Best Study Spots at Penn

Finding the right place on campus to study is VERY important. Here is my short list of the best places to study on or around Penn's campus!

Van Pelt Library: Popular among many students; there are always places to study. The basement has Mark’s Café, which is open pretty late so you can always get a cup of coffee or something to eat during marathon study sessions. My favorite place in VP is the 6th floor. It has windows that overlook college green with comfy chairs and plenty of outlets.

Fisher Fine Arts Library: The place to go for optimal aesthetic pleasure. Fisher is beautiful inside and out. It is a completely quiet zone so it’s perfect for your more intense studying.

Most academic buildings have spots to study; my favorites are in Levin and Annenberg (communications building).

Houston Hall: A pretty convenient study location. I typically end up there between classes. It also has Houston market in the basement which is a very popular lunch spot among students. It can get a little busy (especially during lunch hours) but there’s usually a table available. (Houston is also a very popular between-class nap spot).

High Rise Lounges: These are my favorite study spots on campus this semester, especially the 22nd-24th floors. These lounges are a little bigger and have floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view of Philly (see photo attached). Plus, you have the lounge to yourself/whoever you’re studying with. The only downside is you can only get into these lounges if you live in that building or if they’re left open. But, everyone has access to the three rooftop lounges at the top of each high rise so you can still study with a view.

Coffee Shops: If you’re more into the coffee shop study environment (which I definitely am), you’re in luck! Penn is swimming in coffee shops that are all conducive to a more relaxed study environment. There are four (yes four) Starbucks on or immediately surrounding campus (including one that accepts dining dollars). My favorite is the one on 34th and Chestnut because it has a little more space and is usually less busy. In addition to these, there are other cafes including: United by Blue, Saxby’s, Hubbub, and Joe’s Café.

BONUS – Center City Studying: My favorite thing about this semester is that every Tuesday I get to go into the city to see my little for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I usually stay in the city for a few hours to study away from campus. My favorite spots are Parliament Café, the Starbucks and Saxby’s at Rittenhouse, Nook Bakery and Coffee Bar, and the Saxby’s at 18th and Chestnut. For when the weather gets warmer, Rittenhouse Square and Logan Circle are nice places to study (and dog watch all the adorable canines of Philadelphia!).

-Grace M, C'20

A Trip to D.C.

After my first semester here, I have discovered that the most effective way to take advantage of Penn’s plethora of adventures and opportunities is to simply pick one, and go for it. Although there exists the freshman temptation to constantly remain in the presence of newly found friends, there is extensive value in taking a risk and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. 

After joining PIPAC, Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee, I was very minimally involved, attending general board meetings once every other week. Although temporarily dampened by the blatant influx of newness, I was still determined to explore, so after receiving an email from PIPAC offering a fully subsidized lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., I immediately clicked on the link, not giving myself time to overanalyze.

I woke up drowsily at 5am Friday morning, and boarded the bus to D.C. I was nervous about my lack of knowledge on the pertinent topics, and of course my lack of friends attending the trip. Upon arrival, the student leaders handed out extremely comprehensive topic sheets, and we were separated into our designated lobbying groups. 

This trip ended up being one of the most intellectually stimulating and rewarding experiences I have had so far at Penn. Realizing not only my own passion for and knowledge of the topic, but that of my peers and of influential government officials was truly inspiring. I felt empowered; for me, this trip reinforced the importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, and most importantly taking advantage of the opportunities Penn has to fulfill this feat.

-Sarah G, C'21

Food Trucks

Here at Penn, we’re fortunate to have access to all the food necessities – Chipotle, Bobby’s
Burger Palace, McDonald’s – you name it, we’ve got it. However, one thing that makes Penn’s
cuisine special is the magical food truck.

Food trucks are a college student’s dream come true. Cheap (most meals are $7 or less),
convenient (many trucks are lined up right outside of the dorm areas), and tasty (as I’ll elaborate on), it is certainly a great bang for your buck. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Tyson Bees. Serving delicious Korean inspired dishes, their rainbow-colored food truck
will be sure to catch your attention. The food - such as their Kimchi Lemongrass BBQ Burrito - will keep you coming back. It’s a staple of my diet and my favorite Friday go to after a long week. They drizzle the perfect amount of spicy mayo on top of the sticky rice and tender beef, and it’s just the right combination of sweet and spicy.

2. Billy’s Food Truck. Billy is the man. He is Penn Athletics’ #1 fan and a great person to talk sports with! He’s been behind the grill at his food truck in front of Penn’s Math and Physics building since before I was born. He knows my name and also my order without me even having to say a word – meatball parmesan hoagie if I’m in a rush, Philly Cheesesteak if I have some time. Many people rank Pat’s King of Steaks or Geno’s as their favorite place for a cheesesteak, but Billy’s should certainly be a part of the discussion!

