Scholar: Can-do and connected

Michelle Tucker, 20, a junior history major, just got a note from Shasharaa Carter, an eighth-grade student she used to tutor in math. The two used to hang out together on campus and kept in touch. "Never lose sight of your goals," Carter wrote in the note.

Tucker, a Forest Hills, Queens, native, is in no danger of short-sightedness in the goals department. The Ben Franklin scholar keeps much too busy and stays too connected to veer from her path - a road heavily lined with volunteer leadership activities, achievement and an entrepreneurial edge.

She has tutored in West Philadelphia schools, is very active in campus Jewish organizations and, generally, has created many of the elements she envisioned as contributing to her education at Penn.

"I like to do a lot around campus," Tucker said. "I've made my membership in this campus community a source of learning for me. I try to draw and learn from being at Penn and engaging in the community on all levels."

Academically, she has engaged former Penn President Sheldon Hackney in creating a class she thought would be of interest - "Alternative Americas," detailing a kind of history and evolution of the left. It will be offered in Spring 1999 and will be taught by Hackney, who will offer it under General Honors and History.

Such options and opportunities are especially encouraged with the Ben Franklin Scholarship program, which also facilitates processes related to student research and scholarship searches.

Tucker had explored radical literature as a National Endowment for the Humanities Younger Scholars research project and asked Hackney if he could recommend anyone to teach the course. He said, "I'd like to teach something like that," according to Tucker.

Similarly, an interest in scholarly writing on campus led Tucker to help create the King's Court/English College House Forum for Penn Authors. The idea came from the faculty, but it was Tucker who, armed with some public relations and special-events training, stepped in and said, "Let me do it."

It's a statement that rolls easily from Tucker's tongue. Peer advising for the College, advising and working on the steering committee of the Writing Across the University project, three years working with Van Pelt's inter-library loan department, a couple of years volunteering for Saturday Morning School with the Center for Community Partnerships ... Tucker really is connected.

Of the latter involvement in the schools, Tucker gets most excited. "Any interaction with West Philadelphia schools is valuable for Penn students," Tucker said. "It's a great program [Saturday Morning School]. You see a lot of hope, a lot of involved parents; and the first time you see that, it surprises you, if you have any stereotypes of inner-city schools."

This year, involvement with Penn Hillel's community service committee is energizing Tucker - overseeing programs for the homeless, elderly and sick, and creating new, ongoing programs, such as one to befit the disabled. What's most fun for Tucker? "Making it happen," she says matter-of-factly.

Finding balance amid the activities takes Tucker to the Reading Terminal Market in Center City, museums, meals with friends and, for relaxing, aware jaunts down Locust Walk. Oh, and a good meeting - "a really good one, where good decisions get made. I've been so impressed with the leadership abilities of the people I work with. There are so many talented people at Penn.

"A small group of people can make big things happen on this campus."

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Originally published on October 1, 1998