Temple alumnus seeks to revive program in Gen-Ed

Donnell Powell is a local artist bringing a new approach to the PEX Passport Program.

Donnell Powell, Temple University PEX Passport program coordinator, hands out flyers for the program around campus on Nov. 1. The program allows students to experience art exhibits and performances throughout the city for free or at a reduced cost. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Donnell Powell was a freshman at Temple University when the General Education Program was created in 2008. 

He remembers visiting the Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Orchestra on discount through Temple’s Philadelphia Experience Passport.

Now, Powell, a 2012 media studies and production alumnus, is the new coordinator of the PEX Passport, a program that gives students free or discounted access to city attractions through partnerships with various city arts organizations. He took over the position last month and is working to revamp the program among the Temple community by connecting with city arts initiatives, increasing event engagement on campus and connecting with university organizations. 

“When I saw the PEX Passport coordinator position, it was like ‘Wow,’ it was very nostalgic,” Powell said.

The program started in 2009 as a part of the Gen-Ed program to encourage incoming students to engage with Philadelphia. 

“There would be [Gen-Ed] classes that would send students out into the community that use Philadelphia specific topics as case studies,” said Dana Dawson, associate director of the Gen-Ed Program. “Part of that would be the PEX Passport … it’s part of this broader effort to make the city part of the curriculum.”

The PEX Passport formerly was a physical coupon book and offers to city arts organizations, like Wilma Theater and The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Now, offers are listed on a PEX Passport page on Gen-Ed’s website, but many students are unaware of its existence, Dawson said. 

This is partially because of the Gen-Ed Program’s decreased emphasis on PEX Passport and the size of the university, which has many activities for students to be involved in, she added.

“As any program matures, you get into the weeds of maintaining it,” Dawson said. “We’re trying to get back to some of those things that were maybe deprioritized as the program matured.” 

Powell is an art collector and teaching artist, and educates students through organizations, like Philadelphia Young Playwrights and Mural Arts Philadelphia. He would like to partner with these organizations with the PEX Passport program. 

In addition, he hopes to shift some focus away from larger museums and cultural institutions toward lesser-known ones, like the Colored Girls Museum, Powell said. 

At the Gen-Ed Course Fair on Oct. 28, Powell talked to attendees who had never heard about the program, he said. He hopes students will use the program more after he increases its presence. 

“It’s a very nice thing to go around in the city and explore new museums and everything, and they should advertise it more, especially for international students who are just coming to the city,” said Dariia Dragunova, a freshman computer science major and international student from Ukraine.

Powell wants to see how the PEX Passport program can support student organizations, faculty members and University Housing and Residential Life’s missions.

“The most successful thing in trying to achieve anything is partnering,” Powell said. “Why do we all have to do our own thing, why can’t we join forces?”

The program could be advertised better by people speaking to classes about it and having pop-up tables on campus, said Blaine Yohannes, a senior early childhood education major. She added that out of her four years at Temple, she did not know the program existed.

“I would love discounted access to museums and attractions,” she said. “Like the art museum and the institute, things that I took advantage of as a kid that I would want to see now.”

Dawson said that Powell’s passion and knowledge for the arts make him perfect for the position. 

“He has so much enthusiasm for the arts, and we hope that will be infectious. He has a really broad awareness of different arts and cultural organizations in the city,” Dawson said. “That’s what PEX is, it’s meant to be broadly inclusive of the arts and cultural community.”

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