Be Well Penn ’95: A Conversation with Penn’s New Chief Wellness Officer

by Nicole C. Maloy, M.S, W’95, SPP’18

Recall the calming voices and speech patterns of PBS icons Bob Ross and Mr. Rogers, add a medical degree, and top with a former Directorship of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry at Penn Medicine. You can now begin to imagine what it is like to be in the presence of Dr. Benoit Dubé.

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Nicole Maloy:     Greetings. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       Good afternoon. My name is Benoit Dubé. I am the University’s Chief Wellness Officer and Associate Vice Provost.

Nicole Maloy:     What does it mean to be a Chief Wellness Officer?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:      That is a simple question on the surface, but is actually something that we are figuring out beyond the general campaign for wellness that really spearheaded the creation of this position and the reorganization of our health & wellness services. This position didn’t exist before, so I have both the privilege and the daunting task of defining what it is exactly that it means. And while it’s a simple question, the answer has multiple layers because, as the university’s Chief Wellness Officer, I am responsible for the entire Penn community. So that means students, that means staff, that means faculty. And even that is an oversimplification because if we just limit ourselves to students, there’s over 25,000 [Ed. total undergraduate + graduate & professional, full time + part time], and of the 25,000 there are 12 different schools, and we have to be very humble and acknowledge that there is not a wellness solution for students. Maybe 25,000 wellness solutions, but we have to identify the common thread.

We have to create a space where synergies can happen. We have to create an environment where innovation and collaboration are fostered, nurtured. If the School of Nursing, who has learners across the whole spectrum, has initiatives that have been successful for them, then we must provide them with the resources so that the College can share some of the applicable resources, and so on and so forth.

And you’ll notice that I’ve just been talking about students. We can talk just as much and wax and wane poetic about staff. If we don’t address the wellness needs of staff, we can’t expect staff to promote a wellness culture for students. And then there’s faculty. So, thank you for allowing me to explain why it is a complicated question. It’s both thrilling and exciting to create something new, but the emphasis is on creating something that wasn’t there, that was implied, but has now been given its place at the table.

Nicole Maloy:     And you mentioned the campaign for wellness. Can you tell us more about that? What should alumni – and anybody who’s interested in Penn – know about this campaign?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       So, the campaign for wellness is a multifaceted initiative and effort that was spearheaded by the President and the Provost in 2017 to really start creating community. To engage members – its members – in dialogue. Dialogue that values and cherishes vulnerability, that reframes stress and struggles as opportunities for growth, that reminds all of us that we are in this together.

The world is a stressful place. It’s not stressful because of politics exclusively, which is the go-to, right? But if we even remove politics from the world, it’s really stressful to keep up. We’re connected always. Are we missing out on anything? Are we responding quickly enough? E-mail. E-mail was touted as making workers more efficient. Nobody likes e-mail. I mean, everybody hates e-mail, but we all e-mail all the time. Is it OK not to e-mail my boss, or my professor, or my students after 5? Over the weekend? We’re learning this. Technology has forced us to adapt faster than we have actually been able to adapt in recent history. That’s why the world is stressful.

We’re dealing with new, unseen political situations. Look at what’s going on, the divisive political agendas that people are grappling with. All of these things make us collectively all of us, red and blue – we’re talking about Penn here, not politics – they make us stressed out. How do we feel that we have agency in all of this? How can we give ourselves permission to slow down? These are the hot topics that we’re trying to figure out.

Penn is uniquely positioned to offer solutions. If we take a step back, what we want to do is offer our learners the skills and tools they need to be successful academically. That is not new. But the rules have changed because of expectations, because of how quickly information spreads, how reactive people have become. We want to give our learners, our graduates, the skills and tools so that they can go out and continue to make the world a better place. That’s what Benjamin Franklin said. By the way, happy birthday Ben! It’s your 313th birthday today. So, that’s collectively, big picture, what we want to do. We want to use the remarkable resources we have here to make the world a better place so that our graduates can go out and become change agents. So that we get to tame our inbox. So that we become better equipped at integrating self-care with ambition.

