Transformational Moments

The Penn Arts & Sciences Pathways video series highlights the intellectual journeys of undergraduates.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

By Camille DiBenedetto

Karen Kim, C’21, grew up in a Korean home in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Though she had originally thought she would follow a pre-med track, classes with Heather Williams, Presidential Term Professor of Africana Studies, and Grace Sanders Johnson, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, influenced her decision to become an Africana Studies major.

Kim is one of the several undergraduates featured in Pathways, a new Penn Arts & Sciences video series that interviews students about their College journeys. Some students had a path in mind before they ever set foot on campus, while others were inspired by classes or faculty to chart a different course than initially planned.

Hannah Erdogan, C’22, always thought she would major in biology on the pre-med track. But after working with refugees in high school and with Penn Undergraduates for Refugee Empowerment (PURE), she decided to major in psychology and minor in Middle Eastern studies, with the goal of becoming a bilingual or multilingual physician.

“I think it’s more about not keeping your mind closed to what’s out there, and what you’re passionate about doesn’t have to fit into other people’s agendas,” says Erdogan.

Alyssa Cavazos, C’22

Camille DiBenedetto

Ana Przybylowski, C’19, received scholarships in business and planned to pursue a career in sports management. After taking an oceanography class, however, she developed a passion for earth and environmental science. During her senior year, she took a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) class with Sally Willig, Lecturer and Advisor in the MES program, and worked as a volunteer intern at the Philadelphia Zoo. 

“You can do anything with an earth and environmental science degree,” says Przybylowski. “Any kind of industry is going to have an environmental scientist because every industry has an impact on the environment.”

Sometimes, academic journeys begin early. Marvin Morgan, C’21, became interested in astrophysics as a child after visiting the Kennedy Space Station, where his uncle worked as a NASA engineer. Fourteen years later, he’s assisting Robyn Sanderson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, by importing and analyzing data from the Gaia mission to understand how much dark matter is distributed in the Milky Way.

“In astrophysics, there’s always something new just because of the vast size of the universe and how much we don’t know. There’s always room to learn something new or find something out that has never been discovered before,” says Morgan.

For Alyssa Cavazos, C’22, growing up with the Everglades as her backyard meant she was always fascinated by the world around her. She came to Penn knowing that she wanted to study biochemistry, but her work with Karen Goldberg, Vagelos Professor of Energy Research, and her mentor, Sophie Rubashkin, a graduate fellow in the Goldberg lab, opened her eyes to conceptual chemistry and working in a lab.

“I think that’s really important with Penn—it’s really fast paced, but you can also find something you enjoy, stay there, figure it out because you have people that are encouraging and motivating you as well as working with you or sometimes even challenging you,” Cavazos says. “And those challenges really motivate you to keep doing what you’re doing if you’re very passionate about it.”