Student Voices: Sharing Stories at the Penn Faces Speakeasy


On Thursday, April 5, Penn students, faculty, and staff braved the unseasonably cold, windy, and chilly weather to share and listen to one another’s stories on Penn’s College Green. This event was organized by the student group Penn Faces, which has been supported by the Weingarten Learning Resources Center since its inception.

Penn Faces is a “project that is the product of collaboration among individuals who came together with the common goal of creating a site to foster resilience and encourage honest conversations. Its vibrant color is a blending of Penn’s red and blue, highlighting both the spectrum and the unity of our experiences.”

The Penn Faces website provides students, faculty, and staff with a space to present their stories to the broader Penn community in the hope of breaking down the expectations of perfection that can be found on Penn’s campus.


Some members of the PennFaces Student Advisory Board

The PennFaces Speakeasy is an annual event, organized by the PennFaces Student Advisory Board, that is held to provide the Penn community a space where they can share their stories with a wider audience.

The speakers exhibited strength through their vulnerability while sharing their personal stories of facing setbacks, experiencing loss, finding different paths, and building their resiliency. Here are some of the speakers from the event:

As an audience member, what stood out to me where some common themes that connected the different stories.

  • While each person shared their own individual stories of facing challenges, of feeling like they needed to hide who they were, or of believing they needed to conceal their struggles behind a mask, what made a difference for each person was finding an individual or a community with whom they could speak and connect with.
These ideas spoke to me about the need to find community and to make connections here at Penn.

Too often, I can feel like I just really need to zone in and focus on my academic and professional work while I am here, but we all need to make time and space for our personal lives.

We can have a richer, happier, and more fulfilling experience if we can be our whole selves on Penn’s campus.

Further, some acknowledged that every resource on campus is not for everybody, and that the first resource you reach out to might not be the best for you.

The speakers touched on ideas that reaching out to others and asking for help is a process, but that when you find the right place, it can make all the difference.

Whether who you reach out to is your friends or family, or a designated resource here on campus, these stories remind us that there are people here who truly care, and that there are people here who may be struggling too, even if they don’t always show it.

The speakers and advisory board hope that one day an event like the Speakeasy is not needed at Penn, because we will all feel more comfortable speaking about our fears, difficulties, and struggles openly in more spaces. For the time being though, PennFaces highlights a real need at Penn for students, faculty, and staff to remove our masks and to share our stories.

If you are interested in becoming more involved with PennFaces, go to Penn Faces to find out more.

For more resources at Penn, here is a helpful guide:


Additionally, here are some other resources students have found to be helpful:

  • The Tutoring Center
  • Marks Family Writing Center
  • Resource Librarians
  • Professor and TA Office Hours
  • Campus and Community Houses (La Casa Latina, Makuu, Greenfield Intercultural Center, LGBT Center, etc.)
  • Your college major Advisors
Wherever you build your sense of community and decide to share your story, ask for help, or to find camaraderie, know that the Weingarten Learning Resources Center is here for you.

We wish you the best of luck as you finish up this semester!


Dr. Ryan Miller, Director of the Office of Learning Resources, the PennFaces Student Advisory Board Members, Matthew Lee, Victoria Meeks, and Dr. Myrna Cohen, Executive Director of the WLRC, and Wendy Zhou.

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor & Research Fellow



Student Voices: Creating Positive Environments

College is advertised as a place where students can learn, grow, and interact with their peers. The college setting is known for bolstering interpersonal relationships in virtually every setting, including college dorms, dining halls, and even group study rooms in open spaces.

Before coming to college, both of us had imagined a college experience that would challenge us to explore the unknown, meet unfamiliar faces, and succeed academically. This image of the perfect college experience soon became dependent on the people in our immediate surroundings. From the friends with whom we became acquainted, to the professors with whom we interacted, these key relationships provided a strong and positive foundation for our now flourishing college careers.

Interpersonal relationships are an important part of students’ academic success. We have found that surrounding ourselves with the right people, inside and outside of the classroom, is an essential component of achieving academic success.

