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2012 fall columnists Credit: Justin Cohen , Yessenia Gutierrez

When it comes to extracurricular activities at Penn, the overwhelming mentality is to get involved from the start, stay involved and rise through an organization’s ranks until we’re in a position to make the most difference.

While this is a potentially noble goal, this structure manufactures students who miss out on a lot of opportunities on campus and around the city.

Even before we set foot on Locust Walk, the Penn supplement asks us to imagine how we’ll make our mark on campus.

When I was in high school, I remember spending a significant amount of time on the Kelly Writers House website, reading about all the publications and clubs it hosts. On my application, I explained how even though I wanted to become a vet, I would be involved with the Writers House.

So freshman year I attended a monthly Writers House Hub meeting, where students and community members discussed events for the coming year. But instead of feeling excited, I felt overwhelmed and untalented next to all of the incredible creative types that the Writers House attracts.

I left the meeting without getting involved in anything.

I’m sure that’s exactly the opposite of what members of the Writers House were hoping to achieve. Every center and organization on campus aims to recruit freshmen that will take on an active role in the years to come.

Cultural centers on campus do so by providing a safe space for their constituents. Centers that serve minority groups on campus — such as La Casa Latina, the Pan-Asian American Community House, Makuu, the LGBT Center and the Women’s Center — tailor their programming to the specific interests of their groups.

For students involved in the Greenfield Intercultural Center, it serves as “a home away from home,” Associate Director Vanessa Iyua explained.

Students often stop by in between classes to hang out with each other and talk to staff members.

However, from the outside looking in, these established communities can seem intimidating. Especially if (like me) you weren’t brave enough to venture in during freshman year, but are instead drawn in as an upperclassman looking for something new.

2005 College graduate Jamie-Lee Josselyn, the associate director for Recruitment at the Writers House has a possible solution.

Although she spent her freshman and sophomore vaguely associated with the Writers House, it was not until her junior year that she realized she wanted to feel more integrated into the community. That’s when she began sitting on the illustrious green couch in the house’s living room every day in between classes.

There must be something to the method, because she has entered her eighth year as a staff member of the center.

Some of the best choices I have made at Penn have been based on off-the-cuff, “why-not?” decisions. Last year, I impulsively responded to a request for “translation volunteers” that I saw on a student group’s newsletter — one of many that I subscribe to. This seemingly insignificant email led to me volunteering with the Media Mobilizing Project and my current work-study position as a communications intern.

During the beginning of each school year, we are all involved in making sure freshmen know what’s what on campus. We want them to know about our club, our major, our leadership opportunities. Yet most of us don’t know half of what occurs at Penn.

Of course, this is no easy task — with the number of groups and events on campus, it would be a full-time job learning about all of them.

This year, like the past two years, I spent almost an hour meandering through the Student Activities Fair. Sure, I was more discerning this year, but still ended up with a nice stack of flyers and publications to take home.

Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is “Yessi Can” appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites

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