A Message from Dean Vijay Kumar


This is a day for Penn Engineering in March unlike any other. Normally, on a day like today, I would be greeting still-sunburned students who had completed the first week of classes after spring break. On my way to meetings I would be seeing intense study sessions, vibrant lectures and labs filled with bustling activity. I would also be touching base with my own lab in Pennovation to find out how their work is progressing.

But today I am unfortunately not doing any of these things. For all of us, today is nothing that we could have imagined even a few short weeks ago.

I would like to take this time and space to reach out to all of the members of the Penn Engineering community: our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends. I write today from my home in Philadelphia, where I am going through the feedback we’ve received after the first days of 100-percent-online instruction at Penn Engineering.

One of the biggest misconceptions, I think, about us as a profession is that we are not social, that we happily toil in solitude to design and engineer complex systems to address societal challenges. After undergoing barely more than 1.5 weeks of remote work and social distancing, I can say that this idea, once and for all, is patently false.

I miss each and every one of the students, faculty and staff who help to make our School the community and the home for learning that it is. The way that we will close out the spring semester of 2020 is a great loss for our community that we must take the time to absorb together.

I speak now especially to our graduates: Penn Engineers of the Class of 2020, this is not what I wanted for you. There is so much that I was looking forward to celebrating with you, including student awards and our own Commencement ceremonies. But though we must process these losses, I am confident that the University and the School will rise to the occasion and we will find a way to fully celebrate you and your achievements when it is once again safe to do so.

To all of our students and their families: I can imagine that this is a time of uncertainty and questions. Please reach out. Ask. We want you to feel just as comfortable asking for help in our new “virtual school” as you would be walking into the Towne Building or Levine Hall to ask for help. We are all still here for you, and we know there will be bumps in the road ahead for all of us. Don’t forget, your professors are learning this lesson right along with you!

I now want to share with each of you why I am hopeful. Over the past weeks, I have watched the members of the Penn Engineering community rise to more than meet this challenge. I am proud of the faculty and staff who have worked incredible hours to put plans in place to give our students the best experience possible. I am smiling while I read notes from faculty who were overjoyed to see their students’ faces again, even virtually. Each one of us is prepared to fight for each student’s success. We also know that, now that we have our students back, they are more than capable of navigating this experience and they even have a thing or two to teach us.

So for a while we might see one another through screens, and that might be odd and awkward and maybe we’ll stumble a bit before we walk. But I want you to remember that the road we are all walking on leads back to one place: Penn.

Please, be safe, take care of yourselves and of one another. It is with a joyful heart that I say, “See you soon.”

Vijay Kumar
Professor and Nemirovsky Family Dean
Penn Engineering