Guest Blog – Learning to Let Go: The Toughest Lesson to Learn

by Alyssa Schwenk, CAS ’10

When I was at Penn, I had a certain routine: up at 9, class, gym, library until 3. A late lunch with friends, then into the Daily Pennsylvanian offices to report, write, and edit until the wee hours. I’d break for dinner around 7, return to the office, go home around 12:30, catch up with roommates, do homework, and send emails until about 2:30, when I’d crash. Lather, rinse, repeat. I loved it.

Now — two months into my second year teaching in D.C. through Teach for America — I can’t give you a daily schedule. I have the broadest strokes: Up at ten till six, at school by seven, and the kids come at eight. After that — who knows. While there’s an academic schedule, no two days even resemble one another. Some days, my math lesson goes amazingly, and every one of my 23 kindergarteners can count to 20 (trust me, it’s a big deal). Other days, there’s a tough-tough-tough conversation with a parent, an administrator, or a social worker. Or there’s an earthquake. So it  goes. It’s an experience unlike any other, and one that I’m incredibly proud of doing on a daily basis.

I joined TFA immediately after graduating Penn in 2010, surprising even my closest family and friends. In September of senior year, excited and anxious about the future, I’d decided to apply. I wanted to try something new, to push myself farther: It was time to put myself in a situation that was bigger than me, one that made an impact in the world. I also was struck by how unbelievably lucky I’d been to spend four years at Penn, for being from a family with the savvy to make that happen, even if we didn’t have the resources. I wanted to give back. Like most major life decisions, it wasn’t exactly planned, but in retrospect, it made perfect sense.

Everyone I’d asked about TFA said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” While I appreciated the enormity of the work, I also saw the phrase and the sentiment as partly cliché: If closing the achievement gap were easy, obviously it would have happened. Of course it was tough. I was expecting hard and frustrating and a learning curve on teaching. I was expecting to experience situations that I had never encountered. I was expecting steep statistical odds and long nights and a struggle.

But I was not expecting the crash course in emotions, acceptance, and letting go. It’s all in how you look at it. Nothing can ache more than watching a child, who you see every day, who you taught to do multiplication and whose shoes you tie and whose milk you open, not getting what she needs and deserves. But nothing can bring you as much joy as that same child figuring out how to really do subtraction for the first time. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a student dealing with a situation that can’t be fixed through hard work and strategizing, but nothing is more empowering than seeing that student learn to read, count, and think independently. Even just eight weeks into the school year, I can already see enormous growth in my five-year-olds. Seeing my hard work pay off in such a concrete, immediate and life-changing way — so soon after leaving college — is a rare and amazing privilege. It’s that ability to affect change in my students’ lives that keeps me going on a daily basis.

A Day in the Life: Public Relations

If you value communication, creativity, and working with the media and public to get the word out, then public relations may be for you.  On Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 we welcome alum Meagan Sloan to @PennCareerDay on Twitter.  Public relations is a field where social media has grown in popularity thanks to the variety of tools it offers to this industry. We’re excited to have Meagan post to give you an inside look at what her day is like in the current communications climate. To learn more about Meagan, read her bio below and follow her on the 26th!

As an Account Executive for Brownstein Group’s PR team, Meagan is responsible for day-to-day account activity for clients such as TireVan, Harcum College, and Craiger Drake Designs. In addition to executing public relations tactics for these clients, she also provides support across other PR account, gaining experience in a variety of industries, including real estate, education, non-profit, and consumer products. During her time at Brownstein Group, Meagan has assisted in social media and media relations campaigns, securing placements in a number of local outlets, such as The Inquirer, Philadelphia Business Journal, Philadelphia magazine, Metro and local broadcast affiliates.

A Philadelphia native, Meagan graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Communication and a minor in Consumer Psychology. While in college, she interned at Brownstein Group in the fall of 2009, supporting the Harcum College, Bancroft, and Asian World of Martial Arts accounts. In addition, Meagan held public relations and advertising internships at other Philadelphia agencies, including Red Tettemer, The Star Group, and The Karma Agency.

If you would like to learn more about a career in public relations, visit our resource page for this field here.


In a nutshell: deciding to go to graduate school

by Peter Stokes

The vast majority of Penn alumni go on to graduate/professional school at some point (roughly 20% go immediately after graduation, and 70%+ go within 10 years of graduating). These are high numbers, and this seems to me an excellent thing, but it’s important that people go to the right kind of graduate school, and at the right time—and think carefully about what will happen after graduate school. Graduate school is demanding and can be expensive, and it’s important that you make an informed choice to make sure that the investment of time, effort and money is worthwhile. That may well mean waiting until after you have gained some experience other than being a student (a job, service work) before applying.

Here, in as small a nutshell as I can manage, are some good, and some much less good, approaches to deciding on graduate school:

  • Good reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You have figured out the career path you want to follow, at least in the medium term. You have done plenty of research, including talking with people who have advanced in your chosen field, and know that you need a graduate degree, and which one.
    • You love scholarly work with a passion (crucial for a Ph.D.), and are confident you will continue to for 2-5+ years of study of a narrow topic.
  • Bad reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You don’t know what else to do, or you assume there are no decent jobs for people with Bachelor’s degrees anyway. (Have you come in to talk to a counselor in Career Services?)
    • You’re really good at school, so you think you should keep on doing it. And maybe as a result, family or friends, not necessarily experts in the career(s) you’re interested in, have said you should go to grad school.

See also:  and of course feel free to connect with a pre-graduate school advisor!

Seeking Opportunities Abroad

According to a recent USA Today article, job placement firms are reporting a surge in American worker interest in working abroad.

Quite a few students who study abroad find it to be a great opportunity that they seek to return for employment for a few years after graduation.

Whether you’re from another country and looking for a job back home or are simply an American with foreign language skills seeking opportunities in another country, we have an upcoming fair that would be great for you.

Next Tuesday, October 25th, is the International Opportunities Fair here at Penn. The International Opportunities Fair is open to Penn students interested in learning about job, internship, volunteer, graduate study, and scholarship opportunities abroad.

Quite a few companies with a global presence such as Morgan Stanley, A.T.Kearney, IBM, and The TJX Companies, Inc. are coming to the fair.

You can find the full list of companies coming here:

Additionally, our website has a lot of information for students interested in international opportunities. Be sure to check it out here:

We’ll see at the fair Next Tuesday!


by Sharon Fleshman

As I look at pictures from the recent MLK memorial dedication, the 30 foot tall statue of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems larger than life.  So it is with the notion of legacy, especially when you consider all that King accomplished before the age of 40, or the contributions of some of the recently departed: the innovation of Steve Jobs, the courage of Fred Shuttlesworth, the scholarship of Derrick Bell.  Legacies run the gamut, as attested by my colleague, Rosanne Lurie, in her previous blog on perusing the obituaries as a means of gaining more insight about the world of work.

Reflecting upon the lives of those who have made a notably visible impact in the world can be inspiring and overwhelming at the same time.  Perhaps legacy seems less daunting if we look at the possibilities of what we can leave behind every day:  A word of wisdom or encouragement to a student following in your footsteps.   That spark of creativity that allows for progress, however incremental, in a research project.  An initiative that affects positive community change, whether at a local or global level.  The good news is that legacy is a process that begins way before our lives come to an end.