Category Archives: Lisa Ellen Niver

A Lifetime of Learning

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

berger.rI did not realize when I picked Penn (after being admitted early decision in December 1984), that class would still be in session in 2013 while traveling on a local bus in Nepal! During this trip, I read Contagious, Why Things Catch On, because as a traveler, teacher, and writer it sounded extremely compelling. I too wanted to learn how to “create contagious content!”

As Wharton marketing professor, Jonah Berger, explains in the book, “putting up a Facebook page or tweeting doesn’t mean anyone will notice or spread the word. 50% of YouTube videos have fewer than five hundred views. Only one-third of 1 percent get more than 1 million.” We actually have several videos over five hundred views and our We Said Go Travel YouTube channel, so that was good to learn. It is incredible to me that while on sabbatical in Asia, I can study with the award-winning Wharton “Iron Prof” and learn exactly the lessons I need next for my personal and professional life!

I also recently read  Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. Chip Heath was Berger’s graduate school mentor and while that book was helpful–Contagious’ “six key STEPPS” gave me new tools to propel my professional site to higher numbers and more views by using “the six principles of contagiousness: products or ideas that contain Social Currency and are Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valued and wrapped into Stories.”

As a writer, the final emphasis on stories is of particular interest to me. Berger says: “Stories are an important source of cultural learning that help us make sense of the world. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.” I hope that sharing our journeys will inspire others and soon be more and more contagious encouraging all to participate in our global community of travelers and writers.

I recommend getting a copy of Professor Berger’s book so you can “build a Social currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people cannot tell the story without it.”

Reading this book, I realized that our recent Inspiration Travel Writing Contest had so much traction as we used triggers (the contest ended on Valentine’s Day), emotions, and financial incentives. I will put my learning to work and hope that our Independence Travel Writing Contest (running from May 11 to July 4, no entry fee, and an even more valuable prizes).

Thank you to the Penn community for my past and continuing education! It is phenomenal that nearly twenty-five years after graduation I can still learn from Penn Profs and in a new digital way. As our Penn motto states, “We will find a way or we will make one.” Thank you, Professor Berger, for new tools for building a contagious community.


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This Time of Year

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

This time of year in 1984, I was accepted via early decision into the University of Pennsylvania. My acceptance was binding, and I would be leaving for a campus I had never seen. My father and I had visited quite a few universities on the East Coast on a Spring break trip from Los Angeles, and I disliked most of the places we saw. None of them seemed to be the right fit.

As a Penn alumnus from the 1960’s, my dad remembered the Penn campus as a city school. When I started looking at colleges, he did not think it would be the right place for me and so we didn’t schedule it on our campus tour.  But then, my parents were on the East Coast visiting friends and they suggested that Penn had changed significantly over the years. After that, my dad said, “For all the reasons you did not like those other schools, you will like Penn.” I trusted his opinion and took the leap to apply early. Just a few short months later, I got my acceptance letter. I remember feeling so amazed and excited.

I had nearly the same feeling after graduation when I opened the big envelope from Penn inviting me to join the University community, and then again, when I learned I would have an article published in National Geographic magazine.  As a reader and a traveler, I have always loved the magazine with the golden yellow square and now in a small way, I am a part of it. I believe that my experience at Penn helped to shape my adventurous side. From coming to campus sight unseen as a freshman and then having such a great four year experience both in and outside of the classroom, Penn taught me that taking risks could lead to unbelievable, life-changing discoveries, such as those I made in writing the article.   I hope you enjoy reading  about the Royal Cremation in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The crowd at the cremation ceremony.

Travel writer Lisa Ellen Niver (Penn 1989) is spending the year in Southeast Asia with her husband (both of whom are members of the Traveler’s Century Club). Follow her adventures on their blog,, and on Twitter @wesaidgotravel.

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Giving Back What Started at Penn

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS’89

As a Penn Quaker, I feel a special kinship for Benjamin Franklin. I am impressed by all he did for our country in so many different realms. He was a true renaissance man who needs to be remembered especially with the elections looming so closely. Here is one of my favorite quotes by him: “Hide not your talents, they were made for use. What’s a sundial in the shade?” -Benjamin Franklin

On the web site Beyond the Quote,  they state: “Your extraordinary abilities allow you to stand out among the crowd and should be demonstrated often. The special talents you possess may be helpful not only to yourself, but for others as well. When you have a talent you have a greater purpose to show the world and help to improve it.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to share some of my own personal abilities by being featured on the nationally syndicated television show, Career Day. Now in its third season, the show has brought on over two hundred people to share their careers with students and adults who may be interested in pursuing a similar line of work. I am the first teacher ever be selected and my students got to participate as well. In January 2012, two film crews spent the day with me and my 4th and 5th grade students. The show aired on September 29, 2012 (Episode 302).

Here I am on the set, working on a fun experiment with some of my students.

I loved when the narrator said, “Grab your test tubes & beakers! This week on Career Day we’re DISSECTING a career that will really SPARK your interest… teaching elementary school SCIENCE!”

