With more than half of 2016 graduates joining three lucrative fields — finance, consulting and technology — it might come as a surprise that the top three employers of Penn graduates last year were Penn and the University of Pennsylvania's Health Systems.
Career Services data over the past six years consistently lists Penn as one of the top employers for recent Penn graduates: for every year since 2010, 16 to 43 students have been employed full-time by the University. This is not counting the many other students who juggle part-time work at Penn with other jobs.
When 2015 College graduate Isaac Silber donned his graduation cap and gown, he had already accepted one job and would soon go on to add two more.
Silber, who graduated with an English major and jazz and popular music studies minor, is now a research assistant to a Penn ethnomusicologist, program coordinator for Penn First-Generation and Low-Income Students and a poetry and percussion instructor for ArtWell, a nonprofit arts organization that partners with Philadelphia students .
Silber's work with the FGLI program involves “facilitat[ing] a lot of the communication between [FGLI] students and the University.” He’s also responsible for keeping the food pantry stocked at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, where the FGLI program is housed, and helping students purchase their textbooks within their budgets.
Silber said he landed this position in the program by “sort of being in the right place at the right time.” As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow during his undergraduate time at Penn, Silber became familiar with Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, vice provost for university life, who helped house Penn First at the Greenfield Intercultural Center. He asked if there was a position open for FGLI advocacy work, and he got the job.
Silber said he hopes to continue his education at some point. He aspires to earn a doctorate degree in ethnomusicology, which he described as the study of “what music does to our material world." His research assistantship job grew out of his senior thesis work for the same professor.
Patricia Rose, director of Career Services, said research assistantships are the most popular positions recent graduates take, many of whom hope to spend a year or two taking a break from school or enroll in graduate school courses free of charge.
Sheila Shankar, a 2016 College graduate of the Biological Basis of Behavior and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies programs, has decided that she wants to go to graduate school and is leaning towards clinical psychology. Shankar works as a research coordinator in the Brain Behavior Lab, the same place where she completed two semesters of an independent BBB research project while she was an undergraduate at Penn.
Shankar's reasons to continue work at the lab were largely pragmatic — she said she only applied to the position during her job search because it was a “safe and convenient” choice. She cited Penn’s employee benefits and the comfort of living on a College campus, which has easy access to resources like libraries. Shankar also appreciated that working at Penn would provide an easier transition from college life to the outside world.
Tiffany Young, a 2016 College graduate who majored in criminology, works in the same Penn research lab that she started at as a junior through a work-study job. Young is conducting research on orthopedic surgery while she prepares for the MCAT. Like Shankar, she cited the employee benefits that Penn offers, which include healthcare, dental care and vision care.
Most Penn pupils-turned-professionals seem to land their jobs through connections made while studying at the University.
Ben Bolnick, 2016 College graduate who majored in psychology, received an offer for a job created for him on the spot by McCollum, to be the Student Wellness Communication Consultant. It happened at a brunch with administrators, after sharing his experiences as the Penn Hillel Wellness founder at a mental wellness forum. He was originally considering working for AmeriCorp.
Bolnick’s role, which is part-time, is to act as a liaison between University initiatives and student groups to promote mental wellness among student groups. He also works part-time as a psychology researcher for a mobile application known as vivovii, designed to promote positive decision-making and wellness practices for its users.
The University position was scheduled to last only for a year, since Bolnick originally intended to matriculate at Penn Law School after his gap year. However, Bolnick's experience working with students might change this career trajectory.
“I’ve actually fallen in love with the job. I love working in student affairs and working on student wellness programming so there’s a chance that I’ll work in a similar role at another university next year,” he said, adding that he was undecided if he still wanted to pursue law.
For some Penn graduates however, working for Penn is a long-term commitment. Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, University Chaplain Chaz Howard and Associate Director of the Fox Leadership Program Chuck Brutsche are all Penn alumni who have continued to work for their alma mater after graduation.
2009 College graduate Charles Carroll could follow in their footsteps. Carroll, who was a sociology major, began his career in the Penn Athletics Department, starting as a Penn athletic ticket office sales representative and worked his way up to assistant development officer of Penn Champions Club, his current job. Along the way, he earned his master’s degree in sports management at Drexel University.
Other graduates take up jobs at Penn while waiting for opportunities in other fields.
Jordan Holmes, a 2015 College graduate and architecture major, became the assistant director of student volunteers for Penn Admissions. after graduation. As a student, he held a work-study position in Admissions and was a tour guide for Kite and Key Society. As a staff member, he oversaw Kite and Key, read applications and helped plan Quaker Days.
Holmes stayed at Penn for 11 months after graduation though he has since found a job as an architect. Holmes said that while he was content at Penn, "[he] would’ve been very upset had [he] not at least tried to do something in [his] field.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.