Finding Your Study Spot

There are so many important decisions you have to make during your time at Penn: what are you going to major in, where do you want to live, what clubs do you want to join. But for me, the most important question I had to answer, was where do I want to study. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Matt, why does that even matter?’ but it was a question that plagued me (and many others before me) when I finally arrived on campus, my freshman year. Now, there are those out there who advocate for Van Pelt Library, others who swear by Fisher Fine Arts, and even some who won’t go anywhere besides the Starbucks in the basement of Commons (the new Starbucks at 39th and Walnut has proved to be quite the controversy).

There are so many choices on campus, that it can be a bit overwhelming. So what did I do? I just began to try out different spaces. This place was too dark, that one was too noisy, and the other one was just too far away from my room. But eventually, like Goldilocks herself, I found the one that was just right: the study carrels on the Sansom side of the second floor of Biddle Law Library. For me, the space is perfect: cozy yet structured, bright but not distracting, quiet without being isolating. I’m able to go there and get work done without feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

In general, there are so many options at Penn, and in the College specifically. But, I encourage you to be like Goldilocks-- test things out and eventually you will find what works for you! Try different classes, join different organizations, and meet new people. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even see you in studying in the law library. Until then, take advantage of all of the opportunities here and you too will find your ‘place.’  

Matthew S, C'18

A Domestic "Abroad" Experience


The number of cool programs that the College offers its students is incredible. This semester, I am participating in the Penn in Washington program, a semester-long opportunity for students interested in public policy to live in Washington, D.C., intern full time at a public or private agency of their choosing, and take interesting Political Science courses on topics such as the U.S. Presidency and foreign policy. After being here for only a month, I have already learned so much about the field I want to go into and the culture of our nation’s capital.

    The first week we were here was Orientation Week, where we traveled around the city to take tours of places such as Capitol Hill and meet with interesting professionals, such as Hill staffers, lawyers, and judges, who work in DC. The cohort really learned a lot about networking in DC through that week, as well as how the federal government works. This week culminated in group presentations on how policymaking occurs in DC at the federal level.

    Since orientation, I have been working full time at the United States Department of Education in its Office of Innovation and Improvement. Specifically, I work on one of their Teacher Quality Programs called Teacher Quality Partnerships, which is a grant program that allocates federal dollars to universities to reform their colleges of education and set up non-traditional programs that allow professionals already in their career but wanting to switch over to teaching obtain their certifications. ED is a really cool place to go to work everyday--it’s right off of the National Mall, and it has a great cafeteria and fitness center within the building.

    I’m so grateful for this unique opportunity to study and learn more about political science in the best place to do so. I’m most looking forward to seeing what the environment down here starts to look like as the election heats up going into November!

Patrick Z, C'18

Major: Undecided

As the end of my sophomore year draws closer with each passing lecture, I think more about my decision to major in English and Computer Science (College students have to declare by the end of sophomore year). Two, three years ago, as I was applying for and heading to college, I had absolutely no idea what area of study I would end up focusing on, which is why I applied to Penn, undecided.

It seems like there’s a certain stigma surrounding the undecided major; my peers felt that they should at least put Biology or History, something they were somewhat interested in but still unsure about. However, I know that there is nothing wrong with being undecided, as trite as that sounds.

What is important about being undecided is that you still have the motivation to pursue what interests you. My favorite subjects in high school were art and biology, and I found in Penn the ability to customize my academic experience to tailor my interdisciplinary interests. Biological Basis of Behavior and Visual Studies both appealed to me prior to my arrival on campus.

Freshman year, my friends would ask, almost weekly, what my new major was to be: the joke is that I changed my mind so often, cycling through BBB, Economics, Communications, Visual Studies, Psychology, and almost everything else so quickly that it seemed like I’d never settle.

Four semesters later, I’ve realized that at the core of my passion for biology and art during high school was a love for the beautifully imperfect human condition--something that, to my surprise, is very relevant to English. I am by no means an expert in literature; formal structures and Renaissance literature, for example, are still areas I struggle in. But the excitement of pursuing something difficult, achieving some level of understanding, and being able to apply larger concepts across multiple disciplines makes quite a fulfilling academic experience.