Nicole Maloy: Integrating self-care with ambition. Oh, that’s fantastic. So, speaking of graduates, we can now move into the world of Penn alumni, who are all around the world doing all manner of different things. What can we learn from what you’re doing and what Penn is doing around wellness in general, and how can we better balance our ambition with our self-care?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       What I have learned, and what I have benefited from, is the importance of listening. And let me qualify that because it sounds like it’s a simple, rehearsed talking point, but it’s actually not. Your question led me to pull a few things together. I’m relatively new to this. I’m not new to the Penn community, but I’m new to this role, I’m new to this mandate and these tasks. And the first thing I decided to do was, well, you know, we’re not starting with a blank slate here. Penn has done wonderful wellness-related things. So, before I start asking for resources to create new things, I need to start from a position of humility and say, hey, what great things are we doing now? Can we make them greater? And then decide what new things we should be doing. And the only way we can figure this quandary out and resolve it is by listening.

Right now, I’ve mostly been listening to students. Remember, there are 25,000 of them. So, I’ve been on a listening tour, and I’ve heard successes, I’ve heard challenges. And by listening to the students, by being present in the moment without judgement or expectations, it’s reminded me that I need to listen to myself. I need to give myself permission to manage my own expectations, to realize that this is not a 6-month contract. This is a commitment. There is not going to be one solution. There will be many, and I need to remind myself of that. Because there may be a little bit of pressure associated with this new job, right? And as I listen to students, I’ve been reminded that I also need to listen to myself and give myself permission to be patient, to think through things, to really reverse this cycle of reactivity. Just because we’re connected quickly, instantly with each other doesn’t mean that I’m expected to have the answer by the next school year. I can be reflective, contemplative, and realize that it’s not just a one-person thing. We are part of a community. Which brings me back to your question.

The worldwide community of Quakers is still accessible, and technology, in this case, does facilitate the creation of community, the pool of resources, the creation of collaborations that may not have been otherwise possible absent e-mail, absent instant message, Facebook, and other social media tools. That’s how what I’ve learned in my first few months in this role can be applied to graduates and alumni. We are part of a community. The wellness quandary, the wellness challenges, solutions we need to identify, are not one person’s goal. We will figure this out together by valuing humility, by recognizing and allowing vulnerability to be part of our dialogue. Not to create a culture of “woe is me,” but rather for people to be comfortable enough to say, “This is challenging for me, and this is how I’ve overcome the challenge,” so that others on the receiving end of this conversation can pick and choose what works for them.

“We can change and forge a new lens that allows us to see stress as an opportunity for growth. If we approach a stressful situation this way, we’re much less likely to become overwhelmed. It’s not going to make it easy, but it will make it easier. And that is within our power.”

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       You know, when we talk about wellness, usually within the first five minutes we talk about mindfulness meditation and yoga. OK? So, a little bit of self-disclosure here, I hate yoga.

Nicole Maloy:     (Laughter)

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       I’m terrible at it. It stresses me out.

Nicole Maloy:     Yoga stresses you out.

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       It totally does. Like, I cannot touch my toes. I’m just not a flexible guy. But, I don’t know, maybe you like yoga, right? Maybe, for you, being in the moment, being at peace with your body, being connected inwardly is the perfect solution to give you respite from the stress of the outside world. Doesn’t work for me. At all. So, there is no wellness solution. There must be wellness permissions that we must give ourselves. And a lot of it is trial and error. Of course, everybody’s going to try yoga and mindfulness meditation first. And by the way, mindfulness meditation is easy to say – it takes practice. You get better at it over time. Guided breathing for me, like, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes every hour, does the trick. I breathe better than I stretch.

Nicole Maloy and Dr. Benoit Dubé:       (Laughter)

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       I have learned through experience that yoga was just not the thing for me. Am I going to mandate guided breathing exercise for everyone? Of course not. Because other people may have my yoga reaction to this solution. But maybe if they hear this, it’s going to be another tool in their toolbox as they try to give themselves permission to find their solution.

Nicole Maloy:     So, what you would advise alumni to do is to be active members of the community so we can share our experiences with other alumni, with students, staff, and faculty, to be open to other people’s experiences so we might learn from them, and also to balance self-care and ambition, and give ourselves permission to be vulnerable, to try new things to see what works for us.

