Eye on the Future: Undergraduate life and living

Undergrad Life

Scott Spitzer

MORE THAN A HOME: During their time at Penn, nearly all Penn undergraduates will call a College House home. The mission of the College Houses is to provide a supportive environment where students can thrive and learn outside of the classroom.

LIVE AND LEARN: Two residential programs at Fisher Hassenfeld College House are designed to enrich the living-learning experience, and help connect first-year Penn students to the communities around them, both on campus and in West Philadelphia. The “Music and Social Change” program links Penn undergraduates with neighborhood students for music lessons, while the “Scientific Adventures” program aims to provide a supportive network for first-year students looking to gain experience working in a research laboratory. The music program is currently in its first year, while the science program is scheduled to begin in the fall.

CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS: Molly McGlone, assistant dean for advising in the College of Arts & Sciences, and a faculty fellow in Fisher Hassenfeld, designed the music program after developing an Academically Based Community Service course on music and the community. “I’m really interested in music in urban space and how people use it both to structure their own identities and change the relationships with other people around them,” she says.

LESSONS LEARNED: The program requires that 19 Fisher Hassenfeld first-year students volunteer three hours a week in a West Philadelphia public school music class, meet for an hour each week to discuss their experiences, and then take a seminar in the spring on music and urban spaces. At Lea Elementary School, Penn students lead instrumental classes in violin, recorder, bucket drums, and choir; at Parkway West High School, Penn students lead a choir class.

IN DEMAND: McGlone had 30 students apply for 19 openings in the program. Every Penn student in the program has an appreciation for music, and all but two have had formal training. “I think the Penn students have gotten a lot out of it,” says McGlone, who notes that 80 to 90 percent of the student populations of Lea and Parkway are considered economically disadvantaged. “It has shifted their assumptions about what it [means] to be living in West Philadelphia.”

FROM LIVING ROOMS TO LABS: This fall, Paul Axelsen, professor of pharmacology in the Perelman School of Medicine, and a faculty fellow in Fisher Hassenfeld, will launch the science residential program to connect first-year students with laboratories around campus so they may get a foothold in a research environment. While undergraduate research programs do exist, Axelsen says there aren’t resources to introduce first-years to labs on campus. “[We’re] trying to provide more avenues for undergrads to make an entré into lab research—and lab research is different in characteristics and its requirements than other kinds of research.”

PILOT PROGRAM: Axelsen will kick off the program this fall with 10 Fisher Hassenfeld residents. The incoming students may have just a vague idea about what kind of science they like, and as the only faculty member in any College House who does lab-based research, Axelsen says he’s in a unique position to match students with the right research environment.

START EARLY: Axelsen says his time as an undergraduate working in a research lab helped to shape his career. “I had to be able to get off of the med school treadmill and jump right into a lab and know what I was doing,” he says. “I was able to do it [because] I had worked in a lab for three years as an undergrad.”

MORE INFO: To read more about all residential programs, go to www.collegehouses.upenn.edu.

Originally published on March 21, 2013