-Julia W. '18

Top 3 Classes I've Taken Outside of My Majors

One of my favourite aspects of my Penn education is the fact that I have essentially free reign to take any classes that catch my eye, provided it fits into my schedule. As a senior, I've accumulated some pretty interesting classes under my belt as I made the best out of the vast and varied academic offerings at Penn. I am an International Relations and Economics double major with a minor in English.

1. Freud (GRMN253), taught by Liliane Weissenberg

Many people write off Freud for being essentially, a hack of a scientist. This class instead examines the life, cultural influences and societal impact of Sigmund Freud. This was one of the first classes where I was consistently engaged in lecture and recitation, delving into not only the cultural phenomenon that was fin-de-siècle Vienna but the philosophies of Freud and his contemporaries. Liliane Weissenberg made the most esoteric of concepts accessible with a dry sense of humour. I left the class with not only a deeper appreciation for Sigmund Freud and his works, but a greater understanding of European history and psychoanalysis today.

2. Information Strategies and Economics (OPIM469), taught by Lorin Hitt

Despite not being in Wharton, I was able to register for this Operations Management class because of Penn's One School policy, which took down many of the bureaucratic red tape surrounding taking classes outside of your school. Despite the seemingly dry name, this class explored how digital goods (like digital songs, e-books, and streaming) changes the way businesses are fundamentally run (think about how the rise of Uber and Lyft displaced traditional taxis) and how we use economics to price and regulate these information goods. Lorin Hitt is at the top of his field and his work as a private consultant for some of the biggest companies in the world meant that every lecture was filled with relevant cases he's worked on before. This was one of the classes that I saw myself applying the most concepts from in everyday life. 

3. Ancient Roman History (ANCH027), taught by Julia Wilker

I had always been a classics buff and I was very excited in my freshman year spring semester to immerse myself in Roman history. This class spanned the entirety of Roman history, from the myth of Remus and Romulus to the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. This was another class in which the lectures and recitations complemented each other very nicely. I would learn about how Romans borrowed many parts of their culture from the Etruscans and then hear my super cool teaching assistant tell me about how she excavated an Etruscan village in Italy years prior in recitation. I loved classes like this one because you were able to be fully immersed in a topic that you have never delved into before and emerge at the end of a semester with your brain full of new information. Taking this class actually prepared me very well for future political science classes that cited various Roman wars and political thought. 

-Ber Ber X. '16


At Penn, There Are No Limits

Creativity is everything to me. In high school, I found my academics deprived of creative agency—I just stuck to the textbooks, to put it simply. I valued my academics, but I also wanted to integrate creative aspects into the curriculum. But, I never quite found a way to go about doing that. Without even knowing it, I was suffocating. Then, I came to Penn. I truly didn’t know what I was missing. Creativity courses through the heart of this school. I’m taking classes where you are encouraged to make something of your own to be proud of. My preconceived notion of academics was completely altered, in the best way possible, when I first went to a class here. I was learning things that I wanted to learn with professors who valued crazy ideas and original opinions. 

I’m surrounded by creative people who unabashedly express that creativity through various mediums. I’m constantly awestruck by the level of vision that exists in each person at this university. There are people starting their own business, social initiatives, cinema clubs, musical groups; there are talented people creating things all around me. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes this sort of climate can get intimidating and tiresome. It can be hard to keep up with the pace at which my peers function. However, more than anything, my idea of what is possible has been exponentially heightened. Here at Penn, I can hash ideas out with fellow creatives and make something beautiful. 

I can sit in a room with cool people and turn a creative concept into reality. Creativity is everything to me, and some of the things that I always wanted to do in high school I’ve accomplished in college. At Penn, there are no limits. What I learned: collaboration is at the center of creativity. If you come to Penn, you are guaranteed to find amazing people who value the same things as you do. For me, that was creativity, but whatever you are looking for, I guarantee that there will be a community of students here to back you up.

-Karis S. '18

When You Want to Pursue Everything

What do you want to do when you grow up? I've been asked this countless times growing up, and honestly, I've changed my mind on who I am and who I want to be so many times, it's hard to think of a time when I knew everything I wanted. And then I realized, it's okay if you don't. You don't need to have everything figured out to move forward; I am a living example of that. Growing up, I always wanted to become a veterinarian. I came into college with all my plans to work with exotic animals abroad  for several years before and settling down and starting a small clinic back at home. Then everything changed.