3. MexiCali. Delicious burritos (bowl options are available as well). Their chicken burrito with a touch of guacamole is absolutely scrumptious. Their sweet potato burrito is a fan favorite for vegetarians. They have a unique yogurt sauce that many MexiCali frequenters will use in lieu of the more traditional mild, medium, or hot salsa. MexiCali also throws in a free water bottle with every purchase!

4. Kim’s. Each time I go I intend to branch out and try something new, but my efforts are usually to no avail because I don’t want to give up the sesame chicken! The menu is absolutely massive, including both Chinese and Vietnamese food, and has every type of chicken, beef, vegetable, rice, or noodle dish you could possibly ask for. The truck is also conveniently located right next to Pottruck (our gym/fitness center) so it’s a great place to go for a post-workout meal.

-Nathan S, C'19

Body Combat

Let’s be honest: college is stressful. Despite the incredible experiences I’ve had at Penn so far, there are still times during the semester when I feel completely overwhelmed. While all Penn students biologically react to stress in the same manner, each of us is faced with the individual task of learning how to release it.

Prior to move-in day, I practiced yoga at a studio in my town almost daily; however, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to continue this routine on campus. I absolutely despise working out at the gym, and can only exercise in a group setting, such as fitness classes. During the first week or so of the semester, Pottruck, one of our two gyms, offered free “demo days” for all of the classes on the schedule, so I decided to try some out.

Pottruck offers a wide variety of options (check out the schedule here!, but one specific style of class changed my experience at Penn: Body Combat. Although it may sound violent, Body Combat is actually a non-contact, mixed martial arts based workout that consists of ten “fights”, or songs. The instructors are incredibly passionate, and encourage everyone in the class to do his or her own personal best.

When I first began going to Body Combat, I could only physically complete about 75% of the class. I took many short breaks throughout the class, and sometimes felt so sore that I had to leave early; however, this didn’t make me feel discouraged. In fact, I felt empowered, because every time I went back I saw a little bit of progress. When I looked in the mirror during class, I didn’t see a tiny 5 foot 2 woman-- I saw a strong, confident fighter. I loved the class so much that I purchased the $75 group exercise pass, a price that I probably would have paid ten times over at another location with the number of classes I attend.

Whenever I feel frustrated or stressed, an hour at Body Combat is enough to refresh my body and mind. I’ve found that I’m more productive when I take some time off from studying to throw a few punches, instead of forcing myself to trudge through my homework. Whatever your strategy may be, give yourself some quality time each day to unwind and reflect. Your GPA will thank you later.

-Kaitlyn B, C'21

VERY Undecided

When I was little, I used to say I wanted to be a doctor. That changed to a vet, lawyer, and
horseback rider, not necessarily in that order. Around my junior year of high school, I started to
think that I might want to major in theatre in college. I kept that sentiment through senior year,
graduation, and halfway through freshman year at Penn. But, as I sat in my Intro to Linguistics
course—which I found by literally opening up the course code page on PenninTouch and
clicking on “Linguistics”—, pondering the subject, I realized something: I really liked it. Like,
really really liked it. Maybe I could major in it?

That’s why I came into Penn undeclared. I thought: “Yeah, I’d like to study theatre. But I know
myself. What if I change my mind?” That was a very large possibility, as I had changed my mind
so many times before. While I had an idea of what I’d want to study, I knew that I’d want to
leave my options. And I’m so glad that I did.

It’s okay to be undecided. Not knowing exactly what you want to study doesn’t mean you’re lost; it means you’re keeping your options open and not closing any doors yet. I was still changing my mind, up until the end of my first semester of sophomore year. That’s part of why I chose Penn—it had a good theatre department, and it also has so many other great resources and departments in case I changed my mind.

I’m still studying theatre, but as a minor. I get the opportunity to take advantage of two great
departments at Penn—not to mention the other courses, sectors, and foundational approaches I get to experience.

If you’re in the same boat I was, don’t worry too much. The best thing that could’ve happened to me was coming in undecided.

-Duval C, C'20

Navigating Houston Market

One of the first places I ever dined at Penn was Houston Market. I knew it was a quick stop off for a ton of different types of food, but it took me about a semester to really dig into the various options presented there. 

