Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant Creates New Fellowships for the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Futures Project

June 9, 2017 - 9 minutes read

The University of Pennsylvania will establish the Calvin Bland Faculty Fellowships for the Penn Futures Project. A $2 million endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will create a separate fellowship for each school in Penn Futures: the School of NursingGraduate School of Education and School of Social Policy & Practice.

The fellowships are named for Penn alumnus Calvin Bland, former RWJF chief of staff, health-care executive and research professor at Rutgers University, whose scholarship and career have explored how to foster health equity across communities, with an emphasis on at-risk young men and boys of color.

“Calvin Bland and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have enabled us to create genuinely multidisciplinary endowed fellowships that will support work addressing the complex, evolving challenges of at-risk populations — both now and far into the future,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “This is extremely important work for our society, and we are very grateful for the generous support that will make it possible.”

The Calvin Bland Faculty Fellowships are specifically designed to incentivize faculty to conduct research aimed at improving the lives of at-risk young men and boys of color and their families. Each fellowship will have a five-year term with specific research goals for the term. Grant funds will be used for research and research-related expenses, including convening conferences, lectures, seminars and other events to disseminate the research of the fellows, and helping fellows to publish work in scholarly and popular venues.

Bland and Penn developed the Bland Faculty Fellows to promote and reward multi-pronged, interdisciplinary approaches to issues facing at-rick young men of color. Bland initially approached Penn about opportunities to fund efforts to improve the lives of at-risk young men of color.

His concerns paralleled Penn Futures’ efforts to more holistically deliver interventions to serve children and communities through established research, curriculum and other initiatives.

Launched in 2015, Penn Futures is an initiative driven by Penn Graduate School of Education Dean Pam Grossman, School of Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel and School of Social Policy & Practice Dean John Jackson. The project seeks to collaboratively generate knowledge, deliver solutions and develop future professionals ready to join forces to improve outcomes for marginalized youth and families.

“Placing fellows at each of the three Penn schools to work together to address the equity, health and well-being of at-risk young men of color will foster truly integrated approaches in education and research, which will then be more easily translated into the community,” Bland said.

“As this project started before I left the Foundation,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, former RWJF president, “let me say that I and all my RWJF colleagues are excited to be funding this pioneering project in honor of a great Philadelphia son, inspirational leader and tireless mentor to many, Calvin Bland. In his work at the Foundation, and now in retirement, he continues to collaborate with RWJF to promote outstanding initiatives that build healthy communities and break down obstacles in the pursuit of better health and quality of life.”

The challenges facing marginalized youth and families are complex and extend beyond the boundaries of neighborhoods, school zones or health clinics. These include issues of violence and safety; poverty, mental health, access to quality health care, access to quality education and more. Yet the systems and organizations that serve this population operate largely in silos that erect barriers to collaborative, comprehensive interventions. The professionals who serve children and families are educated largely in isolation from one another, despite decades of calls for high-quality, cross-disciplinary training. Children and families at greatest risk need the expertise of professionals well-versed in collaborative and comprehensive solutions to address complex and interwoven issues.

Penn Futures will partner across Philadelphia’s landscape of community organizations, local businesses, government agencies and other entities to foster and implement innovative solutions within these communities. Currently, Penn Futures is piloting seed projects that include:

  • Developing an inter-professional curriculum, including simulated learning focused on better serving the physical, mental and educational needs of LBGTQ youth;
  • Partnering with the City of Philadelphia to integrate administrative data from multiple government agencies to more effectively and efficiently identify and address key issues facing youth and families;
  • Partnering with a high school in Kensington to fuse the inter-professional clinical/field learning for future teachers, social workers and nurses; and
  • Developing an inter-professional child welfare and also an LGBTQ certificate program.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need–the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit

The School of Social Policy & Practice, one of the oldest and most storied schools of its kind in the country, contributes to the advancement of more effective, efficient and humane human services through education, research and civic engagement. In pursuit of this mission, its theory-based masters and doctoral programs in social work, social welfare, non-profit leadership and social policy encourage students to think and work across disciplinary lines and cultures as well as across national and international boundaries. Visit for more information.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is one of the world’s leading schools of nursing. For the second year in a row, it is ranked the #1 nursing school in the world by QS University, and has four graduate programs ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report, the most of any school in the United States. Penn Nursing is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of nursing research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Penn Nursing prepares nurse scientists and nurse leaders to meet the health needs of a global society through research, education, and practice. Follow Penn Nursing on: FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram & YouTube.

The Graduate School of Education is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals and unique partnerships with local educators, and the first-ever business plan competition devoted exclusively to educational products and programs.