Faces of Philanthropy

November 6, 2019

by Karen Doss Bowman

Penn GSE develops groundbreaking research and practice to shape and lead education in the twenty-first century. As the Extraordinary Impact Campaign continues, Penn GSE is grateful to generous donors who are investing in the School’s strengths and vision. Here are four stories of support for the mission of Penn GSE. 

Advancing Innovation in Education

Andrew Harris Jacobson, WG’93, and Marina Kunis Ja­cobson, G’93, WG’93, believe in the potential of innovation and technology to transform education. As online plat­forms broaden the reach of educational content and digital tools offer new approaches to learning in and outside the classroom, the Jacobsons hope the result will be an expansion of quality learning opportuni­ties for children regardless of background.

Headshot of Andrew Harris Jacobson and Marina Kunis Jacobson, G’93, WG’93
Andrew Harris Jacobson, WG’93, and Marina Kunis Jacobson, G’93, WG’93. Photo by Chi Chi Ubiña Photography

“Technology can be a powerful resource when applied effectively and creatively to education,” says Andrew, founder, president, and CEO of Axiom Investors LLC. 

“With technology, you’re not limited by your physical location in accessing teachers, and that’s a powerful educational opportunity,” adds Marina, managing partner at Amicle Management LLC.

In keeping with their interests, the Jacobsons have named the Andrew and Marina Jacobson Innovation Studio, part of Penn GSE’s planned building expansion. The Innovation Studio will provide future educators with a state-of-the-art space in which to design groundbreaking ventures that may shape the future of learning.

“We want to support Penn GSE’s mission of remaining at the forefront of education, both nationally and internationally,” says Andrew, a member since 2019 of Penn GSE’s Board of Overseers

Andrew and Marina—who also established the Jacobson Global Venture Awards at The Wharton School’s Joseph H. Lauder Insti­tute of Management and International Studies—both feel fortunate that their parents emigrated to the United States, in part for better educational opportunities.

Administrators at Penn were instrumental in helping Andrew’s parents move to the States from England so that his father could study and teach at the University. Marina’s family left Ukraine when she was seven years old, establishing their new home in Los Angeles.

“The teachers who gave me the push and the resources I needed to succeed made a real difference, because my parents were immi­grants and weren’t aware of all the opportunities available to me,” Marina says. “The influential role of teachers in people’s lives cannot be overstated.”

Preparing Future Teachers

Deborah Ancona, C’76, GED’77, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, conducted groundbreaking research into how successful teams operate. Her work led directly to the concept of X-teams—a structure that helps individuals and orga­nizations adapt to changing external circumstances to accomplish their goals. The dy­namic approach is conducive to creativity and innovation. As a member of the Penn GSE Board of Overseers, Ancona is pleased with the School’s approach to developing future leaders in education.

Headshot of Deborah Ancona
Deborah Ancona, C’76, GED’77

“Preparing teachers with the latest ideas, examining what makes school districts effective, and training a cadre of future teachers and superintendents—those things can make a positive difference,” says Ancona, author of X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, and Succeed (Harvard Business Review Press, 2007) and founder of the MIT Leadership Center. “Penn GSE is doing great things to train future educators to improve schools around the country and the world.”

Ancona, who is Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, says her experience studying counseling as a Penn GSE student was “foundational.” Though she started with plans for a career in clinical counseling, taking a business course at The Wharton School shifted her interest to applying psychology to organizations. At MIT, she teaches executive MBA students and business executives about leadership, teams, and organizational development.

In honor of her father, the late dermatologist and professor Dr. Arthur G. Gladstein—the inventor of a device to treat cancer of the eyelid—Ancona has established The AG Scholarship Fund at Penn GSE. The fund supports students training to be teachers and lead­ers. “Through my daughters’ impact as public school teachers, I’ve seen the difference that a great teacher and a great school system can make,” Ancona says. “In my own small way, I wanted to be part of creating positive change for teachers.”

Strengthening Partnerships to Serve Children

As his term as co-chair of The Penn Fund neared its end several years ago, Steven Wagshal, W’94, started look­ing for other ways to serve Penn. He was impressed with the mission of Penn GSE—in particular, the work of the Office of School and Community Engagement (OSCE). The office supports partnerships between Penn GSE, The School District of Philadelphia, and com­munity organizations to improve the academic and life outcomes of Philadelphia children and youth who face challenges including high rates of poverty and underfunded schools.

Headshot of Steven Wagshal and Emily Loft-Wagshal
Steven Wagshal, W’94, and Emily Loft-Wagshal

When Steven met with OSCE director Dr. Caroline Watts, as well as some of the Penn GSE alumni who participate in OSCE activities, he found their passion contagious. He and his wife, Emily Loft-Wagshal, created the Wagshal OSCE Gift Fund at Penn GSE to support the OSCE’s work.

Each year, initiatives facilitated by the OSCE engage Penn GSE students, faculty, staff, and alumni in more than four hun­dred activities at 250 Philadelphia schools, as well as over eighty activities in the community. Highlights include a partnership to improve mathematics instruction in thirteen elementary schools; programs in science, coding, filmmaking, journalism, and college preparation for District students; and community offerings in counseling and English language learning. The Wagshals hope their support can help maintain and expand this outreach.

“We’re happy to provide this support so that Penn GSE students can gain hands-on experience that prepares them to be educators for the rest of their lives,” says Steven, COO of Samlyn Capital LLC and a member of the Penn GSE Board of Overseers, noting that his mother and Emily’s mother were both schoolteachers.

“The OSCE activities provide a safe place for Philadelphia children,” adds Emily, a licensed master of social work and a com­munity volunteer. “They socialize and gain exposure to learning opportunities they would not otherwise have. That makes a differ­ence for many children.” 

Supporting Strong Advocates for Learners

As a young student, Jennifer Saul Rich, C’92, struggled with a learning difference at a time when such issues were not well understood or diagnosed. Hard work and perseverance allowed her to master her studies and continue a family tradition by entering Penn as an undergradu­ate. Majoring in elementary edu­cation, she committed herself to teaching all children, especially those facing learning challenges similar to her own.

Headshot of Jennifer Saul Rich
Jennifer Saul Rich, C’92

“Each of us learns in multifaceted ways,” Saul Rich says. “I believe every student should have the opportunity to become a successful, curious, and accomplished learner.” She views her time at Penn as a transformative experience that gave her critical tools, techniques, and knowledge. She would later rely upon these to develop a multi­disciplinary curriculum, organize a classroom, and structure student development as a pre-K and kindergarten teacher.

Saul Rich’s passion for teaching has led her to support the Penn GSE Term Scholarship Fund and establish the Rich Family Endowed Scholarship at Penn GSE, aiming to help others pursuing a career in education by making their studies more affordable. A former member of the Penn GSE Board of Overseers, she views the School as playing an important role in producing the next generation of forward-thinking educators. “Penn GSE has the expertise and experience to prepare future educators to be kind, compassionate, and strong advocates for children,” she says. “I’m excited about the School’s vision.”

Saul Rich earned master’s degrees in reading and special education from Bank Street College of Education and completed a year of Ph.D. studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. While no longer a classroom teacher, she remains active in education as a member of the board of the Dwight Englewood School in New Jersey and previously served on the boards of the Town School and the Stephen Gaynor School in New York. “I will always be a proponent of and advocate for education,” she says. “It is the greatest gift we can give to America’s children.”

To learn more about the Extraordinary Impact Campaign visit www.gse.upenn.edu/support/extraordinary-impact or contact us at 215.573.6623 or alumni@gse.upenn.edu.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine.