David Wise (C’98), a lanky guy with an easy laugh, can tick off all the elements of a rocking party.
First of all, you need an invitation scrolled in bright lights across the crown of the PECO building. Next you’ll want a venue, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which offers spectacular views of the skyline. Don’t forget plenty of good food and music to keep the night rolling. And to make your bash really unforgettable, pack it with about 2,500 attendees.
Too bad for you such a party—New Student Orientation’s (NSO) gala event on Sept. 1—will have just passed by the time you read this.
As Penn’s NSO coordinator, Wise has his fingerprints on not just this event but a weeklong series of events—from film festivals to outdoor barbecues—that are designed to introduce new students to what Penn and Philadelphia have to offer. Although this is the first year College Houses and Academic Services (CHAS) is running NSO, Wise knows something about what students want and expect the moment they land on campus; he was a Penn student not too long ago, and he ran the Penn Reading Project successfully for two years. It also helps that he has input from the Office of the Vice Provost of University Life, which has years of planning NSO to its name.
Since February, he and NSO Director David Fox and their three student coordinators—Christine Jereb (C’03), Matt Scafidi (C’05) and Danie Greenwell (C’03)—have had their sleeves rolled up, arranging academic, social and cultural programs for the incoming class. After having talked with nearly everyone, from professors to people who run carnival games, Wise sat down to talk with the Current.
Q. What are the NSO highlights this year?
A. Our big highlight, the one that we are most happy about, is we’re doing a big event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this year. There’ll be dinner, dessert, dancing and tours of the gallery, and performing arts groups. We’re very excited about the event. This is part of a bigger push by us to introduce the students to the city and what Philadelphia has to offer culturally for them. That’s one of our big goals this year.
Earlier in the day we have our Penn Tracks tours where all the students will tour different neighborhoods downtown. …There are six different downtown tours. Some tour Old City, some tour the Avenue of the Arts, Rittenhouse Square, and after that everyone will converge at the museum for the big event.
Q. How do you plan orientation?
A. We get input from a lot of groups. We work very closely with student representatives to determine what they feel have been good socially in the past. We wanted to highlight the cultural things that Penn has to offer, the resources.
[This year] we created a brand new resource night where all of the resource centers [African American Resource Center, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, etc.] have been invited to be open for two hours and we’re gonna give students a map and a guide, and they’re gonna go around and visit whoever they want.
Q. Have you had any disasters yet?
A. For a while we were planning to have an event at the Kimmel Center downtown and then we found that it’s closed for renovations. Yes, it’s only been open for one year but it’s closed for the renovation they didn’t get a chance to do. But it worked out beautifully because we’re having our event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And we think it’s going to be an even better event than had it been at the Kimmel Center.
Q. How do you deal with parents who can’t say goodbye?
A. That’s one of our challenges in putting together our publications. We’ve been trying very hard to figure out how to say, Come, stay for the parents’ events and then leave. We went through many, many wordings. We hear these horror stories about parents who stay for a month at hotels. And of course one of the fun things that we get are lots and lots of calls from parents asking endless questions and mostly the student staff take care of that. I always tell them that if anyone is too bothersome, we can always threaten to rescind their acceptance to Penn. We never actually do that but [laughs]…
Q. So will you be on several cell phones at once during orientation period?
A. I’m hoping not to be; that’s not the way I like to run things. The experience I’ve had is with the Penn Reading Project, and with a lot of that stuff, if something goes wrong, there’s very little you can do to save it, but I’m looking forward to going to some of these events and of course there will be last minute things to take care of. [Weather may be an issue for the gala events, interjects Sue Smith, CHAS associate director for communications.] That’s one thing I’ll be doing on the cell phone is calling God.
Originally published on September 5, 2002