We come into college being told there are countless classes, majors, and opportunities there will be, but it's not until we get there, fully immersed in the culture, that we truly understand and appreciate the vast world that stands before us. Realizing how much more was out there and how much I hadn't tried or even considered, I really didn't know what I wanted anymore. So I tried it all. I took marketing classes, geology classes, statistics classes, computer science classes, classical literature classes, south asian studies classes. I took all of them and more, and after everything was said and done I was even more confused with the path I wanted to take. But that's what college is all about.

It's about trial and error. It's about living and loving and learning. After venturing into some higher level classes of my favorite "experimental" subjects, I chose to pursue research and development. It's still in the sciences, but it's far from the Dr. Dolittle that I always thought I would be. 

Penn is certainly not only a place where you can pursue and achieve your dreams, but also a place that let's you discover them.

-Kelli L. '17

My Double-Major Dilemma

My second year at Penn has been filled with grandiose plans that will hopefully launch me on the track to my post-graduation goals. The glamour of freshman year is fading, the realities of adult life are setting in, and the majors are being declared. One of them, at least…

I am officially declared as a Biological Basis of Behavior Major. Last semester, I wrote about a course that inspired me to pursue a second major in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. I dreamed of going as in-depth as possible, learning about the history, literature, politics, and cultures of the region. However, throughout the winter break, I took a lot of time to think about whether this was the best decision for my academic life.

My main question was whether I truly wanted a packed, regimented schedule for the next three years. When I sat to plan out my classes assuming I would complete the double-major, I realized that I would have no flexibility in my classes for the rest of college. What if I want to take a class for the sake of taking a random class? Does this mean I will never be able to take classes in Urban Studies, Health and Societies, or Computer Sciences if I want to?

Although I haven’t reached a decision yet, I’m incredibly grateful for the fact that I have the opportunity to pursue these various tracks. If I decide to continue with the major, I will leave Penn with a deep, nuanced understanding of the Middle East. If I don’t, I’ll be able to get a taste of the many exciting areas of study offered in the College of Arts and Sciences. Even though it can sometimes be daunting, the academic opportunities at Penn are truly limitless.

-Nitay C. '18

The Intersection of STEM and the Arts

My first experience with computer science, excluding self-teaching HTML to make my Neopets page look snazzier than everyone else’s, was in the spring of my freshman year, when I took an introductory course (CIS110) as a way of fulfilling the Formal Reasoning and Analysis requirement. It was never my intention to continue down the C.S. path beyond that course, but somewhere along the way, I accidentally became intrigued.

Fast-forward a little bit, I have now spent three and a half months waking up for an 8:30am class every Monday and Wednesday, staying up way too late typesetting assignments, and feeling dumbfounded because how on earth are you supposed to connect five vertices with only two edges? (note: that is impossible--but in said scenario I had misunderstood the premise of the problem. Frown face.)

While CIS160: Mathematical Foundations to Computer Science is not even cross-listed in the College like CIS110 is, the College curriculum gives students the flexibility to take some non-College electives, and I would definitely recommend the class to anyone as crazy as I am, i.e. willing to spend too much time feeling very dumb until you figure out the proof. Even if math is not your thing, because it definitely isn’t mine, understanding concepts like graph theory and induction gives me a completely different way to approach the content I am learning in my English classes. In fact, these theories and applications are surprisingly applicable to all facets of life.

As cheesy as that sounds, I believe maintaining different skills that complement each other is very important. Additionally, my professor, Rajiv Gandhi, is notorious for assigning many difficult problem sets, but all of his students love him despite the fact. We are either masochistic students, or he is an efficient and dedicated professor. I’ll tell you now it is definitely the latter, and if there is anything that I know holds true across all fields of study, it is that a good professor is the most important factor of them all.

-Julia Wang '18

The Sectored Comfort Zone

I never expected to take an English class after high school. By graduation, I was convinced that my passions lie in the sciences, and I planned to fill my years at Penn with Biology, Chemistry, and Neuroscience. However, as I realized several months into freshman year, the Sectors of Knowledge would push me to take several classes outside of my quantitative comfort zone.

