This entry is by Jonathan Petts, COL ’02, LAW ’07

After graduating from Penn (‘02) and then Penn Law (‘07), I followed the traditional corporate law path, working for large firms in New York. That corporate life was interesting enough for a while. But I found my true passion in the pro bono bankruptcy cases I did helping low-income New Yorkers buried in debt. My first client was a woman from Crown Heights named Linda.  Linda was unemployed and had $40,000 in medical debt from a car accident. I helped Linda file for Chapter 7 and obtain a fresh start. She called me back a year later to share some great news. She had a job, her credit score was 100 points higher, and she was still debt free. She then told me something I’d never forget, “If I hadn’t found you, I’d still be trapped in debt because it costs $2,000 to hire a bankruptcy lawyer and if I had $2,000, I wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy.” I realized that the people who need access to our bankruptcy courts the most in America are the least able to afford it.  

Jonathan Petts in acton

The bankruptcy process involves lots of data entry and document collection that are ripe for automation. So along with my cofounder Rohan Pavuluri, I founded a tech nonprofit called Upsolve which provides free Chapter 7 bankruptcy help to low-income Americans across the country. Last year, our website helped over 400 Americans get a fresh start, erasing over $16 million in debt from medical illness, job loss, and payday loans. We’ve been lucky to get grant funding for our work from the Robin Hood Foundation, Y Combinator, the Public Welfare Foundation, and other fantastic funders.

I see Upsolve as a small piece of a broader opportunity to democratize access to the law for low-income Americans. The internet has transformed the delivery of most professional services to consumers.  For little to no cost, consumers can use TurboTax to complete personal tax returns, use WebMD to diagnose their medical conditions, or use Khan Academy to learn a new subject. But the internet has brought very little disruption to the delivery of legal services. One lawyer researches, writes and litigates for a single client, who is charged by the hour. The result is 80% of low-income Americans with a legal problem cannot afford to hire lawyer.  In the years to come, I’m excited to see other tech solutions to help low-income Americans solve their legal problems on their own.

Contributing to the Community

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Vincente Guallpa, SEAS ’20

This summer I decided to contribute to the Philadelphia community. Since I have experience working with youth, I decided to intern at The Rotunda. My role as counselor in The United Block Captains Association enabled me to make a big impact on the local community. From teaching the campers how to play four-square to painting silly faces on paper, I was able to form healthy bonds with all the campers.

One of the memorable experiences was the day we had a face paint activity. After minutes of begging, I finally let the campers paint my face with any color. After all the campers were finished slashing at my face with different colors, I saw myself in the mirror and realized I looked like a mad man.

Here is the breakdown of a typical week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the camp had different instructors come in to teach the campers arts, crafts, science, and sports. On Wednesdays, we would watch a movie and then go for a long swim at the pool. Part of being a counselor is to engage in every activity and to keep the campers motivated and make sure they are having fun. As I have taught them many new games and fun facts, they have also taught me some cool new things. One camper taught me many different dances from the video game Fortnite. Another camper taught me how to play basketball (yes, I do know how to dribble, but I never played a game with people).

With all the fun we had it is always important to remember why this camp exists. Philadelphia, specifically West Philadelphia, can be tough sometimes. With organized crime and drugs plaguing certain parts of the community, it can be difficult to raise a child in these conditions. Children have unlimited potential, but that can all be diminished if they do not have positive influences in their lives. This is where The United Block Captains Association fills in the role. By providing a safe and engaging environment, children are safe to play with their friends and learn some cool new skills.

The most important skill that I relearned was how to think like the youth. To successfully work with youth you must know how youth think and feel. This helps empathize with them and understand how they process emotions. We must always remember that their emotions matter. Given this, one of the most important questions that I asked each camper is, “How do you feel?” as an invitation to express themselves. When a camper felt down it showed in their behavior. By asking them this question, I was giving them the opportunity to let out some of those emotions through a conversation. This helps to show them how powerful communication is and, more importantly, how to form healthy relationships.

At the end of the day, I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to help my community by working with youth in West Philadelphia and hope to continue serving my community this way.

Ramadan and Refugee Realities: A Summer with UNICEF Jordan

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Saagarika Thanvi, GEN ’16

Al-Balad in Downtown Amman, Jordan

thanvi1Hearing the call to prayer just before sunset. Watching people gather at the iftar table to break their fast. Enjoying the ambiance of Ramadan nights. Jordan opened my eyes to a new culture, a new way of living, and a new way to engage with everyday realities of people. I worked with UNICEF Jordan this past summer for the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Section related to understanding the performance and efficiency of the wastewater treatment facilities used at the Za’atari and Azaraq refugee camps in Jordan. My work exposed me first hand to the consequences of war and to the importance of supporting those people who need help the most. Watching people living in caravans in refugee camps having fled bombs and chemical weapons is heart-breaking. It was a surreal feeling being so close to the war torn countries of Syria and Iraq yet feeling sheltered in the safe haven of Jordan.

It was a new experience for me to work in WASH, but this past summer I learned so much more from my colleagues through this summer experience than what I was previously exposed to. It was a pleasure to come into the UNICEF office every day: I was challenged to use my skills as an engineer in a real life situation, but at the same time I had this unique opportunity of working with and learning from international professionals.

