Academic Engagement

The Academic Engagement Department (AED) at the Penn Museum brought record numbers of Penn faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students to the Museum during the 2018–19 academic year. This was accomplished through class visits, undergraduate programs such as the Penn Museum Fellows and Student Exhibition Programs, Summer Internships, the Making Workshop series, and the Penn Museum Graduate Advisory Board.

Students from the Architecture program use their phones to create digital renderings of Museum objects.

Academic Engagement Programs

Class Visits

In English 748, a class called “Racial Enlightenment,” students examined Inka khipus, or knotted record strings.

The 2018–2019 academic year brought 6,146 students to Museum galleries and classrooms for course-related visits, over 1,000 more than the 2017–2018 academic year. Visiting as part of 318 classes from 25 departments and programs, students experienced the full range of the Museum’s academic offerings—from special visits to the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials and the Museum Archives to thematic workshops and object-based learning with every curatorial section and gallery space.

We continue to increase our reach outside the School of Arts and Sciences, strengthening the Museum’s role as a hub for interdisciplinary study. We have hosted art classes from the Weitzman School of Design, and we are embarking on the third year of a semester-long collaboration with the Architecture program, in which first-year M.A. students design multiple installations and imagine a 42,000-square-foot addition to the Museum building.

Student Programs

The 2018–2019 student-curated exhibition was Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter.

The 2018–2019 Penn Museum Fellows program supported three outstanding University of Pennsylvania undergraduate student projects, from highly scientific analyses in the lab to building community partnerships in the field of anthropology. Using breastmilk samples and other data she acquired while working in the highlands of Peru, Lauren “Frankie” Schafrank wrote her senior honors thesis on maternal and infant health in high-altitude locations. Fiona Jensen-Hitch, who also served as a student curator in the Student Exhibition Program, cataloged and analyzed a collection of human remains that were excavated more than 50 years ago from an archaeological site in the Levant. Arielle Pierson took on a community project: an exhibition of material excavated at the Native American mound site of Smith Creek, now on display at the Wilkinson County Museum in Mississippi.

The Provost’s theme for the 2018–2019 academic year was The Year of Why, and the student curatorial team used themes from the Penn book choice, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, to explore how objects connect us to memories of people and places we have lost in their exhibition Memory Keepers: Why Objects Matter.

Summer Internship Program

Undergraduates take part in special programs designed for them at the Museum.

The 2019 Penn Museum Summer Internship Program hosted 27 interns from undergraduate institutions around the world in 16 different Museum departments. Many projects focused on the Museum’s current renovations in preparation for the Africa Galleries and Mexico and Central America Gallery openings. Projects included graphic design, creating a gallery tour, editorial work for Expedition magazine, and donor development. All 27 interns participated in the 9-week Museum Practice Program from June to August, coinciding with their individual internship projects. This year we were able to offer a Diversity Stipend to three students from underrepresented groups in the museum field, covering all expenses of a summer in Philadelphia as well as a living wage.

New Alumni Membership Program

In the “Age of the Samurai” class, students examine armor and weaponry.

As part of our goal to extend outreach to Penn undergraduates beyond their four years of study, AED worked with Penn Museum Membership to launch a new membership program in May 2018. The New Alumni Membership program extends up to two years of individual membership to recent graduates from Penn, bridging their transition from student to community member.

Penn Museum Graduate Advisory Council

Incoming first-year students chat with Anthropology faculty and staff at the 2018 Toga Party.

The Penn Museum Graduate Advisory Council (GAC) was formalized in the 2018–2019 academic year with an elected Board, a mission statement, and regular meetings. In addition to several professionalization initiatives, GAC has created closer working and social ties between students in Anthropology, Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Classics, and Ancient History, and deepened students’ relationships with the Museum.

Graduate Guides

Penn ROTC members took part in an early-morning tour of the Middle East Galleries with Graduate Guide Katherine Burge.

An example of the increasing role of graduate students in the Museum is the Graduate Guide program, jointly managed by the Academic Engagement and Learning and Public Engagement departments. This program trains Penn graduate students to lead tours of our galleries to adult and university audiences. In 2018–2019, Graduate Guides provided 89 gallery tours—an increase of 27% from the previous year. Graduate students also appear frequently as leaders of our popular Daily Dig series, connecting their studies with our collections for Museum visitors.

Making Workshops

Students grind chili peppers and enjoy a hot bowl of vegetarian chili at the February 2019 Making Workshop.

Academic Engagement’s Making Workshop series brought four new themes to Penn students in 2018–2019, providing them with an opportunity to get “hands on” with the collections. In September, we offered Korean Fighting Kites, followed by Mediterranean Mosaics. In February, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Paul Rozin, helped us understand why certain cultures enjoy extreme tastes in Some Like It Hot: Psychology of Spice Making Workshop. In April, we partnered with Stars on the Move, a portable planetarium that gave students a view of constellations in multiple cultures for our Ancient Constellations Making Workshop.


A student decides which constellation to make at the Stars on the Move Making Workshop.

More than 50 graduate and undergraduate students received financial support to conduct summer fieldwork in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Aegean, Israel, and the Americas. Details on some of these these projects can be found in the Student Fieldwork section.