Here I am behind the scenes of filming. Please note: I am wearing my Penn blue!

Enjoy some moments in the science lab. I hope it is as inspiring to you as it was an honor for me to be chosen to share my much loved job with others. Truly, my career path began at Penn, and I’m so happy to continue sharing my work and life adventures with all of you.


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Waking Up

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

My father, who is also a Penn grad and the reason I traveled from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for college, often says, “Sleep? I can always sleep when I am dead, there is so much to do.” I recently realized that this quote actually comes from Benjamin Franklin! He said, “There will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead, life is for living. So wake up and perform.”

Our wedding.

This year, George and I are traveling in South East Asia exploring, wandering, and waking up! This is not a year of sleeping through the same life or same job. We have been away from America for nearly three months so far. We are currently in Bangkok discovering how to acquire a visa to spend my birthday in Myanmar.

George and I met online, but we really clicked because of Myanmar and the Schwedagon Pagoda. When I mentioned to him that it was my favorite place, he was intrigued. He had to meet a fellow traveler who loved the temples and culture of Burma. And now, nearly six years after we first met, we will be there together for my 45th birthday.

Please join in my birthday celebration by donating to the Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project for Darfur refugees. In the 45 days before I turn 45, I am searching for 45 people to donate so that 45 families will have solar cookers and more safety in their daily lives. Together, we can help many families leave their refugee camp in search of firewood and fuel, without fearing harm.

In Mongolia.

After a long journey full of peril from Darfur in Sudan, people arrive at the camps in Chad, traumatized after losing homes, family members, and any concept of safety into a bureaucratic jungle with only tarps for creating a new shelter. Having given up my home by choice this year to travel with my husband, I hope to help others feel cared for no matter where they rest their head. Please use this link to donate . Note that your donation is in honor of me and JWW will keep track of the money we raise together. Thank you for making a difference today. More information here.

I hope that in the new school year and the Jewish year and for my 45th year, that you will not “stand idly by” or sleep your year away. Listen to Ben Franklin and wake up, perform, and participate!

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Alumna Abroad

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

During my years at Penn, I meandered the liberal arts curriculum. I took classes in all different disciplines. My dad, who went to Penn Dental, told me, “There is always time to specialize. Learn about a lot of different things. If you are a biochem major and then go to Medical School your world will be narrower. Use this time to expand your world.” He did not realize at the time how many continents my travels would include.

My husband, George and I, left July 2012 for our second year journey in South East Asia. In 2008, we left for a year, unsure about what would happen. Over the next eleven months, we visited twelve countries. I came home sixty pounds lighter and engaged!

In June 2010, I started our blog, WeSaidGoTravel, on our way to a summer in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Well-intentioned friends cautioned, “If you only post once a week, you will never get anywhere.” I said, “I am nowhere now,” and started the blog anyway. At the end of July 2012, our site was listed in the TOP 25 Travel Blogs on! In early August, we joined Empire Ave. We were a top 15 Fledgling and are now a top 15 Greenhorn. Are you on the AVE? Send me your ticker!
Our site is growing, by leaps and bounds with over 175,000 views since mid June 2012.

So far, our trip this year has been great. We are busy in Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia snorkeling with turtles, and watching dolphins jump and spin at sunset. The Penn motto, “We will find a way or we will make one,” has become our call to arms.

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Words to Live By

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

During my years at Penn, I remember learning the University motto of “We will find a way or we will make one.” I have adopted this many times as my personal mantra to make life work out. If I just keep saying it, I will figure it out. Many other quotes have helped me in my personal journeys and at over 100 countries by the count of Traveler’s Century Club I have been on a quite a few adventures!

I believe that I must as Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” I want my life to be full and to realize my dreams and to be all that I can be in my own way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I also like what Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about living a good life: “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you also have an obligation to be one.” I have often been accused of being an individual and finding my own way, just like the Penn Motto tells me to!

Eleanor Roosevelt

 I am a traveler and we will be leaving again very soon. As Robert Frost says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Being willing to take a risk has led me to amazing places.

Young Robert Frost

I went on one more blind date and met George five and a half years ago. He is now my husband, travel partner, and soul mate. What if I had not been willing to go? He asked me to travel with him for a year and during that sojourn in South East Asia, we got engaged underwater. What if I said no? Taking the leap has led me to wonderful discoveries!

As one of my favorite writers, James Michener, says, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because if you enjoy it today you can do it again tomorrow!” I love this idea. Fill your life with the things you enjoy and as Sonny states in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end; if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.”

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Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Penn motto of “We will find a way or we will make one.” My husband George and I have worked hard to create our own path as a couple and as travelers. We love to find others who also have a serious case of wanderlust (defined by as a “strong, innate desire to rove or travel about”).  Recently, I met Christine Maxfield another Penn grad (2004) who is, like me, inspired about travel, wanderlust, and all thing Frankly Penn!

Here is just a sampling of her adventures from from her recent post on our blog:

Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to instruct HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, play music with children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…

Christine with children in Africa.

You can read more of this post at We Said Go Travel.


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