Judith Rodin

Lorene Cary
Gloria Guard

Already distinguished as the first University of Pennsylvania (Penn) alumna to become university president and the first female president of an Ivy League university, Dr. Judith Rodin was “recognized for her unwavering commitment to elevating the economy of West Philadelphia and the quality of life for its residents; for her leadership roles in galvanizing Philadelphia’s higher-education institutions in order to keep the region’s brightest graduates here; and for promoting the region as a high-tech business location,” declared William Marrazzo, chair of the Philadelphia Award Trustees.

I mproving the area around Penn would make that community a more desirable place for Penn faculty and students to live, enabling the continued growth of the university, while (hopefully) making it a better place for the community’s non-academic residents as well.

Raised and educated in West Philadelphia, Rodin attended Girls High School and Penn, completing a B.A. degree in psychology (1966). With a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, Rodin began her professional career as an assistant professor of psychology at New York University. She soon transferred to Yale University where she spent the next 22 years of her career, moving from assistant professor up to chair of the Psychology Department. An award-winning researcher, Rodin was a pioneer in combining the insights of behavioral medicine and health psychology, studying obesity, eating disorders, and women’s health and aging.

Rodin was named dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1991) and promoted to provost (1992). Her administrative experience paved the way for her move to Penn in 1994, when she became the university’s seventh president. According to Rodin, “For me, it was a question of how did I feel about Penn, and was there a strong enough attraction there for me to give up my research career and the life of a faculty member. In the end, Penn and Philadelphia trumped the other issues.”

Her belief in the synergy between Penn’s success and the success of the surrounding community resulted in the development of the West Philadelphia Initiatives (WPI), led by Rodin and the Penn community. These efforts to improve the local neighborhoods focused on housing, schools, retail revitalization, economic development, and safety and security. Streetlights were added to more than 1200 properties, and public gardens were created. Home buying increased while overall crime dropped by 33% over a four year period. Penn developed a retail complex including a bookstore, restaurant, hotel, and nearby grocery store and movie theater. Penn partnered with the Philadelphia public schools to build and operate a pre-K through 8th grade public school, as well as to improve local schools.

Leaving Penn in 2004, Rodin is the current (and first female) president of the Rockefeller Foundation, founded in 1913 to “promote the wellbeing of humanity around the world.” In 2010, the foundation, in coordination with a bipartisan coalition of mayors from across the country, funded a two year, $200,000 grant for an administrator to coordinate city volunteers in Philadelphia. Rodin said, “[Current] Mayor [Michael] Nutter has always been guided by a deep understanding that community involvement can change neighborhoods [and] cities.” Rodin’s commitment to community, evidenced in the WPI improvements and numerous other initiatives throughout her career, continues unabated.

In 1990 Guard moved the People’s Emergency Center from its cramped quarters to a spacious, renovated factory at 39th and Spring Garden streets. Two years later, Guard raised the funds to renovate 30 abandoned row houses, which were made available to homeless families at an affordable price, provided that the parent completed “life skills” and mortgage management classes, saved $3000, and held a job for 18 months. By 2010, the PEC had renovated 200 subsidized housing units near the center, and started 25 neighborhood businesses.

An exceptional fundraiser, Guard raised $125 million while heading the People’s Emergency Center, ending with a $7 million annual budget, over 90 employees, and a remarkable vision. When receiving the Philadelphia Award, Guard expressed her hope that one day Philadelphia would be “the first place in the country where all citizens can elevate themselves and prosper.”

Tamara A. Measler

Sources: Frederick Cusick, “Rodin is chosen for Philadelphia Award,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 2004; James M. O’Neill, “Next Stop for Rodin could be Classroom or Campaign,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 2004; James M. O’Neill, “End of an Era at Penn: Rodin Stepping Down,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 2003; Mike Armstrong, “Locally Embattled Directors Win Seats,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 11, 2010; Marcia Gelbart, “City Hires New Officer to Coordinate Volunteers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 10, 2010; Zoe Tillman, “Commencement Speakers Struggle to Inspire Students,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1, 2009; Dianna Marder, “PA Society Toasts Public Good,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 11, 2006; Jeremy Schlosberg, “Rodin is at Home in her Role as Penn Chief,” Philadelphia Business Journal, Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, 2001; Robert Strauss, “Judith Rodin Penn’s President Steps in to make Philadelphia a New Economy City,” Philly Tech, June, 2001, vol. 4, no. 6; City of Philadelphia, “Cities of Service / Rockefeller Foundation Award First-Ever Leadership Grant to Philadelphia on MLK Day of Service,” City of Philadelphia, http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=258969801957, Jan.18, 2010; “Judith Rodin, PhD President of the Rockefeller Foundation,” Rockefeller Foundation, http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/about-us/board-trustees/judith-rodin-phd. The following are collected in Philadelphia Award Records, Series 2 (Recipients and Nominees), Box 8, folders 9 – 13: newspaper and magazine clippings, curriculum vitae, nomination forms, and various promotional materials. Photo: Image courtesy of the Office of the University Secretary, University of Pennsylvania. Comment: Rodin personally contributed to numerous Philadelphia initiatives. She played a pivotal role in the creation and development of the National Constitution Center and served as chair of the Knowledge Industry Partnership, a group looking to leverage local colleges into economic vitality. Rodin has served on approximately two dozen boards, including the boards of the Comcast and Aetna corporations, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Schuylkill River Development Corp, a nonprofit seeking to improve the Philadelphia waterfront; and (as chairman) the New Economy Development Alliance, a group dedicated to enticing technology enterprises to the city.