Both Daniel Gonzalez and Sebastián González indicated that they did not believe student groups were very involved in the establishment of the office. 

“Something I found ironic was that groups like Penn First and Seven|Eight were the reason that the Penn First Plus initiative was created, but there wasn’t a lot of student involvement in the creation of this program or the organization of it,” Daniel Gonzalez said. 

Rob Ghrist, photo courtesy of Associate Director for News Amanda Mott

Two years ago, Penn opened a resource center for FGLI students. Earlier this year, the University admitted the largest number of first-generation students in its history. One in every seven students admitted to the Class of 2022 is the first in their family to attend college — an increase from just one in 20 students who entered Penn in 2005.

Daniel Gonzalez and Sebastián González agreed they were excited about the new office, but they want to be involved in the future. 

“We’re super thrilled about it, and we just want to make sure that we work closely with administration as they start implementing everything,” Sebastián Gonzalez said. “We just want to stay in the loop.”

According to Pritchett's email, Charles and Ghrist will collaborate with Pritchett, Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein, and others in the Penn community "to begin the vital work of this office and to conclude our national search for its inaugural executive director."

"Camille Charles and Rob Ghrist are two of our foremost faculty leaders in helping our students achieve personal and academic success," Pritchett's statement read.