Looking Foward by Giving Back

October 1, 2014

Graduate alumnus sees fellowship support as an investment in the future.

David Teece, GR’75, PAR’12 — photo courtesy of David Teece

What do you call an influential and highly cited economist who is equally successful as the founder of a respected global consulting firm, as a pioneering New Zealand vintner, an “angel” investor, and as an owner of a luxury resort in Fiji? A Penn Arts and Sciences graduate, of course. Scholar-entrepreneur David J. Teece, who earned his doctorate in economics in 1975, credits the breadth and depth of his Penn education for his success in these divergent arenas.

Teece attended Penn on a graduate fellowship, and he and his wife Leigh returned the favor in 2003 by establishing an endowment fund for exceptional graduate students conducting applied research in the physical or social sciences. “I figured, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do something in perpetuity along the lines of what I myself had benefited from?’” the former School of Arts and Sciences Overseer says.

As a scholar—he holds the Thomas W. Tusher Chair in Global Business at the University of California, Berkeley—Teece knows firsthand the key role top-rate graduate students play at an academic institution and the promise they represent for the world at large.

“In order for Penn to remain competitive, it has to be able to support its students well or they’ll go somewhere else where there’s better funding. It’s absolutely essential that we provide greater student support to Arts and Sciences,” he says. “These students are working on fundamental issues and expanding the stock of knowledge available to humanity. I see it as an investment in the future of our civilization. … It’s not just a matter of giving back to Penn; it’s also giving to the future of society.

Eve M. Troutt Powell, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History and Africana Studies, says fellowships like the Teece Family Foundation Award are especially crucial now in light of reductions in federal funding. It’s important, she says, to the futures of young scholars that they be well nurtured and supported. It’s equally important that the School be able to attract the most talented graduate students who can mentor undergraduates and bolster faculty research. “Graduate students are the connective tissue between faculty and undergraduates,” she says.

Teece Fellow Emily Bray conducts a paw preference test on a Labrador Retriever puppy, — photo courtesy of Emily Bray

The Teece fellowship recently supported Emily Bray, a psychology student whose research focuses on canine cognition as it relates to guide dogs. She is attempting to identify environmental factors and cognitive abilities early in development that predict positive outcomes in the performance of Seeing Eye® dogs in order to understand how they can best be prepared to meet the needs of the people who rely on them. The funding allowed her to make research trips to dog labs in Vienna and Budapest and to conduct field research on hyenas in Kenya. “This time proved invaluable in terms of professional development,” she says, “as I was able to acquire observational and experimental techniques, meet fellow researchers with whom I will keep in touch and be able to ask advice, as well as learn day-to-day practical skills. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Teece Fellow Hannah Voorhees is conducting research on Saint Lawrence Island in Gambell, Alaska. — photo courtesy of Hannah Voorhees

Recipient Hannah Voorhees is completing a dissertation on the role of Alaska’s native communities in polar bear conservation. The anthropology student hopes her research will give others a window into questions of environmental justice that arise within localized attempts to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Of her Teece fellowship, the anthropology student says, “It has allowed me to navigate the stresses of school and the job market without the additional stress of debt. In addition, receiving the funding was a vote of confidence and moral support that made the sometimes lonely and difficult pursuit of academic writing all the more rewarding.”

“The generosity and kindness of alumni like David Teece and his wife Leigh will make sure these roads are left open to as wide a community of budding scholars as possible,” Troutt Powell says. “My gratitude is deep and quite real.”