The first factor in my food choice depends on how much time you have. If you’re in a rush between classes, just picking up a yogurt parfait or fruit cup can be the fastest option for eating on-the-go. If you have a professor that doesn’t mind students eating in class, picking up one of the salads, wraps, or sandwiches that are available in the open refrigerated containers can be totally convenient. On the other hand, if I have time to sit down with friends and chat, ordering from The Grill is one of my personal favorites. A cheesesteak loaded up with lettuce, tomato, onions, and yellow peppers is a classic Philadelphian meal. It’s probably enough to fill two people up, although I usually find that I don’t need help finishing. 

But the true gem of Houston Market, at least for me, is without a doubt Sushi-Do. They have rolls of sushi and various small plates available for grab-and-go out front, but I personally prefer the bowls. If you’re not a raw fish person, a mixed bowl or spicy bowl is great. I like to switch it up between white and brown rice. I find that white rice has a softer texture, but brown rice helps to avoid that post carb food coma since it digests more slowly in your stomach. Both bowls contain chicken, rice and a couple slices of cucumber. The main difference between a mixed bowl and spicy bowl is the sauce, since mixed contains teriyaki sauce in place of spicy mayo. 

It might seem confusing as for how to order when there’s a huge crowd present but it’s not as bad as it looks. Just half raise your hand in the air until the person taking orders looks at you, then call out your order. It helps to keep it short (I.e if you want a spicy bowl with brown rice you can just say brown spicy). After a minute or two, someone will walk up with a stack of bowls and call our each order. Even though I usually keep it to the tried and true spicy bowl, there’s a ton of different options with salmon, avocado, veggies etc. If I see someone with a bowl that looks good, it’s easy to just ask them and order the same thing. Even though it always seems like people are rushing in and out of Houston, some days I’ll just sit down with friends and study there (stopping every once in a while for snacks, of course)

-Daniel K, C'21

A Typical Monday in My Life

There’s really no such thing as a “typical” day at Penn, but here’s how I find myself spending
most Mondays this semester!

8:30-9:30 AM: Volunteer at Paul Robeson High School in West Philly
As one component of an academically based community service course (ABCS) that I’m taking
this semester, I volunteer one morning a week at a local high school, working directly with a
student to help her with her college applications. ABCS courses are a great (and unique) course option at Penn for students who want to positively engage with the community and gain course credit at the same time!

10:00-1:00 PM: Classes
I only have 3 hours of class on Mondays, and they all happen to be right in a row. I start my day
in a Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB) class, then head to an Econ lecture, and finish up with a
Linguistics class. Just to give you a taste of what I do in each of these classes, this Monday we
studied the link between visual processing and optical illusions in BBB, discussed monopolies in Econ (and wrapped up lecture with a few questions on a class-wide survey platform called Poll Everywhere), and had a guest lecture about American Sign Language in Linguistics from the head of the program at Penn.

1:00-2:00 PM: Grab lunch with a friend (usually from Houston Hall; I highly recommend the
pasta bar!)

2:00-5:00 PM: Get some studying done in a coffee shop on campus (or outside on College
Green if the weather’s nice!)

5:00-7:30 PM: Club meetings
On Mondays, I meet with Penn Traditions from 5-6 PM. This is a group that works to promote
Penn spirit. At our last meeting, we finished up planning our big homecoming giveaway and
ordered 1500 custom Penn Traditions umbrellas to pass out to Penn students on Locust Walk
before the game! I then head to meet with my team for the undergraduate consulting group I’m in. This semester, my team is consulting with Merck regarding a new product launch. At our
meetings, we either talk with the client directly or compare notes on the work each of us has
done throughout the week.

7:30-9:00 PM: Cook dinner and watch some Netflix with my roommate

9:00-10:00 PM: Meet with a study group to go over a homework assignment

10:00-12:00 AM: Catch up on any work that’s left, chat with friends who live in my
building, and get ready for the next day!

-Rachel W, C'20

The Philosophy Major

Like a lot of Penn freshmen, I came into college vaguely committed to being pre-med, a choice which my parents were also quite satisfied with; they were less happy when I told them that I was not, in fact, planning on going into medicine or even the field of the sciences at all, and that I had declared a major in philosophy. When they learned that I was doing an additional degree in behavioral economics in Wharton, though, they were relieved. Unlike a philosophy degree, bio-with-a-premed-track and business degrees are pre-professional degrees, whose sole purpose is to prepare you for the career you’ll have after college. This makes them helpful and quite practically useful – but as I continued to take class after class, I began to see ways in which such classes left me technically prepared but intellectually impoverished. 

