EngagePerspectivesCommunities of Practice at Penn: Citizenship
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Communities of Practice at Penn: Citizenship

The PARK Podcast’s series on communities of practice highlights our partner organizations to help us better understand both how they see the Penn community and to describe the types of practices they use to engage others in their work on campus. This month, we talk with our colleagues at the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program and the Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies, also known as PORES to hear how we can learn together about our community as citizens.

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To shape our thinking here, we are using the definition of a community of practice created by the nonprofit, Campus Compact. “A community of practice is a learning community or collegial network, defined as a group of people who share interest in an area of inquiry, and engage in collective learning about that issue as it relates to their work or practice. Through discussions, joint activities, and relationship building, the community of practice develops a shared and individual repertoire of resources, skills, and knowledge to use in their practice.”

Excerpts from edited transcript.

Lia Howard: We are looking forward to hearing from our guests today about the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program and the Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies, also known as PORES. Welcome to John Lipinski, the Robert A. Fox professor of political science, faculty director of the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, and the director of the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies. He also serves as the faculty director for the master’s of public administration program within the Fels Institute of Government and as the director of the elections unit at NBC News, and Andrew Arenge, the director of operations for Penn’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies and the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, where he’s responsible for facilitating the student fellowship program. He is also a member of the NBC elections night news team since 2016.

And Sandy Vogel, the assistant director for Penn’s Program and Opinion Research and Election Studies, overseeing the survey research and data analytics minor and the PORES student research fellowship program. Her career has focused on civic engagement and student volunteerism within the city of Philadelphia.

Thank you for the deeply important civic engagement work you do at the Fox Leadership Program and PORES to cultivate and protect our democratic civil society. This past year has been such a challenging one, and we are so interested and curious to hear your ideas about the Penn community. John, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your many interesting roles at NBC and Penn, including the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program and PORES?

John Lipinski: Thank you for that kind introduction, Lia. I’ll try to go quickly through my experience. I came to Penn in 2006. Before that I was an assistant professor at Yale, and I did my PhD at Columbia. I’ve worn many hats at Penn and also at NBC News. Currently I’m also the director of elections at NBC News, and that’s a fairly large group, and it also has a very unique relationship with Penn because we have so many Penn faculty and students that have worked with us at NBC across the years. My primary role at Penn is I’m the faculty director of the Fox Leadership Program, and I’m also the faculty director of Penn’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies. Mainly spent most of my time at Penn really trying to figure out how can I teach and mentor undergraduate students and give them the amazing opportunities that we want to make sure that they have while they’re here with us for those four special years in their lives.

Let me just say a little bit about Fox Leadership. The program really is oriented around giving students, undergraduate students across the entire University, opportunities to engage in experiential learning opportunities in the public and nonprofit sectors, and what we really want to do is basically teach students about the challenges and complexities and opportunities of maybe stepping outside of their comfort zone and working in the public sector or in the nonprofit sector. And we also, again, want to give them the tools that they need, and that’s why even though the programs are distinct from each other, the PORES program– Penn’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies– that’s really an undergraduate program in the data sciences to teach students data science skills and how for them to use data to make better decisions. And so we’ve really tried to have the two programs work in lockstep with each other, making sure that students also have a lot of the tools that they need to live in a data-driven world to become better leaders.

Lia Howard: John, thank you so much for that. How amazing to hear the experiences you’re giving students, the tools you’re giving them, and the amazing mentorship. Andrew, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your role at Fox leadership and PORES, and anything you also would like to add about the programs?

Andrew Arenge: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you again, Lia, for the invitation to connect with you all. So I’ve been at Penn for about four years now, first coming to the University of Pennsylvania back in the spring of 2017 and prior to that I actually spent a number of years working up at NBC News, that’s how I actually met John, but on their education team up there. So I was part of the team that helped to tell stories about education, both on nightly news and the Today Show and Meet the Press and the digital platforms, and really became the go to guy and the go to unit within the news division about all things around education and had the opportunity while I was there to actually work part time with Dr. Lipinski and the rest of the elections team during the 2016 cycle. And so was in the decision desk starting in the primaries, back in Iowa of 2016 all the way through the general election.

