Unassuming and humble in the shadow of its epic neighbor―the Gothic architecture icon, Westminster House―the relatively diminutive Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC) hides in plain sight on Chestnut Street.
According to Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services records, the four-story, 8,600-square-foot GIC is probably the oldest building on the Penn campus, a survivor from pre-horsecar days.
Despite its historical distinction (or maybe because Penn is home to so many buildings of historical importance), the GIC eluded the attention of Jordan Katz, W’96, during his undergraduate days at Penn. In fact, it wasn’t until Katz, who is currently co-founding a private investment firm in his home city of Los Angeles, returned to Penn last January to speak at the Wharton Private Equity & Venture Capital Conference that he even knew the GIC existed.
During what was originally intended to be a quick pop-your-head-in-the-door-and-grab-a-brochure visit, Katz struck up a conversation with the GIC’s Director, Valerie De Cruz. That conversation soon grew to include several students who had been chatting in a nearby meeting area. Nearly two hours later, Katz emerged profoundly changed, if not a bit shocked. “Here was this little organization that I honestly wasn’t even aware of when I went to Penn,” he recalls. “And pound for pound, the impact the GIC was making on these students’ lives was unequalled. I left there thinking, ‘This is just incredible.’”
For those who, like a young Jordan Katz, may be less than fully aware of the GIC’s role, its mission rivals its footprint in understatement: The Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center is Penn’s resource for enhancing students’ intercultural knowledge, competency, and leadership through programs, advising, and advocacy.
This brief charge, when witnessed in real time, uncovers a complex suite of needs and situations, all of which are masterfully handled by a very small, very devoted staff. Director De Cruz sums it up: “Penn’s student body represents the best and brightest from many countries. The reality is that some of these students are the first in their family or school or town to even go to college. They show up at Penn and it’s unlike anything they’ve ever imagined. The GIC not only acts like a home away from home for them, it provides grounding and support they might not otherwise find on their own.”
That support can take many shapes, from simply connecting students of varying backgrounds, to helping them navigate Penn’s complex landscape, to creating or enhancing a curriculum or program. “A student can sit on the couch with Patricia [Soria, the GIC’s Administrative Assistant] and tell her that he’s struggling with something and get that need addressed. It’s that granular,” says De Cruz.
The GIC also offers a wildly popular signature program series that includes such big-picture opportunities as a weeklong trip south to retrace the events that led up to the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the fact that this program runs during Spring Break, the waiting list can quickly become ponderously long.
“Jordan and his wife Dori have made a deep connection with the GIC and many of the students who rely upon it. Their gift will allow us to grow these vital programs and address even more of our students’ needs,” says De Cruz.
For Katz, who has a long history of giving to Penn, the rewards of seeing such immediate and tangible results of his family’s gift were so compelling that he has become one of the Center’s most vocal evangelists. “I’ve had a number of conversations with many people and I’ve expressed my strong passion about the GIC,” says Katz. “As a result of those conversations, I’ve been able to secure additional gifts. Part of what makes Penn great is its diversity, and the impact that the GIC makes on students’ lives is spectacular. It’s crystal clear to me now that we made the right decision.”
This year the GIC will celebrate its 30th anniversary, though Katz prefers looking forward. “My goal for the Center is to help it sustain indefinitely because it’s such an important part of the Penn fabric,” he says. “To have such a personal connection with the Center makes me even more committed to supporting it long into the future―not only on behalf of my family, but also by encouraging others who may be looking for ways to help Penn’s best and brightest succeed.”
For more on the GIC and its mission, watch the video.