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Diana Zhou and other employees at the non-profit Art-Reach gathered with members at the Philadelphia Ballet. | Courtesy of Diana Zhou

It only took Engineering junior Sarah Poehlmann a 15 minute bike ride every morning to see the dramatic shift from Penn’s idyllic campus to the multi-unit row houses of West Philadelphia.

Poehlmann is among a small number of Penn students who interned at a Philadelphia nonprofit last summer. Her early morning commute this past summer took her from 39th Street to her internship at LIFT, a local nonprofit. According to the University’s Career Plans Survey Report for the Class of 2014, only 5 percent of full-time employed students go into the nonprofit sector.

College junior Mira Nathanson, who also interned at LIFT, said that her internship allowed her to pursue her interest in policy and inequality.

“LIFT gave me a really great opportunity to build a partnership with members of the local community and help them get out of poverty,” Nathanson said.

Some students also valued that many of these local Philadelphia nonprofits were smaller in size than corporations where some of their peers interned.

This past summer, College sophomore Bryan Rodriguez interned at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, a nonprofit granting legal assistance to low-income individuals.

Rodriguez said working in a more intimate setting allowed him to take on greater responsibility.

“At PLA, I really had a role in the community, which is very different from the sort of experience I would have had working at a large law firm,” he said.

College sophomore Diana Zhou, who interned at Art-Reach, also mentioned the benefits of working in a small non-profit.

“I feel like a lot of people, especially at large companies, have experiences where you are kind of cogs in a machine,” Zhou said. “But since Art-Reach was so small, I really felt like I was making a tangible change.”

The most valuable experience for all these students, however, was their involvement in the local Philadelphia community. College junior Bridget Amoako said that she stepped out of her comfort zone when working at the Nationalities Service Center with local refugees.

Zhou added that working with disability patients at Art-Reach made her feel part of the Philadelphia community.

“Being able to see the people of Philadelphia who aren’t just here for four year made me feel a lot more like the city was my home outside of being a temporary student,” she said.

After interning for nonprofits, some students have expressed interest in eventually working for one. And although others plan to take different career paths, they view their nonprofit internship as a defining experience.

“I think as Penn students, we’re so focused on how to be an investment banker and how to be a consultant that we forget that so much of college is learning how to be a person,” Poehlmann said. “I think working at LIFT gave me a valuable balance to my engineering classes and my Penn experience.”

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