Mission and History


Although administered by the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Fox engages and supports Penn undergraduates and recent alumni not only in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, but also in the Wharton School, the Nursing School, and the Engineering School. That is why Fox’s main service-learning programs have been “Penn” initiatives, such as “Penn Leads the Vote,” “Penn Undergraduates in New Orleans,” and so forth.

Fox has four components: research and service fellowships (undergraduates and recent alumni); teaching, advising and service-learning; events and training; and partnerships and special projects. In all four components, Fox encourages students to consider the lessons in leadership and life articulated and modeled by Robert A. Fox, the leader after whom it is named: finding your passions; putting people first; and succeeding the right way.

With the additional support provided in 2013, over the next decade, Fox was able to expand its funded fellowships to 150 a year; and co-sponsor the Penn Program on Opinion and Research Studies (PORES) with research fellowships each year.


Founded in 1999 through the generosity and vision of Robert A. Fox (C’52) and Penny Fox (ED’53), the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, known as the Fox Program or simply as “Fox,” is one of the most successful student-serving programs anywhere in the country. 

Starting in 1999 from a $6 million gift, as of 2021, the Foxes had contributed $32.9 million—$27 million to the Fox Program, and another $5.9 million to the Robert A. Fox Leadership International Program, known as Fox Leadership International or simply as “FLI.” 

In 2018, FLI became a free-standing program co-located with Fox in the beautifully renovated Robert and Penny Fox Family Pavilion.  In addition, in 2015, the Foxes donated $1.5 million to support the Robert and Penny Fox Family Faculty Director of the Fels Institute of Government, a program that is co-located with Fox and FLI in the Fox Family Pavilion.

In brief, Fox’s core mission has never changed: equip and empower Penn students and alumni for present and future roles as ethical and effective leaders. 

But how Fox advances that mission has evolved through four different eras, the first three eras under the leadership of its Founding Faculty Director, Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., and the fourth and ongoing era under the leadership of its present Faculty Director, Professor John S. Lapinski:

  • Lessons in Leadership (1999-2004), dedicated mainly to public events and curricular initiatives: More than 300 public events/training sessions; 26 co-sponsored leadership courses; and three early service-learning initiatives.
  • Leadership Study and Service (2004-2014), dedicated mainly to large-scale service-learning initiatives:  More than 700 public events/training sessions, 73 co-sponsored leadership courses; 317 paid student fellowships; and scores of student service-learning initiatives, among them Penn Leads the Vote (PLTV), Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), and Fox Leadership in New Orleans, Louisiana (FLINOLA).
  • Leadership Fellowships and Global Engagement (2014-2019), dedicated mainly to paid student and alumni fellowships and the development of international educational and cultural exchange programs:  More than 700 paid student fellowships, 101 of them outside the U.S.; 151 public events/trainings; 28 co-sponsored leadership courses; and 16 service-learning initiatives.


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