From Chieme:

Chiemela Ohanele

At Penn it is easy to be consumed by the daily pressures brought on by academics or extracurriculars. However, Rani and I have found that the constant positive reinforcement of a persistent friend or a model mentor can make these daily difficulties easier to withstand. Whenever I am concerned about a class or overwhelmed with responsibilities, I can turn to Rani to encourage me to get the job done and to put my best foot forward even if I am burnt out and ready to give up. Through my friendship with Rani, I have learned how essential it is to have these constant cheerleaders in my life. Not only have these motivators given me the courage to persist through adversity, but they have also given me the confidence to know that I am capable of achieving the goals that I have set out to accomplish.

From Rani:


Our relationships outside the classroom are critical for thriving academically, but the attitude we have toward our coursework plays a role as well. Contrary to what we had expected, sometimes, campus culture can also include negativity about schoolwork. It is normal to hear people around you discussing how pointless the class is and refusing to do the homework. During exam week we hear people saying how they are going to fail the exam, and it affects not only their focus and productivity, but it affects others as well. It can be very difficult to do well in a class if one internalizes this type of mindset.

Chieme and I have adopted an attitude of positivity. When we have classes together, we sit near each other and our comments on the coursework classroom material are usually positive and hopeful, if there are any at all. In classes where I don’t have friends like Chieme to foster a positive attitude, I try to sit with quiet people or those who also have a similar outlook on the material. Surrounding oneself with positivity seems to supply the courage and energy necessary to attack the material in a more productive way.

* * *

Overall, we have enjoyed our college experiences. Our friendship, work ethic and positive outlook have gotten us far along our respective paths.

  • So, try to find people who push you towards the goals you have set for yourself.
  • Try to find those constant motivators who will encourage you to think beyond the campus culture and to embrace positivity.
  • Look for ways to create constructive friendships and in-class interactions that will promote academic success.

Contributed by PENN Students: Chiemela Ohanele and Rani Richardson

Keep English Switched On: Go to Office Hours

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


Go to office hours. You can ask questions about the course material, get help with a particular assignment, and build a relationship with an expert. Not only do you benefit by learning more about subject areas that interest you, you are also demonstrating to your instructor that you care about that subject. And you get more practice speaking English! It’s important to start building these relationships early on in your academic career. Down the road, you might turn to your instructors for career advice.

But don’t just take it from us:

““I visited four professors during office hours for a total of 6 times in the past academic year and each time I received tremendous support academically and emotionally. Among these meetings, there was one in particular that meant a lot to me. At the beginning of my master’s program, I talked to one professor about one challenging assignment, as I felt that I could never achieve what he expected us to. To my surprise, he not only explained the requirements in detail, but more importantly, relieved me from being overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect. We ended up discussing our understanding about academic success for graduate study, and came to an agreement that what mattered most was the knowledge and experience we could take way with us for years rather than GPA. That meeting was a turning point for me, as I was able to actually enjoy learning and experiencing my study life without the burden of becominYue Shig a 4.0 student.” – Yue Shi, Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE `15.

Tech Tuesday: Quizlet

So you’ve finally got the hang of getting back into “school mode” by having a somewhat cohesive schedule, by doing all the readings (haha! *wink *wink), and staying afloat with all the assignments. But its now that time of the semester…welcome midterm season!

One way you can make your study sessions smarter is by using Quizlet (the website or download the app on your computer/phone/tablet). Quizlet is a free, digital flashcard system that can be used to learn or play games.

Step 1: Create your own study sets. This works for anything from science concepts, mathematical formulas, foreign language, to just plain old vocabulary/terminology studying. Put the term on one side of the card and the definition on the other. There is an “auto-define” feature, and plus you can add images to better help you study. Another option is to just search their site for already made flashcard sets by the millions of their current users.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 11.41.14 AM

Step 2: Study! With this website you have many options for how you want to study your material. Observe the many ways below:

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Bonus: [AUDIO] Everything that you type in can be clicked on and read aloud to you. For those of you taking a language course, there is audio available for 18 languages, from Arabic to Turkish! How awesome is that?!  This helps with pronunciation and also by providing the material in a different way than just reading it visually.

Happy Studying!

Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez


Keep English Switched On: Get to Know Your Classmates

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


Get to know the other students in your classes, especially ones who aren’t native speakers of your first language. One way to do this is to get to class early and make small talk with someone sitting next to you. Good topics for small talk include difficult assignments, the weather (seriously – especially if there’s a storm brewing), and current events on campus.

