PEX opens doors for freshmen

The new Philadelphia Experience Passport, paired with the GenEd program, aims to acquaint freshmen with arts and culture in the city.

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The Philadelphia Experience Passport will gain free or discounted access for freshmen to arts and culture events.

This year, incoming freshmen from the university’s Class of 2013 received a gift from Temple’s General Education Program before the start of the Fall 2009 semester.

At orientation, freshmen were given a compact gray, glossy booklet. The booklet, known as the Philadelphia Experience passport, or PEX passport for short, contains coupons for students to access countless arts and cultural organizations throughout the city, including the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Franklin Institute and more.

Freshman English and German major Matt Thompson said he is excited about the program.

“I think [PEX] is a good opportunity to let students progress and discover Philadelphia in a way [we] wouldn’t have been able to before,” Thompson said. “It will make students more comfortable getting out of the Temple bubble and [allow us to] experience everything the city has to offer.”

GenEd director Terry Halbert, came up with the idea for the program in January. She heard of a similar program at Drexel University and said someone there knew she was interested in developing a GenEd program with a curricular emphasis on Philadelphia.

Halbert later engaged in a correspondence with the director of Drexel’s program, who explained how the program started and invited Halbert to check out its Web site and mirror the program here at Temple.

“I thought it was cool that Drexel had [a passport program], and I thought, ‘Why couldn’t we?’” Halbert said.

About 37 organizations signed up for the program — more than Drexel’s program — which gives free or reduced-price admission to the different museums, dance studios, festivals and concert venues.

Traditional arts and cultural organizations, such as the Franklin Institute, signed up to be a part of the program, but one of the key features of Temple’s PEX passport is that multiple alternative arts organizations, such as the Kun-Yang Lin Dance Company, which draws from an Asian American cultural perspective to enrich Western contemporary dance, got involved.

“We approached the independent and alternative venues, and what was so cool is that they were even more interested in this venture than the more mainstream [counterparts],” Halbert said. “This is a very good thing to them because they are dependent on fresh blood, a new, young appreciative audience. A neat feature these venues are offering is the chance for students to watch artists, directors and actors prepare for and create the art [before showing it to the public].”

The costs of the savings, which would amount to more than $450 in total admissions fees, is being burdened by participating companies. The organizations are giving up the profit, but the GenEd department is paying to produce the passport. Susanne Willever, a graduate student in art history, designed the passports.

Despite the multiple participating organizations and the sleek, stylish design of the passport, not everything ran smoothly. Delayed printing caused passports to arrive halfway through new student orientations, leaving some freshmen passport-less, Halbert said.

Freshmen who did not receive their passport at orientation can pick it up with an Owl Card at 714 Carnell Hall, the office of the GenEd program.

Danielle Utianski, a freshman psychology major, was one of the students who had to go to the Student Center to pick up her passport before Friday, as they were being held there. She said she looks forward to using her passport, which she said was quickly and easily obtained from the Student Center’s information desk.

“My roommate and I are actually planning on taking a day and seeing as many [arts venues] as we can,” she said.

One downside to the program is that upperclassmen cannot participate. PEX passports are for freshmen only.

“These passports are just for first-year students, students who are just starting out at Temple,” Halbert said. “I’m really sorry about this, and maybe sometime down the line we can offer it to upperclassmen later, but for now students need to understand that it is a special launch for first year students.”

Many upperclassmen said they were disappointed by the news.

“Where was [PEX] during my first year? I would have gone to so many shows,” Danielle Jones, a sophomore film and media arts major, said. “They’re not cheap.”

Julia Wallace, a sophomore psychology major, was a bit more understanding but said she was still disappointed.

“I understand that the university wants to make new students feel welcome and introduce them to Philly, but upperclassmen are only here in the city during the school year, so do they have less of a right to enjoy [PEX]?” Wallace said.

“It just seems like a way to bribe people to come here, while screwing over people who are already here,” she added.

Student opinions aside, people on Main Campus are generally happy with the program.

Deborah Block, a professor in Temple’s theater department and co-founder of Philadelphia Fringe Festival, one of the organizations in the passport, said she was so thrilled when she heard about the program, she offered to help develop it.

Block, also artistic co-director of Theatre Exile, said she hopes students will use the program to get a taste of what the cultural scene in Philadelphia has to offer.

“I [hope] freshmen learn to create an independent relationship with the cultural life of Philadelphia, one that extends beyond the classroom,” she said.

“There are multiple things happening, but one of the goals is for students to learn about Philadelphia and learn to take advantage of and appreciate all of the real wonders and jewels of Philadelphia.”

Joshua Fernandez can be reached at josh@temple.edu.

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