And when there was an opportunity to join the team here at Penn more fully, I took that opportunity and was super excited to come and help to run the PORES program and more recently helped to oversee some of the day to day operations of the Fox Leadership Program. So I think John gave a really awesome overview, high level overview of the great work that we’re doing with both programs. I am particularly grateful for all the work that we’re doing on the Fox leadership side of things because we get to partner really closely with both local and national nonprofit and public sector organizations that are both here in our local Philadelphia community, but also have a reach nationwide as well. And so on the Fox side we get to place students with really important community-oriented organizations that are really tackling broad issues that are affecting society as a whole, whether it’s food insecurity, whether it’s civil rights, whether it’s child empowerment. We’ve worked really closely with an array of organizations at the national level, including the National Urban League and the Brookings Institution and a child empowerment organization called Girls Inc.

But I’m particularly proud of the work that we’ve done here in Philadelphia over the last few years around the issue of food insecurity. We actually partner with a couple of different organizations here in Philadelphia that are really focused on tackling this issue of hunger, which has, because of the pandemic, exploded and the challenges and complexities and the need that has arisen here for our fellow Philadelphians and the individuals in the communities around it. And what’s been really cool actually, and John alluded to this, is we’ve had students that have learned some data skills or learned some training on the PORES side and then also went on to do a fellowship with us on the Fox leadership side. And so for example, for one of the students who worked with one of the food insecurity organizations, they used those data science skills that they learned on through their PORES classes and through a PORES fellowship and then applied it in the food insecurity fellowship to help them think through how to be more efficient with their distribution of food resources across the city and also help to leverage the data that they had access to that they weren’t able to visualize previously because no one on the team had those skills. And so what’s really cool is while they are two separate distinct programs, it’s really been fascinating to see the interplay between the two of them and how the skills that we teach on the PORES side are really valuable to anybody that’s working in the nonprofit or public sector spaces as well.

Lia Howard: Andrew, thank you. That’s so really important to hear about the application of theory and tools to real world problems. I’ve spoken to some of your students, and they’re super passionate about the applied work they’ve done in a specific policy arena, so thank you for sharing that. Sandy, I’d like to turn to you. I wonder if you might tell us a bit more about yourself, your role in Fox leadership and PORES or anything else you might add.

Sandy Vogel: Thank you so much, Lia, for this invitation. My background is in civic engagement in higher education, as well as voter education and voter engagement. Prior to Penn, I worked for a few years at Drexel’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, and I actually now still serve as an adjunct instructor for their introduction to civic engagement classes that all first year students take. I’ve been at Penn since October 2019, and I facilitate our PORES student research fellowships, including our programming for fellows and matching students with faculty members and research projects.

I also serve as the advisor for our minor in survey research and data analytics and just started this year as a pre-major advisor for the first year students in the School of Arts and Sciences. For me, for the Fox Leadership Program, I assist with the fellowships along with Andrew, and what stands out to me about the program is the opportunity for students to experience the nonprofit world and really gain a deeper understanding of an organization’s role in the community it serves. I also appreciate that the program is accessible for students of any major or year or school here at Penn while their undergrads, so it’s a great way to get civically engaged during their time here at Penn.

Lia Howard: Sandy, thank you so much for sharing, and your answer feeds right into the next topic that I wanted to discuss with you both. You talked about the community at large, and I’d like to focus in on the Penn community in particular. I’d like to think with you about the Penn community and what it looks like from your vantage point at Fox leadership PORES. You’re experts at capturing national views reflected by polling data, so it’s interesting to think about your perspective here at Penn. So John, can we start with you again? When you think of the Penn community, what comes to mind? In a place as large and diverse as Penn, how do you balance the need for a unified campus, especially in a current pandemic era, with respect for and awareness of the many distinct mini communities? Are there lessons we can take from polling into our understanding of Penn? By that I mean how do we capture Penn’s views on issues, and can we even do that?