This blog post is, essentially, a manifesto for the philosophy major. The humanities tend to take a bit of a beating from STEM, business, or even social science majors, who view them as less rigorous or relevant. But speaking as someone who has taken classes in all those fields, they tend to lack something that philosophy is able to provide: the knowledge of how to think, not just what to think.

Broadly speaking, modern philosophy is split into two schools. One, analytic philosophy, is centered around the tradition of philosophy as practiced in Britain and the United States. The expectation there is that you will be precise and clear; that your claims will be specific, well-organized, and consistent. As the name suggests, it teaches you how to think analytically, to address problems and present your views in a structured manner.

Continental philosophy, in the European tradition, is quite different. Things are often very hard to understand, and are written to be so; more literary than its Anglophone counterpart, continental philosophy often seems centered around the process of interpretation, focusing not just on what the words say but how you read them. I personally think of it as more fertile and boundless than the sterile precision of analytic philosophy. The two are difficult but fascinating to switch between, and provide quite different forms of exercise for your brain.

The familiar saying goes, give a man a fish and he’ll be full for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll be full for life. The same, I think, goes for knowledge. It is useful to learn the ideas themselves, once someone else has reeled them in – but far more useful to learn how to catch them yourself.

-JinAh K, C'18

The Pre-Med Life

Before I got to Penn, I never really knew what pre-med entailed. Was it an extra major or minor? Was it a concrete department within the University? Getting into med school felt like such an insurmountable feat. I learned the stats: only 50% of applicants nationwide get into med school. Well, that doesn’t sound great.

Then I got to Penn and I started learning how to maneuver my way around what being pre-med really means. There is no actual department designated to the pre-med program nor is there a pre-med major; instead, pre-med essentially means that you have to take certain classes that med schools look for. Those can be found here: You could potentially major in whatever you want (I have a friend who is pre-med and a theatre major and just got into med school), you just have to fulfill the requirements. Most people gravitate toward a science major because 1. most pre-meds are naturally interested in science and 2. most science major requirements overlap with a lot of pre-med requirements. My major, the biological basis of behavior, is a very popular pre-med major, as are biology and chemistry.

Most pre-med requirements inherently tend to lean toward the more difficult side; the organic chemistry components are generally considered to be the most difficult amongst students. However, I can’t stress enough that pre-med is going to be difficult no matter where you go. Think about it, should becoming a doctor really be an easy process? Probably not. The most important part of crafting a schedule for the upcoming semester is planning and balancing! Everyone has their own methods of doing this. Personally, I made myself a spreadsheet to keep track of what classes I need to take while I’m at Penn and when. This allows me to figure out a balance for each semester so I’m not taking too many difficult classes.

Here’s the bright side:

While pre-med at Penn (and everywhere) certainly is very challenging, 80% of applicants from Penn get accepted to med school; this is fantastic considering the national average of 50%. Outside of academics, Career Services is an amazing resource that can offer a lot of information and assistance to pre-meds. It can help find opportunities in research or volunteering and is a great place to find information on the process of applying to med school. And, since there are a lot of pre-meds at Penn, there is always someone who understands both the struggle and the dream.

-Grace M, C'20

Best Study Spots Around Campus

There are a ton of great study spots on and around campus at Penn. The most popular spots tend to be the two libraries -- Van Pelt and Fisher Fine Arts -- as well as Huntsman Hall, the Wharton building that is open 24/7. However, during the busiest times of the semester, you may have a tough time finding a seat in some of these popular locations. Luckily, there are a plethora of other places to choose from depending on what kind of environment you like to study in.

There are tons of great coffee shops to choose from. One of the main ones is Starbucks in the 1920s Commons building, but there are also some other Starbucks to choose from on 39th and Walnut Streets and 34th and Walnut. Saxby’s over on 40th and Locust got remodeled recently and tends to be a pretty popular area with its big tables and lots of outlets. Hub Bub is great as well, but it closes earlier than some of the other options.

Outside of coffee shops, there are other places to study in some of the academic buildings and College Houses. The highrises, which are located at the west end of campus, have spacious rooftop lounges that are always a good option on a weeknight. Houston Hall has a lot of good tables and couches on the ground floor above the marketplace. The Annenberg School for Communication as well as the Law School are both areas that undergrads are welcome to use.

Some people like to complete their work in the comfort of their own rooms, while others like to venture downtown to Center City and work in parks or bookstores. It’s really up to you where you get your work done, but going to school at Penn in Philadelphia provides students with a wide variety of places to explore.

