May 13, 2021 | 34st.com
PRESENTING CLASS of 2021's
PRESENTING 2021'S PENN 10:
2 ERIN O'MALLEY 4 ADAM KONKOL 5 BERNIE WANG 6 FAITH MAMARADLO 7 NABEEL FAROOQUI 8 AMANPREET SINGH 10 SYDNEY LEWIS 11 BRANDON NGUYEN
Letter from the Penn 10 Editor Class of 2021, this one's for you.
treet doesn’t usually include a letter from the editor in its annual Penn 10 issue. After all, the accomplishments of our featured stand–out seniors tend to speak for themselves. But this year felt a little different. The Class of 2021 has weathered what few of us could have predicted would come to pass when we were sent home that fateful March 2020 day: a fully online school year. These Quakers spent their last lap around the track navigating Zoom meetings, time zone differences, and social distancing mandates. They lamented the loss of traditional milestones associated with flying the coop that now had the labels “virtual” or “limited in–person attendance” tacked onto them. Yet, as the profiles that fill the pages of this year’s Penn 10 issue illustrate, even a pandemic couldn’t stop this year’s graduating class from leaving a legacy behind at dear old Penn. From spearheading student activism to working as contact tracers to running organic chemistry workshops, this year’s soon–to–be–graduates found
unique ways to make their marks amid the chaos. And that, dear readers, deserves a mention. Tomorrow, we’ll go back to picking up the pieces of a life uprooted by COVID–19. But today, we celebrate our kickass Class of 2021. SSSF,
Illustration by Isabel Liang
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Beatrice Forman, Editor–in–Chief Hannah Lonser, Special Issues Editor Chelsey Zhu, Campus Editor Mehek Boparai, Culture Editor Karin Hananel, Assignments Editor Lily Stein, Features Editor Denali Sagner, Features Editor Julia Esposito, Word on the Street Editor Kyle Whiting, Music Editor Peyton Toups, Deputy Music Editor Kaliyah Dorsey, Focus Editor Emily White, Style Editor Eva Ingber, Ego Editor Aakruti Ganeshan, Arts Editor Harshita Gupta, Film & TV Editor Isabel Liang, Design Editor Alice Heyeh, Street Design Editor Mia Kim, Deputy Design Editor Jesse Zhang, Street Multimedia Editor Caylen David, Street Audience Engagement Editor
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Features Staff Writers: Sejal Sangani, Angela Shen, Lindsey Perlman, Mira Sydow, Amy Xiang, Pranav Mishra Focus Beat Writers: Rema Bhat, Kira Wang, Jean Paik, Gabriella Raffetto Style Beat Writers: Naomi Kim, Matthew Sheeler Ego Beat Writers: Maddie Muldoon, Nick Plante, Fernanda Brizuela, Saranya Das Sharma, Lily Suh Music Beat Writers: Emily Moon, Allison Stillman, Nora Youn, Evan Qiang, Walden Green Arts Beat Writers: Jessa Glassman and Avneet Randhawa Film & TV Beat Writer: Arielle Stanger Staff Writers: Meg Gladieux, Aidah Qureshi, Jillian Lombardi, Kathryn Xu, Alice Heyeh, Phuong Ngo, Aria Vyas Multimedia Associates: Dhivya Arasappan, Sage Levine, Sophia Dai, Sophie Huang, Samantha Turner, Sudeep Bhargava, Sukhmani Kaur, Alexandra Morgan Lindo Audience Engagement Associates: Kira Wang, Samara Kleiman, Stephanie Nam, Yamila Frej
Copy Editor: Brittany Darrow Cover Design by Alice Heyeh
Contacting 34th Street Magazine: If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Bea Forman, Editor-In-Chief, at forman@34st. com. You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. www.34st.com ©2021 34th Street Magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. No part may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express, written consent of the editors (but I bet we will give you the a–okay.) All rights reserved. 34th Street Magazine is published by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc., 4015 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19104, every Thursday.
it's a hot grad summer
ERIN O'MALLEY Things Erin loves: spoken word, Asian American Studies, '90s riot grrrl music, and resisting capitalism | CHELSEY ZHU
rin O’Malley (C '21) has four pieces of advice for incoming students. The first: “Your major doesn’t matter as much as you think it does, so you should do something that you really enjoy.” A double major in comparative literature and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, Erin says this is especially true for the humanities. But it’s still a good piece of advice for students interested in STEM, too. (“I can’t relate, but somebody has to build bridges in our society,” they say.) As a poet, Erin reserves the second pointer for writers: “You should read a lot,” they say, “and when you’re reading, you should write down all the lines or sentences that you like and keep them in a little book.” Erin likes to leaf through theirs when they’re bored in class, so they still look like they’re being studious. And, with their third piece of advice, Erin is perfectly happy to radicalize an entire class of Penn students: “Capitalism is really toxic.” They laugh a little as they say this, but they’re dead serious. Structures like capitalism and gender “have tangible impacts on our lives”—and it’s important to understand how Penn as an institution perpetuates them, too. During their three years at Penn, Erin has
Photo Courtesy of Erin O'Malley had a lot of practice questioning and pushing back against systems of power. Whether it’s been through their research, poetry, or activism for the Asian American Studies (ASAM) Program at Penn, Erin has advocated for queer and Asian American identity, unity, and belonging in all of their work. It was actually ASAM that first drew Erin to Penn. They transferred here their sophomore year in order to find a strong sense of Asian American community, something that wasn’t present at their first college—the University of Rochester. “As someone who’s not very culturally Asian because I’m adopted, I just didn’t really see an entryway into finding community with other Asian American students,” Erin says. “In part through my participation in the ASAM community and in the ASAM Undergraduate Advisory Board, specifically, I was able to find that.” From the very beginning, Erin understood that ASAM was in need of “continuous student support." They applied to transfer the same year that former ASAM Director Grace Kao left Penn due in part to the University’s lack of support for the program. Since coming to Penn, they’ve dived into the work as both an ASAM minor and the co–chair of the ASAM UAB.
Most recently, Erin, their co–chair Claire Nguyen (C '22), and the students and alumni of ASAM spearheaded the fight to retain professor David Eng, who announced his potential departure in March, and called on the University to provide more resources to the historically understaffed program. The students’ collective efforts have led to success: On March 30, the School of Arts and Sciences announced that it would recruit and hire multiple new faculty members to the program. However, Erin stresses that this achievement has
Not to be a Marxist bro, but one of the biggest things that has shifted my thoughts on burnout has been educating myself on the toxicity of capitalism.
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has come at a great cost to the students involved—including themselves. Like many students, Erin has struggled with burnout throughout their time at Penn, but they emphasize that the burden of balancing school and other passions weighs even more heavily upon students of color. As Erin has grappled with a virtual school year and completing two undergraduate theses—both of which deal intimately with themes of Asian American identity—the added pressure of advocating for ASAM, all while news of anti–Asian hate crimes has consumed social media, has been draining. “It became really difficult to work on my theses while I was also doing all of this other work [with ASAM]. Because of that, I had to decide what I wanted to spend my time doing, and I ended up most of the time making the choice of putting time into organizing for [ASAM],” they say. “That’s a choice that I made, but I think it’s really frustrating that it came down to that, and that it comes down to that for other students who have to decide whether they should organize for things that are really important—oftentimes necessary for their own education—versus being able to actually do their schoolwork.” Coming to terms with the dark side of productivity culture—and its capitalist roots—has been vital for Erin as they’ve navigated a challenging senior year. “Not to be a Marxist bro, but one of the biggest things that has shifted my thoughts on burnout has been educating myself on the toxicity of capitalism,” they say. “I used to feel very guilty for feeling tired or for just wanting to rest.” What’s helped: redefining work beyond classes and the job search. Instead of feeling like they’re being unproductive while relaxing, Erin thinks of themselves as doing a different kind of work: “the work of maintaining a friendship or the work of enjoying my life, which is also a valid form of work.” Being 'successful' isn’t just about doing things that pad up a resume; it’s also about putting effort into building successful relationships. One space at Penn where they've built strong friendships is the Excelano Project, a spoken word poetry collective that doubles as being “the hottest group of people on campus,” says Erin, the organization’s president. Although members are brought together by poetry, it's the shared sense of intimacy and vulnerability—cultivated by hundreds of hours spent together and countless orders of Bonchon—that sets Excelano apart. “They’re just my family on campus,” Erin says. “I think there are even fewer spaces on campus for specifically queer writers of color, and I couldn’t have imagined coming into the Excelano Project that writing with a group of people in which I felt understood would be so transformative for my writing … That vulnerability really allows for us to write and really feel like we’re writing together and towards something.” They say that their own poetry—which focuses on the Asian American community, pop culture, and queer identity—has become more “urgent and immediate” after joining Excelano. They’ve also made more of an effort to write
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“joyous poems,” both in order to bring happiness into their own life and instill happiness in their audience. One poem they’re particularly proud of is “ODE TO MOSHING AT BIKINI KILL'S FIRST SHOW IN 20 YEARS,” a piece they wrote for Excelano and published in fourteen poems. “In it, I’m imagining myself moshing at the Bikini Kill reunion concert, and it’s sort of thinking about what it’s like to be doing that as a trans person,” Erin says. The poem also explores how their relationship with their mother is mediated through their clashing opinions on '90s riot grrrl music. Although it confronts somber topics, the poem generates an aura of rebellious energy through images of a crowd thrashing and screaming in the mosh pit—and those images feel defiantly freeing. “It’s really difficult for me to write joyous poems, even though I do feel a lot of joy. And I think that [poem is] one where I am able to share joy, but also show that it’s these
I think it can be really difficult to make a choice that doesn’t make sense to other people. That was a really big deal for me to choose myself over what others might think of me.
other moments, these other peaks and valleys, that allow for that joy.” As Erin has planned for their future after graduation, it’s been vital for them to remember to prioritize their own joy— especially in the face of others’ expectations. Starting in the fall, they will pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and poetry at Arizona State University, a decision that involved a lot of deliberation. Although Erin had many reasons to pick Arizona State—among them the chance to work with faculty of color they’ve admired and to be surrounded by a community of other trans and POC students—they felt pressured to conform to ideas around prestige, career viability, and grad school programs. “I think it can be really difficult to make a choice that doesn’t make sense to other people,” they say. “That was a really big deal for me to choose myself over what others might think of me.” For Erin, this mindset has produced two theses, a cluster hire for ASAM, a badass poem about moshing, countless memories with the Excelano Project, and a promising future getting a stipend to write “silly little poems.” And thus we arrive at Erin's last piece of advice for incoming students: Choose yourself and what matters to you.
There's no such thing as free time or work when you love what you do, even if it's being a student, teacher, and researcher all at once. | HARSHITA GUPTA
Photo by Max Mester
dam Konkol (C '21) has the kind of resume that proves it’s possible to find a path in life where you’re passionate about the things you’re good at and good at the things you’re passionate about. It definitely inspires hope that we can all, with dedication and work, stumble on similar paths of our own—where fulfilling our academic or work responsibilities during most of the day just means we’re enjoying what we do at every moment. Clocking in at a whopping four majors—biochemistry, biophysics, physics, and math—on top of being a Vagelos Molecular Life Sciences (MLS) Scholar, Adam is a force to be reckoned with in Penn’s science departments. Everything about him screams science, from his aversion to writing essays to his COVID–19 research to his future plans. “I realized more and more that I was interested in understanding why things happen and being able to explain them through some kind of theories and really digging deeper,” Adam says. Not only did Adam survive the famously competitive and difficult MLS program, but he thrived. He appreciates that the program allowed him to go all in with the physical and analytical sciences, and it's easy to see how the program prepared him to take so much on. With 24 hours in a day—just like all of us—he takes numerous science classes under four majors because they're "fun and enjoyable," conducts research in multiple disciplines, and teaches during his free time, including weekends. Adam’s research is as varied and interesting as his majors, branching from experimental biology to theoretical biophysics. He studies networks, first researching structures of the body’s blood vessels before then working with a professor at the University of Arkansas to apply that same research to the study of river deltas. Though they
seem disparate, he remarks that they look the same if you squint, a metaphor for the broad application of scientific inquiry that I found delightful. He’s almost finished with some COVID–19 research comparing travel data by county with epidemic spread, emphatically stating that “travel restrictions are worthwhile and useful.” It’s nice to have claims backed up by hard data, as that’s really the point of doing any scientific research. As a first–generation college student, Adam has squeezed everything he could get out of his university experience, and he's incredibly proud of having done so. He’s thankful for the research opportunities he’s had, such as the Churchill Scholarship that will allow him to travel abroad for his studies. This, more than all the work he's doing or classes he’s taking, is what makes Adam such an interesting person to talk to—the fact that he has taken every opportunity to do things he genuinely and earnestly enjoys. “When I came into college, I had no idea. I scraped my way into Penn and had no idea what was even out there to do—like how many different opportunities there were and just everything that’s available.” What little free time Adam does have beyond MLS and his own research is still science–adjacent, as he mostly takes opportunities to teach Penn peers or high schoolers in the Philadelphia area. This is what he does for fun, running organic chemistry workshops on the weekends and serving as a teaching assistant for undergraduate and graduate level courses alike. It’s a work–life balance to be envious of, where work and life blend into each other because both brush up against each other and encompass true passions and hobbies. People often ask him what he does in his free time, only to disbelieve that teaching counts as free time for him. “I certainly wouldn’t teach so much if I didn’t absolutely love it … I really, really like it. And so, it’s hardly work. It’s really enjoyable and fun; [the] highs and lows of working with students, when they really get it and they’re like excited, and they’re motivated, and they want to keep going, and you help them learn more.” It’s a deep well of empathy that shines through when Adam speaks about his love for teaching, citing that he’s there to both help students and stress alongside them. It’s not a totally cheery view—teaching is difficult and takes hard work, and that is why it’s rewarding. Adam has gone out of his way to not only work with Penn students, but to design and teach a seminar for high school students in Philadelphia, which he cites as one of his proudest accomplishments as an undergraduate. He notes that teaching high schoolers was immensely diffi-
cult, especially in how quickly he had to adjust to the teaching environment. “Teaching things is hard, and it’s real work, and it takes time, and it’s not easy. The reward of somebody being able to figure it out and think through something themselves and come up with something new is completely worth all the effort it takes to get up that hill, for me certainly.” Adam is someone with immense dualities—student and teacher, researcher and learner, liaison between high schoolers and college students. His advice for incoming first years is deceptively simple, and yet something we all struggle to follow. “Any first years coming in should do the things they like and not do the things they don’t like—it’s not worth it. There’s so many things here … There’s no reason to keep doing something that you don’t enjoy. With so many opportunities, there’s no excuse to shy away from finding what clicks. Adam's perception of free time is, he admits, warped
I realized more and more that I was interested in understanding why things happen and being able to explain them through some kind of theories and really digging deeper. in a way. It would be impossible for it not to be, when he’s involved in so many avenues of research, teaching, learning, and mentoring, and he has been embroiled in analytical sciences for most of four years. But at the end of the day, he says it’s been “completely worth it.” You can tell he took his undergraduate career seriously, loved it, and made the most of it. There's no better model to look for as a senior. This fall, Adam's headed to the University of Cambridge to get his master's in physics with a grant from the Churchill Foundation, before coming back to the United States to get his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from MIT. As he continues his path into academia, where he will step into the roles of both researcher and teacher, I can’t wait to see what topics he tackles next, or what else can be made to look the same if you just take the time to squint, and look at the data a little bit closer.
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Bernie's passions for energy research, trombone, and tae kwon do followed him from grade school to Penn. | ARIELLE STANGER
ernie Wang (C, E '21) has a significantly more calm and humble demeanor when compared to any Penn student, so much so that his humility can hide how accomplished he is. Bernie is about to graduate from Penn’s VIPER program with a dual degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts and Sciences in material science and chemistry, and next year, he’ll be at Yale getting his Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s been involved in a number of extracurriculars, including the Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC) and Penn Band. But his personal fun fact of choice? He collects coins. In comparison to Bernie’s many accomplishments, collecting coins might seem like the least exciting one, but throughout the interview, I begin to sense a theme. Each of Bernie’s passions is deeply rooted within him, beginning in the earlier years of his life and growing stronger as he gets older. He tells me that he got into coin collecting back in elementary school during book fairs, where he found an album of state quarters. “I was always hoarding the quarters anyway, because I liked the designs and stuff,” he says. Similarly, Bernie plays trombone for Penn Band and participates in Penn’s Tae Kwon Do Club, both of which are hobbies he picked up in fifth grade. I then ask him why he was interested in applying to Penn’s VIPER program. He tells me that he did his seventh grade science fair project on biofuels. “That got me started on being interested in renewable energy. And that just built from there. Then I learned chemistry in high school, and then that's how I figured out I liked chemistry.” Smiling, he tells me all of this in the simplest of terms, with both nonchalance and humility. I ask Bernie what it’s like being in a dual degree program, and he describes his passion for both science and engineering: “Lots of times you talk about these world problems, and there has to be collaboration between engineering and science to make new stuff and then get it into the real world. So, it's interesting being able to see and understand both sides. 6
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And you could act kind of like a translator. Some terminology isn’t known on both sides, so you can translate between them,” he says. Bernie is an excellent translator indeed. Other than VIPER, his main draw to Penn was the "diversity in nerdiness," as he puts it. At other schools he visited, which were more STEM oriented, “everyone was the same kind of nerd. Whereas at Penn, everyone was also ... nerdy, but they were nerdy in different ways. Like there’s the music nerd, the science nerd, the humanities nerd, social science nerd, or however you want to use the word nerd, but it was more diverse here and I thought it was more fun.” He, a self– proclaimed STEM and music nerd, explains everything to me, a humanities nerd, in terms I can easily understand and appreciate. At this point, I’m starting to see another theme: the people who have made his Penn experience. Bernie speaks the most about the people he’s encountered along the way. He begins with Penn Band, which he was introduced to during Quaker Days and New Student Orientation. He says, “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to join them. I wish I could join them already. When do I get started?’” Well, that was the start, and he’s stayed ever since because he loves the people. Bernie served as equipment manager for the band as well. When I ask him what the job entails, he's pretty straightforward about distributing and signing out the instruments, but what stood out to me was that he mentioned how “being able to be one of the first people to greet [first years] every year was fun.” Bernie also reflects nostalgically on hosting other bands and taking road trips to other schools: “One time, I had a bunch of Harvard band people sleeping in my living room. Another time, I had people from the Brown band sleeping in my living room. So that's a little fun exchange—exploring the campuses and hanging out over there with them. And it’s fun
Photo by Sophia Dai seeing people again and again on the road trips, so you’re like, ‘Oh, you, you slept in my living room last time.’” But don’t let his camaraderie with other students fool you; Bernie is all Penn, through and through. He’s said yes to opportunities just for the sake of Penn spirit, like when he became SPEC’s treasurer, saying, “I'll admit, initially I didn't think of becoming treasurer because of VIPER; I wasn't sure if I had the time to, but at the election, they nominated me, and ... I thought, ‘I guess that'd be fun. And I guess I could make time for it.’ So I accepted the nomination and I'm glad I did it." His SPEC friends have lovingly joked that in addition to being their treasurer, he was also their mascot. He’s been involved in five committees, “and apparently that's not normal,” he says, chuckling. One of the last memories he shares is making toast with Penn Band for football season. A tradition here at Penn is to throw toast on the field at the end of the third quarter in a game. “The band has toast making, where we make a bunch of toast, and we like to put little designs in it. So we use our fingers—we use any object around to imprint. So that's always fun—hanging out with people, making weird toast designs.” The designs include smiley faces, hearts, numbers, and "PB" for Penn Band. I can feel Bernie’s Penn pride radiating through the screen, as well as how hard he's worked to leave Penn better than he found it, whether it's through Penn Band, SPEC, Tae Kwon Do Club, or smiling on Locust. First stop Penn, next stop Yale, and then the world.
Faith Mamaradlo Meet the Penn senior who has devoted herself to decolonizing design and cultivating community in the process. | KARIN HANANEL
aith Mamaradlo (C '21) starts our conversation off by emphasizing that at heart, she’s just a Philly girl who loves her houseplants—describing herself as “lowkey” while expressing disbelief in being featured as part of this year's Penn 10 for her many accomplishments. The passion exuding from her wide smile as she talks about her deep devotion to cultivating community makes it easy to imagine how well loved she is in Penn’s design community and beyond. After all, she’s been the co–founder and co–chair of the inaugural Fine Arts and Design Advisory Board, a web design intern at the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, a design coordinator at Penn Leads the Vote, and the executive director of Penn Student Design. But for Faith, it’s never been about racking up an impressive list of leadership roles—it’s about community. When discussing her position as executive director of Penn Student Design, the importance of relationships to Faith becomes even more apparent. “I was trying to take as much initiative as possible to develop that community and find more people that love design … The experience was amazing." However, she felt like there needed to be a next step in terms of fostering communication and togetherness among undergraduate designers at Penn, especially one that wasn’t centered around a business. After discussions with Penn Director of Undergraduate Programs in Fine Arts and Design Matt Neff, Faith became one of the creators and co–chairs of the Fine Arts and Design Advisory Board. She highlighted how rewarding the process of creating something new was, saying, “Creating this board, creating an identity for this board, and setting it up for future classes of design and fine arts majors has been such a rewarding experience.” While kick–starting the formation of the board was integral to her senior–year experience, Faith connects it back to the people, saying, “I felt like it also really aligned with design, because design is all about getting feedback and iterating. This board served as a way for students to have discussions about classes, how they liked being a design or fine arts major, and we would be the way for them to communicate those thoughts to the faculty.”
Aside from taking on the task of promoting community among undergraduate designers at Penn, Faith has also devoted her time to advocating for more opportunities for BIPOC designers—especially since she’s learned more about the foundations of the field. Faith discusses the importance of decolonizing and making design more accessible to all—a goal that has served as the impetus of her activism within the design sector at Penn through the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation. "I feel like the more you study design, the more you realize that it is [mostly] created by white standards or Western standards,” she says. Faith applauds the Sachs Program for its mission to provide grants for artists across Penn regardless of interest or medium, as well as their initiatives that prioritize artists of color. As a Filipina designer, Faith prioritizes the diversification of design on both a personal and professional level: “I think that it’s important to encourage POC designers to speak up ... That’s ultimately how you reform the design field … just by accumulating these different perspectives from people of various backgrounds.” It’s not just about the principle of diversity either, Faith notes, it’s about ensuring that designs don’t cause people of color more harm: “You hear about people designing pretty badly for POC communities, and it’s like, ‘Hey, if you maybe had one Black or POC designer on your team, then maybe you could avoid those controversies.’” Diversity matters to Faith for a multitude of reasons, but it is her identity as a first–generation, low–income college student, and a second–generation immigrant in particular that inspires her to work towards equity and inclusion in the design space and beyond. Faith is the daughter of two Filipino immigrant parents and witnessed the difficulties they faced firsthand. Her father and brother lived in the Philippines for the first few years of her life, leaving her mother to raise Faith on her own, while she studied to be a medical technician and petitioned for the government to let Faith’s father and brother come to the United States. Despite being born in San Diego and raised in Philadelphia, Faith notes that she has struggled with her identity at times—specifically in the context of whiteness being equated to "Americanness." How-
Photo Courtesy of Faith Mamaradlo
ever, her sense of belonging grew as she aged, and she credits having more experiences with other second–generation and first–generation immigrants as having made her more proud of her story. Towards the end of our conversation, we segue into an inevitable topic affecting all members of the Class of 2021: having your last year and a half of school engulfed by the COVID–19 pandemic. Faith spent the early days of lockdown in West Philadelphia, away from her parents who live in the northeast area of the city. She briefly touches on the things she’s missed, before going into the powerful things she’s learned about herself over the course of the pandemic. “I deactivated all of my social media ... I was not existing in that digital space, just focusing on the physical realm, even though I was indoors the whole time,” Faith says. We delve into the funny paradox of her work in design being so digitally centered and her hesitance to return to social media after over a year of being off of it. But Faith isn’t some stoic saint—even she likes to flex every now and then—so she makes sure to add that she’s planning on reactivating her Instagram to post her graduation photos. As for what’s next for Faith after posting those graduation photos, she braces herself, and excitedly tells me that she’s going to be focusing more on personal projects. But these aren’t just any personal projects. Faith is working on developing a social media app that is centered around accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired, saying, “It’s kinda like Clubhouse, except more social and less professional.” At the end of the day, Faith feels a lot like the rest of us: tired of planning for a future that’s becoming increasingly unpredictable. She’s ready to tackle the future, but she's doing so on her own terms.
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Amanpreet Singh The former Street writer reflects on trans inclusion, University politics, and loving the cliches of the Penn experience | BEATRICE FORMAN Photo Courtesy of Amanpreet Singh
of person where it’s okay to be doing something temporarily.” Amanpreet’s activism journey starts like any other that follows the neoliberal–to–leftist pipeline, where kitschy RBG iconography and Legally Blonde adulation are replaced with calls for direct action and realizing RBG actually had a pretty mixed record on racial justice in the first place. “I was very much a white feminist when I came to Penn, which is embarrassing to admit,” they say. “I spent my first year at Penn being really excited— just overwhelmed with joy. I was like, ‘Penn has some issues, but I have trust and faith [that things will improve].’ So I joined student government.” These issues, Amanpreet has since learned, go deeper than just a poor record on student mental health and stark socioeconomic inequality in admissions. They involve, among other things, complicity in pharmaceutical experiments on a prison population, the mismanagement of remains from the site of the MOVE bombing, a long–standing refusal to pay Payments in Lieu of Taxes that could help fund the Philadelphia School District, and laying off Penn Dining Hall workers at the start of the COVID–19 pandemic before denying the remaining staff COVID–19 testing. SCUE and PAGE are constituent groups, which means the job of executive board members like Amanpreet is to turn student concerns into recommendations Penn administrators can take. This means a lot of meetings, and in practice, a lot of bureaucratic backlog. “A lot of the times, when you go into a meeting,
it’s hard because you can tell [admin] is trying to buy time by explaining the problem that you already know because you’re coming to them with it. Sometimes they’ll say platitudes like, ‘I hear you,’ which I think is so infuriating because it feels like they don’t,” Amanpreet explains. “I would leave feeling like nothing changed and nothing had happened. It was just such a draining feeling. And it's so different from when you plan a protest or draft a letter, which would leave me feeling invigorated.” The starkest example of this? The fight to get the University’s three cultural houses space on Locust Walk instead of basement offices in the bottom of a pseudo–student union. While researching the history of the cultural houses, Amanpreet found a 1991 report commissioned by then–University President Sheldon Hackney that advocated for the very same demands. “The current arrangement of the campus, with white male fraternities lining its central artery ... is more appropriate to Penn of the 1950s than to what Penn hopes to be,” the introduction states, quoting yet another report on the topic. “If Locust Walk's significance lay in its reflection of the University as a whole, then the University's commitment to the diversity of its population needed to be matched by … an atmosphere conducive to diversity.” “I was like, 'Wow! We've been fighting for nearly 30 years for this one thing, and it just never happened?' At that moment, I was like, ‘Okay, we can’t continue like this because things are never going to change.’ We need to actually disrupt the way this
nouns in December 2020. “For me, the goal is that there shouldn't be a construction of gender where we’re all forced to occupy certain politicized spaces and roles. Part of that for me was, 'Okay, if I am for gender abolition, like why am I invested in womanhood? Why do I need that?’" they say. "The answer is I don’t.” Amanpreet says working on the guide was
For me, the goal is that there shouldn’t be a construction of gender where we’re all forced to occupy certain politicized spaces and roles. Part of that for me was, ’Okay, if I am for gender abolition, like why am I invested in womanhood? Why do I need that?' The answer is I don’t. drive to learn and ask questions has forced me to be more honest with myself about my level of political knowledge, the realistic outcomes of being at Penn, and our complicity in the system,” says Claire Medina, the co–chair of Penn Non–Cis, who worked alongside Amanpreet on their proudest achievement yet: the 21–page–long Trans Inclusive Language Guide. A comprehensive resource that nudges the Penn community towards wholehearted trans inclusion, the guide tackles practical knowledge, like how to advertise club events, and more thorny issues, like identifying transphobic slurs. “There are so many different trans experiences, and we even mention in the guide that there’s no way to capture everything,” Amanpreet says. “Yet, people have been like, 'It's kind of long. How do you shorten it?' The problem is we want to give that richness and fullness because trans people can't be summed up in three bullets.” The process of editing the guide—and “theorizing [themselves] constantly”—hit close to home. After learning about gender abolition through PAGE, Amanpreet realized they are gender nonbinary, and began publicly going by they/them pro-
validating. It helped them fight off the imposter syndrome that comes with shedding the identity society has cast on you since birth. “I had gone through a period where I was like, 'Am I actually trans? Or am I just saying this and co–opting this?' But then I was reading the guide and I was like, ‘This resonated so strongly with me that there’s no way I could ever be anything else,' so it reassured me." While Amanpreet acknowledges that Zoom university has made it easier for people to create trans–inclusive classrooms, they hope the guide is a stepping stone for bigger conversations— namely, how campus spaces reinforce the gender binary. After they graduate, Amanpreet wants to see Penn commit to gender–neutral bathrooms and support efforts to place free period products throughout campus, an initiative they saw through while on PAGE board. Still, despite constantly confronting the underbelly of Penn’s incremental approach to progress, Amanpreet’s eyes sparkle when talking about the surprises campus has brought them. Namely, how under all that picturesque college brochure bullshit, it’s easy to connect with the parts of you
that were carefully hidden in high school. After stumbling through a semester of introductory–level French and four semesters of half– learned Spanish, Amanpreet decided to try their hand at Punjabi, a language they grew up hearing but refused to speak. Amanpreet’s pathology is clear to anyone who grew up ethnic in an affluent and majority–white suburb. There’s an acute shame to wearing your brownness loudly, especially in a town like Pelham, N.Y., where Amanpreet grew up. “I grew up somewhat ashamed to be Indian. My grandfather was Sikh, so he wore a turban, and I was always very embarrassed by that marker of religion and my family’s differences. Whenever I heard Punjabi at home, I wouldn’t speak it because I felt awkward,” Amanpreet says, noting that their grandfather passed during their first year of college. “But I took Punjabi for myself at Penn. I know some words, and now, I think it would've been nice to have a conversation with him.” After graduation, Amanpreet is off to the University College of London, where they’ll pursue a Master’s in comparative literature, focusing on the works of diasporic South Asian writers. Beyond that, it’s back to community organizing, only this time with a law degree. “I want to be the sort of lawyer that bails people out of jail,” they say, before wondering aloud if that aspiration is “too carceral.” Ultimately, Amanpreet’s advice for students midway through their own neolib–to–leftist transition—where you're unsure how to create your own impact—is to not do it on your own. In every mention of the work they’ve done on campus—from the language guide to pressuring the University to retain contract dining hall workers throughout the pandemic—Amanpreet credits a team: Claire; Sam Pancoe, the chair of PAGE; the bootstrappers of Student Labor Action Project; their sorority siblings who are amending chapter bylaws to be less gendered. “I think some of Penn's greatest moments have come when the student body itself comes together. We have 10,000 students—think about the sheer ability we have to actually change Penn's mind.” they say. “We’re only here for four years. I think Penn banks on that in terms of student organizing. They're like, 'Oh, Amanpreet is graduating. They finally got to campus. They figured out that Penn sucked. Now they're leaving.’ That’s tough to overcome, but very necessary to.”
manpreet Singh (C ’21) can map their Penn experience in sensory details: the polished evergreen of the trolley at the 37th Street transit portal, the gooey decadence of a chocolate and peanut butter Kiwi Yogurt sundae, and the sweetness of the purple morning glories that dot Locust Walk in the spring. “I love watching for those flowers because they remind me that things grow here, as heinous as Penn can sometimes be,” Amanpreet says, chuckling. A philosophy, politics, and economics major and a borderline professional activist, Amanpreet is inherently contradictory—not that that’s a bad thing. Acting as the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education’s (SCUE) COVID–19 taskforce chair and the Penn Association for Gender Equity’s (PAGE) political chair, they spend hours each semester in meetings with administrative higher–ups, yet carry a deep disillusionment for change within the system. They’ve chaired Women’s Week and rep their sorority, yet don’t subscribe to the gender binary. And most strikingly, they’re worried that the impact they’ve left on campus won’t be passed down in any of the oral histories contained among Penn’s activist groups, yet are agnostic about emotional attachments. “I worry a lot about the connections I’ve made between different groups disappearing once I’m gone because there’s just so much shit Penn students can accomplish when they organize as a collective,” Amanpreet says. “But I’m also the type
university functions,” they say. So Amanpreet pivoted, turning the organizations they were already leading into places that could build a movement—the same way sit–ins in 1973 catalyzed the creation of The Women’s Center. “Amanpreet is the political and moral backbone of all the groups I share with them. Their
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This Halo co–founder is a social justice advocate, die–hard Philly sports fan, and chocolate milk enthusiast. | MADDIE MULDOON
n his four short years at Penn, Nabeel Farooqui (E '21) has done it all. His claims to campus fame include founding and selling the startup Halo, serving as both projects chair at Hack4Impact and head of operations at PennApps, and calling himself a proud member of APALI, the Muslim Students Association (MSA), and Penn Electric Racing while completing a computer science major. And through it all, he drank almost a carton of chocolate milk every day. “I always have a carton, and I drink it with every meal ... The label says it’s kind of healthy, apart from the sugar. There’s calcium. There’s protein. If I ever want to bulk at some point in the future, I could easily bulk with chocolate milk," Nabeel says. Born to two parents from Pakistan, Nabeel grew up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. He attended a small Islamic school in New Jersey with only 29 people in his graduating class. “I always tell people that if you sneeze, the whole school finds out. It’s a very tight–knit community, but also a bubble. I went there from K–12, so coming to Penn was a very different experience for me,” Nabeel says. The adjustment during his first year was difficult, but Nabeel found comfort through clubs and the short distance from home. He quickly became close with the MSA community and joined Penn Electric Racing. "The Muslim Students Association has been integral to my social experience at Penn. It has helped me to keep in touch with my childhood, my roots, and my background. I'm so glad that Penn has communities like that," Nabeel says. He also remained in touch with his roots by maintaining a strong connection with his family. Throughout his time at Penn, Nabeel took frequent trips home to eat home–cooked meals, watch sports with his dad, and spend time with his family. Family is something that Nabeel prioritizes and remains very important to him. “My dad immigrated from Pakistan, but he fully assimilated to the American sports culture. I’m a huge Philly sports nut. He raised me as a die–hard Eagles fan, Sixers fan, Flyers, Phillies—any Philly team, you name it,” Nabeel says. Reflecting upon his time at Penn, Nabeel describes how Hack4Impact—an organization he joined his junior year that builds software for nonprofits—played a large role in shaping him both personally and professionally. Being a part of the club confirmed his passion for building tech while also helping others and creating a social impact. It’s helped Nabeel realize who he is, and 1 0 3 4 T H S T R E E T M A G A Z I N E M AY 1 3 , 2 0 2 1
who he wants to be. Through Hack4Impact, Nabeel served as project manager for a city transparency project that's now live on the Philadelphia website. “Not to flex or anything,” Nabeel laughs. He also became involved with PennApps, the world's largest college hackathon, his sophomore year. As head of operations, Nabeel accumulated sponsorship money, brought in recruiters, and assisted with internal operations. His passion for creating social impact through tech was born his sophomore year when he founded Halo. Nabeel always wanted to be an entrepreneur; Penn’s budding entrepreneurship scene was a big draw to him upon applying. He spent his first year brainstorming ideas for startups with his friends, some of which, he admits, were terrible. “One of our early ideas was to make a Pokeball sort of contraption where you could put an orange inside, twist the orange, and it peels the orange. We wanted to do a kickstarter for it and got really hyped about it. But then we realized that it wasn’t an idea that would actually work,” Nabeel says. Their second idea, after the orange–peeling Pokeball, was Halo. In October 2018, Nabeel and his friends were walking around West Philly after class and noticed many torn up billboards: “People actually have to look at them, and this is how companies pay to advertise. What’s going on? Facebook advertises so well that they know you’re pregnant before you do, which is creepy. But we realized, there’s definitely a gap here. [Analog] advertising needed a facelift.” Nabeel and his friends noticed a parallel problem: Drivers at rideshare companies were protesting about their wages. These drivers are members of the gig economy, a relatively informal network of contractors that lacks a lot of the protections salaried employees do. Consequently, many of them barely make a livable wage. They discovered a way to bridge the gap between these two problems. Nabeel and his friends created a taxi–top digital advertising unit to put on top of rideshare vehicles. Revenue is then split with the driver to help them earn a more livable wage—and outdoor advertising is modernized. “It was really, really tough to balance. Balancing a startup with homework, sleep, social life, classes—it was a lot going on at the same time. As I mentioned, I go home often, so I was also making time for my family. I
Photo by Sophia Dai
felt like I was being stretched in a lot of different directions, but it was also the time when I grew the most and learned the most about myself,” Nabeel says. He can’t resist smiling as he recounts this time in his Penn career. Nabeel and his friends received calls at all hours of the day from drivers in Center City or Fishtown, explaining that the monitor wasn’t working properly. “They would ask for a technician or a mechanic to come and fix it, but we didn’t have any technicians or mechanics that we could call to send over. We were the technicians. So we’d be driving around Philly in the middle of the day. We were kind of on call 24/7, putting out fires around the city. It was a ton of fun. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.” It didn’t last long, though. About a year after they started, Lyft acquired Halo in November of 2019. Though their adventure was over, founding Halo helped Nabeel discover what was most important to him and what drives him. “What excited me the most was that drivers were so excited about it. [I’m excited by] anything where I feel a direct impact on people’s lives, anything where I feel that by doing it, it will make someone’s life easier or better, or [empowering] someone to unlock an opportunity.” Currently, Nabeel is still weighing his job opportunities for next year, and he is deciding between several startups in New York. “I’m taking some time assessing which companies are the best fit for me and which I can learn the most from. I really want to learn at a place that’s growing really quickly, scaling from 1 to 100, to get that skill set, so that one day in the future, I can start my own company and have a wide range of learning,” Nabeel says. “What excites me is the prospect of completely changing an industry that I think is broken—things like health care, education, financial markets. They’re very broken in terms of access and equality. If I could, at some point in my career, create something or work on something that changes those industries, or improves people's lives, I would feel very fulfilled and motivated by that."
SYDNEY LEWIS The former Hillel president turned contact tracer talks about the importance of defaulting to yes. | HANNAH LONSER Photo by Avi Singh
f Sydney Lewis (C ’21) had to describe her last four years at Penn in one word, it would be "yes." “I think that everyone’s default at Penn, or at any school, should be yes—just say yes,” she explains. “I made sure to say yes to everything.” A health and societies major from Nashville, Tenn., Sydney is known for always having a smile on her face and a cup of coffee in her hand. It’s her “just say yes” attitude that has led her to rise through the ranks of many campus organizations— including Penn Hillel. Coming from a place with a small Jewish presence, Sydney says it was Hillel's tight–knit community that drew her to dear old Penn in the first place. “Whenever I visited schools, I remember touring all of their Hillels. After the normal college tour, I would just go to the Hillel and people–watch because I wanted to feel if it was busy, or if there were cool people that I wanted to become friends with,” she says. “And I found what I was looking for at Penn.” By the time that Hillel committee signups rolled around, Sydney did what she does best: just say yes. “Starting the second week of school, I just joined every committee," she says. "I was on committees for things that I had never done before. Outreach, and engagement, and religious committees—it was all very new for me. But I just defaulted to yes.” Sydney—who would go on to become the organization’s president—estimates that she's spent “maybe 75%” of her college career within Hillel's walls, helping her fellow students find their home away from home. From pancake breakfasts to move–in barbecues, some of Sydney’s most memorable moments come from her tenure at Hillel. “I distinctly remember the move–in reception my sophomore year because I spearheaded that with another girl,” she says. “It was just fun because all of these parents were like, ‘Please take care of my kid!’ and I was 19, 20 years old. I don’t know how to take care of your kid! But it turned out to be amazing. I think that those initial moments—the first impressions—are so important.”
During the COVID–19 pandemic, Sydney put her “just say yes” attitude into practice in completely new ways. Working as both a contact tracer and vaccine clinic volunteer, Sydney's spent the past year helping Philadelphians navigate life in the midst of a pandemic. “About a year ago, the Master of Public Health program coordinators [sent out an email] and basically said, ‘We need contact tracers. Who’s interested?’” she explains. “I had not had any sort of hands–on experience in public health. I had just taken classes, so I was really interested in doing that.” Sydney started off her run as a contact tracer by calling people who'd been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID–19, before transitioning to notifying positive cases of their test results. While Sydney was ready to shoulder the burden, she says that the job was far from easy: “Honestly, I have had some of the best conversations and some of the worst conversations [through this experience] … There were times on the phone where there would be tears on both ends because I would really take the time to get to know that person before talking them through next steps.” Working in the contact tracing sphere profoundly changed her perception of the pandemic. Sydney says that, while she felt comfortable spending a few months at home with her family, contact tracing illuminated how not everyone’s situation is conducive to dealing with COVID–19. “There were a lot of moments where I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders talking to someone and asking them to take two weeks off of work, when that’s not feasible for so many people. Even asking them to isolate—if they live in a house with a lot of people—it’s really hard to do that,” she says. “That made me more grateful for my life, but it also made me more aware of how we need to do more to bring more access to people.” With these access issues in mind, Sydney helped kick–start a social needs response team tasked with reshaping the contact tracing interview to address the myriad non–health factors that are affected by COVID–19.
“We asked about food access; we asked if they could pay their bills, their rent—things like that,” she says. “We had to call employers and talk to people’s bosses on the phone, telling them—pleading with them— that this person couldn’t come into work.” As the vaccine rollout continues (and less contact tracing is needed), Sydney's been relocated to the vaccine volunteering realm—which she describes as a welcome change. “I kept saying, ‘I want to be put out of work! I don’t want to continue contact tracing!’ … That was kind of my motto. I love doing this—I love this experience—but I want it to be done because that means that COVID–19 is under control.” In her new role, Sydney has lent her services to several clinics around the city, walking residents through the vaccination process with a smile wherever she’s stationed. After nearly a year of contact tracing, she says that witnessing the Philadelphians get vaccinated has been an incredibly rewarding experience. And while Sydney understands that many Philadelphians aren’t quite ready to get the jab, she never shies away from talking through the vaccination process with anyone who’s on the fence: “There were a few people that I had to walk outside with and talk to before getting the vaccine because they were [unsure] about it. It’s definitely a really personal thing to talk to a stranger about getting a vaccine. But it definitely was something that I needed, and something that they needed. I think that just having someone to hold your hand through it really is so helpful.” As for what Sydney’s future holds, her time as a Quaker isn’t over yet. She plans to return to Penn in the fall to pursue her Master of Public Health. And while she’s not sure what path her new degree will take her on, she assures me that journey will involve quite a few spontaneous yeses. “My greatest memories [at Penn] have been when I just said yes without thinking about the plans. I always want to help. I always want to be there for other people. If someone wants to do something, I just say yes—and then we’ll go from there.” M AY 1 3 , 2 0 2 1 3 4 T H S T R E E T M A G A Z I N E 1 1
KLAYMAN The tour guide extraordinaire and creative writing enthusiast loves learning, even from her own failures. | MEHEK BOPARAI
Photo by Sophia Dai
was like, ‘Dad can we go get Philly cheesesteaks and go home?’” This was former DP reporter Julia Klayman’s (C ’21) reaction during her first visit to Penn’s campus, when she was a bright–eyed high schooler from Westchester, N.Y. ready to embark on her next step. After being on College Green for a matter of minutes, she realized she could not stomach the elitism that characterized every fun fact on those red and blue pamphlets, or the whisper of inaccessibility that could be heard under every conversation. How, then, did she end up getting ready to graduate from that very same campus, four years later? Through a series of missed connections with other schools and a heap of Common App submissions, Julia ended up deciding her initial hesita-
tion wasn't worth rejecting Penn at all. With a look of awe, she tells me that her whole outlook changed during Quaker Days. When she stumbled into the comfort of the Kelly Writers House, she overheard a student deliver a story he had written; she later approached him, probing him about his own Penn story. “I loved everything he said about his experience and how he was able to carve his own path and figure out himself along the way, and all the opportunities Penn gave him … I decided that it would be a good place for me.” Not only did Julia revisit her initial thoughts on the school’s admissions process—she would go on to revisit the admissions process itself. Serving as the co–chair for the Admissions Dean Advisory Board, as well as the head content creator for
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@PreviewingPenn on social media, Julia’s involvement with reshaping prospective students’ perception of the school has infiltrated every corner of her college career. Oh yeah, and she’s given tours. A lot of them. The former Kite and Key president smiles as she reflects on the fulfillment being a guide has given her, especially when students approach her and say that she gave them their first tour as they were making their college decisions. During these infamous tours, Julia always ensured that she touches on the real weight of making a college decision. “At the end of the day, all these schools are kind of promising really similar things. And, no matter where you go, there will be those great things, and there will be those great days, but there will also be the
horrible days, like the days where all you want to do is cry and go home. Maybe it's your first fight with your roommate or you fail a midterm … You are going to have a bad day. When you close your eyes, ask yourself, 'Where do you want to be?'” For Julia, she always pictures being on Locust Walk, even on the horrible days. That’s how she can confidently say, at the conclusion of her time at Penn, that she picked the right place. Even though she constantly shapes the lives of others, Julia's molded considerably by her ardor for people. Her natural curiosity lies in the intersection of culture and humans as she tells me about her academics. When she arrived as a first year, Julia knew she wanted to sample as many courses as she could that piqued her interest. Her fascination for the humanities intermingled well with her
success in her first economics class, and after learning about the philosophy, politics, and economics major, she and the degree became a perfect fit. Despite the major requirements, she always ensured that she took at least one fun course—usually in creative writing—that gave her something to find academic respite amid a hectic schedule. For example, she fell in love with English professor Jay Kirk’s "Experimental Nonfiction" course where she got to follow around an ROTC student for a semester and write about the journey. Her favorite class, however, has been on intercultural communications, which is where her love for learning grew as she was exposed to how different parts of the world reflected different concepts and ideas. Here, she realized that identities held different meanings, including how she presented her own. The concept of identity hangs over her, such as when she studied abroad in France one summer, and decided not to tell her host family about her Jewish faith. “I realized I was irrational with my family specifi-
When you close your eyes, ask yourself, 'Where do you want to be?' cally because they were so loving and welcoming, but at the time, I just remember being like, ‘I don't know who you can trust.’” Later, after leaving the area to travel to Léon, she tells me that her mentality shifted considerably when she began to introduce herself without a filter. “It was a lot more confidence, being like, ‘This is my identity and you should know it from day one, because if you're not gonna like it, move somewhere else,'" she says.
Confidence is the central component of Julia’s personality. She radiates it, even as she sits in the corner of her college apartment combatting a violent case of springtime allergies and the common cold. Julia is used to being relied upon. She never skip plans yet makes room for her extracurriculars, yet is shocked when others come up to her and thank her for being an inspiration. She tells me that this has been both a blessing and curse during her time at Penn; while she loves being depended upon as a leader, Julia realizes the mental toll it took on her well–being. The balance of being supportive yet supported has been her No. 1 priority, as she relays how “everyone can be really successful around you, and you can be really successful in your own way too,” which is why it's of utmost importance that she is there for the people who are there for her. Success is not a finite resource, she has come to learn, which is why she charts all of her failures on her self–proclaimed “Failure Resume.” Written in the same font and style as her actual professional resume, Julia’s project documents all of her club rejections, failed job interviews, and other mishaps where she was met with disappointment. After initially recording the failure, she returns to the margins of the page months later and writes down all the important lessons she gained from having this failure. That’s just who Julia is—the type of person to turn even a missed opportunity into a teaching moment. What’s next for Julia is an even greater learning moment than she has ever known before. The soon– to–be graduate is moving to Oahu, Hawaii as a part of the nonprofit Teach For America, where she will be teaching math to high schoolers. Although she loves the humanities, math became a prized subject for her because it was the one she had to work the hardest at, often spending her grade school lunches and after–school sessions studying to catch up. She wants to pass on this dedication for learning to her future students, who she will be spending the next two years getting to know. And just like all of the prospective Penn first years, creative writing classmates, or @PreviewingPenn followers, they’ll be more than lucky to get to know her.
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From consulting in Sri Lanka to potato farming in Norway, hear how this Toronto native shares his passion for sustainability with the world. | ANGELA SHEN
ocated over three thousand miles north of Philadelphia, Brandon Nguyen (C, W ‘21) spent the summer after his sophomore year learning that the worst part about working as an organic potato farmer is weeding. After every long day of farming nothing but potato, he would enjoy a hot meal of more potato and fish freshly caught from the cold depths of the Arctic Ocean, before doing further work on the research project that had initially brought him to the Arctic Circle. Growing up in Canada, Brandon had long been aware of how issues like sustainability, youth employment, and health inequities are exacerbated in the isolated, resource–scarce regions of the Arctic. After writing a final paper on the Arctic Council—an intergovernmental forum promoting collaboration on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic— for one of his Environmental Management and Policy classes in Wharton, the Toronto native felt inspired to dig deeper into the issue of environmental governance in this region. Soon enough, he would make the last–minute decision to travel to Norway and experience the Arctic in person. After a quick Google search revealed the exorbitantly high prices of Norwegian Arctic hotels, Brandon got creative and found a program that allowed him to live in the Arctic by working part–time as a farmhand. Thus, he spent his summer days pulling weeds and planting potatoes in order to have evenings and weekends where he could take the bus down to the city of Tromsø, Norway to go through library archives and interview people at the Arctic headquarters. “Now, I think nothing would make me happier when I’m old and retired than owning my own little potato farm,” he jokes. “There’s something so cathartic and grounding about being so close to the earth.” This independent research project, carried out through the Wharton Social Impact Research Experience (SIRE), is only one of the many impressive projects and research work that the environmentalist has completed over the course of his education. In high school, Brandon founded the Toronto Coali1 4 3 4 T H S T R E E T M A G A Z I N E M AY 1 3 , 2 0 2 1
tion of EcoSchools, an organization promoting environmental literacy in high schools. He’s been named a Top 25 Environmentalist Under 25 in Canada, a 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader, and a Global 30 Under 30 in Environmental Education, on top of countless other fellowships and awards. He represented Canada at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in 2019 and currently sits on the board of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation. With a humble, friendly demeanor and the subtle twinges of a Canadian accent, Brandon is able to eloquently discuss the complex, interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, revealing exactly why he’s been recognized at so many conferences and competitions around the world. “Environmental policy is becoming increasingly intertwined between the public and private sector, so many of the biggest policy issues moving forward are how we can use policy to regulate private companies,” he explains. “I went to Wharton believing that business can be used for social change, and fell in love with the idea of the power of policy in championing solutions.” For these reasons, the avid researcher decided to double major in environmental policy in Wharton and political science in the College of Arts and Sciences. One of the added perks of Brandon’s environmental advocacy is that it grants him the ability to travel around the world. When he was still in high school, the climate finance and clean energy researcher went to Copenhagen, Denmark for an Innovation Lab on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through that experience, he fell in love with the idea of seeing and learning about as much of the world as possible. Considering that he came to Penn having only been to three countries—Canada, the U.S., and Vietnam—the Penn Sustainability Eco-Rep has pursued his love of travel to considerable success: “I don’t remember where exactly I’m at, but I think I’ve now been to about 24 or 25 countries,” he reveals. “Which sounds crazy to say out loud, but it’s been truly incredible.” Many of Brandon’s international experiences have
Photo by Avi Singh
BRANDON NGUYEN been possible due to his participation in Penn International Impact Consulting (PIIC)—a student group that provides consulting services to non-governmental organizations and social entrepreneurs. For instance, during his freshman year, the College and Wharton senior had the opportunity to travel to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, as an associate consultant for the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS). The memory reminds the former president of PIIC how much he has changed and been challenged outside of his comfort zone over his time at Penn. “We ended up staying in their field house,” he recalls. “It wasn’t even a complete house. There were walls and windows, and you could just look outside and see the stars at night. And we slept under these little mosquito nets.” When he isn't traveling around the world to conduct meaningful consultancy work or present at different conferences, Brandon can be found on campus enjoying Penn’s green spaces or getting work done amidst the hustle and bustle of the Penn Law building. Still, nothing in Penn or the rest of Philadelphia can ever compare to the Toronto Reference Library, his favorite study spot in his favorite city in the whole world. In fact, the Wharton Research Scholar is confident that he will one day return to Toronto to live and work. Meanwhile, in the near future, Brandon plans to go to the London School of Economics for a one–year Master of Science in Environmental Policy as a Rotary Global Scholar. Regardless of what the specific opportunities awaiting him in the future are, Brandon is committed to making a difference in the realm of sustainability. When asked how he stays motivated to achieve all that he has, Brandon talks about how he has spent a lot of time thinking about his personal theory of change. The most important puzzle of his life is to find the perfect intersection of the answers to the questions, “What am I good at, what brings me joy, and what does the world need?”