John Lapinski: That’s an interesting question, and so, Lia, that’s obviously one of the big things that we do in running the election unit at NBC, and I’ve been at NBC now for a couple of decades now, and we’re always looking at what the nation thinks, usually in terms of elections, but we’ve polled extensively outside of that. And one thing that just came to mind is currently right now in polling, polling has lots of problems. You probably– a lot of people that follow politics are probably aware that the polls have been off over the last couple of election cycles, and there’s a community of people, and my team is sort of at the forefront of this in the nation of trying to figure out, how do we fix polling? How do we– and the problem is that the polls don’t actually accurately represent American public opinion. We know there’s a number of different problems that there are some voices that are basically not being heard in our polls, and that’s why the polls are off. I think that the way I like to think of the Penn community– the Penn community is an extremely diverse community.

And Penn– part of that is institutional. We really want to make sure that we understand where our students are coming from and what’s important to them. And a lot of that in public opinion research is contacting them and talking to them and asking them our opinions. In our world it’s a little bit more about listening and making sure that we understand those voices, making sure that you realize that there’s a number of different communities or groups at Penn that sometimes there are voices in the past maybe haven’t been as heard as they should have been. And it’s our job to make sure that we do hear those. From a polling perspective, some of the problems that we’re facing in polling or some of the challenges that we face at Penn to making sure that we capture all of those voices, and once we’ve captured them, then we make sure that we include that in our thinking about how we best serve students by giving them experiential learning opportunities and providing mentoring opportunities to students.

And with the goal, obviously, of– with a goal in mind, and that goal in mind, at least from my perspective, is to make students more public service-oriented, even though we don’t have the illusion that every student, certainly not every student, actually even most students at Penn are not going to actually end up going into public service, whether that be in the government sector or the nonprofit sector. But I think that what we want to make sure to do is we give them opportunities to explore new things. And also to have dialogue with each other, and we need to bring everybody together. And I think that again, how you do that is that you make sure that people are respected, and you make sure that you understand their perspectives and include that in the conversations that are going on inside our programs, particularly within Fox.

Lia Howard: John, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate you connecting views, people’s views, and capturing views to ways that we can better serve them and include them in the larger conversation. I really appreciate that way of thinking. Andrew, would you add anything here, and what does it look like at the big vision level and also then at the programming level?

Andrew Arenge: Yeah, no, absolutely. Just to build off of a little bit what John was saying, I think we very much hold ourselves responsible and see our role on campus to allow students to see all of the things that they could eventually do with their Penn degree. I think that as we think about what the Penn community is, and particularly for the undergrads, I think that there’s some pressure or some expectation, having the number one business school here in the country on our campus, is that there at times is in a quote unquote “acceptable” or ideal career that some students come in thinking about and striving towards. And there’s nothing wrong with ending up in finance or consulting, but I see it as our job to push students to think beyond that and at least think about all of the other things that they can do with their Penn career as well. And so myself and Sandy and our colleagues, both on the PORES and Fox side, do spend a lot of time mentoring students and talking to them and trying to connect them with these opportunities just so that they can see what it’s like to be able to work on the inside of a nonprofit or a public sector organization, see actually how understaffed at times they are.

See, I can’t tell you the number of students that have shared with me over the years how great it is to work at a place where everyone’s super mission driven and everyone’s dedicated to trying to solve the issue of food insecurity, or this past summer in the pandemic, some of our colleagues that worked at the National Urban League were working on issues related to vaccine hesitancy and access to health resources in underserved communities. And they were blown away with how dedicated everybody within those organizations were to try and solve these issues. And it becomes really valuable when– just for students to be able to see what that looks like from the inside, but also get to work one on one with these local leaders or national leaders or folks that are really at the forefront of trying to see what is possible. And kind of dedicate themselves to these broader, really challenging issues and see with all the issues and kind of challenges that those leaders wrestle with on a daily basis, both from a bureaucratic perspective, but just from an organizational perspective.