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       Oh, absolutely. And to always remember that stress is a part of life. We must expect it, we must embrace it rather than fear it. And we have the ability to change our perception. We can’t change the facts, but we can change and forge a new lens that allows us to see stress as an opportunity for growth. If we approach a stressful situation this way, we’re much less likely to become overwhelmed. It’s not going to make it easy, but it will make it easier. And that is within our power.

Nicole Maloy:      For our pre-reunion year in the Class of ’95, we’ve asked our classmates to identify something that is within their power to improve or change, or at least focus on more, in a few key areas of health, whether physical, mental/emotional, or social. How can we best identify the things that are within our control and things that aren’t to reduce the frustration of identifying an area to improve?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       That’s really interesting because I don’t think there’s a master key here, I don’t think that there is one directive or one solution. Rather, each alum should give themselves permission to just try different solutions on for size and see what works for them. The subjective experience is what’s going to determine what is the best fit. It’s ultimately about giving folks the ability to, through lived experience, come to the realization that this is helpful and this is not.

Maybe yoga works for some people, but it’s not within your control whether or not you can escape to the gym during your lunch hour because of things that you have no say over, right? So, your boss may not let you take a lunch break that allows you to leave the office. Or maybe if that’s possible, maybe there’s not a shower facility that you have access to so that you can come back refreshed. So, while deciding that yoga works for you, whether you can do that during the weekday may not be under your control. And all of these things each alum will figure out and come to that realization. A simple solution would be, well, go after work, or go before work, or do something else.

You touched on community, and I think that this is where we have the biggest challenges despite having the easiest solutions at our disposal. The biggest challenge is because, in the digital era, in a world where social media essentially guides what we do, we’ve become very individualized. And we’ve lost some of our socialization skills. How do we stay in touch? Through Facebook. And that’s fantastic because we couldn’t do that before. But we forget to nurture our relationships that are closer. These are the relationships that we tend to neglect because we’re so drawn by the awesomeness of being able to connect with our college buddies all over the world. I’m not saying to stop doing that, but in the process not forget about your inner circle. You need to prioritize. We are dealing with a slew of demands, professionally, personally, and that maybe we can’t do it all, and that we have to decide, OK, there’s an order here. First, take care of yourself. It’s not about being selfish or entitled. It’s about making sure that you can take care of other people.

Nicole Maloy:     Put on your mask before you put a mask on the person next to you.

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       That’s exactly where I was going with that. So, if you put the oxygen mask on your traveling buddy, well, then you may not be around to take care of them after the fact. So that’s why self-care is important. It’s about prioritizing. And prioritizing relationships. Finding meaning in what we do. Seeing purpose beyond ourselves. Giving back to the community. Those are values that I hope that have been ingrained in all of our alum, but we need to remember, the world is going on like really fast and sometimes we forget. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing we can do to re-center, refocus, recalibrate, and then go about your day after that. That’s what deep breathing does for me. It stops the noise, outside, inside, and then I can move forward.

Nicole Maloy:     You’ve touched on the fact that yoga is not your thing, but deep breathing is, so that fits into that mental and emotional health piece. What is something, if you’re comfortable sharing, that you do to promote your social health, and something you do to promote your physical health?

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       So, physical health, I like to run. And running on city sidewalks is no longer a thing for me because my knees are telling me that’s not a good thing, so I’ve learned to adapt to the treadmill and to books on tape. (Laughter) I have also, as I’ve grown older, needed to make adjustments to what I eat, and concentrated sweets don’t agree with me anymore. And that was not within my control. I had to adapt, I had no choice.

Social health – I think that my professional responsibilities have allowed me to thrive in that respect. In the responsibilities I have been given at Penn, I get to meet outstanding, brilliant, creative, and innovative students all the time. And that is something that is energizing for me. It’s a source of inspiration, creating a community that didn’t exist before. It’s very energizing for me to be asked to do that.

The other life hack I’d like to share with you is, I am an avid traveler. I love to travel. And so one of my life rules is before you end your current vacation or your current trip, you must know where your next one is. You must always have a reward for yourself. You must always be working towards something. Because, hey, there will be stress. There will be challenges. But if you know that you will be rewarded, there’s something you’re looking forward to. That’s a life rule that I figured out a while back.

