Keeping Penn in the Family

Penn pride isn’t necessarily hereditary, so Julie Perilstein, a junior in the College, decided to do something about encouraging its growth in potential “legacy” students. Last year, she founded a program called Linking Legacies to provide the sons and daughters of Penn alumni with information about the current state of the school. Through dialogue with current legacy students, the potential Quakers can hear more than just their parents’ (sometimes) antiquated tales of Penn’s glory.

Perilstein herself found the recollections of her parents Ron and Jayne (both W’80) to be enjoyable, but she was more impressed by her own campus visits, noting the “passionate and energetic student body.” Linking Legacies matches a prospective legacy student with an enrolled legacy “buddy” so they can supplement their parents’ stories with the reality of today’s undergraduate life.

Perilstein is an American- history major and is pursuing a minor in consumer psychology, a one-year-old program that would not be known to alumni, unless they kept diligent tabs on the University’s expanding curriculum. She envisions her program as “a great service to help prospective legacy students see the fabulous Penn campus and curriculum as their own, in conjunction with the equally exciting stories and memories of their parents’ and grandparents’ Penn experiences.”

The idea of Linking Legacies was born during Ron and Jayne’s 25th reunion. Her mother asked Julie, already a trained Kite and Key tour guide, to coordinate a special “Now and Then” tour of Penn’s campus. She remembers being struck by the differences between “their Penn” and hers.

The seed was planted, but another experience while working in the admissions office watered the plant. “A father called, hoping for his daughter to meet a current Penn student for coffee while they were visiting, touring the school,” Perilstein recalls. “I realized this was not formally possible. However, it gave me the ambition to start a program of my own. Combining these two experiences, I decided to start Linking Legacies to both show prospective students what ‘my Penn’ was like, and to help them develop a personal, comfortable relationship with a current Penn student.”

What makes Linking Legacies different from a typical Penn tour is the personal connection of legacy-to-legacy contact. “Linking Legacies allows a prospective student to ask questions he or she might not feel comfortable asking a tour guide or a person on campus in passing,” Perilstein explains.

The intimacy of a Linking Legacies partnership can be as casual as a conversation over coffee, or can evolve
into significant friendships. Perilstein hopes the in-school network will grow enough that on-campus events can be held to raise awareness of the program and solidify this subgroup of undergraduates.

Perilstein’s program may be implemented soon at the University of Virginia. Intrigued by the idea, the alumni-relations staff there contacted her to consult for their own legacy-service program.

By providing a link for legacy students to connect with Penn on their own terms, Perilstein hopes prospective undergrads will have a better understanding of how the school will fit them, rather than feeling pressured by tradition. This, in turn, would lead to stronger bonds with a modern Penn. “This is the type of program,” Perilstein says, “that will hopefully bring the families of Penn alumni one step closer to the Penn family.”

—Carter Johns C’07




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