And there is a perception at times that one of the goals is to try and get things done as efficiently as possible, and I always reflect back on this conversation I had with a student a few summers ago who said that he initially came in and thought that that was the goal in all of this, but he quickly realized that if you’re going to try and do it efficiently, ultimately you’re going to end up doing it alone. But there’s actually– if you’re not attempting to maximize efficiency, and you’re trying to build consensus, and you’re trying to build community, and you’re trying to build people to get involved and be on the same board with a vision and with an ultimate goal and with a pathway forward. That’s going to take time, and so there’s often this pressure, particularly with people that are more from a business mindset, that efficiency or profitability is what we’re driving towards. And when you end up working in the nonprofit or public sector space, that actually isn’t necessarily always the driving edict that actually getting people on the same page and getting consensus and getting buy-in from lots of different diverse community members and diverse organizations becomes super important.

And so allowing students to partake in that process and have a hand in that process and see firsthand the challenges associated with it but also what’s possible when you go down that pathway I think becomes super important, both as we think about being members of here in our Penn community, but they’re also members of our Philadelphia community and our Pennsylvania communities and beyond that as well. And so I think it’s our job to push students to think about what is community, right, what are the communities that they’re apart of and what is the impact or the perspective that they want to try and gain while they’re here for only a short four years before they go off to other things that are potentially outside of this localized community that we have here at Penn.

Lia Howard: Andrew, that’s so interesting. I really appreciate how you talked about introducing Penn students to other organizational cultures so they can interrogate Penn’s culture and view of community in relation to these other examples of culture that might be more mission driven or focused on solving a concrete problem and how this can inform Penn’s community and culture. I appreciate that idea so much. Sandy, what would you add? As you are relatively new to Penn, what have you learned about the Penn community and about Penn students and Penn culture?

Sandy Vogel: Although I’ve worked here a little over two years, I actually haven’t experienced a full semester on campus because of the pandemic. So in a lot of ways, I still feel really new to Penn. What I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced, both virtually and the limited time I’ve had in person about Penn and the culture, I think the Penn community is unique in the diverse opportunities and resources available to students for really pursuing their passions, whether it be in research, activism, art service, or any other lane they might want to explore. And over the time I’ve worked here, I get to talk to a lot of students who are trying new things and will cross over into other lanes in an effort to find community and find themselves. While I think exploration and discovery is really a key component of any college experience, at Penn, what’s also unique is you have access to so many different resources, like Fox leadership, like PORES, or like the Paideia Program, and these programs can provide supports for you and also challenge you to go further in these different interests, and over the time I’ve been here it’s just an incredible opportunity to learn from our students and hear about all the different things that they’re experiencing and exploring while they try to figure out what they might want to do long term.

Lia Howard: Well thank you, Sandy. I agree with you. We have so many wonderful students doing really wonderful and interesting engaged work, and along those lines, current Penn senior Kaitlyn Rentala has just published a book entitled The Public Sector Pivot: How Gen Z will Lead a Renaissance in Public Service. She argues in this book powerfully that Gen Z is motivated to work within the different levels of government in a way that distinguishes them as a generation. When I was in graduate school, the research said that political participation among the young was in steep decline, yet now it seems that young people are engaged in all sorts of civic engagement, from letter writing to marching in protests, to voting and voicing their opinions. Young people like Greta Thunberg around environmental action and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Parkland, Florida around gun violence are engaging in issues and inspiring others along their generation to do the same.

John, what kinds of practices do you use already at Fox leadership and PORES to work with students around their interest in political government? Going forward, what other practices would you like to maybe introduce or maybe new practices you’d like to bring in, or what would you like to continue to build that vibrant and inclusive community at Penn?