Azaraq Refugee Camp, Courtesy of Saleh Al’Sharabati (UNICEF Jordan)

When I use the restroom on a daily basis, I take it for granted that everything will be taken care of. I do not have to worry about the amount of water I consume. Or the water quality that is released back into the environment. However, this summer I realized the importance of water – the most essential ingredient for life. With tens of thousands of people living in small spaces and with only a limited water supply of about 35-40 litres per person per day provided, the challenges faced in treating the wastewater is enormous. Yet regardless of the situation, it is important to take into consideration the water quality because of the high potential for diseases to be spread through the water. However, the most important lesson that I learnt during these past weeks is that wastewater need not be seen as a ‘waste’ but as a resource. Wastewater can be easily reused for agricultural purposes and it can be used as a potential energy source through the generation of biogas.

Umm Qais, Jordan
Umm Qais, Jordan

My summer in Jordan made the world seem huge because of the sheer beauty of the earth I was exposed to, and through the amazing scenery that stretched before my eyes. This summer also made the world seem small because of the common human bond that demands of us to be open and loving to all especially to those who are the most vulnerable. I realised this summer the importance of doing my part to engage with communities that need to be supported because of circumstances that are not of their choice. It is essential to use the skills we have learned to make a positive difference in the world around us. Experiencing Ramadan in Jordan taught me the importance of human communities coming together in celebration of a common faith. Seeing the realities of refugees exposed me to the pain and suffering people have had to face due to selfish battles fought out of hate. Love is always greater than hate, and in a world with so much difficulty, we need to encourage more openness to learn about other people and make our world safe and just for all children and people to live freely.



It’s Almost President’s Day!

By Barbara Hewitt PresidentsDayGiven that we are in the midst of primary season, it’s almost impossible not to be thinking at some point about our government.  Believe me, there have been many heated debates in my house with Republicans and Democrats living under the same roof!  At the very least it’s been a very interesting few months. I thought this would be a great time to remind everyone that there are lots career options out there for people who love politics and those who simply hope to contribute to making the government (local, state or federal) run better.  Following are just some of the many resources you can find at Career Services to help you explore these paths. Upcoming Go-Government Webinars

  • Security Clearance 101: Thursday, February 18, 2016, 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Room 97, McNeil
  • How to Stand Out in the Application Process: Thursday, February 25, 2016, 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Room 97 McNeil

Common Good Listserv This is an open forum where the Penn community (staff, faculty, students, etc.) can share information about events, opportunities and resources related to nonprofit, government, policy, public interest and other common good related careers. To subscribe to Common Good Careers listserv, send an email from your Penn account (NOT from a GMAIL or another account connected to your Penn account) to: with this command in the body of the e-mail:     SUBscribe CommonGoodCareers Government Related Resources on Career Services Website Videos, helpful links, and career advice on government and policy related careers Internship and Job Databases

Relevant Career Services Subscriptions Access these resources through the on-line subscriptions link on this page of Career Services website:

  • PolicyJobs.Net
  • PoliticalJobs.Net
  • Tom Manatos Job List – Jobs, internships, fellowships, and networking opportunities in government and political fields.

Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative Don’t forget to check out this amazing resource on campus including funded summer internships!

Penn in Washington   Events, alumni networking, courses, and internships for Penn students on campus and in D.C.:

Research employers and improve your job application ROI!

Researching potential employers is a critical element of every job or internship search.  It is extremely important when you need to identify your options, and necessary during the application and interview stage for you to successfully communicate the match between a prospective employer’s needs and your relevant skills and experience.  In fact, it may be the best investment of your time and effort that will simultaneously 1) boost your ability to stand out in a sea of other applicants and 2) give you the confidence to know that you are aiming for opportunities that will be a good fit.

Many of you may be familiar with academic institutions, but there are many other types of organizational settings and structures.  Before you are called to interview, do your best to find out the following about any prospective employer:

  • Mission; product/service: what is the purpose of this company/organization?
  • “Clients” and competitors: who receives the services of this company, and who else is targeting this group with their services?
  • Structure and management, organizational culture
  • Sector: nonprofit, for-profit (private sector), public (government agency)
  • Financial health 
  • The hiring process

Career Services offers several online resources through our library subscriptions pages to help you research potential employers.  You must log in with your PennKey and password to access the subscriptions, which are listed alphabetically.

  • For those interested in exploring industries such as consulting, healthcare, and investment banking, and are particularly useful.  These reference resources allow you to read overviews of various major industries, discover the “major players” (i.e., biggest, influential companies), and learn more about typical position types within each industry.
  • We also subscribe to ReferenceUSA, which provides contact information as well as specific company data for United States businesses in particular (as well as some Canadian and other international businesses).  If you use the advanced search option, you can get information on credit ratings, company histories, executives’ names, and even the company’s local “competitors.”
  • Finally, for international students, GoinGlobal and H1VisaJobs offer databases which can help you identify the companies who have applied to the federal government recently for H1Visas (this gives you a head start if you know a company is willing to hire international candidates, or is familiar with H1 Visa hiring procedures.)  GoinGlobal also lists salary information for specific job titles – a very helpful tool whether or not you are an international student.

Use networking as a means to find out employer or industry information you can’t get through your online research.  If you are a current Penn student or alumnus/a, be sure to use QuakerNet (Penn Alumni Online Community) to identify alumni who can give you the “inside scoop” on a particular organization or field.  LinkedIn is also a great resource – read these Program Notes to find out how to optimize your LinkedIn experience in your career exploration and job search.

Once you use these resources to research an employer, you will be better able to: connect your accomplishments to the performance criteria that the organization is seeking; identify the most important skills, qualifications and experiences that are in demand in a given industry; assess an organization’s potential workplace needs and how you can contribute given your work style; show how your goals match those of the company (given its mission, size, structure, and market specialization).   And in communicating all the above, you will greatly increase your chances of getting job offers!

If you have any questions or would like some guidance in how to use these resources in your career exploration and job search, please connect with a career advisor.  You can find information on how to do that here: