Dr. Penny Grossman’s Nurturing Nature
Everyone is spending more time indoors these days—which makes the promise of celebrating nature again all the more refreshing. For Penny Steiner-Grossman, Ed.D., senior project coordinator, that means exercising her green thumb.
Her horticultural hobby offers a welcome balance to the detailed work involved in helping the College of Medicine achieve independent accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, for which she serves as co-chair with executive dean Dr. Edward Burns in coordinating and completing the medical school’s institutional self-study.
Sharing Her Passion
At her White Plains home, Penny grows abundant houseplants. “Every possible space, every window ledge, has a plant on it,” she said. But her passion for growing things doesn’t end there.
After she and her husband Jack joined Bet Am Shalom Synagogue in White Plains two decades ago, she volunteered for the landscape committee, eventually becoming its chair. The synagogue, founded in 1955, occupies a small former estate. The setting was always beautiful, but ambitious garden plans had not been realized.
So Penny took up her trowel. She comes to gardening naturally; her parents were both excellent gardeners, she said, and her father was an amateur landscape designer. She also has taken courses at the New York Botanical Garden. (Continuing the tradition, her daughter gardens on a Brooklyn terrace, and her son has designed gardens in White Plains.)
A Cycle of Beauty
“Our aim is to develop a cycle so there will always be something beautiful, from the spring through the fall and even into the winter,” said Penny, who also is associate professor of family and social medicine and of pediatrics. The garden has some hundred-year-old boxwoods; she intersperses “interesting plants,” concentrating on perennials to keep within the garden’s modest budget.
Penny particularly likes ornamental grasses, which “require absolutely no care” other than pruning with a hedge trimmer in late winter. “I really enjoy bringing congregants to help me,” she said. “Some of them are afraid of the machinery at first, but one woman got out a lot of frustrations that way, hacking off the grass to prepare for new growth.”
She enjoys communicating the garden’s delights. “Gardening is a joy and a release, and I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from it. And I enjoy showing it to other people.” The synagogue’s art gallery is planning a show of artwork inspired by the garden.
Nurturing Growth at Einstein
Penny nourishes more than just plants. She previously served as director of educational research and evaluation and as assistant dean for educational resources in the office of medical education. During her 27 years at Einstein, she has mentored more than 1,000 faculty members in furthering their academic careers, leading workshops aimed at preparing faculty members for appointment and promotion. She also served as faculty facilitator in the first-year Introduction to Clinical Medicine course for 18 years, and each year she helps fourth-year students polish their CVs for their residency applications.
“I love to coach people as they prepare to move ahead and to help them with their writing, and to see them advance,” she said.
Her excellence as a teacher has been recognized through a variety of honors, including election to Einstein’s Leo M. Davidoff Society and receiving Einstein’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014 and an Educational Service Award in 2019. At this year’s commencement she was presented with the Einstein Honorary Alumna Award.
Gardening During COVID-19
During the pandemic, the synagogue is closed, so as the spring unfolded Penny began taking photos of the garden, which are shared with the congregation in the synagogue’s weekly calendar. “It is so gorgeous right now,” she said. “The azaleas are out. The peonies are in bud. Everything is looking so fresh, so of course I want to share it. It belongs to all the members.”
On a recent visit, Penny was delighted to note that the synagogue’s grounds manager had mulched all the beds to keep weeds down and moisture in. She looks forward to the time when people will once again be able to assemble for the High Holy Days in a tent on the grounds, and the synagogue will again rent the space for weddings.
Meanwhile, she continues with nature’s tasks, which pay no heed to COVID-19. To flourish, rosebushes and hydrangeas must be pruned.
“This was a good year for hydrangeas. We have lots of them. I’ve trained several volunteers to help me cut them back. Those new to the task have to be encouraged to be bold. We do it with social distancing; we yell across the bushes to one another!”
Penny readily admits that her enthusiasm sometimes veers toward obsession. “I go to a nursery and see a plant and buy it, and then say ‘Where am I going to put this?’ This is a sign of a truly crazed gardener!”
Whether crazed or simply intently focused, nature lovers are grateful for her plant savvy and commitment, and the beauty that they provide.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 29, 2020