Admissions + Alumni = Success Abroad

Eric J. Furda C87, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, sorely needs some additional pages added to his passport, as he travels the world to meet prospective students and their parents. But he knows well, it’s not a one-way exchange.

“What does Penn gain and what do students gain?” he mused. “That is, for me, the greatest of learning questions.”

For students, faculty and administrators, it’s the ability to learn from one another and their different value systems, different cultures and different languages that all of them bring to the campus.

“It’s the value of being in an environment where opinions differ from one another, where you learn and bend in directions you never thought possible,” Furda says.

His part in bringing to campus some of the 1,400 international undergraduate students from 111 countries, which represent 14 percent of Penn’s student population, requires a lot of global travel.

In the fall of 2014, it was a focus on Latin America, with trips to Mexico City, Panama City and Bogota. In January 2014, it was India. He is now sketching out a trip to Africa, and he has the U.K., France and China on his 2015 itinerary as well.

“I get tired thinking about it,” he says, laughing.


Regardless of the distinct cultures and countries he visits, it’s amazing how similar are the questions and concerns he faces. Of course, the audiences want information about the admissions process and what classes are needed to prepare the students for the level of a Penn education. But they also want to know about the challenges of transitioning to a new country and school. They want to know what outcomes they can expect from attending Penn.

“There are some things that transcend geography,” he says, “but you need to understand the local culture as well.”

Helping out in that regard are local alumni, who can be both natives of the area and expats who are working there.

Furda uses the admissions trips as a way to meet with alumni, many of whom also serve with the Penn Alumni Interview Program (PAIP).

The alumni help inform prospective students about the framework for applying to Penn, as well as help by interviewing those students on behalf of the university. And just by attending the admissions meetings, the alumni offer an important perspective on what it means to be a Penn graduate, Furda says.

During the recent Latin America trip, Furda met with a few dozen alumni, including Panamanian Ambassador Emanuel A. Gonzales-Revilla W88, who opened up his house and hosted the event.

“Having the Penn recruiting and alumni relations liaisons at the event showed the school’s commitment to our region and to Panama too,” says attendee Mayra Kam W88 G94 WG94. “Dean Furda spoke candidly about recruiting and the importance of all alumni to continue to be engaged and committed to our school, as we all can make a difference.”

—Anne Freedman