Putting my shaky literature background on the back burner, I figured I would try a comparative literature class to fulfill the Arts & Letters sector. I combed through the list of classes and found one that seemed promising: Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation.

While I initially struggled with the volume of readings, I found myself progressively intrigued with the class each week. One week, we focussed on Turkish short stories. The next, Hebrew poetry. The next, we read a modern Iranian novel. Each week we exploring a different literary tradition through a different genre. With only 20 students in the class, we were also able to discuss how the literature spoke to the historical and cultural context of the writers. Our conversations evolved from close readings of the texts to discussions about politics, gender, identity, etc. through the lens of the Middle East.

Within a few weeks, MMELT was my favorite class. It not only taught me how to read and analyze literature in a more profound way, but it became a space for me to explore my cultural heritage vis-a-vis the works that we read. Most of all, this class taught me that my passions are constantly evolving. While I still love the sciences, I hope to take more classes in Middle Easter Studies.

Not every Sector or Foundation class is a resounding success. There were sectors that I fulfilled with classes that I ended up disliking, or new subjects that I later learned I did not enjoy. By choosing to take MMELT, I learned that somewhere among the two thousand plus classes offered by the College, there are subjects that I never knew I would enjoy so much. And while the Sectors may seem like a burden to fulfill, they are a rare opportunity to dive into the unknown and learn for the sake of learning.

-Nitay Caspi '18

How to burst the "Penn Bubble": Courses that Take You Beyond the Classroom

Before coming to Penn, I was excited to take advantage of its "campus within a big city". I wanted to see the PMA, watch Broadway shows at the Kimmel Center, enjoy the perks of Restaurant Week, and frequent Phillies and Eagles games.

However, upon arrival, I was instantaneously swept up into the maelstrom that is NSO and the piece of jargon known by Quakers as the "Penn Bubble". But perhaps more importantly, I soon came to appreciate the classes that transported us outside of the classroom and into the wilderness city. Often times, I've found that in such classes, I've learned more than a textbook or a slideshow could ever teach me (and far more interestingly at that), and I've been able to explore and appreciate the city better. My favorite Penn-bubble-bursting classes? I’ve described a few of them below:

ENGL 157 -- Introduction to Journalistic Writing: Writing About Food with Rick Nichols

A class that not only teaches how to think and write critically, but how to think and write critically about food (...and the people, the trends, and the experiences, of course). Frequent field trips took us to restaurants around town, where we could profile famous chefs or prominent members of the Philadelphia food scene and hang out with them for a day before writing a piece on them for a final project. Not only a nice break from Penn, but also a nice break from Penn dining halls!

ARTH 106 -- Architect and History with Professor Haselberger

What better way to learn about architecture than to walk in the shadows of one of America's most culturally diverse and historically rich cities? Professor Haselberger is famous for teaching this course every fall, which attracts majors and non-majors alike. Almost every Friday afternoon, we would take the SEPTA into the city proper and look at a different building inspired by whatever time period we had been looking at earlier that week—Greek, Post-modern, Rococo, etc. A bonus? I learned how to better navigate the city for outings to come.

FNAR 222/URBS 322 -- Big Pictures: Mural Arts with Shira Walinsky and Jane Golden

This class is taught by two wonderful women—Shira Walinksy and Jane Golden, the founder of the prolific Mural Arts program that has created thousands of murals all around Philadelphia and given employment opportunities to hundreds of inmates of Graterford Prison. It’s a community-service based course in which you learn about the ways in which public art shapes the socio-economic development of an area and changes the people who inhabit it. The final project involved creating a mural with a community that was eventually installed at a school in West Philadelphia—an unconventional solution to a common problem.

The Penn bubble is, in my opinion, absolutely real. We get sucked into our textbooks and laptops and papers. And while the resources that we have here on campus are beyond wonderful, sometimes you really cannot beat learning from the real thing. There’s so much of Philadelphia to be explored, and luckily Penn provides the courses to do so.

-Helen Nie (C’18)

Nutrition and Abnormal Psychology

One of the classes I took last semester was "Nutrition: Science and Applications, which is a class in the School of Nursing". It was a pleasant surprise to learn just how interdisciplinary nutrition is as a field of study. I registered for the class, hoping to study mainly food science. I learned a lot about how to...

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