Student Voices: Sharing Stories at the Penn Faces Speakeasy

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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

 

 

How to Make the Most of Office Hours

Office hours: It’s that thing listed underneath the professor’s contact information on the syllabus, the thing we all glance at to make a note of, but rarely take advantage of. Meeting a professor during their office hours can be intimidating, but if utilized correctly, it can be a goldmine of a resource. Here are just a few quick tips on how to make the most of your office hour sessions:

  1. (unless specifically asked to) Don’t go just to go. Set a purpose to your meeting. Be prepared to ask open ended questions or get clarification on a certain class topic while you’re in front of the professors. Make sure you aren’t asking the kinds of questions that could have been easily answered elsewhere; i.e. Google, a peer, the class syllabus, or the readings. office-hours

2. Do show up early. By arriving 5 minutes before office hours start, it’ll give you a better chance of meeting with the professor first. This way, you can make sure your questions are answered instead of having to wait around, looking for the best time to interrupt another student.

3. Do be honest. Don’t be coy if the professor is talking about something and you don’t quite understand. Admit to it and you’ll get an even better or different explanation. Also, don’t make excuses for your performance or go in attacking the professor. If there are issues academically, professionally, or personally occurring in your life, let you professor know. They are human too and they will understand and work with you to best accommodate or resolve the issue. montreal-que-february-3-2015-mcgill-university-profess

For more support on how to make the most of your office hours, come set an appointment with a learning instructor and we will work with you individually to prep you for a meeting with your professor!

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

The Problem With Problems

“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.”
~ Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics

My Weingarten colleague, Rashmi Kumar, knowing my deep affection for epigrams, aphorisms and anything even remotely quotable, gave me this one while we were prepping for a STEM related workshop. Good one, isn’t it?

Wilczek won his Nobel Prize (along with David Gross and H. David Politzer) for his discovery of asymptotic freedom, which deals with the distance between quarks and the effect on strong interaction. If you’re looking for a better explanation and you’re not rooming with Sheldon Cooper, you can read this instead [SPOILER ALERT: the closer the quarks, the less the strong interaction.]

But back to the quote. I like this one because, for me, it encapsulates a useful piece of metacognitive wisdom: you can learn more from getting something wrong than by getting it right. To put a finer point on it, you deepen your understanding by searching out why something is wrong, why you can’t see it, and along the way maybe discover whatever blind spot in the mind’s eye that prevents you from seeing everything whole. It’s a wondrous moment when you finally see why some particular something or other is a mistake, and that feeling of exhilaration can last you quite a while, right up until the next mistake, usually on the very next problem. But it’s best not to dwell on that. Making mistakes is not just a part of any successful process, but the inextricable part.

On a more pragmatic level, the quote also implies a strategic realization: plug and chug gets you only so far. All those formulas and equations and numbers mean something, and if you’re not actively looking for the deeper meaning and the bigger picture, you’ll never find it.

Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

The Unexamined Exam is Not Worth Hiding

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
~ Mark Twain

Ever gotten back a midterm, peeked at the grade and stuffed it away somewhere dark, never to look at it again?

There are lots of reasons for not confronting the bad exam, not the least being embarrassment – you know, the whole, “But I don’t get grades like this, other people do.” It can come as quite a shock to the system. So hiding that nasty assessment point in a folder or in the back of a notebook is perfectly understandable.

It’s also a missed opportunity.

Let’s face it, basking in the comforting glow of a great exam grade feels all kinds of terrific. Good grades not only confirm our brilliance, but also reassure us that The Plan, in all its glory, is moving along, right on schedule. A bad exam grade can send us into a downward spiral of catastrophic fantasy, where we take this one grade as confirmation not only of our obvious imbecility, but that Dear Old Penn didn’t just make a mistake in accepting us, but should have never even allowed us on that pre-application campus tour. Indulging in this type of logical fallacy may feel cathartic, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Once again, missed opportunity.

Just remember this: Unless you goose-egged the exam, you did something right, and that’s what we like to call a basis for improvement.

WARNING: Shameless institutional promotion to follow.

The folks at your learning center can help you with all this. We call it Exam Analysis. All you have to do is exhume the offensive exam from its deep, dark hidey-hole of shame and make an appointment with one of our friendly non-judgmental learning instructors. And then? And then together we’ll question the living daylights out of your exam. What questions specifically? There are too many possible questions of a reflective nature to go into, and we simply haven’t the space. We’d have to consider the discipline, the course, the format of the exam, the nature of preparation, the class resources, and so on and so forth.

Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk