University of Pennsylvania
BackgroundInterview Date:May 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Multiracial but I appear as Black
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Private high school in Los Angeles, CA with a graduating class of about 80 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First-Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB), which is essentially neuroscience
Extracurricular Activities: I am part of the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project (WPTP) where once a week you go to the same school every week and tutor a kid in writing or sometimes math. I’m in a fraternity. I also love playing basketball and play regularly.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
The West Philadelphia Tutoring Project let me see what normal schools look like in Philadelphia which has given me context to the culture of the city. It has been very interesting.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
I just took the intro class for BBB last semester and going to lecture was the most important thing because it was about understanding different pathways and systems in our nervous system. There were a few quizzes but it was mostly just preparing for big tests. Especially for science classes, it’s a lot of preparation for tests.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I decided on the major later than some people do and I realized that I hadn’t taken a lot of necessary courses, so I feel like they weren’t clear about the requirements. There was a bit of a disconnect between my pre-major advisor and my major advisor. I would check in with my pre-major advisor and he’d say that I was on track for the major but when I talked to the major advisor I learned that there was a lot of work that I had not done, which put me at a disadvantaged position for the rest of college. There are large requirements for some of the majors so you need to know what you want to do early on.
How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
Penn is a very social school in general, so for a lot of my classes I will end up getting to know people in class. It certainly helps in terms of working in groups and collaborating to do certain projects and study for tests, so I think there is some camaraderie in that aspect. There is also a very competitive aspect to it because some classes are graded on a curve and some aren’t for some inexplicable reason. Overall, it’s a competitive environment, but there are ways to work together and know people in your classes.
How accessible are your professors?
They all have office hours every week, so they’re easy to find. For the majority of classes I’ve taken, the T.A.’s are very competent and usually more accessible than the professor. The T.A.’s are very accessible by email and respond pretty quickly. So, whenever I’ve needed help I’ve been able to get it.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
If I’m happy with it, that will depend on five years from now. As of now, I’ve been going strictly off of my personal interest. The day to day learning of the material I find more interesting than a lot of the other classes I’ve taken, and I’ve taken classes in all sorts of fields. I feel like I’ve felt out what Penn has to offer and feel that BBB is rigorous and something I find interesting.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Were there any resources or systems in place that helped you adapt?
There are many resources like the Weingarten [Learning Resources Center]. It’s also easy to contact T.A.’s and they are oftentimes willing to go out of their way to help you understand the material and take some of their personal time to help you. Even though there are a lot of resources, I wouldn’t say that I capitalized on them. My freshman year was mostly trial and error and I made some academic mistakes, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s worth asking for help because it’s everywhere. I wasn’t quite prepared for the constant stream of large tests and I think that’s what you have to prepare yourself for.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: The Quad in Cox College House with one roommate.
Sophomore: Off-campus fraternity house with about 20 other people that is still relatively close enough to campus.
How was transitioning from Los Angeles, CA to Philadelphia, PA?
The cities are very different. L.A. is more spread out and the weather is warmer. I was originally from the East Coast, so I am no stranger to harsh, cold weather, but it certainly is different when you’re living in it every day. It’s certainly tough moving thousands of miles from your family, but pretty quickly on I found good people who I was comfortable spending the majority of my time with, so I would say the transition was not as stressful as I expected.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Personally, I’ve always felt pretty safe. There are always security guards patrolling the street, even on the outskirts of Penn’s campus. There are constantly security guards on bikes and carts making sure everyone’s okay. There have certainly been incidents where students are robbed but they make sure we get messages quickly about them.
Pros and cons of being located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA?
1) There are a lot of good food places in the area.
2) Everything’s very accessible. It’s easy to walk to and from campus.
3) University City caters to college students and I feel like I can call it home. I think that’s very important for not feeling like a stranger in your own city.
1) There are homeless people around and there are safety issues. I know girls who are afraid to walk alone at night.
2) The city is dirty.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I’m in a fraternity and I live with about 20 other people so there’s always something to do. We love going out to the different restaurants in University City and we also like to stay in and watch movies. During the winter the weather makes you want to stay inside. Also, if you live in campus housing they are constantly having events. We also throw our own parties and freshman year I did a lot of exploring different Greek life events.
What nights of the week do you tend to go to parties?
Thursday is a big night, and Friday and Saturday there are also events.
What’s the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
I would say it somewhat dominates it. At least for the people I know, usually their social life revolves around events that Greek life organizations are organizing. Unless its midterms or finals, people are talking about which fraternity they are going to.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or bar that you like for a night out?
I like to get food or going to the movie theater on campus. I’m never opposed to staying in and if you’re living in campus housing then you can hang out with your suitemates or people on your hall.
How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m pretty happy. It’s certainly difficult to leave University City and sometimes I do feel confined to the space around campus. I guess that’s the one thing I would change, but otherwise, I’m happy with what’s available.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I knew my roommate coming in freshman year and then he introduced me to other people that came from his high school. Freshman year is the time when people are willing to meet new people and if you live somewhere in the Quad you’ll see people all the time. I met a lot of people just eating in the dining hall or playing basketball.
If at all, how did being a first-generation college student affect your social transition?
I didn’t have my family to ask for advice on academics and social life. They couldn’t provide all the answers. But, I don’t think it hindered me as much as I thought it would other than just feeling unprepared. Otherwise, I think I assimilated pretty quickly, met a lot of people, and got over that fear.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Penn?
At times, it can be a little unhealthy. Greek life plays into the unhealthiness because belonging to a certain Greek life organization or not belonging to one affords you certain attributes and people will assume things about you. There is an established social hierarchy based on what organization you’re a part of and who you know. That part is a little unhealthy, but I also think Greek life can be good because you can be in contact with new people and have stronger friend groups. The social life here can be a little bittersweet in that sense. [About 27% of undergraduates are involved in Greek life.]
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
In my personal experience in Greek life, there is a bit of distance. People of similar races and sexual orientations tend to stick together more so, but there are certainly exceptions to that. No one has a problem with mingling with other friend groups, but I do think people tend to stick with people like them.
How would you describe the Black community on campus? How strong is it?
I wouldn’t say that I took the opportunity, but there are clubs that are predominantly African-American that you can join. Those are an opportunity for a bunch of Black people to meet and have a network amongst each other. In terms of Greek life, I think [the Intercultural Greek organizations] are pretty underrepresented. If you want to find it though, it’s there.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
The alumni network hasn’t helped me with jobs yet. I’ve seen job offerings in my email and by going to various Penn websites, but I haven’t had something directly through the alumni yet.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I went in once to help fix up my resume, which I actually found quite helpful. They even helped me look for a summer job and internship opportunities in Los Angeles for that summer. I would say they’re certainly useful.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
We use JMP for the statistics class I was just taking and they teach you basic things. We also use Excel in Biology 101 and it teaches you how to do some basic things.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
Yes, they actually took away some financial aid for this upcoming year. It was a struggle coming in trying to figure out how much aid I would get. They’re somewhat responsive, you can call them or email them. Right now, I’m waiting on my financial aid award for next year and things sometimes take longer than you’d like, but overall, I’d say they’re responsive.
What is something you wish you knew about Penn before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I had a better strategy for balancing social life with academics because freshman year I got caught up in the social aspect because I came from such a tiny high school and I wasn’t used to seeing so many people on a daily basis. I thought making as many friends as possible was my top priority and that hurt my academic performance a little bit.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go into some of the engineering buildings. The architecture can be pretty cool and there are nice lounge spaces.
Is there anything a prospective first-generation student should know that we haven’t touched on?
I would say this to anybody, but be you, be confident, and friends will come to you.
Reasons to attend Penn:
1) The facilities are very nice. There are so many different libraries and I love going to new places to study. The gym is also very nice. You have access to everything you would ever need.
2) If you’re extroverted, this is the place for you. It’s known as the “Social Ivy” for no reason. But, if you’re introverted this is a great place to be thrown in a fast-paced environment and you’ll learn a lot from it.
3) I’ve met a lot of very, very intelligent professors that care a lot about their work.
Reasons to not attend Penn:
I don’t have any reasons to not attend.