John Lapinski: So one of the things that’s been great is that we have and what we’ve tried to do is to show the students is we built a very diverse group of people that are affiliated with Fox and PORES. We have many faculty members from not just within political science, but from across the university, that contribute, and we’ve also been very purposeful and as we built out opportunities that we make sure that students work together in groups and really are able to where we take some of these, as you had said, some of these more micro communities at Penn, that we try really hard to make sure that we can service as many of them as possible, bring as many of them into Fox because obviously we want a very diverse group of students. But we also want those students. We see those students as real contributors. The more we’re able to pull from these really, as you talked about public opinion polling you get, what you really want to make sure is you get a representative sample, and you want to make sure not just that you’re calling in a public opinion poll those people that are a representative sample, but you’re actually talking to them and you’re getting them to participate.

What we’re just, again, trying to do is give as many opportunities where we can bring people together of different perspectives and with different talents and have them work towards common goals and when they’re working towards those common goals, sometimes those other differences that might exist, sometimes they disappear. Or if they don’t disappear because we’re not necessarily– they shouldn’t necessarily disappear, people at least understand the perspectives of others and I think when you actually get to know someone, even if they hold different beliefs than you, oftentimes you end up really valuing them once you get to know them as individuals. And that I think has a lot of ability or I think that will go a long way in us all achieving the goal of trying to make the world a better place.

Lia Howard: John, that’s so fascinating, and I love how you said– you used the concept of representative sample, which is such a great way of thinking about bringing in all different kinds of people, especially those who have a shared goal and they’re working towards something else, so that trust is established and they’re able to connect and then try to hear each other better and understand each other. Again, so many alignments between the SNF Paideia programs. So thank you for everything you shared. Andrew, what might you add to this conversation?

Andrew Arenge: So I see it as our responsibility to help students think about if they’re going to engage in politics publicly why, right? And what’s the goal of it and how to do it authentically, but also not to simply just limit them to that kind of public display that– and push their thinking beyond that and what are the other kind of levers that they can pull. The other big thing that I wrestle with a lot that I talked to the students about a lot as well is that we have students that would like to go into public service or into the government at some point and really, they come in with this expectation that in order to do that moving and working in Washington D.C. is the place to do that. Well that’s a fantastic place to engage, and there’s tons of organizations or working on the hill or think tanks or whatnot that are in D.C. I often try and push students to think beyond just working in D.C. And thinking about what it would look like if you were to work say at Harrisburg or Trenton, or even frankly here in Philadelphia or in a local community.

And that the need of having really excellent amazing skillful people at all levels of government, no matter if it’s in Washington D.C. or if it’s at the local level as well, and really trying to push their thinking as to where they can have the biggest impact. Because often in an environment like D.C., you are very much a small fish in a very, very, very big pond, where if you’re more involved say in the city of Philadelphia, you can actually have a substantive impact on the lives of your neighbors and fellow community members here in the city. And so I think thinking about positionality within the system and where students can have the biggest impact, whether it’s in that system, working as a bureaucrat or someone that’s working in the government system, or you’re outside that system as either an activist or a community member or simply just a voter or someone who’s writing a letter, thinking about what are the different levers that you can pull, depending on what position you end up in, both currently and in the future.

Lia Howard: Andrew, thank you for that idea of a practice as a kind of a one on one relationship that you’re building as opposed to a great big public stance and then getting students to see the value of local government engagement. Many of the things you all have shared about the work students are doing in nonprofits and in local government around very specific policy issues are so interesting to orient students towards those important places so that they can get some experience real life and think about the world differently. Really cool. Sandy, what might you add to this conversation?

Sandy Vogel: Yeah, I think in terms of political engagement, beyond what Andrew and John have talked about, I also really try to facilitate opportunities for our students, particularly our PORES research fellows, to discuss formally and informally how the news and current events are them. I really think we’re here to build a community of research, but also of wellness, care, and reflection. So for example, formally in June of 2020, I convened our PORES research fellows for a discussion about the role of research in social change and also give us a chance to kind of reflect on how academia can improve diversity in terms of what sources get read in the classroom, who’s teaching classes and hosting those discussions, and then also what sources we relied upon in our own lives to push our thinking outside of a formal academic environment. And afterwards we all shared different resources that we had been reading, from podcasts to documentaries to TV shows even and different books and articles.