Nicole Maloy:     Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, and have a wonderful spring semester.

Dr. Benoit Dubé:       Thank you. It was a pleasure chatting with you.

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Nicole Maloy is a Penn Class of 1995 Reunion Co-Chair. Through the Be Well Penn ’95 Wellness & Self-Care Initiative, she, Casey Ryan, C’95, and Jordana Horn Gordon, C’95 urge their classmates – and the entire Penn alumni family – to be both thoughtful and proactive about making mental, emotional, physical, and/or social health a higher priority in 2019.

 

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Profile, Campus Life, Casey R., Nicole M., Uncategorized

Football, Award Ceremonies & Coming Back: Alumni Pride During Homecoming

By: Jorge Penado, C’19

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Source: Penn Alumni SmugMug

When the growing chills of late November begin to settle on campus, one of the most celebrated traditions of colleges and universities across the US arrives Homecoming. Homecoming is the tradition of welcoming back former students to celebrate their time at their universities or colleges. While the tradition has existed since the 19th century, Penn didn’t actually officially adopt Homecoming celebrations until 1984. Nowadays, as many of you, as alumni, will know, Homecoming has become one of the staple events for alumni on campus alongside Alumni Weekend in the spring. Homecoming at Penn, though a tradition shared with any other university or campus, has its own flair that is very uniquely Penn. Events like the Homecoming Game and the Penn Alumni Award Gala have become great events to showcase the dedication of alumni. So, the question is: why is Homecoming at Penn unique? And, what are events like the Homecoming Game and Penn Alumni Award Gala like?

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Source: University of Pennsylvania Digital Archives

First and foremost, it is important to consider where Homecoming at Penn started and why the story behind it is so interestingly Penn. After a chat with Director Mark Frazier Lloyd of the University Archives, I was able to hear about the history of Homecoming from a true Penn enthusiast. In its simplest form, the story of Homecoming traces back to Penn’s undeniable love and excellence in football from the 1930s to the 1950s. During this era, there was no denying that Penn was a big-time intercollegiate football power. The mere success and fame of alumni like Chuck Bednarik, or “Concrete Charlie,” who would later go on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles and help the team win the championship shows the general euphoria felt around football. All this to say that Penn had definitely built its reputation around its football excellence. While students officially began their participation in intercollegiate football in 1876, it was common for students to have played football on their own on campus and it began to make official publications as early as 1872. With this interest in mind, Penn would play their first two intercollegiate matches against Princeton and would, unfortunately, lose both games. Though the football team would lose about one half to two-thirds of their games in the beginning, the team would grow in skill through the 1880s until they got much better during the 1890s and under the coaching of George Woodruff. The rest is history! But, interestingly enough, this prowess in football would be challenged by another part of Penn’s identity that many hold dear, its status in the Ivy League.

In 1954, President Harold Stassen would sign the documents that would commit Penn to the Ivy League. In order to meet the general prestige of the Ivies, President Stassen declared that Penn would no longer give athletic scholarships because the Ivy League would not allow these scholarships to be awarded. Soon after, Penn’s football would go on to lose many of its games as the same amount of resources weren’t dedicated to football as they were before. Understandably so, this decision caused a lot of backlash with alumni who had lived through Penn’s glory days of football and were constantly drawn back to Penn’s campus by football in particular. With this backlash, alumni affairs employees would begin to lead a conscious effort in the 1950s at increasing alumni presence on campus after the dominance of football wasn’t felt as strongly. With ideas of the alumni affairs team, the event that is Homecoming eventually came to be. In essence, Penn Homecoming became a way to attract alumni back to campus in the hopes of doing it the way football did. Additionally, once Penn had lost its edge in football, there was something that alumni needed to be proud of when it came to their university. While I am still an undergraduate myself, I could only assume that, once we leave the cobblestones of Locust, alumni involvement with Penn is much different than when we’re here. For this reason, an event like Homecoming came about to draw people back and also provide something to be proud of as Penn would grow in status and achievement through the years and up until now.

