Taking classes during dinnertime is difficult. And getting to class for second semester seniors might be the toughest — especially if the courses aren’t credit-bearing. But none of these conditions has prevented Penn Perspectives from thriving.
Founded by Wharton senior Nicole Granet and Wharton and Engineering senior Monica Wojciechowski, Penn Perspectives addresses “an incredible dilemma of too many amazing professors and too many amazing classes and not enough time [for Penn students to take advantage of all of them],” Granet said. The initiative, which is piloting this semester, offers students from all four undergraduate schools the opportunity to attend a lecture every Wednesday evening given by one of Penn’s highly esteemed professors.
Professors were picked based on student preferences, which were expressed in applications to the program. Students were required to include the names of the most influential professors they’d had throughout their Penn careers — they had to write “thank you” notes to them as well — in addition to the names of those from whom they’d still like to learn.
Professor rankings on Penn Course Review were also taken into consideration.
Participants had to apply to join the program during the fall exam period. More than 100 seniors were chosen from all four undergraduate schools, with a breakdown proportional to the Penn population in each of the schools.
Lectures generally emphasize professors’ research disciplines — which range from modernist poetry (English professor Al Filreis) to methods for developing competitive advantage (marketing professor Peter Fader) — which students seem to prefer over “general life advice” according to the feedback they provide following each session, Wojciechowski said.
Much of the time, however, professors embed information about the paths they took to identify and pursue their passions in their research-oriented lectures, a process in which many students expressed interest in their applications to the program, Granet said.
Frequently, the lectures transcend disciplines and allow listeners to extract a universally meaningful message. College senior Randi Kramer, a Penn Perspectives participant and former 34th Street editor, praised a recent lecture called “What is Success? You Get To Decide?” by Wharton professor G. Richard Shell for its ability to resonate with all of the attendees, who come from “such different walks of life.”
Penn Perspectives is the first of its kind in terms of scale and size at Penn. Every year the Wharton Undergraduate Division works with the Wharton Council to organize one lecture called “The Business of Life” given by a professor that is open to the wider Penn community, said Lori Rosenkopf, the faculty sponsor for Penn Perspectives and the vice dean and director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division.
Programs similar to Penn Perspectives are already popular at other universities. The University of Virginia offers a credit-bearing course named “The Best of UVA: A Collection of Unforgettable Lectures” that seeks to “broaden students’ perspectives and perceptions of the world around us,” according to its website. Wojciechowski noted that she learned about UVA’s program from a friend who attends the school, which was part of what inspired her to create the program at Penn.
Rosenkopf is hopeful that Penn Perspectives will continue after Granet and Wojciechowski graduate. The program is modified after each session in response to student feedback.
“It’s this love letter, this valentine, to seniors, from Penn, so why wouldn’t we want it to continue?” she said.
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