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Licht established the Civic Scholars program in 2007. Here, he and Civic Scholars are on a tour of post-industrial Philadelphia. (Photo from Civic House)

Penn professor Walter Licht will be stepping down as the faculty director of Civic House and the Penn Civic Scholars Program on June 30. Licht established the Civic Scholars program in 2007.

Licht, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, has served as Civic House's faculty director since 2002, Executive Director of Civic House David Grossman said. He is in his 43rd year at Penn, and has previously served as faculty director of Hill College House and associate dean in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Civic House connects Penn students with the Philadelphia community for social advocacy work. The Civic Scholars program is a four-year undergraduate program that provides students with an experience in civic engagement and scholarship, culminating in a capstone project in their senior year.

Licht said the Civic Scholars program started in 2007 with a class of 15 students. When Licht leaves his position, he will have graduated 10 cohorts of students from the program.

“I'm sad to hear that Walter's leaving Civic House,” 2019 College graduate and Civic Scholar Brendan Taliaferro said. “He has been such a monumental figure and so instrumental in putting the Civic Scholars Program off the ground and running it.”

Taliaferro, who is a President's Engagement Prize winner for his work with homeless LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia, said Licht was a “champion of civic engagement at Penn.“ 

“He was so passionate about helping Penn students pursue social impact work. Penn is not necessarily a place that encourages that,” Taliaferro said.

Civic Scholar and College junior Tatiana Johnson said she was "shocked" to hear of Licht's resignation. 

"I think I was most grateful that I was able to spend at least the first three years with him," Johnson said.

Licht said he discussed stepping down with Grossman two years ago and began the formal process of resignation last fall. He said he will continue in his role as a history professor, but stepping down from Civic House is part of his plan to phase himself out towards retirement from the University. He said he will not completely retire until Civic House secures his successor.

“[Civic House] is the only place on campus that feels like home to me,” Licht wrote in an email to current Civic Scholars on Feb. 5 announcing his resignation.

As faculty director, Licht said he petitioned the administration for funding on behalf of Civic House and the Civic Scholars Program, ensuring their mission is maintained, and helping students find local volunteer work.

Licht said he was involved in civic engagement at Penn before he took on his role at Civic House. He said he was one of the first professors to teach academically-based community service courses in the mid-1990s.

"Walter Licht is one of Penn’s most valuable citizens," said former Penn Provost Robert Barchi in a 2002 publication of the Penn Almanac announcing Licht’s appointment to Faculty Director.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe The Civic House, located at 3914 Locust Walk, connects students with the Philadelphia community for social advocacy work.

Licht said his work with the Civic Scholars program is his proudest accomplishment from his tenure.

Before the program started, Licht said that he saw students who were “really remarkable in combining their passions and commitments in civic engagement with their academic work, but they were without faculty mentorship and it didn't seem to lead to anything.“

Licht said he hoped to establish a "four-year experience" program to coordinate student outreach to the local community. 

“It was mirrored on some other special programs like the M&T Program or the Huntsman Program," Licht said.

Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett will oversee the selection of the next Civic House Faculty Director, and Licht said that he will advise the new director in the transition.

"Penn has such a huge impact on Philadelphia. We can choose, as a university, whether that impact is good or bad," Taliaferro said. "Institutions like Civic House and the Netter Center are really instrumental to ensuring that that impact is good.”

Licht said his time at Civic House was “fulfilling.” 

“I think of myself as one of the luckiest people at the University," Licht said. "I work with extraordinary young men and women who I am in awe of every day.”

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