-Pat Z, C'18


My Experience Taking an Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) Course at Penn

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a course titled “Ethnography & Media: Social Justice and the Street.” I registered for it because it sounded like an interesting topic and I was curious to learn about the intersection of Communication and Social Justice. Little did I know that I had enrolled in an Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) course. ABCS courses combine community service with course curriculum, providing a structured way for students to volunteer in the Philadelphia community while applying their experiences to course topics. While they tend to be more time-consuming, given the amount of time spent at the volunteering location, my time in the course proved to be extremely rewarding!

I volunteered at Books Through Bars, an organization in West Philadelphia that receives letters from prison inmates requesting books of various genres and written by a multitude of authors. Having received the letters, volunteers pick out books from the donated library of books at the center, and package them to be shipped back to inmates.

After volunteering at Books Through Bars for the duration of the semester, my project team created a video documentary that described the way the organization operated, who volunteered there, and how the community was involved in its efforts. It turned out to be an awesome experience in which I had the opportunity to interact with individuals outside of the “Penn Bubble,” but discovered that we still had much in common. That said, the experience also reminded me that people come from all different walks of life, and that I am lucky to be at a University that can provide opportunities to engage with the local community.

-Angela I, C'18

Classic American Constitutional Law

The summer before my freshman year when I was picking classes for my fall semester, I noticed a constitutional law class called “Classic American Constitutional Law.” I was amazed that undergraduates could take constitutional law classes; I thought that would only be a possibility for law students. When I was in high school I loved the Supreme Court unit in A.P. U.S. Government, especially because we went over all the major landmark Supreme Court cases. Needless to say, I signed up for the constitutional law class for the fall.

By the time midterm season came, most of our grade so far had consisted of class discussions and a short paper on the constitutional provisions that allowed for slavery. Then our amazing professor, Rogers Smith, announced that for our midterm we would be engaging in a simulation and writing a long paper about the events of the simulation. He sent out the context
for the simulation, which went something like this:

Abraham Lincoln is elected in an alternate universe in 1860 with the same Constitution in place that was actually in place at that time. Southern states have threatened to secede if Congress bans slavery in the territories. Also, Louis Pasteur has invented a serum that will make humans basically immortal, as well as bring the dead back to life. Lincoln and the Republicans pass an act, LASH, that establishes free clinics to provide the immortality serum to all U.S. citizens, including slaves, but not slave-owners. Lincoln thought this would encourage slave-owners to give up their slaves in order to have access to the serum. Slave owners immediately criticized LASH for being unconstitutional.

Our class was split up into different groups: Congress, state governors, civilians, the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court. We devoted two classes to enacting the simulation, with each group being able to sue/secede/declare war/make judicial rulings/pass new laws/lobby, etc. It quickly turned into mayhem, but was ultimately a lot of fun and taught us a lot about the warring ideologies that contributed to the start of the Civil War.

After the simulation took place, our professor wrote up a paper prompt based on the results and events of the simulation and asked us to write 8-10 page papers commenting on the constitutional forces at play with many of the key events. This was a lot more interesting than rehashing ideas about real Supreme Court cases that we had discussed in class. It also forced us to think independently; no amount of research could yield academic information on the hypothetical, totally made-up scenario that we had experienced. I felt truly challenged intellectually, which was one of the main things I was hoping to get out of college. And I must have really had fun because I signed up for the second semester of Professor Smith’s class and
agreed to go through the madness of a different simulation all over again.

-Hannah R, C'19

Greek & Roman Mythology

The word I most closely associate with the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn is “flexibility.” Want to take a class about pirates? You can do that! Or maybe a class taught by a professor who was at one point a Buddhist Monk? That’s an option too! Or disliked math in high school and never want to “solve for x” ever again? That's also a possibility! Penn has a variety of wonderful classes and a myriad of courses to fulfill our graduation requirements.

The classes we take at Penn are split roughly into 1/3 major, 1/3 elective, and 1/3 general education. One of the categories for classes within the general education section is called Arts and Letters. As someone studying physics, I was dreading this requirement. I like to do problem sets, not write paragraphs. However, back in high school (and admittedly I have read a few while at Penn!) I absolutely loved the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I saw a class called Greek and Roman Mythology that satisfied Arts and Letters and figured it would be the least painful way to fulfill the requirement.

I ended up loving the class, and it is still my favorite course I have taken at Penn. We read some of the greatest epics and stories from the ancient world, including (but certainly not limited to!) The Odyssey, Oedipus, and The Aeneid. I thought it was so cool that I could be reading something written by Homer one minute in Greek and Roman Mythology, and then be reading something written by Newton right after in one of my physics courses. It ended up being the most enjoyable - rather than the least painful - way to fulfill the requirement.

