Penn Arts & Sciences Pathways: Sara Hansson, C'23, W'23 (Video)

Hansson intended to study earth science, but experiences at Penn allowed her instead to follow a passion for Medieval and Renaissance studies and pursue a law career.

Sara Hansson entered college thinking she would study earth science and pursue her interests in the environment and sustainability through STEM. But after taking her first English class as a Ben Franklin Scholar, she realized her passion for writing and analysis could complement her other interests and studies. She also found some unexpected inspiration in Intro to Shakespeare (taught by Phyllis Rackin, Professor of English Emerita), which she took her sophomore fall semester—the first remote semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a very dark time, and everybody was very scared. We were reading King Lear and talked about how King Lear was likely written during a pandemic in Shakespeare’s lifetime,” Hansson says. “It was just amazing that we had this piece of art that came out of such a dark time in Shakespeare’s life. It just helped me deal with the situation we were all in.”




Hansson went on to double major in Economics and English with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, as well as major in legal studies at Wharton. She says her studies in English have prepared her for law school: “In my English degree, they really teach you how to synthesize and analyze, which are really important for law school,” she says. “Even in my Medieval classes, a lot of those texts focus on the very first origins of any form of legal system. So, I have gotten to read about the first trials that ever happened and how people conceived of the idea of having a trial and judges.”

One unique opportunity of her studies in English included taking a class on the Icelandic sagas with Caroline Batten, Assistant Professor of English. This gave Hansson a chance to read ancient texts from Iceland—her family’s homeland.

“Iceland has this strong environmental interest and sustainability interest that has instilled that desire in me,” she says. “It only has 350,000 people, but the Icelandic sagas are this huge wealth of medieval texts that are really widely studied.” Hansson was aware of them, but because they are in old Norse, she didn’t expect she’d be able to study them without guidance from a professor. “It was really cool to read about the town where my mother was born in these Medieval texts from so long ago.”

Besides her many academic pursuits, Hansson was a singer in Penn Sirens, which merged with Penn’s Glee Club during her sophomore year. She was part of the first cohort of female singers to join the historically all-male group and performed at this year’s graduation. She will be touring internationally with the group this summer, and will begin her first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School this fall.

Pathways is a student series from Penn Arts & Sciences that highlights the academic journeys of students in the College of Arts & Sciences and the transformational moments that have shaped their intellectual experiences.