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Source: Penn Alumni Smug Mug

With this history of Penn’s Homecoming in mind, we can take a look at Homecoming in 2018 and how certain events continue the spirit of the initial versions of this celebration. In particular, one event that I’d like to shine a light on is the Alumni Award of Merit Gala. On November 9, the University honored the work of six distinguished alumni in a variety of fields. Fortunately, I was able to attend and see the recognition of these individuals while chatting with other alumni that came to this event. With regards to the six, the variety of fields is apparent as there was an award-winning, best-selling crime novelist, an entrepreneur who launched a website called myfirstpaycheck.com to help young professionals and many other professions. Alumni from classes of ‘65, ‘76, ‘78, ‘81 and ‘06 were recognized for their individual achievements. What united all of these alumni, however, was the fact that they have all been constantly involved with Penn whether that’s participating on a Board of Trustees or leading various projects as directors. Throughout the ceremony where each one of them was recognized, I could feel the pride that they felt for Penn come through in their speeches. This pride exists so strongly that generations of these alumni and their families have been involved with the university. Being able to witness all of these alumni and even talk to others who weren’t being recognized as an extremely interesting and inspiring night for me. After this event, that pride that Lloyd spoke about in our chat really came through as all the alumni were jubilant to be back on campus. With props rightfully due to the Alumni Relations office, it is undeniable that the pride that was once sought after the loss of football is definitely still thriving through events like this at Homecoming.

Hopefully, this quick overview of Homecoming and the tangible pride that alumni have when relating to the university allows everyone to consider their own time at Penn. Though many who graduate from Penn go on to do amazing things in the world, alumni affairs will always welcome alumni from far and near to celebrate and have some pride about the university. As Mark Frazier Lloyd said, “Homecoming has risen to today’s wonderful compilation of events from this deep feeling of losing contact with many thousands of alumni because big-time football was gone.” Luckily, Homecoming is only getting better and will be here for years beyond us.

 

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Innovation & Leadership: Penn Alumni on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List

By: Jorge Penado, C’19

Every year, the American business magazine, Forbes, publishes the 30 Under 30  list of over 600 business and industry figures that have become influential to some degree in their respective industries and are under the age of 30. They select 30 individuals for 20 different categories that range from industries like Hollywood & Entertainment, Venture Capital, Manufacturing & Industry, Law & Policy and many other categories. The list itself was started in 2011 and has grown through the years with 2016 seeing over 15,000 nominations. The list has even spread around the world with regional versions of the list in Asia, Africa and Europe. With it’s growing popularity, it is interesting to see the presence of Penn alumni on these lists, and this year’s list has seen one of the highest rates of Penn alumni.

As The Daily Pennsylvanian wrote on November 20, 25 graduates, including a current Ph.D. candidate, have been selected for the lists. This is the fourth highest number of honorees from a university on the list. The three other schools ahead of Penn include Stanford University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With over 15,000 nominations but only 600 slots to fill, the process is definitely rigorous as only 4% of those nominated are selected for the ultimate list. With regards to which industry Penn alumni are participating in most, Finance leads the way with 5 honorees in this category and Social Entrepreneurship follows with 3 honorees. As the DP article states, most honorees are from the Wharton School with 13 honorees followed by the College with 9. Though all of this information is truly interesting to get an overview, it’s just as fascinating to look at some of the work these alumni are doing in their respective fields.

 

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Source: Welligence Energy Analytics Twitter Account

One of the many honorees in this years list includes Seth Neel. Neel is one of the 30 honorees in the Energy sector who are recognized for “fueling a more sustainable future.” Neel is a current fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Statistics at the Wharton School, meaning that he’s the only current Penn attendee on the list. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Math from Harvard University in 2015. His research as a doctoral student in Wharton is focused on two general themes: the fairness in machine learning and the study of fundamental problems in differential privacy. He has published 11 different scholarly articles in the field and has spoken at various events. His participation in the field has even taken him to start his own company, Welligence, an independent oil and gas analytics firm focused on the Latin America upstream sector. Neel’s participation in the field is only growing and his recognignition in this year’s Forbes’ 30 Under 30 is greatly earned.

