Category Archives: Jorge Penado, C’19

The First Student Union: The Change Within Houston Hall

 

By: Jorge Penado, C’19
International Relations Major
Work-Study Student, Sweeten Alumni House

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Source: Fine Art America

At the center of Penn’s campus alongside iconic buildings like College Hall and landmarks like the Benjamin Franklin Statue, Houston Hall has had a long history at Penn as a center of social, recreational, educational and cultural activity, and in 2018, the hall has over 120 years of serving the Penn community. Quite recently, the Penn community has begun to adjust to the top-to-bottom renovation of the basement’s Houston Market, completed over Summer 2018. But, with all of this in mind, it seems right to look back at the long history of Houston Hall and how this year’s renovations are just an extension of the hall’s purpose and intention that it’s adopted since its conception.

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Source: University Archives & Record Center, Houston Club Booklet

 

As many Penn community members may be aware of, Houston Hall started as the first student union in the nation and opened on January 2, 1896. Generally, the student union was meant to serve as a university’s community center for recreation and socialization and often was the host of student affairs and even student governance which can be seen now. As the first student union in the United States, Houston had some liberty to gather influence and set the tone for what would eventually become a common center at any modern university. In particular, Houston drew its inspiration from Cambridge University and Oxford University, where the first union would be established in 1823. However, it wouldn’t be for another 70 years that Penn Trustees would decide to provide students with their own center.

After their decision, Trustee Charles Harrison would announce a competition amongst students and recent graduates who would have the opportunity to design the building. Soon after, two students, William C. Hays, and Milton Bennett Medary Jr. would win the competition and have their designs combined into the architectural style of college gothic and ultimately executed by Philadelphia-based architect, Frank Miles Day. It seemed only natural that the student center for the university would be designed by two architecture students. In order to finance the project, Trustee Harrison was luckily able to secure a donation of $100,000 from Trustee Henry Howard Houston and his wife Sallie S. Houston. Interestingly enough, the building is not technically named for Trustee Houston as it was actually named for his late son Henry Howard Houston Jr. who had unfortunately passed the year after his graduation from the university in 1878.

Once the hall was completed in 1896, the doors would eventually open to the student body. One significant activity that emerged at the beginning would have to be the Houston Club. This club was founded to, as stated in their constitution, “draw together students, officers, and alumni of all Departments of the University in a wholesome social life, and to provide for them suitable amusements and recreations.” The club would soon after establish an internal leadership which many accredit to the first semblance of student governance at Penn. Besides leadership, they also established three committees that were meant to help in the operation of Houston and included the House Committee, in charge of maintaining Houston’s various amenities, the Membership Committee, in charge of admission of new members, and the Library Committee, in charge of all reading material. Interestingly enough, Houston Club was only open to tuition-paying male students at the time, and thus, with the creation of Bennett Hall, the Bennet Club would be created as a female version of this club. As a club, this student group had much influence over the maintenance and usage of Houston Hall. However, this would only last until 1929 when it was replaced by the more inclusive Houston Hall Board, then in 1969 when it was replaced by the Penn Union Council and finally, transform into the modern Social Planning and Events Committee.

With this historical information in mind, it is possible to understand how the services that Houston Hall provides has changed over time. In particular, the original Houston Hall would be almost unrecognizable to many Penn students now and to some degree, would draw in a sense of awe for what was once provided. For example, the original Houston Hall of the late 19th century had such amenities as a billiards room, a chess room, a trophy room, a gym, a pool, and even bowling lanes! At first glance, it was amazing that Penn once had their own bowling lane which is something I’ve only ever occasionally heard in movies and would love to have on campus. But, then I consider what’s in its place now and realize that Houston Market takes up the area.

As I mentioned, Houston Market recently went through their own renovation, valued at around $15 million, and expanded the number of dining options available for everyone. Actually, the last renovation Houston Hall underwent was about 20 years ago. This renovated Houston Market now serves from eight different stations with expanded hours. While the response has been mostly positive, there has been some discussion on the ever-changing purpose of Houston Hall. In an article published on September 20 in the DP, one contributor noted the shift from Houston being purely about student socialization to being mostly a place to work and dine. This opinion piece noted how students nowadays find it harder to locate a central place to completely relax and meet in today’s busy community and believe socializing in Houston has changed. With all of this in mind, it’s clear that Houston Hall has remained a dynamic building on campus.

