Principal Phil Schwenk Talks Decision to Attend University of Pennsylvania for Undergrad Study

Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Principal Phil Schwenk in-studio to talk about his decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Leahy: Right now, we are delighted to welcome back to our microphones our very good friend Phil Schwenk, a longtime educator who has been involved in public charter schools for a long time, taught public schools in L.A. – that’s not lower Alabama, folks, it’s Los Angeles. Phil, you’re laughing. Welcome, Phil. Thanks for joining us.

Schwenk: Oh, thanks for having me.

Leahy: Have you ever heard that – L.A., lower Alabama?

Schwenk: It was actually one of the things I’ve learned that’s new to me. Los Angeles has always been L.A. And then I learned L.A. in different regions has different meanings.

Leahy: We say that just because it’s sort of Southern making fun of Los Angeles.

Schwenk: That’s legitimate. I understand.

Leahy: We’re delighted to have you back in the studio. Education – the terrible state of K-12 education in America today – is of great concern to everyone. And you, Phil, have dedicated your life to education. A little bit of a reminder, you were born in where? Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Schwenk: Was actually born in Denver.

Leahy: Born in Denver, but raised in Albuquerque. Right. So, a westerner?

Schwenk: Definitely.

Leahy: But then he came east and went to University of Pennsylvania.

Schwenk: I did. An Ivy League school in Philadelphia, founded way back when in 1740 by the Quakers.

Leahy: And Ben Franklin was very much associated with that. Tell me, out of all the places in the world, so there you are in Albuquerque. As a kid, why did you want to go to Penn?

Schwenk: (Chuckles) That’s actually a bit of a story. So it’s funny, because growing up in New Mexico, you are away from everybody else, especially the Ivy League schools.

Leahy: Albuquerque, it’s a city now, what, maybe half a million.

Schwenk: Half a million now.

Leahy: And it’s interesting, because it’s kind of a dramatic look when you fly into Albuquerque. It’s got a dramatic, very Southwest look. So there you are growing up in Albuquerque. How did you end up there? What did your dad do? What was he?

Schwenk: He was actually an engineer.

Leahy: Got it. Okay. So there you are going to high school in Albuquerque. And so typically, most kids going to high school in Albuquerque would think, I’m going to go to the University of New Mexico, be a Lobo or New Mexico State.

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: I don’t know. What are their nicknames?

Schwenk: The Aggies. There you go.

Leahy: And so most of your classmates probably went there.

Schwenk: Especially New Mexico State.

Leahy: Which is where the engineers would go.

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: How did you end up at Penn?

Schwenk: I wish I could give you, like, a great story, but early ’90s, we don’t have the Internet, so it’s not like you’re looking up all these colleges. I had done well. I had done well in the SAT, and the ACT, so I had gotten a lot of mailers at that time.

Leahy: You got those letters.

Schwenk: I got those letters. The funny thing is, I can’t give you any great insight as to Penn, beyond I really liked Ben Franklin as a child. He was on the front of the mailer, and I thought, oh, this seems interesting.

Leahy: So this is what we have in common. One of the most influential books I ever read, and I think I read it as a little kid in upstate New York. I read the autobiography of Ben Franklin.

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely. That’s a great book.

Leahy: And I thought, that’s the American way to go. It was all about working hard, doing your best, and being honest. And of course, he’s been described as the first American.

Schwenk: Sure. And I think that’s legitimate.

Leahy: So you got all these letters. And you got this one with Ben Franklin’s face on it. You thought, I like this guy.

Schwenk: Yes. And so I applied to four schools. I applied to New Mexico State, because I didn’t want to stay in the city I grew up in, to go to Las Cruces. I applied to Colorado State because I wanted to go to Colorado. But my mom had gone to the University of Colorado, so I wanted to go to a different school.

I had a friend that had gone to Iowa with a full scholarship. He said I could do the same. I applied and got the same scholarship.

Leahy: Could have been a Hawkeye.

Schwenk: Yes. And I applied to the University of Pennsylvania because Ben Franklin was on the front. And I got into all four, and it came down to me talking to a teacher, and he looked at me like I was crazy because I didn’t totally understand what the University of Pennsylvania was.

Leahy: And then you arrived in Philadelphia.

Schwenk: I did.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “University of Pennsylvania” by University of Pennsylvania.


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