“I guess I just love the festivities, the whole atmosphere.”


Senior regional admissions assistant, Undergraduate Admissions Office
Length of service:
20 years
Other stuff:
A confirmed foodie, she also
volunteers for MANNA, helping prepare meals for homebound people with HIV and AIDS.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

To hear Phyllis Pompa talk about Penn, you’d think she was an alumna herself.

But she’s not. She’s merely a loyal and devoted staffer who sees her job as “spreading the gospel of Benjamin.” Benjamin Franklin and his university, that is.

And each spring, she’s there to meet the faithful as they make their annual pilgrimage back to campus. Pompa is one of roughly 175 staff and faculty volunteers who, along with 60 undergraduate students, make the Penn grads who return for Alumni Weekend feel at home.

Pompa, who was adopted when she was 18 months old by an American missionary visiting her native Japan, has managed to absorb her adoptive mother’s values, especially the doing-for-others part, which includes the Alumni Weekend stint. Besides, she said, it’s fun. And they feed you to boot.

Q. How many years have you been volunteering for Alumni Weekend?
I think this is probably about the sixth year. And I’ve met some wonderful, wonderful fellow Pennsylvanians [who are] Alumni Weekend volunteering, because these are people who really love Penn, being at Penn, and I think they enjoy giving back to the community. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to do, give back to the community. In a fun sort of way.

Q. What exactly do you do as a volunteer?
I have two full functions. Usually, in the mornings, I help with greeting and registering the class breakfast. Last year, I did the 35th reunion breakfast, and again this year, I’ll be doing the 35th reunion, it will be the Class of 1966. I believe it’s President Rodin’s class, over in Silfen Study Center. And I just basically stand there, welcome the people back to campus and register them and make them feel comfortable and answer any questions I can. And then later on in the morning, around 11-ish, I’ll be going down to Superblock [Hamilton Village]. And I’ll be assisting in the ‘70s class tent.

Q. And what will you be doing there? Answering questions? Serving lunches?
You know what? I’ve never done the class reunion tent, so this is going to be a new experience for me. Generally, I’ve always done the breakfast and then done the alumni information tent, which is answering a lot of questions, which is what I do in my normal daytime job.

Q. Have you had any encounters with famous alums as a volunteer — like, say, a Harold Prince?
No, I haven’t. I’m sure that they are probably the ones that just come for the events.

Q. Have you ever sat in on any of the other events yourself?
One year, I — this wouldn’t really come under the category sitting in. I happened to go to the 50th reunion tent to pick up my lunch, and Dr. Rodin was speaking at that time, but I quietly proceeded to fill my plate, and later I was told that that was not the tent that volunteers should go to get their lunch. [laughs] I guess their menu was for special people.

Q. What do the volunteers get to eat?
We really do get a free lunch, and I guess you just can’t go to the 50th reunion, those special tents. Those are really hands-off for the volunteers. But I was naïve; I was brazen. I thought, Oh, not a line. So I just walked in.

Q. What’s the typical fare for the Alumni Day picnic?
In the past, they’ve had things like barbecued chicken.

Q. Do you get to see the Parade of Classes?
Absolutely. It’s so much fun. It’s beautiful, and it’s very festive, with red and blue banners everywhere. People are just happy. It’s not an occasion when anyone’s disgruntled or angry, so it’s a fun time to be on campus, and every class marches, and carries their flag, and they walk down from Superblock to College Hall. It’s gorgeous.

Q. How many people do you end up speaking to or dealing with during a typical Alumni Weekend?
I’ve never counted, but I know it’s a lot. Usually, my throat’s pretty hoarse by the end of the day.

Q. Since you’ve been doing this six years, have there been any alumni who remember you from previous reunions?
Oh, absolutely. In fact, that’s one of the things I enjoy about sitting in the alumni info desk because when I worked as the assistant to the director of the Alumni Secondary School Committee in the Undergraduate Admissions Office, I had lots of dealings with alums. So those folks still remember me. And of course, parents of my former work-study students or current work-study students, they stop by and say hello. I know a lot of kids that graduated that stop by, so it’s just a fun time. It’s a time for me to catch up.

Q. What do you enjoy most about volunteering for Alumni Weekend?
I guess I just love the festivities, the whole atmosphere, seeing people looking happy and enjoying themselves.

According to this year’s volunteer coordinator, Rashida Holmes, most of the staff who volunteer for Alumni Weekend come from the Development and Alumni Relations office. But staff anywhere are welcome to volunteer. Besides free food, volunteers get a T-shirt or polo shirt as a keepsake. If you think you might like to volunteer for next year’s event, you can call Holmes at 215-898-0680.


Originally published on May 31, 2001