Overall, the new renovations of Summer 2018 seem to be a part of the constantly evolving intent of Houston Hall. While Houston is still a place where people congregate to eat and do work, the purpose has definitely changed since its conception in 1896 as recreational activities like pool tables and TV rooms mostly exist within college houses. Even though the conversation continues on campus, this walkthrough of Houston Hall’s history has only solidified its status as a staple of Penn’s campus.

 

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Caught In The Sun: A Reflection on Penn Students’ Summer Activity

By: Jorge Penado, C’19
International Relations Major
Work-Study Student, Sweeten Alumni House

While the heat begins to fade on campus, it is undeniable that the summer season is winding down for Penn students. Besides returning to Philadelphia, another significant stepping stone of the summer is the end of the various summer experiences Penn students participate in. As we all begin another year, everyone has to catch up on what they’ve been doing for the last three months. Whether it’s an internship, travel or simply heading back home, Penn students are sure to have exciting and interesting stories about their summers. But, the question always comes up: what do Penn students typically do over the summer? While we’re still fresh off the heels of Summer 2018, we can look back at previous years to see what Penn students tend to do over the summer.

Published in January 2018 by Career Services, their report presents a breakdown of the results of a questionnaire surveying students on their Summer 2017 activities. [Add link/source of the report.] For starters, with over 3,000 responses, over 70% of students in all three surveyed populations worked over the summer. The next two highest activities common amongst students include completing classes and traveling or taking time off. In particular, sophomores were more likely to complete classes or travel/ take time off. Interestingly, more than three-quarters of students had a paid position. Though the report does not clarify what types of positions were held, this is amazing because there’s always so much talk around unpaid internships and how difficult they can be for students to participate in. Overall, the numbers point to an overwhelmingly involved and active summer for many students.

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2017 Career Services Summer Survey

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2017 Career Services Summer Survey

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2017 Career Services Summer Survey

After understanding the general picture, the report additionally outlines where people were employed. For example, most Sophomores and Juniors stayed in Pennsylvania while Seniors mostly went to New York. However, most people who responded to the survey either were in New York, Pennsylvania or California. The summer destination of Penn students additionally makes sense when you consider what they were doing. Most Seniors and Juniors worked in Finance which is a clear reflection of the business-oriented mindset of many students at Penn. Most Sophomores were involved in the Education industry, though there is no detail as to what this entails. Similarly to the state, most surveyed students worked in three distinct industries: Finance, Education and Technology. With both the industry and geographic distribution in mind, the map of where people worked in becomes clearer.

If we dive deeper into the common employers for students, it’s easy to see that Penn employs the most students over the summer. Whether it’s doing research with a professor or working at the hospital, a summer in Philadelphia almost seems like a staple for many students for their time at Penn. Other than Penn, the employers tend to vary between years. Seniors worked with employers like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Juniors worked with employers like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or J.P. Morgan. Many Sophomores stayed within the university’s many departments such as the Perelman School of Medicine. Though there are definitely trends around what students did, there are still so many ways to diversify your experience. With this one report, it’s possible to get a picture of what students generally do, even if the results for Summer 2018 have yet to be published.

When considering that Penn is one of the largest summer employers, the scope of support from Penn becomes that much more noteworthy. Whether it’s providing research positions, opportunities abroad through organizations like the International Internship Program or On-Campus Recruiting, Penn provides many paths to finding positions over the summer. However, in addition to this, another valuable service the university has begun to provide would have to be funding for these summer opportunities. As a result of generous donors, Career Services was able to provide about $3,500 for a select amount of students to cover expenses for unpaid or underpaid experiences in the summer.

In particular, this service holds great significance to me because it funded my own summer experience. For the summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Department of State’s internship at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru under the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement section. For ten weeks, I was able to meet with high-ranking officials in the foreign service, participate in daily, embassy work, interact with Peruvians from all sectors, write and edit government reports and learn about regional and national politics hands-on and out in the field. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without funding from Penn to support my transportation, living expenses, and food. With their support, I had significantly less stress about financial logistics and was able to fully immerse myself in the experience, and I don’t doubt the funding made every other recipient’s summer experience that much less stressful.

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US Embassy in Lima, Peru (The place I spent my summer of 2018)

Overall, while the summer season has ended for Penn students, many come back to campus with great experiences working, taking classes or simply going home. The professional culture at Penn is a staple of the undergraduate experience, and it’s always best when Penn can help smoothen that process and provide an extensive list of resources!

 

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