Monday, November 25, 2013

Finding Your Niche at Penn

Penn quite simply is a huge school.  While this is an advantage because it means there are more opportunities than your time at Penn will even allow, it is also overwhelming for freshmen coming from high school where classes were maybe 30 students maximum.  This is why it is incredibly important to find smaller communities within Penn.
Each year in the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, there are club fairs that occur on Locust Walk.  You have never seen so many flyers and email list signups fly at your face before, but it is a great chance to learn about various clubs that you may never have found out about otherwise.   Furthermore, it is no mystery that engineering is tough, and so it is essential to be involved in other activities that can allow you to use a different part of your brain.  You should always make sure to take study breaks for the things you are passionate about; it will make you more productive! 
For me, I am involved in Class Board, a branch of student government that plans spirited events for my class.  Being part of Class Board allows me to be creative and to meet other students who I normally wouldn’t meet in my classes.  Most of my board is in the College of Arts & Sciences, and if it weren’t for being a part of Class Board, I may never get the opportunity to interact with these students since Penn is so vast.  Being friends with students who take completely different classes from me offers me an even greater perspective on what Penn has to offer, and it is nice to talk about topics other than math and science occasionally! 
Within engineering, however, I am also a part of Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity.  Becoming a brother of Theta Tau has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had thus far at Penn because all of the brothers understand the demands of an engineering curriculum.  It is also helpful to know other engineers from various years and majors who can give you can ask about classes, work on problem sets with, or just hang out with when you have downtime (which does in fact exist!).  Engineering is one of those fields where you cannot go it alone, and so it is crucial to connect with your classmates.  Some of my closest friends at Penn are in Theta Tau, and it is not only a fun group of engineers who are all nerds at heart, but also an awesome support network.  I feel like being part of two very different groups like Class Board and Theta Tau gives me the best of both worlds because I can be creative with planning events for my class, but also be connected to my home school through the engineers I know from across majors and years.
So how do you find where you belong at Penn?  The important thing to note is that there is not just one place where you belong.  You can be a part of as many or as few communities as you want as long as you are passionate about what you spend your time doing.  In high school, there was this sense that everything you did was for your resume in order to impress colleges.  But being in college is different, and it is a fantastic opportunity to delve into something you love or to try something completely new.  At Penn, there is a club for everything under the sun, and even if you cannot find what you are looking for, there is bound to be someone amongst the 10,000 undergraduate student population who is interested in the same things as you who would want to create a new club.  The bottom line is, do not be afraid to commit to an activity or go outside of your comfort zone completely.  As my best friend Rebecca always tells me, “Girl, you gotta PYOT & SOT (put yourself out there & stay out there)!”  So go out there and find your niche or niches at Penn!

Questions for Chloe?  Email her at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Greener Penn

This past summer, I interned at a local start up company that performs solar analyses of properties and develops solar related products.  Working with this company, my eyes were opened to the world of solar and the opportunities it presents to society.  Employing larger scale solar energy in a public setting not only helps the environment but also educates the general public on the benefits of solar. 

A majority of my work revolved around the development and production of a solar-powered table that charges cell phones, iPads, laptops, etc.  Without much prior solar knowledge, I delved into component research, competitive analyses, and marketing of the tables.  Initially when I took this internship, I did not see my involvement with solar going much further than the end of the summer.  However, when I returned to school, I learned about the Penn Green Fund and its efforts to make Penn a greener university.  The Green Fund offers grants up to $50,000 for the execution of project proposals aiming to improve Penn’s environmental performance that their committee deems promising and valid.

After learning about this chance to make Penn greener while simultaneously providing great exposure and ample opportunity for my former internship company, I decided to submit my own proposal for four of the solar tables to be installed on Penn’s campus.  After performing site evaluations around Penn, I hope to install the tables in Penn Park to provide both seating and power to those involved in activities on the east side of campus.  Only time will tell if my proposal will be approved, and I am excited to see what the future holds.  In the meantime, I am happy to simply continue interacting with my former internship company.  I barely knew anything about solar power before my internship, and it required a lot of me to step outside of my comfort zone and take a job I was not familiar with in the least.  Looking back, however, I am so glad I took that chance because it opened up so many opportunities, like Penn’s Green Fund proposal, for me to pursue.

Questions for Kristen?  Email her at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Being in Grad School!

One of the best things about doing an undergraduate degree in engineering is that it’s really easy to do a master’s degree too! Penn Engineering has a special program called submatriculation that enables you to easily enter a master’s program. One simple application during your junior year lets you submatriculate. This is really great for a host of reasons.

  1.  You don’t have to take the GRE’s or go through the lengthy admissions process all over again.
  2.   You can double count three courses from your undergrad degree so you only need to take 7 additional courses for the masters (which isn’t a lot considering you need to complete about 40 undergraduate courses) 
  3.  Because of reason number 2, you can easily finish your master’s in only one extra year or even just one extra semester (as opposed to a year and a half or two years which is how long it takes most people to do a master’s degree)
  4. You don’t have to do a master’s thesis (unless you want to of course).
  5. In some cases, you can do your masters while receiving your undergraduate financial aid.

Coming into Penn, I did not even know submatriculation was an option. During my first few years, I met several upperclassmen who had submatriculated, but I still wasn’t seriously considering it. However, I decided to apply during my junior year because I thought, “Why not?” The application took about 20 minutes, and I had nothing to lose by applying.

Fast forward to now: I was accepted to submatriculate, and I’m in my fifth year at Penn working towards my masters. Transitioning to being a master’s student has been an interesting experience. For one thing, there are far fewer women in the master’s program than in the undergraduate program. One day I looked around and realized there were no longer nearly as many women in my classes as there used to be.  And, as expected, the classes are also harder than the undergraduate ones, but nothing a Penn engineering undergraduate degree hasn’t prepared me for. I think there’s a perception that grad school is really hard. Here’s a secret: it’s not. Especially if you’ve just tackled an undergrad in engineering. Especially when you’re taking classes from the same professors with whom you already know.

So far, I’m really happy with my decision. I have more time to think about what I want to do in my career, and I feel less rushed about entering the job market. I can study topics I’m interested in like renewable energy at more depth. And when I do finish my degree, I’ll be able to command a higher salary. If you told me five years ago, that I would have my master’s degree when I was 23, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I will, and so can you! 

Do you have questions for Annie?  Contact her at