HETA PATEL This Penn student bridges humanities and health care with a passion for translated poetry and violence prevention. | EMILY WHITE
f you’ve ever seen someone strolling down Locust with a pair of purple Beats on, it’s pretty likely that it was Heta Patel (C '21). “If you ask any of my friends, it's an identifying feature of who I am,” she explains. “There've been some people I've run into who were like, ‘Oh my god, you're the purple Beats girl!’” In between her Beats–equipped walks, Heta would spend a lot of time in the Kelly Writers House and in the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) squad room. Recently, she’s also been spending a lot of time in her half–basement apartment with only one window, which she jokingly refers to as a "cave." “If you were to say I’m a bit of a vampire right now, I wouldn’t be surprised,” she says. Even while living in a dark basement, Heta still beams when she talks about her time at Penn. One of her favorite experiences was when she accidentally established herself as the go–to person for bike maintenance among her friends, after being MERT’s bike engineer for a semester. “In the beginning, I knew nothing,” Heta laughs. “I watched a lot of German YouTube videos trying to figure it out.” In addition to teaching her some basic mechanical skills, MERT was an important part of Heta's experience in learning crucial clinical skills that have helped her along her pre–med journey. But this past semester, MERT has also focused on ensuring their EMTs' safety during the pandemic—developing new cleaning protocols and screening every patient for COVID–19. Being an EMT with MERT for Heta also meant doing what she could to alleviate some of the stress of being a health care worker during the pandemic by taking some of the non–life–threatening patients. “We were doing something—or as much as we could, really,” she says. But this wasn’t the only way that Heta attempted to support essential workers. Early in the pandemic, her friend Preethi Kumaran (C'20) reached out with an idea to write letters to these workers, and before long, Heta and a few other friends had joined in. They ended up co–founding Lockdown Letters, which quickly snowballed into a mass effort to collect and distribute these letters of gratitude. Recently, they hit the milestone of 20,000 letters sent to hospitals in all 50 states. “We felt kind of bad about just sitting inside and not feeling like we could contribute,” Heta says. “And we saw how much the pandemic was affecting health care workers, as well as other frontline workers who were staffing grocery stores and running public transportation, and [we saw] the effect that it was taking on their mental health.” While she doesn’t have a favorite submission, she did recall one writer in particular whose letters made an impression on her. The writer was Penn alumna Doris Cochran–Fikes (C '72), a multiple–time cancer survivor. “She would submit letters, poems, and just really heart-
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felt, emotional messages,” Heta says. “She would put so much time and care into them, and would send us one—especially in the beginning—every week. Seeing her dedication to helping others was really inspiring.” They’ve also gotten submissions from kids as young as 3 years old, who draw little pictures of the health care professionals or grocery store workers that they’re sending the letters to. “Gratitude is a skill that can be cultivated at all ages,” Heta explains. Between being an EMT, president of MEDLIFE, editor–in–chief of Doublespeak, and co–founder of Lockdown Letters, it seems like Heta spends a lot of time going back and forth between health and language. But these seemingly disparate interests actually converge into a single passion—global health, especially violence prevention.
I'm pre–med, but, really, I'm the happiest when I'm creative, and I'm reading and writing.
“I really like connecting with people, and part of that is through learning languages,” Heta explains. “So I minored in Hispanic studies, and I knew that I wanted to do work as a physician both here in the United States and in Latin America.” A big part of this passion came from her childhood. Heta grew up in Tampa, Fla., in a neighborhood with a large immigrant population. “As a kid, a lot of my friends were either the children of immigrants or their parents were,” she says. “And that meant I was exposed to lots of different languages and cultures.” Her visits to see extended family in India also shaped how she understood global inequalities in health care access. “Seeing the disparity that exists there compelled me to want to do work abroad,” Heta explains. She also went to Peru the summer after her first year as part of MEDLIFE’s service program, where
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she noticed a lot of the same issues that she saw at home in Philly. People in both regions were facing housing or food insecurity, which Heta described as “different circumstances, but similar themes.” This is also part of what pushed her to eventually become MEDLIFE’s president. While many global health organizations focus solely on international partnerships, MEDLIFE at Penn also emphasizes the needs of the local West Philadelphia community. “We've been able to teach nutrition lessons at a local high school, volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, volunteer with Books Through Bars, and provide food relief,” Heta says. “MEDLIFE … really changed the way I see public health and global health.” Despite her very STEM–centric resume, Heta has always had a deep love for language and poetry. “I am a humanities girl through and through,” she says. “I'm pre–med, but, really, I'm the happiest when I'm creative, and I'm reading and writing.” Coming into Penn, Heta knew she wanted to join one of the literary magazines here. After perusing the options at the Kelly Writers House during her first year, she discovered Doublespeak—a magazine specializing in translations of poems. She quickly fell in love with it, and by her senior year, had become its editor–in–chief. When asked about her favorite poem she’s gotten to publish through the magazine, Heta has to pause for a minute. She decides on a recent submission, a type of ancient Chinese poem called a chain verse. “You have characters listed in a ring, and you read the first character, and then you read the first and second, and then … you go all the way around,” Heta explains, gesturing with her hand to explain the poem’s shape. “And each line is different, because characters change their meaning depending on what they’re next to.” Heta also credits Doublespeak with strengthening her interest in global health. “It gives me a richer understanding of culture, of nuances in language, of translation in itself as an artistic medium,” she says. “And when you're working in health care spaces, you're going to have to translate. And it's made me really, really conscious about the way I use my words, because … translating every word counts, and every word is different.” During her second time doing health care work in Latin America, Heta was conducting diabetes research in Guatemala as part of Penn’s Guatemala Health Initiative. But while she was interviewing diabetes patients, she started to notice signs of relationship violence in some of her patients.
Heta quickly realized that the issue couldn’t be ignored. “A lot of times in interviews with patients who were suffering from diabetes, many of the women would complain about instances of domestic abuse, or they would credit a traumatic, abusive incident with the start of the diabetes,” she says. She also knew that as an outsider to the community, she didn’t have the knowledge or understanding to take on such a complex problem. She didn’t even have the language skills necessary to converse deeply with many of the women she treated because most of them spoke Spanish as a secondary language to their native Tz’utujil. Instead, her host mother connected her to a local NGO leader named Juanita, who eventually sat down and spoke to Heta at length about the problem. Heta and another Penn senior, Connor Hardy (C '21), applied for the Davis Projects for Peace grant to fund Colectivo Ix Colibrí, an organization founded by them and four other people from the United States and Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. They planned a summer full of programming that consisted of “anti–violence workshops for children, at–risk mothers and health care workers, and then also develop[ing] a safe house.” But after COVID–19 canceled their plans, they decided to switch gears and began producing educational content for their social media instead, hoping that this would lay the groundwork for future violence prevention efforts. A quick scroll through their Facebook reveals various video and textual content explaining key issues surrounding sexual and relationship violence in Spanish and English. Now, Heta looks forward to this summer, when she plans to return to Guatemala alongside Connor to continue the anti–violence education they began on Facebook. They’re also planning to apply for official NGO status so the organization can continue doing this important anti–violence work after they leave. She’ll also be returning to Penn in the fall—this time as a medical student. “I'm definitely excited to be back in Philly, and continuing to do a lot of the work that I've been able to do,” Heta says. One of her main commitments will be continuing to work with United Community Clinic, where she was previously the undergraduate coordinator, and where she will continue working as a medical student. So if you missed out on seeing Heta and her purple Beats wandering around campus these past four years, maybe you'll run into her during the next few.