 

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Source: Amazon.com

Another Penn alumni who was selected as an honoree is Emerson Brooking. Brooking is one of 30 honorees in the Law & Policy sector who are recognized for “fighting for your rights Andrew’s better governments.” Brooking received his Bachelor of Arts in 2011 from the College with a major in Political Science and Classical Studies. While on campus, he was involved in clubs like Big Brother Big Sisters and the Penn Political Review. His participation on this year’s list is due largely to his debut book, Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. The book made the New York Time’s New & Noteworthy List, Amazon’s Best Seller List and was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Month. Besides these considerable achievements, the book has been featured on NPR, PBS, The New York Times, Time, Popular Science, Rolling Stone, Politico, Foreign Affairs and many more. The book was even praised as being “a magical combination of history, technology and early warning wrapped in a compelling narrative of how today’s information space can threaten the truth, our polity and our security,”  by former Director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden. With all of these accolades under his belt, Brooking has become an expert in the field of cyber warfare.

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Source: The Atlantic

The final Penn alumni selected as an honoree that this post will cover is Anna Wan. Wan is one of the 30 honorees in the Consumer Technology sector who are recognized for “seizing the moment of a personalized digital revolution.” Wan received her Bachelor of Science in Economics in 2012 from the Wharton School with a major in Operation & Information Management and Finance. During her time at Penn, she was notably involved in the Chi Omega Sorority. Her recognition on the list this year stems generally from her participation as a general manager of $2 billion Bird, a company dedicated to bringing scooters to cities east of the Mississippi River. Her position in this company has been a gradual growth as she has additionally worked at other companies like Ofo and AirBnB. While at Ofo, she notably managed over 20 teams and launched/ managed seven markets, which included the largest US market. At AirBnB, she supported executives with “strategic analysis and reporting” and worked “with Product Growth teams… to identify customer acquisition projects with greatest impact and ROI.” With all of this experience, her current position really goes to show her excellence in the field.

While there are 23 other Penn alumni who made the list and are pursuing equally wonderful endeavors in their respective fields, these three are just a quick example of the varying work that these alumni are engaging in and being recognized for. At a university like Penn, we’re lucky to have many great alumni, and this years Forbes’ 30 under 30 only shows a glimpse into the amazing things Penn alumni are doing around the world and in every field imaginable.

 

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Meet Gulnur Kukenova: Penn Alumni’s Newest Graduate Assistant

By: Gulnur Kukenova, GED19
Graduate Assistant for Penn Alumni Relations

Hey everybody! My name is Gulnur Kukenova and I am the new graduate assistant for Penn Alumni Office.

I just moved from Kazakhstan with my family a month ago and this month was full of new information and meeting with wonderful people. It took about 15 years to apply and become a part of Penn. And now I am HERE! (Woohoo!)

 

This year promises to be challenging as well as much enriched with knowledge for me. It is a great feeling of inspiration when I am sitting in one class with ones of the smartest and the most collaborative people from all around the world. This year I will definitely learn a lot both from my classmates who have wonderful backgrounds and different stories that shaped their lives and from the faculty who are a great source in shaping my choices and guiding me to my ideal career path.

I am very excited to get this great opportunity to explore and get to be familiar with the Penn community and especially with Penn Traditions! I am sure that the coming year will be one of the brightest and wonderful years of my life!

Let’s start the year and make it fruitful!

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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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Penn Serves LA Beautifies Roof for The Skid Row Housing Trust

By Michelle Wattana, C’09, and Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering

On Saturday, April 21st, the Penn Serves LA crew partnered with The Skid Row Housing Trust, where our very own Anne Dobson, C’08, serves as the Vice President of Philanthropy! Spearheaded by Penn Serves board members Jane Gutman and Irene Park, we met at the ground level of The Six Apartments in the Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood. Our team gathered water, snacks, and tools and listened to Anne’s informative pep talk for the day’s activities before we headed up to beautify the building’s rooftop through re-planting drought-resistant succulents.

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust volunteering Los Angeles

The Six building where we planted on the rooftop.

