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McCoullum has worked at Penn since 1977.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum will leave her position at the end of June to become the Provost’s Distinguished Senior Fellow of Student Engagement at the Graduate School of Education. She will be Penn's inaugural Vice Provost for Student Engagement.

In her new role, McCoullum, who has served as the VPUL for 25 years, said she will be able to focus more on Penn’s pipeline and college preparatory programs for high school students in Philadelphia. She said she will partner with leaders in the greater Philadelphia community to better understand the public school system and identify areas where Penn can partner with students who want to pursue post-secondary education.

McCoullum said she has always been interested in policies and programs that affect students in urban school districts, or who are first-generation or low-income, as they are groups that she identifies with. In 1979, McCoullum wrote a grant for Upward Bound, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that supports FGLI students as they pursue higher education. 

As a graduate of The Philadelphia High School for Girls, McCoullum said her connection with the city of Philadelphia is particularly strong. She added that her oldest grandchild was in the first kindergarten class at Penn Alexander School, a public school Penn partners with to provide curriculum advice and guidance.

“It's so exciting to join my two loves, University of Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia, in a way that I can actually have even more of a direct impact on the connections that Penn has woven, and work with all of you as a Penn family in my city to have Penn be even more of a strong partner in the life of our city,” McCoullum said.

Credit: Kylie Cooper McCoullum has worked with many student groups as VPUL.

According to an email sent by Provost Wendell Pritchett to his office on Feb. 6, McCoullum came to Penn in 1977, 18 years before she would become the VPUL. During that time, McCoullum served as the assistant to the VPUL, faculty director of Du Bois College House, and associate vice president at Penn.

As VPUL, McCoullum currently works with many student groups such as the Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, and the 6B, Penn’s main minority coalition. McCoullum said her favorite part of working as the VPUL has been watching students change their communities.

“It's been a privilege to be here at a time when five of the six cultural centers were established, to watch the growth and flowering of the Penn Violence Prevention [program], to look at the expansion of the numbers and programs for first-generation, low-income students, and to be able to welcome international students in numbers that we never had before,” McCoullum said.

A search for her successor will begin immediately, according to Pritchett's email.

Greg Callaghan, sixth-year Ancient History Ph.D. candidate and president of GAPSA, said that this transition will affect all students that interact with the office. He said he hopes the new VPUL will support the diversity of students at Penn as McCoullum has done.

“I think an eye towards just the diversity of student experiences is really important,” Callaghan said. “Just recognizing how different the students’ experience can be just if they’re in different schools or different programs, different ages, different ethnicities.”

UA President and College senior Natasha Menon said that although she is sad to see McCoullum leave her position as the VPUL, she is confident that McCoullum will do an "incredible" job as the vice provost for student engagement.

“She’s really been such a champion for students,” Menon said. “In a lot of the work that we’ve tried to do, she’s always been the one who’s tried to make sure that especially the voices of the marginalized are elevated in tables that students might not be present at.”