This year’s recipients of the Netter Center Faculty-Community Partnership Award are our very own Deputy Director of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core, Richard Pepino and his partners in the School District of Philadelphia. This award recognizes outstanding faculty-community partnership in West Philadelphia. A West Philadelphia native, It was a natural fit when Rich began to teach academically based community service (ABCS) courses for the Department of Earth and Environmental Science 11 years ago. These courses gave Rich the ability to create teachable moments for his students through very real world application. His Penn students had the opportunity to go into Philadelphia community schools and collaborate with teachers to educate children about lead, asthma, and a host of other environmental health concerns that are immediately relevant to these children.
Rich’s partnership with public schools in West and South Philadelphia – the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), Lea and Comegys Elementary Schools, and Sayre and West Philadelphia High School, has yielded the development of projects that simultaneously enhance community environmental health literacy and environmental health education for K-12 and college students. Through the lessons created by Rich’s Penn students, the Philadelphia school students engage in outreach projects to bring what they have learned to their families and communities. Elementary school students have reported encouraging parents to have younger siblings tested for lead while high school students at GAMP produced empowering public service announcements for their community.
Through these projects, Rich has further leveraged partnerships with various government and city agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Philadelphia Department of Health, and Philadelphia Air Management Services, as well as Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Students often note that Rich is one of those professors that stick with you long after a fifty minute lecture. Perhaps that is because he doesn’t do fifty minute lectures. Rather, he provides his students with lessons in the form of stories, eloquently interwoven with experiences that he has had over his career. What makes Rich’s classes special is how he masterfully infuses each one with information that spans beyond the context of the topic he’s teaching. You find yourself thinking about what he’s said after the class is over, remembering the story but realizing perhaps the bigger application. He goes to great lengths to insure that his students learn and succeed. He creates his own teachable moments.
With a bit of an unusual background, Rich is able to bring 25 years of government experience with EPA into his classes. Bringing unique career experiences into the courses he teaches gives his students a very “real-world” perspective. Rich has taught thousands of students. He has mentored hundreds. The marked distinction in Rich’s mentorship is that it does not cease upon graduation. Evidence of his impact was seen in the attendance of so many alumni at the awards ceremony. Rich cares deeply about his students and the quality of their learning. Through this work he has been able to create experiences for his students that are memorable. He has also been instrumental in improving the quality of life in the West Philadelphia community that he was born into. Rich’s impact is meaningful and it is enduring. Honoring Richard Pepino with the Netter Center Faculty Partnership Award is fitting to acknowledge both his past work and his ongoing efforts as he continues to inspire everyone who has the opportunity to work with him. Congratulations Rich!
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