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering

Our group of Penn Serves LA volunteers

The Skid Row Housing Trust provides permanent supportive housing so that people who have experienced homelessness, prolonged extreme poverty, poor health, disabilities, mental illness and/or addiction can lead safe, stable lives in wellness. Many of these tenants are formerly homeless veterans. The Trust develops, manages, and operates permanent and supportive housing for its residents, and while a number of its buildings such as The Six are not actually on Skid Row itself, these buildings are beautiful, light-filled, open structures that in their very essence, exude what The Trust aims to provide – not only a place to get a safe night’s sleep, but hope, calm, and positivity during one’s greatest time of need.

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering

Penn Serves LA volunteers plant succulents

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering

On the roof planting succulents

The Six houses 55 tenants. All units in the building were single tenant units, as the targeted tenant is the single adult, with the average age of a tenant being 52-53 years of age. The units in the Trust’s buildings are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). The accommodations are provided for as long as a tenant needs, allowing as much time as necessary to heal, and various support services are provided, depending on each tenant’s need. Such services include case management, medical care, substance abuse counseling, technology assistance, benefits support, and full support for relocating from the streets or emergency shelters, and into housing. It is paramount that those who have been homeless can receive all the support they need to make the transition from homelessness to independence.

With this in mind, our team eagerly headed up to the rooftop where we were met with gorgeous views of Los Angeles – from the downtown skyline to the Hollywood sign and everything in between. As hot as it was, we got down to business! Armed with gloves and shovels, the Penn Serves crew planted a vast array of succulents into squares of soil that spanned the entire length of the rooftop. Everyone was hard at work, and some residents even stopped by to chat and help!

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering

Beautiful views of downtown Los Angeles from the roof.

In-hand with our previous event, making mosaic art through Piece by Piece, some pieces were brought to further beautify the rooftop garden. A few pieces were made fresh by volunteers on-site at the rooftop, and it was really wonderful to be able to link our events for the same cause. The beads and tiles used to make the mosaics really glistened and sparkled in the sun, adding a really cheerful touch to the little garden we had just created!

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering Piece by Piece

Making mosaics for the garden with Piece by Piece

Our crew had a wonderful time working our hearts out, chatting with one another while planting those succulents and piecing mosaics together. Before we knew it, we finished our tasks with time to spare! As our work came to an end, we were able to enjoy a fantastic view and the fruits of our labor. The little plants and mosaics added just the right touch to spruce up the space! The succulents, in particular, were the perfect plant for the job, as they are symbols of resilience, perseverance, and hope, and possess the ability to thrive under tough conditions. We were all reminded that afternoon, that all of us have a right to live in peace and beauty, and that even just a little light in our day can brighten things up immensely. And it was our sincerest wish that the residents of The Six would be able to enjoy the serene rooftop whenever they needed.

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering Piece by Piece mosaics

Working on mosaics for the garden

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering Piece by Piece mosaics

Penn Serves LA The Skid Row Housing Trust Los Angeles volunteering Piece by Piece mosaics

The finished mosaic ball for the garden

Penn Serves LA logo volunteering with Penn Alumni in Los Angeles

Upcoming Events

About Penn Serves LA

 

Penn Serves LA impacts the Los Angeles community by engaging University of Pennsylvania alumni, parents and families in meaningful community service activities.

Since our founding in 2012, we have done everything from serving meals to the homeless to restoring the environment to fixing homes. Six times annually, we find another great opportunity to learn about interesting nonprofits, lend a hand and enjoy a fun experience with fellow alumni.

Join Us

We invite the Penn community in Los Angeles (alumni, parents, and kids) to join us at a future event, to help spread the word and to help us plan future activities. Join us, meet new Penn people, demonstrate what service means to your kids and friends, and help fellow Quakers make a little bit of difference in our complex city!

If you have an established nonprofit that you would like us to consider for future events or announcements, please let us know. We are looking for new nonprofits to serve in meaningful ways.

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | Michal Clements, W’84 | Justin Gordon, W’05 | Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16 | Leanne Huebner, W’90 | Jamie Kendall, W’04 | Irene Park, C’05 | Kiera Reilly, C’93 | Michelle Wattana, C’09 | Denise Winner, W’83, PAR’21

Read about our previous events:

 

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