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The Netter Center, on the corner of 39th and Chestnut Streets Credit: Emily Xu

Students at Penn are often involved in an immense number of meaningful activities ranging from academic research to sports, the arts, and many more. Yet, there is one vital component of their education that many undergraduates remain unaware of: civic engagement, a transformative activity, which, at Penn, is offered through the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, an organization dedicated to fostering meaningful partnerships between Penn and West Philadelphia. 

The journeys of two Penn students — 2022 College graduate Luke Coleman and Engineering senior Jessica Ford — show how involvement with Netter can enhance your Penn experience, mold your career goals, and evolve your personal beliefs. 

“I had an experience my freshman year that wasn’t what I wanted to get out of Penn, so I came back [the year after] with a desire to get more involved with the community,” Coleman said. As a consequence, Coleman joined the Silverman Fellows program — one of the Netter Center’s various University-assisted community school partnerships — during his sophomore year. Coleman utilized the program to provide writing tutoring to students at Paul Robeson High School three times each week. He described the experience as fun and rewarding, offering deep gratitude for having an opportunity to learn and grow outside of the “Penn bubble.” 

During the summer of 2020, Coleman continued his involvement by interning with the Penn Program for Public Service, through which he authored a research paper on how to effectively prepare and train Penn undergraduates to engage with the larger West Philadelphia community. 

“It was the first time I felt like I actually had any sense of agency or control in terms of altering something about society,” Coleman reflected. This internship was “one of, if not the most, impactful” academic experiences that he had at Penn. 

Coleman’s work with the Netter Center helped inform his post-graduate aspirations. He graduated from Penn with a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Madrid. His time with the Netter Center influenced his desire to eventually attend law school before landing a career within the civil or human rights sectors.  

Similar to Coleman, Ford also became involved with community partnerships via Netter by joining the Penn Program for Public Service. She later utilized her research project to create the Robeson Youth Society of Engineers, a student group that seeks to increase diversity in engineering at the high school level. She credited the Netter Center for providing her with an invaluable opportunity to engage in public service, a field which she now considers a future career prospect. 

“The Netter Center gave me so much more context for the type of work I could be doing in public service. It allowed me to use skills that I had never really used in such a big context before, like creating my own program, implementing it, and even running day-to-day logistics. … Now I feel like I can use those skills in any career that I pursue,” Ford said. 

Most importantly, civic engagement with Netter can transform your personal beliefs. When Ford was juggling the creation and implementation of her program, she gained confidence in her personal abilities. “I found out that I was able to handle a lot more than I thought I could,” she said. “My program grew from just a few students to over 15 students, and I was able to handle it well thanks to the support I received from the Netter Center.”

With Ford's and Coleman's stories in mind, seize the new academic year and involve yourself with civic engagement through the Netter Center. You could work as a mentor or classroom assistant via Community School Student Partnerships, promote nutrition education through the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, or support diversity in STEM through Moelis Access Science. If none of those appeal to you, you can still join other programs within Netter’s varied catalog of over 30

In addition to participating in Netter programs, students have opportunities to enroll in Academically Based Community Service courses — a unique course format which integrates research, teaching, and learning with community engagement. 

Be sure to attend the Civic & Community Engagement Fair on Sept. 9 to learn about more similarly exciting programming. 

Ford summarizes her Netter experience well: “There are so many different programs and aspects of the Netter Center that everyone can find their niche easily. No matter what your major is, no matter what your career goals are, there’s definitely a part of the Netter Center that can feel fulfilling for you, where you can use your specific skills and strengths to both grow your confidence and support your local community.” 

Om Manghani is a College junior studying economics and sociology. His email is

Emily Sheng is a College senior studying biochemistry and biology. Her email is