Penn students are often involved in an immense number of meaningful activities ranging from academic research to sports, the arts, and many more. Yet there is a vital component of their education that many undergraduates ignore: civic engagement, a transformative activity that at Penn is offered by the Netter Center for Community Partnershipsan organization dedicated to fostering meaningful partnerships between Penn and West Philadelphia.
The journeys of two Penn students – Luke Coleman, College 2022 graduate, and Jessica Ford, senior engineer – show how involvement with Netter can enhance your Penn experience, shape your career goals and evolve your personal beliefs.
“I had an experience my freshman year that wasn’t what I wanted out of Penn, so I came back [the year after] with a desire to be more involved in the community,” Coleman said. As a result, Coleman joined the Silverman Scholars Program – a die Netter Center various university-assisted community school partnerships – in its second year. Coleman used the program to provide private writing lessons to students at Paul Robeson High School three times a week. He described the experience as fun and rewarding, offering deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to learn and grow outside of the “Penn bubble”.
During the summer of 2020, Coleman continued his involvement by interning with the Penn Program for Public Servicethrough which he authored a research paper on how to effectively prepare and train Penn undergraduates to engage with the larger West Philadelphia community.
“It was the first time I felt like I had a sense of agency or control in terms of changing something in society,” Coleman said. This internship was “one of the most, if not the most, powerful academic experiences” he had at Penn.
Coleman’s work with the Netter Center helped inform his post-college aspirations. He graduated from Penn with a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Madrid. His time at the Netter Center influenced his desire to eventually attend law school before landing a career in the civil rights or human rights sectors.
Similar to Coleman, Ford also became involved in community partnerships through Netter by joining the Penn Program for Public Service. She then used her research project to create the Robeson Youth Society of Engineers, a student group that seeks to increase diversity in engineering at the high school level. She thanked the Netter Center for providing her with an invaluable opportunity to engage in public service, a field she now sees as a future career prospect.
“The Netter Center gave me so much more context for the type of work I could do in public service. It allowed me to use skills that I had never really used in such a broad context before. , like creating my own program, implementing it, and even managing day-to-day logistics. … Now I feel like I can use those skills in any career I pursue,” Ford said.
More importantly, civic engagement with Netter can transform your personal beliefs. As Ford juggled creating and implementing her program, she gained confidence in her personal abilities. “I found that I was able to handle a lot more than I thought I could,” she said. “My program has grown from a few students to over 15 students, and I have been able to manage it well thanks to the support I received from the Netter Center.”
With the stories of Ford and Coleman in mind, seize the new academic year and get involved in civic engagement through the Netter Center. You could work as a mentor or class assistant via Partnerships with community school studentspromote nutrition education through Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiativeor support diversity in STEM through Moelis Access Science. If none of these appeal to you, you can always join other programs in Netter’s diverse catalog of over 30.
In addition to participating in Netter programs, students have the option of enrolling in Academic Community Service course – a unique course format that integrates research, teaching and learning with community engagement.
Be sure to attend the Civic and Community Engagement Fair on September 9 to find out more about an equally exciting line-up.
Ford sums up its Netter experience well: “There are so many different programs and aspects of the Netter Center that everyone can easily find their niche. Whatever your specialty, whatever your career goals, there’s sure to be a part of the Netter Center that you can find fulfilling, where you can use your specific skills and strengths to build your confidence and support your local community. ”
Om Manghani is a junior college studying economics and sociology. His email is [email protected].
Emily Sheng is a graduate student in biochemistry and biology. His email is [email protected].