Alumni share memories with Penn Back Then

Penn Back Then Fred Herrmann, C’69, speaks with Penn Back Then.

Every Penn grad has a favorite “back in the day” story. Whether it’s about fun times at New Student Orientation, a “meet cute” story about finding a significant other at the University or a memory of a beloved professor, everyone has a tale to tell. Since 2005, the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) has been collecting these memories through Penn Back Then, a continuing online oral history project.

Alumni of all ages have been asked to share their memories with the project’s oral historians at campus celebrations over the past few years. Their remembrances are compiled as an online audio scrapbook accessible over the internet.

During the recent Homecoming Weekend, the Penn Back Then team from the SAS External Affairs Office roamed College Green, armed with portable audio recorders, searching for alumni willing to share their stories.

Priya Ratneshwar, a staff writer in SAS External Affairs, has been gathering oral histories from SAS alumni for three of the four years she has worked at Penn.

“The memories span the range of their experiences at Penn, ranging from academic to social to sports,” she says. “One alum from the old guard told the story of being at Penn during the development of the ENIAC.”

Free buttons, bags and candy enticed some to share their stories. Others approached the Penn Back Then team, attracted by their bright blue T-shirts emblazoned with “Penn Back Then” on the front and “Talk to Me” on the back.

Jeremy Wolf, who is completing his master’s in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, told Ratneshwar a story about how he met his “college wife” at Penn—not his legal wife, but the woman he partnered with platonically in project after project while taking classes. Wolf received a free “I Met My Wife at Penn” button for participating.

To listen to Penn Back Then stories from generations of alumni all the way back to the 1920s, visit

To watch a video of the Penn Back Then team at work, visit


Originally published on November 4, 2010