And this is one of the many reasons why I praise the College for its flexibility; had it not been for the Arts and Letters requirement, I do not think I would have taken a mythology course during my time at Penn. I am extraordinarily grateful that the College’s flexibility afforded me the opportunity to discover a passion for Greek and Roman Mythology!

-Nathan S, C'19

Advising at Penn

When I was a freshman at Penn I thought I wanted to be an economics and computer science double major. I really liked math in high school so I figured I would naturally like econ as well. Meanwhile, I also took computer science in high school and figured I would do a double major to incorporate some technical skills into my Bachelor’s degree. I had it all planned out.

However, as my freshman fall semester began and I got deeper into my Introduction to Economics class I realized that I definitely did not want to continue with the subject. I was shocked (and also disappointed) that I didn’t like Econ. More than that though, now I felt lost and had no idea what I was going to major in! If not Econ what else was I going to do? During this mid-semester pre-major freshman crisis one of my friends approached me and suggested I visit the college office of academic support to meet with an advisor during their walk-in- hours.

While I already had a pre-major advisor, I was definitely looking for a new perspective and someone who I felt could direct me in the right direction. So, I found their walk in hours conveniently located in Claudia Cohen Hall (a building I frequented for class and ironically was home to my econ lecture). Walk in hours were every day and open for about three hours. This meant I could just walk right into the office and meet with any available advisor for 15 minutes. I could ask any questions I wanted about my academics and future planning. So, that is exactly what I did and I could not have had a better experience. I met with an advisor who pulled up my record quickly and listened to my rant about what I did and did not want to do. She then showed me a few different departments and majors that she thought I would be interested in. I continued to narrow down her list until I stumbled upon the cognitive science major, which is a combination of psychology, computation, linguistics, philosophy, neuroscience and math. This major was perfect for me! It was everything I was interested in and all the required courses for the degree seemed to really spark my interest. Those 15 minutes were life changing and I walked out of those walk in hours with a new major and a new direction!

Penn offers their students a lot of resources and if you seek help anywhere, Penn is likely to provide exactly what you need. Additionally, it is okay to not know what you want to do before coming in as a freshman! I found out mid-semester that my original plan to study economics and computer science was not going to work out. It is totally okay to change your major and explore new options, this is what Penn is all about!

-Stephanie W, C'18

Learning Outside of the Classroom

This semester, I’m taking URBS 178 (Faculty-Student Collaborative Action Seminar in Urban University-Community Relations: Penn and West Philadelphia as a Case Study in Progress). Despite its long name, the mission of the course is fairly simple: to allow students to learn about Penn and its relationship with the West Philadelphia community and to then engage with this material through service and research.

The class is divided into three main parts. The first part is the seminar; our class of 15 students meets for three hours on Wednesdays to discuss Penn’s relationship with West Philadelphia throughout its history. Dr. Harkavy, who is incredibly well respected both at Penn and in the academic world (many of our readings cite him and his pioneering work), leads the seminar. He has been teaching the course every semester since the 1980s, and he has been one of the most engaging and knowledgeable professors I’ve had at Penn to date. Having such a small class means that we are all able to sit around a conference table together and have meaningful discussions about the course material. The seminar involves readings, guest lecturers, and even a trolley tour around West Philadelphia.

For the second part of the course, each Penn student is assigned to a high school senior at a local high school. We go to their school and help them with college applications for an hour each w-eek and essentially just serve as their mentors.

The last part of the course is the problem solving learning (PSL) paper. This is a research paper that we write over the course of the semester in which we try to solve a specific problem that we’ve noticed through our discussions in seminar and our time at the school. Some past papers from the course have led to the creation of new ABCS courses, new initiatives in local schools, and even new civic engagement opportunities at Penn (like the Swipe Out Hunger campaign).

URBS 178 has been one of my favorite courses at Penn. I know that the work that I’m doing is relevant and purposeful, while giving me a better view of my current position as a Penn student. Especially with the PSL, I’ve been shown that if I see a problem, I have the power to actually make a change. The course also allows the students to contribute to the syllabus and make changes as the course progresses, which has enabled me to directly contribute to what I’m studying. ABCS courses are fairly unique to Penn, and I can say that without a doubt, taking one has shaped my college experience and larger perspective for the better.

-Rachel W, C'20

Theatre in Philadelphia

As a college student, few things are more critical than course registration. We will spend hours scouring through course listings to find the perfect courses that fill general education requirements (ideally two at once), taught by renowned professors, or are just straight up cool. While registering for courses the summer before my freshman year, I stumbled across a true gem: Theatre in Philadelphia. I couldn’t have been more excited because throughout high school, I was a huge theatre nerd. I loved to read plays, act, and see live productions, so Theatre in Philadelphia was a perfect fit.

