Penn through other eyes

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jane Von Bergen, who usually reports what other people have to say, had plenty to say — about students, faculty, The Daily Pennsylvanian — after completing a semester on campus as a Richard Burke Fellow.

The fellowship, arranged through the provost’s office, enabled Von Bergen, 46, to audit four courses in exchange for contributing time and guidance to the DP and to Penn life. The mother of Joey, 12, and Michael, 9, and wife of photographer George Bilyk, came to get background on how philanthropy and religion and intersect with the business world. What she learned from her Religion, Social Justice and Urban Development class taught by Andrew Lamas, lecturer in urban design and organizational dynamics, has already helped her reporting. “I had an interview with someone and I was able to understand more readily their point of view and how it contrasted with other points of view,” she said.

The courses, the professors, the Daily Pennsylvanian reporters, fellow students — all tickled her curiosity and set her thinking about how they had given her back more than she gave. Here’s some of what she had to say:

On The Daily Pennsylvanian, the independent student newspaper:
“I don’t know if people realize what goes in to putting out that paper. They work all day. They take phone calls in their room. They work until midnight. They work a full-time job while studying at Penn. What they are getting is an incredible labor of love from those students.”

On Penn professors:
“They were always available, always urging the students to talk to them. They were accessible. …The professors were kind to me because I’m old. They were patient with me. In certain things, the kids were way ahead of you.”

On her classes:
“I had all good classes.”

“[History Professor] Michael Zuckerman gave a final lecture that was inspiring. …[The conclusion of all the class had read was] the chief component of the American character is the ability of people to reinvent themselves. I wanted to leap up and shout bravo, huzzah, huzzah.”

Of the students in her Asian-American literature class, she said:
“I learned there was a Korean nightclub on 69th Street. Those kids go beyond 40th Street all the time.”

After reading a book about generation debt and filial responsibility, she was surprised at how her classmates, mostly Asian Americans, related to the issue. “That’s a real thing for them. I don’t think I ever used the word filial in my life. And they’re just tossing it off all over the place.”

On academic overload:
“Two-thirds of the way through, I cracked under academia. So I poked this serious student next to me and said, ‘Do you know what a paradigm shift is? …It’s change to four nickels.’

“I told some other kid that praxis makes perfect.”

Now that Von Bergen’s back to reporting, she misses the food trucks and the discussions over coffee.

“The idea of being able to sit around having coffee — I went for a frozen mocha razzy so I could be like a real student. …I miss the opportunity to have a discussion that meanders.”


Originally published on May 17, 2001