Illustration by Phung Huynh


Some of the
2,451 members
of the freshman class talk about
the diverse
paths that
brought them
to Penn.

By Susan Frith

Gabriel MartĚn
From: Washington, D.C.
Penn Connection: He grew up listening to his grandfather, the Hon. ˇngel M. MartĚn W’39 WG’40, sing Penn songs while shaving and tell stories about a bar called Smokey Joe’s.
Biggest Change for Him: Attending school with women.
Interests: Plans to play intramural soccer; volunteer as a tour guide for Kite and Key; and write for Punch Bowl or The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Major: Undecided. Considering a career in public relations or human relations.

The Quadrangle room where Gabriel MartĚn’s grandfather used to live has now been turned into a study lounge. But each time the freshman passes through it, he can picture his grandfather gazing out into the Quad through his bay window at night. “He said he never stopped studying until he saw more than half the lights off, because that meant he was studying more than half the people at Penn.”

For Gabriel MartĚn, having a connection to Penn through his grandfather—a former Supreme Court judge in Puerto Rico, former president of the Penn Club of Puerto Rico, and recipient of the Alumni Award of Merit in 1960—has heightened his enjoyment of college life. “It’s a really good feeling to walk down the same paths, literally, that he walked down.”

MartĚn finds Penn’s social scene “fun” and “really well-balanced. If all you want to do is hang out with friends, that’s fine. If you want to go out to the frats and party, it’s OK. One of the kids I hang out with doesn’t drink at all, and he still comes out” to parties.

“The diversity is intense,” MartĚn adds. “A guy down my hall is from China, and across from him is a guy from Norway, and two doors down there [are students] from Singapore, Trinidad-Tobago, and Georgia. Everybody has their own story. The guy from Norway has been in the Army; he’s 20. And the guy from Georgia lived this summer for about a month out of his car, doing landscaping.”

But the biggest change for MartĚn—the graduate of an all boy’s Catholic high school—is the presence of women. “I made a comment one day in sociology and this other girl jumped at me. Nobody had the female perspective at my old school, so I think it’s extremely helpful.” MartĚn believes that single-sex schools create better friendships, and that’s one of the reasons he’s looking for a fraternity to join. But he’s thinks the mix of students at Penn is great. “I don’t think when my grandfather was here they had that kind of diversity.”


Bari Spielfogel
From: Jericho, N.Y.
High School Accomplishment: Inventor of Busguard, to prevent sleeping children from being left on school buses.
Major: Computer and systems

Interests: Club basketball.

Bari Spielfogel kept hearing news stories about sleeping children being accidentally left on school buses. So for a science fair in 10th grade, she decided to build a device to keep young snoozers safe.

Working with a mentor from the New York Institute of Technology, Spielfogel studied electrical engineering as well as computer programming as she developed her project. Called Busguard, it uses infrared beams to detect when a student boards or exits a bus. A computer program then counts people getting on or off, and a display near the driver indicates the number on the bus at any given time. “At the end of the route,” Spielfogel explains, “if it’s not zero, then the bus driver knows there’s somebody who got on and didn’t get off.

“It was really good to learn at that level and be taught by a college professor starting in the tenth grade,” she says. “That’s what got me interested in engineering, and that’s why I applied to the Engineering School at Penn.”

Spielfogel worked with bus suppliers to try to make the device better than others already on the market. But because of time constraints, the project never went further. “If time permits,” she says, “I will definitely work on it” while at Penn.

Karla Zepeda
From: Grew up in Guatemala City;
recently came from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Previous careers: Tourism magazine editor and radio broadcaster.
Why She’s Here: Before coming to Penn, she worked on a project to bridge the digital divide in two Honduran villages. “I want to learn skills so I can return to my country and finish what has been started there.”
Potential Major: Possibly combining psychology with a business major.

“A kid from my country is not different than a kid in New York or London,” says Karla Zepeda of Honduras. “The difference is that they lack opportunities.” Before coming to Penn, Zepeda helped transform two isolated Honduran communities, San RamŰn Centro and San Francisco, into “solar-net” villages through donations of solar panels and specially designed computers. Helping the Honduran government work with other organizations and companies, “We started many programs like distance education, telemedicine and microenterprises in those villages to improve their quality of life.” In the process, Zepeda says, “We discovered three kids that are really geniuses.”

But there is “so much to do” toward the goal of making those villages self-sustainable, she says. And that’s why Zepeda finds herself a freshman at Penn at the age of 23.

Zepeda went straight from high school in Guatemala, where she grew up, to the job market in Honduras, where she moved with her family. Showing up at a radio station one day to promote her boyfriend’s ska-music CD, her enthusiasm so impressed the manager that the station offered her a broadcasting job. “That was a challenge for me,” she says. “I’ve always been laidback and shy, more of a writing person, but I took the challenge. I had my own pop and rock music show, and I had to talk every two songs and be really prepared to say jokes and important things to keep everyone awake in their cars.” That job led to an offer to write for, and then edit, a tourism magazine—“a great challenge.”

But what brought Zepeda to Penn was another challenge. When her family returned to Honduras, her father became the minister of science and technology and started a project to bridge the digital divide in Honduras ( “I was fascinated and wanting to know more, and that was the way I got involved.” Zepeda helped with some of the logistics as well as translating Spanish and English during meetings, but was frustrated that she could not play a bigger role. That’s when I realized if only I had a degree in engineering or computer science or economics or some other field, I would actually be working on one of these projects.”

Zepeda lives in a single room in Ware College House, citing her need for privacy, sleep, and study time. At 23, she believes she has the advantage of a few more years’ experience: “I’m organized and I know what I’m looking for. But in a way I feel I’m in the same ship [with other freshman] by being away from home and [making a] cultural adaptation.”

Zepeda admits, for example, that she was thrown off by the unisex bathrooms on her floor. She came up with a compromise, putting a brick just inside the door, so the men on her hall would know when she was taking a shower and leave. “Every guy in that hall has been very respectful.

Another thing that has helped her is forming friendships with others in her hall who live in single rooms. “We’ll call each other and ask, ‘How was your day?’” She’s also making plans with her boyfriend back home to chat “with a video camera on the Internet. Having his support to come here was incredible.”




Nov/Dec Contents | Gazette Home

Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 11/04/02