Viraj Patel, the former associate director of the Pan-Asian American Community House, will now serve as house dean of Harnwell College House.
After four and a half years as PAACH associate director, Patel has left the cultural resource center to become Harnwell house dean. As house dean, Patel will supervise Harnwell programming, provide residents with guidance, and serve as a pre-major advisor to roughly forty students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Patel has worked with multicultural and Asian-American groups since her time as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chapaign. She went on to complete her Master of Education at the University of Vermont and is currently pursuing a doctorate in higher education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education.
Patel started her first position at Penn as PAACH associate director in January 2015. She served as the lead advisor for PAACH student groups such as the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, Promoting Enriching Experiences & Relationships Mentoring Program, Spice Collective, Asian Students Promoting Identity, Reflection, and Education, and the South Asian Women’s Space.
Rising Wharton junior and PEER Chair Melisa Lee said Patel was a source of encouragement and advice for nearly every student involved in the PAACH community.
“When I was applying [for PEER Chair], Viraj told me she was very happy and she believed in me, and I think that made me realize how conscious she is of everything that’s going on," Lee said.
Patel applied for the house dean position at Harnwell after seeing the open position on the College House and Academic Services website. She said she enjoys working at Penn and felt that "it was time" to expand and seek new opportunities at the University.
“I also partnered with CHAS in the past within my role at PAACH, and I always had a really positive experience," Patel said. "So I knew a little about CHAS and was excited to be a part of that community as well."
Patel is currently learning about Harnwell’s history and culture, as well as getting to know its student body. Patel added she looks forward to collaborating with PAACH in the future.
Rising College senior Kamal Gill, who is also the chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, said Patel's work at PAACH makes her well-suited for her new role as house dean.
“A house dean has to have a vision and ideas of how they want the community to look like and how they want the community to feel," Gill said. "Viraj has repeatedly shown that she has great skills in community building.”
Lee said Patel called her into the PAACH office to personally deliver the news that she would be accepting the house dean position and to advise Lee on plans moving forward. Lee said she was "very touched" that Patel made the time to talk with her individually and have a "heart-to-heart conversation."
Patel said her favorite part of working at PAACH was connecting with students and the Penn community.
"The students were the reason I woke up in the morning, why I was always excited to come into work," Patel said.
Patel hopes to continue interacting with students and facilitating genuine relationships within the student community as Harnwell's house dean.
"I’m deeply proud of the work I did at PAACH, and I think that there is significant alignment between the work I was doing there and the work I will be doing now in the house dean position,” Patel said. “Ultimately, we are here to support students and to focus on wellness as well as education and co-curricular involvement."
Although Patel will no longer be PAACH associate director, Lee found comfort knowing Patel's new job will require her to relocate to Lee's college house.
“Viraj has been very kind in that even though her title won’t be associate director of PAACH anymore, she has reminded me that she’ll be present and only a couple floors away from me at Harnwell,” Lee said. “Viraj is always there to guide you, and she’s taught me many things.”
Patel added, "I see my work as house dean as a new challenge, but it’s still about connecting with the student population I love working with."
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