three people standing

Over 32 years as a professor at Weitzman, Frank Matero has been driven by a guiding principle: that historic preservation is as much about people as it is places.

“As a discipline and practice, historic preservation has evolved to understand its responsibility to the social dimensions of built heritage,” Matero says. “Today, heritage conservation defines a more integrated and sustainable notion of legacy as that which ties people and communities to places and things through negotiated and shared values rather than imposed ones.”

Thanks to a gift from Dawn (MSHP’94), and Brian Gonick (W’86), Matero has reached a new landmark. As the Gonick Family Professor, Matero assumes the first endowed professorship in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation—the first named full professorship created at the School since 2006.

With initiatives such as the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites and the Urban Heritage Project, the Weitzman School’s historic preservation program has long advanced meaningful conservation activities in concert with local communities, nonprofit organizations, and academic partners. The program celebrated its 40th anniversary in the 2021-2022 Academic Year; a celebration of the milestone is being planned for Homecoming 2022 in October.

“A gift of this magnitude is immense for its recognition of historic preservation as a field of study that has joined its rightful place among older, more established departments within the Weitzman School of Design,” says Matero.

As an educator and conservation practitioner, Matero has shaped global discourse and practice in architectural conservation for over 35 years. His current research and practice are focused on material and site vulnerabilities related to climate change.

Since 2014, Dawn, who studied under Matero, and Brian Gonick have championed his vision for the program, with gifts supporting travel grants for students and the relocation of the Center for Architectural Conservation, which Matero directs, to a dedicated space.

“Historic preservation is more relevant today than ever. Over the last decade, the faculty in the preservation department at the Weitzman School have been forward looking in their recognition that larger issues facing humanity, such as environmental sustainability and social justice, need to be considered in their approach to preservation,” says Dawn Gonick.

“The general perception of historic preservation is that it’s about structures, but that’s a superficial view,” says Brian Gonick. “Frank has always been a believer that sustainability and cultural preservation go hand in hand.”

Named professorships at Penn honor esteemed faculty and attract top talent to these positions, while freeing significant resources needed to launch initiatives that enrich student learning, encourage promising and pivotal research, and prepare future leaders in every discipline. The Gonicks’ gift was supplemented by the Weitzman School’s matching program, which still has funds available to elevate the value of gifts that support professors, directors, and student aid.

“Frank is a special person, and part of what has been so successful for the program is his ability to connect not only with students, but also with notable organizations all over the world,” says Dawn. “Those relationships with places like the National Parks Service and the World Monument Fund create formative research and training opportunities for students and drive the evolution of the field as a whole.”

Just as Matero knows that historic preservation is about the people, he knows that this professorship is especially meaningful because of his connection with the Gonicks.

“For this gift to have come from Dawn and Brian is not only fulfilling for me as a teacher, but also as someone who has spent the better part of my professional life advocating for the relevance and importance of the existing built environment,” says Matero. “To know those values have been embraced and now supported through this incredible gift means so much to all of us in the program and at the Weitzman School.”

“We hope this professorship raises the profile and importance of historic preservation within and beyond Penn, and allows Frank and the Department to continue the great work they are doing,” the Gonnicks say.

This story was originally published on the Inspiring Impact website.