But don’t just take it from us:


“Small talk is a relatively easy way to start a conversation with others and doing it more often will gradually build up your confidence. However, one important thing to keep in mind is to try not to think of the person you are talking with as a tool for practicing English. Friendship is cultivated by a genuine mutual interest in each other, so try not to pretend to be someone else and talk about things that you literally have no interest in. Be yourself and try to talk with people you want to get to know more. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if other people say something you don’t understand. People usually understand that you are not a native speaker and are usually happy to teach you (and you need to acknowledge to yourself that you have a lot to learn!). You can also ask people to correct you if they found that you’ve made a language mistake.”– Amelie Chang, Professional Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE, `16.


In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.

strategy2finalSeek out university clubs or groups where you share a common interest with other members. Check out the Office of Student Affairs’ website for a complete list of student organizations and budget time into your schedule to attend regular meetings. You might also be interested in attending social events sponsored by student groups or your academic department or school. When you go to these events, go by yourself or with one other person. If you go in a large group, you’re more likely to stay with your group and less likely to mingle with new people.

But don’t just take it from us:

ILP Final Presentations cropped

“When first moving to the US to study, I never actually thought that the language would be a major hindrance. After all, I have been studying English since I was 3, and all of the books I used for my undergrad were in English due to the lack of translations. But what I found out is that even though I did OK in class, it was much more difficult to accurately communicate in everyday situations: having lunch with your classmates, etc. It was in those moments that it was more difficult for me to find the words I needed to convey my ideas. I decided, then, to look for activities that would involve meeting people outside of those that speak my own language. I signed up for intercultural programs such as ILP (Intercultural Leadership Program) and Intercultural Buddies at GSC and started organizing activities with my U.S. classmates, like going out for dinner. After all, if I wanted to be surrounded by people from my own country, I would have stayed home. It’s so rewarding when you are able to speak to anyone right from the top of your mind. It takes time, and above all, it takes practice, but it’s totally worth it.” – Fernando Gama, Electrical and Systems Engineering, SEAS ’20.

Keep English Switched On: An International Student Blog Series

In this semester-long series, our expert Learning Instructor for International Students Julianne Reynolds offers tips for keeping English “switched on” in your daily life at Penn. If you’re only using English in the classroom, you’re missing out on a lot of learning opportunities. Follow these short and sweet tips to flip the switch to English.


In September, Weingarten Learning Resources will host a series called Academics Plus for international students who would like to learn more about proven study strategies that work in U.S. classrooms. These hour and a half workshops are an ideal space to discuss academic, language, and cultural topics with the facilitators and with other international students who have similar concerns.

Since the workshops are open to students from all 12 Penn schools, this is a great way to meet people from other academic disciplines and backgrounds.

But don’t just take it from us:

wang“I found talking to WLRC instructors very useful in fitting into the academic and social life at Penn. Also, sharing experiences with other international students gave me the sense that I’m not alone in feeling all these pressures and hardships. These workshops helped me build my confidence, so that I can better figure out my own way of study.” – Saier Wang, Social Policy, SP2 ’16

Yue Shi“I participated in two Academic Plus workshops at Weingarten in the past year, one for reading strategies and the other for student conduct. Both workshops were very interactive and practical. For the reading workshop with 30+ participants, we were randomly assigned to 4-5 groups, and were asked to read an article before the instructor started the seminar, and to redo the reading after the strategies were introduced. That task enabled us to immediately apply new skills and see the effect. For the student conduct workshop, we were given some really tricky scenarios and were asked to decide whether or not the behaviors in the scenarios were plagiarism. Before the workshop, I thought I knew what cheating and plagiarism were for sure, but after that, I realized that there were some grey areas that I, as an international student, had misunderstandings in. I felt fortunate that I went to both workshops, as they helped to improve my efficiency and ensured that I was on the right track in an unfamiliar campus culture.”  -Yue Shi, Counseling and Mental Health Services, GSE ‘15

Spaces fill quickly! Click below to reserve your spot in the Academics Plus workshops today!:

Academics Plus