Theatre in Philadelphia is a freshman seminar in which a class of about twelve students has the opportunity to see plays and musicals in Center City every week, free of charge. In preparation for seeing the production, our class would read the script of the upcoming play and discuss its historical context, relevant themes, and notable past productions. After doing our research in advance, we were finally ready to see the show. Once a week, our class would assemble outside of Fisher-Bennett Hall, meet up with our professor, and take SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transportation, into Center City. We
saw some truly thought-provoking and beautiful productions, ranging from classics like Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to more contemporary pieces such as Metamorphoses, which used dramatic staging in an onstage pool to tell modernized versions of stories from Greek mythology. We would later write essays analyzing the dramatic interpretation of the play, unpacking the production’s strengths and weaknesses, and highlighting interesting artistic choices.

For me, Theatre in Philadelphia really sums up some of the amazing experiences that Penn offers to its students. Penn’s proximity to Center City gives me the ability to explore a rich, and frankly underappreciated, theatre sphere with a mere fifteen-minute subway ride. As a freshman from Colorado where driving is a necessity for getting where you need to go, I was not very familiar with taking the subway or bus. After taking that class, however, I possessed the confidence and knowhow to navigate SEPTA, which made the city of Philadelphia even more accessible to me. Moreover, Theatre in
Philadelphia allowed me to combine my love for theatre with academic analysis, which developed my skills as both an actor and a student. Finally, since the seminar was so small, I was able to form close, meaningful relationships with other students that I still cherish to this day.

                                                                                               -Katherine F, C'19

Fun Ways to Exercise at Penn

When I came to college, I knew I wanted to keep up with exercising regularly since I wasn’t planning on playing sports, but I knew it would be tough to fit in with such a busy schedule. Surprisingly, though, I found a ton of ways to get some activity throughout the day, and it’s been a really nice part of my routine every day (ok, most days). From the beautiful scenery outdoors, to the awesome gyms Penn has to offer, to the friends you can make, exercising at Penn is a great way to de-stress and have some fun.

Running in Philadelphia
One of my favorite things to do on a beautiful day in Philadelphia is going on a run by the river. The Schuylkill River Trail is a bustling paved path with a great view of the water, the Boathouses, and the Philly skyline. Any time of the day, you’ll see families out for a stroll with their kids, people going for a morning jog, and young professionals
taking their daily commute to work. Besides getting a nice breezy bout of exercise, you also get a much-needed break from school and stress, and you might even see some cute dogs!

Hiking in the Wissahickon
Only about 20 minutes away from Penn is a vast park with over 50 miles of trails for biking and hiking. It’s amazing that you can go from being right in the middle of the city to feeling like you’re completely surrounded by nature. Penn Outdoors Club leads trips to the park every now and then, but you can go anytime by bike or public transit if hiking
is something you really like to do. Something about walking around in the trees, listening to all the little sounds of nature makes you feel so refreshed – it’s the perfect study break!

Pottruck Gym
By far the most convenient way to exercise at Penn has to be going to Pottruck (one of Penn’s gyms), especially if you live on campus. I usually roll out of bed early in the morning and can get there in around five minutes – perfect for people like me who don’t like getting up any earlier than they have to. When I first visited Penn, I was SO impressed by everything that Pottruck had to offer. There’s a super tall climbing wall, two full-size swimming pools, a floor entirely devoted to cardio machines, a floor entirely devoted to strength machines, and, on top of that, a ton of extras like spinning studios,
Pilates machines, and dance studios. The amount of options is almost overpowering. My favorite thing by far at Pottruck would have to be the group exercise classes, though. The schedule has a wide of variety of classes, including weight training, yoga, cycling, Zumba, and kickboxing. When I started going to the same classes week after week, I got to know the instructors and other students who also went regularly. It’s a good feeling to remember that there’s a smiling, familiar face waiting for you at the gym, and that you get to do an awesome workout with them right by your side, with fun music
and great instructors powering you through the whole time.

College can get stressful, and it can get busy, but having the opportunity to move my body and meet new people every day really helps me ward off the stress and feel happy. If there’s anything I recommend while being in college, it’s to take that time to let out your stress and care for yourself. Philadelphia and Penn definitely make it fun and
easy to do those things.

