EngagePerspectivesReflecting on the First Semester of the SNF Paideia Fellows Program
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Reflecting on the First Semester of the SNF Paideia Fellows Program

The inaugural cohort of SNF Paideia Fellows have successfully concluded their first-year seminar, kicking off what will be a three-year study on dialogue across difference. The creativity and commitment of the Fellows exceeded expectations, as they engaged actively with diverse arguments about the role of civil discourse and as they adopted thoughtful approaches to strengthen dialogue, wellness, service, and citizenship at Penn and beyond. During the seminar, the Fellows approached the course material from a wide variety of disciplines, resulting in robust class discussions and diverse applications of the course content.

Stack of books

Students discovered connections between their academic interests and SNF Paideia themes through course assignments and conversations. “When we designed the first-year seminar, we intentionally wanted to expose our students to the major ideas embedded in the SNF Paideia program, namely dialogue across difference as supported by attention to wellness, service and citizenship,” according to Dr. Leah Anderson, course co-instructor. “We spent time focusing on each theme before pivoting to students creating their own projects that incorporate at least one of those focus areas. ” Fellows explored their personal priorities by taking Stanford University’s Pathways to Public Service survey. This tool helped students identify the forms of civic engagement best suited to their skill set and passions. For example, Angelina Oh realized that her interests in business and service, which had often seemed disconnected, could be integrated through the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. She shared:

Through the Fellows proseminar, I began to dive into the world of impact investing and realized the possibility to combine my career interest in finance and my passion for civic engagement, social justice, and environmental awareness. I never expected the SNF Paideia Fellows program to clarify the internal conflict I was having with my professional interests, but it did that and more. With guidance from the proseminar instructors, I discovered the intersection of business and social impact and now have a clearer sense of my path forward.

The Fellows have a wide spectrum of interests and were given liberty to apply the themes of the SNF Paideia program creatively. From medicine and AI to Philosophy and theater, the Fellows demonstrated the SNF Paideia pillars can be applied to a broad range of fields. Angelina Oh and Odyssia Sifounaki focused their final projects on corporate social responsibility. “This semester’s proseminar introduced us to the pathway of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and underscored the importance of engaging in dialogue across differences. With the carefully crafted curriculum of the proseminar, we were able to identify and combine these key concepts to create a program/workshop that allows us to engage the Penn community, as well as the broader Philadelphia community, in meaningful conversations regarding the importance of sustainable and socially conscious practices in the corporate world. As fellows in the Paideia program, we hope to utilize both its wide network and extensive resources to execute our vision and help our generation see the necessity of combining ethical practices with business.”

Graphic from Fellows Presentation
Slide from Thriaksh Rajan’s SNF Paideia Civic Project Pitch: Assessing Quality of Life in Botswana

The Seminar also emphasized community-building and well-being.  The Fellows built relationships with each other through active Canvas discussions and regular Zoom breakout rooms where they could engage deeply with course content and issues related to their own academic and professional development. Course co-instructor and SNF Paideia Program Wellness Director, Dr. Lia Howard shared, “I appreciated how the SNF Paideia fellows embraced our wellness exercises. Each class session included an experiential component, emphasizing a different type of wellness. Students were responsive to participating in a wide variety of practices aimed at developing wellness at both the individual and community level.” Dr. Howard and Dr. Anderson made it a priority to meet individually with students 3-4 times during the semester. “In these meetings we used focused questions to help students start applying course themes to their individual interests.  These meetings were also more casual opportunities to get to know our students.  We have an incredible group of fellows and we are excited to learn with them over the next 2 ½ years” said Dr. Lia Howard.

Unlike a normal university class, the first-year seminar is only the beginning of the SNF Paideia Fellows experience. The synergy and dynamism created by this fall semester’s proseminar  will continue to be nurtured and developed through special events, networking opportunities, course work, and mentorship. The SNF Paideia team looks forward to following the first group of Fellows on their journey and welcoming a new cohort in the Fall of 2021. If you are a Freshman interested in learning more about the Fellows program, please visit https://snfpaideia.upenn.edu/fellowships/ and contact us at info@snfpaideia.upenn.edu if you have any questions. The next application round will open the first week of February.

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