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Penny Hirsch

Professor of Instruction Emerita, and previous Associate Director, The Cook Family Writing Program; previously, Lecturer in The McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

PhD, Northwestern University, English; BA, University of Michigan, English

Penny Hirsch taught courses in expository writing and engineering communication for 40 years at Northwestern (1978 – 2017), as well as serving as an adviser for first-quarter students in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In WCAS, her advising seminars— “Reading and Writing Stories from the Margin” — grew out of her interest in promoting inclusiveness and diversity at Northwestern and her volunteer work with formerly incarcerated women. A second seminar, "Writing about Community and Diversity," encouraged students to analyze the communities to which they belong and consider what creates – or challenges—community at Northwestern.

As a representative of Weinberg College and the Writing Program, Hirsch helped design and for many years co-directed Design Thinking and Communication (DTC, formerly known as Engineering Design and Communication or EDC), the Writing Program's cross-disciplinary foundational design course required for all first-year engineering students in the McCormick School and team-taught with McCormick faculty. This innovative course received national and international recognition and, as such, was the focus of many of Hirsch’s publications and consulting at other institutions. In addition, as a Faculty Fellow in the Segal Design Institute, Hirsch helped develop and team-taught Design 370: Engineering Design Portfolio and Presentation, a course that integrates communication instruction into design and is required for all Northwestern students pursuing the Segal Certificate in Design. Previously, Hirsch was a 7-year project leader for communication in the National Science Foundation-sponsored VaNTH (Vanderbilt-Northwestern-Texas-Harvard/MIT) consortium in biomedical engineering. More recently, she represented the Segal Design Institute at the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium.

Hirsch was the first member of Northwestern’s Teaching Track faculty to be recognized for “excellence in teaching” as a Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer. She served on several University search committees and was active in NU’s Residential College system, having been for many years a faculty fellow at the Women's Residential College, where she served one 6-year term as Faculty ‘Master.’ She was also a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement.

In other professional activities, Hirsch was a partner in her own consulting firm, Communication Partners, where she designed and ran communication workshops for hundreds of professionals in law, medicine, healthcare, real estate management, and engineering. She also reviewed articles for the Journal of Business Communication (JBC), the Journal of Business and Technical Communication (JBTC), the Journal of Engineering Education (JEE), and the International Journal of Engineering Education (IJEE).

At her retirement Hirsch became a founding Board Member of a local non-profit organization -- Women Initiating New Directions or WIND ( -- which helps formerly and currently incarcerated women in their re-entry journeys. WIND offers virtual and in-person programming in design, communication, healthcare, and other areas to help these women live productive, fulfilling lives. Hirsch’s main focus is to lead the “Writing for Empowerment” courses at Cook County Jail, while also mentoring student volunteers from Northwestern, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the Adler School of  Psychology. Having done her doctoral work in English Literature, Hirsch enjoys facilitating discussions for local book groups, as well as going to the opera, hiking, skiing, and being with family.