-Olivia G, C'20

Treating Yellow Fever

You might be wondering, didn’t the United States eradicate Yellow Fever in the early 1900’s following the discovery that the disease was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and creation of a vaccine? You’d be right! However, in my Medicine in History class, we’re studying history from the inside out, granting validity to treatments, ways of thinking, and anatomy of historical medicine in order to analyze it. This entailed an assignment where I had to track my “symptoms” including being tired, having a strained quad, and a cold, and then act like an 18th century doctor, consulting diagnostic manuals and treatment recipe books in the Rare Books Library from the age of Galen and humoral medicine. I found out that I could treat my quad with what is called a fomentation by wrapping herbs in cloth, boiling them in water, then soaking them in wine before applying the mixture to my leg. Another way of studying from the inside out meant that during our recitation, a smaller group that meets outside of lecture with the guidance of a teaching assistant, our professor cooked us up a delicious (not actually) treatment for yellow fever.

We watched him as he made “Wine Whey.” He boiled milk and then added some dry Sherry wine. He waited until the alcohol cooked off, and the milk separated into curds and whey. He then strained the mixture and provided us each with a small cup of our treatment. The mixture was cloudy, with a brown-ish tint. We had a test-drinker, and then the rest of us followed in suit. If I had to say what wine whey tastes like, I’d tell you to imagine that you’re drinking sweet, liquid bread. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad. I’d take it anyday over grape cough syrup. But then again, I’d rather have a cough than yellow fever.

Overall, it was a great learning experience where I really got into the minds of the doctors and the patients, both cooking and taking the treatment. And bonus: I’m Yellow Fever free!

                -Brooke R, C'19    

No Shame in Not Knowing

When I talk to freshmen about what they want to study, I'm struck by how many confidently answer with their choices - "I'm pre-med." "I want to study econ." "I want to do bio." When the answer is "I don't know," it's usually given almost apologetically. When you apply to college, you want to show that you're passionate and driven. It's embarrassing if you're not sure what you want to do; it makes you seem unfocused, meandering, pointless. That's an attitude that's hard to kick, even as you go through college. As upperclassmen, we tend to carry the same ethos through when we apply for jobs. I should be hired to work for Goldman Sachs, we say, or J.P. Morgan, or Credit Suisse, because I used to dress up as an investment banker for Halloween in elementary school, because I had pictures of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein pasted into my notebooks in middle school, because I read the Financial Times more thoroughly than my AP Literature coursework in high school.

But there are two main problems with this belief that passions must be lifelong and instilled at an early age. The first problem is that people are terrible at predicting their future preferences (I study behavioral economics; it's practically one of the founding statements of the field). The second problem is that college freshmen know essentially nothing. We start college at an age when our minds haven't finished developing, often with little or no experience living on our own as adults within society. The things we want to study or explore when we begin college may be quite different in their reality than in our imagination. Which doesn't mean that it's bad to start college with a burning thirst to study sociology - just that it's dangerous to let a passion developed in your teens to close you off to other opportunities.

Socrates claimed that while he knew nothing, he was nevertheless the wisest man in Athens - since none of the other Athenians knew anything either, but he was the only one who realized his own ignorance. There is no shame beginning or even ending college not knowing where you want your life to go, as long as you acknowledge that you don't know, instead of throwing yourself down a path that turns out to be the wrong one.

                                                                                                                                                             —Jinah K, C'18

What You Wish You Knew: Greg, C'19

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I had the pleasure of talking with my roommate and close friend Greg W. He is a Philadelphia native studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE). Penn has been a part of Greg’s life long before becoming a Quaker; it is a 10 minute walk from our dorm room to Greg’s house. He took his SATs in the math and physics building on campus. Growing up, Greg and his dad would attend basketball games in the Palestra and football games at Franklin Field (and now that he is a student here they still do). His mom works for Penn.  Yet despite all of these connections to Penn, the deciding factor in choosing Penn for Greg was his “aha moment” when he was walking down Locust walk. There is something magical about the feeling of Locus Walk: the luscious trees, beautiful buildings, and palpable excitement that surrounds you as you walk through the heart of Penn’s campus alongside your fellow classmates. It is a feeling that is hard to describe… but you’ll know what I mean when you come to Penn!

I asked Greg what advice he would like to have given to his freshman self. Greg said that initially he was disheartened as he met so many students who had a definitive plan for what they would like to study. Greg was still uncertain. However, he know realizes what a blessing in disguise this uncertainty turned out to be. In his journey to PPE, Greg has gotten to take courses such as Music and the Brain and Greek and Roman Mythology, courses which he said have greatly broadened his perspectives. He also discovered a passion for Biology, an interest he thinks he likely would not have realized had he been certain about his path coming into Penn. 

                                                                                                                                                      —Nathan S, C'19