And I think discussions and resource sharing opportunities like that can really help bridge gaps between theory and practice, as well as encourage students to see how they can hold different roles, like being a student, being a researcher, and being an activist, and how they can hold all those roles really simultaneously. And I think the work we do just doesn’t happen in a vacuum, especially when we talk about PORES and Fox leadership, we’re thinking about politics and social issues, and so as faculty and staff, how can we open up opportunities for students to really engage with social issues, politics, or current events, not only in their role as a fellow, but also as members of the Penn community, as members even at the Philly community and as citizens of the world? How can we encourage students to go further and reflect on what they’re doing in their formal roles and then think about what they’re doing outside their fellowship or outside the classroom setting.

Lia Howard: Very interesting, Sandy. Thanks so much for that sharing that practice of getting students to think about how their sources can be more inclusive and to resource share and also getting students to think about practice and theory and how they can work together and what the purpose of research is, so interesting. Along the lines of reflection, I’d love to ask you just a final question here, so the past year and a half have been deeply challenging, we’re living through a pandemic, which has altered the way we live and work. We’ve been exposed to tragedies like the murder of George Floyd and chilling acts of anti-Asian bias, yet we’ve witnessed widespread protest marches where people of all races have joined together to decry these deep injustices. We’ve experienced political toxicity, polarization, and even an insurrection on our Capitol building in Washington D.C., yet we’ve also seen a record amount of voting and political participation.

All of these things have influenced the way we as US citizens think about our US community and have rippled out to affect the way we think about Penn as well. In short, living in community is both challenging and invigorating, deeply painful at times, yet deeply rewarding. We want to examine with you what are some of the challenges and joys of your work at Penn and within the Penn community. So John, what are some of the things that have been challenging this year and what have been some of the things that have brought you joy, hope, and encouragement?

John Lapinski: Yeah, I mean I think the things that you said were all challenges. It was a traumatic experience in some ways to actually run the decision desk at NBC News and have to watch what was unfolding in the country, as we were– as the integrity of our democracy was challenged by many. The year– it was a crazy year, even from a decision desk perspective, when we were making the projection on those runoffs in Georgia, we didn’t, when we actually projected the race, which was one of the most important races that I projected in my career at NBC News because it was going to make such a difference of having unified Democratic government what President Biden would be able to accomplish. It didn’t even make air immediately because the Capitol was under siege, and so, who could have ever imagined a world where those types of things would actually be happening?

And so in some ways it was just a real surreal experience, and we’ve all have either suffered individual loss or we know people who have suffered loss and have people that have gone through horrific things in their personal lives because of COVID and some because of some of the other tragic events that happened in the country. So from my perspective, this year was just unlike no other, and at least in my life, so but that even though that there were a lot of things going on that were clearly not good, I think that for me the hope and the encouragement is that you saw amazing– and I saw it in the Penn community. I saw it with individuals that were faculty members and students and staff where people really sort of came together because oftentimes crisis brings people together, where when people realize it’s more than what’s about themselves, it’s about it’s about bigger things. And I think that that’s when people I think that you can oftentimes see the best in people under those circumstances. And you can also see how strong people are. And so for me it gave me encouragement that even though we’re facing amazingly challenging times, that there’s still a lot of hope out there and that the future can be bright.

Lia Howard: Thanks so much, John, for sharing. Yeah, I agree with you. Seeing people come together in really powerful ways has been the fruit of this challenging time. Andrew, how about you? How would you respond to that question?

Andrew Arenge: As I think about what’s been challenging over the past year just professionally, right, Sandy and I have really spent a lot of time thinking through how do you develop community and a virtual space, right? So we have a number of students that work for us across our various different programs, and we’ve really tried to think critically about OK, they’ve never met one another. They’ve only experienced or interacted with one another through Zoom or online. What are the ways that we can potentially attempt to build community among all of them so that they can rely on one another and get to know one another even better, and what’s been interesting is we were successful in some ways with that. We were challenged in other ways, but a lot of that– some of those practices, we’ve now been able to bring with us now that we’re back in person and are continuing to build on that as well.

I think the pandemic has also given me a real opportunity to really reflect on just the intentionality of all of our work and really trying to push my own thinking and our collective thinking about the kind of assumptions that we had about all of the work that we’re doing prior to the pandemic and how– what we should continue doing, what we might want to tweak in the way that we operate, particularly in an online environment. But I think the other thing from a challenge perspective that the pandemic has really ameliorated for me is this idea that while we may be focused on our local communities and the immediate impact of the pandemic here at Penn or in Philadelphia or even in our country, the fact that this is a pandemic that has actually impacted the entire globe in often really unequal ways. So my sister is working on getting her PhD over in the UK, but was hoping to do some research in Botswana and in some other– had the opportunity to live in southern and eastern Africa for a few different years prior to the pandemic.

And so I’ve followed very closely how the pandemic has impacted those communities in particular. And so I know that we are often focused on some of the domestic complexities here about vaccine hesitancy. I’m also trying to challenge myself just to think beyond our immediate borders, so that we can recognize and also acknowledge just how challenging this pandemic has been for all of the other communities outside of those that maybe we immediately associate with or belong to. But in terms of hopefulness, I think I’m on the same page as John.

I think I have been impressed and delighted by all of the resilience that I think that I’ve seen, both among the students that we’ve worked with and our colleagues here at Penn, but also members of both the broader community and also the broader Philadelphia community and national community as well. It’s been a challenging year between that the craziness of the election and all of the other news events that have happened as well as then this unseen threat, the virus be out there as well. And I think that we’ve all risen to the occasion collectively, and I really think that this helps us really push our thinking in terms of living in an individualistic society versus a communal society and the impact that all of our individual choices have on those around us, both to help us stay safe in light of the pandemic. But also I’d be curious to see kind of what lessons we’re all able to take from this once we’re out of it, hopefully in a little bit of time, and see which ones of those lessons will stick with us collectively as we continue forward.

Lia Howard: Andrew, that’s a great point. We’ve got lots more reflecting to do on this time period, but yeah, I like the word resilience you used and I agree with you. Sandy how about you? How would you respond to this question?

Sandy Vogel: I think adding on to what Andrew said, building a community amongst our students and faculty and staff while everyone was virtual was so important to combat the feelings of isolation and also encourage new connections among our programs, and what was the most challenging aspect of that was finding ways to open up the informal communication beyond our scheduled Zoom meetings which usually had more of a formal agenda. And so for informal communication, we really tried through Slack, Zoom social gatherings, or playing games over the internet, or when it became safe to do so, we started doing some outdoor socially distant meetups for students who were around campus. But to open up those informal communications, which made our formal meetings more fun and help students also feel empowered to reach out to each other beyond what we were just doing.

So whether it was some of our PORES fellows who then joined together to make a team for our virtual hackathon that we had that was open to all students. We did that both in 2020 and 2021. That informal communication side was something that usually can only happen in person when you’re walking across campus and run into someone or you stop into office hours. So for us that most challenging aspect was finding new ways to open up informal communication lines amongst our faculty, staff, and students. I think what’s still a challenge is to acknowledge the incredible hardships many communities are still facing, the ongoing pandemic, and also many difficult current events, while also being thankful for the exciting moments we’re experiencing.

I try to give myself permission and I think it’s important to give our students in our communities permission to hold all these different and sometimes really contradictory emotions at once. For instance even amongst the pandemic that’s still going on, it brings me a lot of joy to return to campus and see so many students and colleagues for the first time. So being able to hold those two things at once. But it is really exciting to feel more connected to the Penn community now that we’ve returned to campus, and I’m excited to be able to foster some new relationships with different campus partners and students that I’ve never had a chance to meet before.

Lia Howard: Well thank you, Sandy, and thank you so much to our guests today. We’re so happy to be partners with you, and we’ve enjoyed our time with you and are so grateful for the ways you serve and care for the Penn community. Thank you.

Please join us on November 9 as we visit with the Andrea Mitchell center to learn about their thoughts on the Penn community and the practices they use to sustain their work here.

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