Student Spotlight: Aditi Singh
As part of Tutor Appreciation Month, Aditi shares how tutoring impacted her Penn experience.
There are some events that no one prepares you for. I had one of those events happen to me when one of my closest friends ran away from her dorm with a bottle of her antidepressants and almost committed suicide. My first reaction was shock which soon turned into a deep sadness. You see these things in movies and shows but you would never think that it would happen to you so suddenly with no warning. At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with tutoring. And you’d be surprised to find out that it has a lot to do with it.
I became a tutor in my freshman spring. I taught MATH 104. For three hours a week, I would sit at the tables at Penn and talk through math concepts and I truly loved every moment of it. It was familiar. It made sense. Being a freshman felt a lot like being a deer in headlights for me. Being an international student, I was exposed to so many novel stimuli. Culture, people, classes — none of it seemed easy. Everything was something to put effort into and not knowing where to look for help did not make it any easier.
In my sophomore year, I tutored MATH 114 and became a tutor mentor. I was still lost about what I wanted to do in my four years at Penn but I trudged along. There was a silver lining though– someone who made my days easier and exponentially better- my friend (and roommate). We would roam Penn, make 6 am Starbucks runs, build snowmans in front of my dorm. Suffice to say that I was slowly finding my way. And that’s when life gave me a jolt. I am sure that we all have these life changing experiences where everything takes a turn for the worse and then nothing is the same again. At 9:30 pm on a Sunday night, my friend was gone. I had no idea where she was, I had no way to contact her because she wasn’t answering her phone. A week later, I received a phone call from a social worker and my friend flew home and we couldn’t be the same anymore. And just like that, everything changed.
Every week I would tutor CHEM 241 and MATH 104– the only truly structured part of my day. The rest of the day, I would sit in my dorm staring at the now empty room wondering how everything changed. I spent a lot of time crying, sitting silently staring out of those large glass windows of Harrison and talking to my friends over the phone or just staying on FaceTime so that I wouldn’t be alone. The only thing that got me up to do things were that I needed to complete my classes and I needed to tutor. I managed to muster up enough strength to get through my semester and keep my promise to myself to not let this get in the way of my dream to go to medical school.
I mentioned before that tutoring was where I seeked comfort. There is something so wonderful about the look on someone’s face when they have been struggling with something for so long and then finally it makes sense. It made me feel like I truly made a difference. After my experience with my friend, and constantly questioning if I could have done something differently, if I could have helped more– here I was, actually helping. Actively changing something, someone for the better.
Call me a nerd, but in those days when everything was so heavy, tutoring lifted me up. My own tutors taught me subjects that I struggled with, with such care that I made it through my classes and finished strong. And on the day when I got an email from Valerie Wrenn (Associate Director of Tutoring Services) to become the Lead Math Tutor at Penn, all my hard work, all my love for tutoring, something that gave me joy and comfort came into fruition in a whole new way. I had a jump to my step as I walked on that cold winter morning. It was the one thing I needed to give me a real push out of the dreadful period that I couldn’t seem to get through.
Being the Math Tutor Lead of Penn has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for me. I can help so many students who need help at Penn and also guide the tutors. But the not-so-obvious joy of this position is Valerie. She supervises my position and talking to her makes me feel like all these ideas that constantly pop up in my head can truly be a reality. Talking to someone who takes the time to attentively listen to all your ideas and supports you while grounding you is invaluable. The support and care that I have received from the tutoring center has shaped the person that I am today. I know that without it, I would probably be lost at Penn. It has impacted me in so many ways– by making me a happier, more confident individual who can dare to dream at Penn.
The goal of this blog post is to express my heartfelt gratitude to Valerie, Weingarten and all the tutors at Penn who have made Penn a better place for me and for so many other people. I could not have asked for a better support system.
– Aditi Singh
Managing Successful Transitions: Taking Your Weingarten Skills Off Campus
I remember sitting, terrified, at my college graduation. I clutched the sides of my white plastic lawn chair like it was an ejector seat that could go off at any moment, propelling me from comfortable student life into a reluctant adulthood. At the time, the skills I had perfected through trial and error as a student– like keeping up with class assignments, studying for exams, and writing research papers—seemed entirely disconnected from my new role in the workforce. How would I cope with having a boss and coworkers? What if the pace was too demanding and I couldn’t keep up?
At my first job after college, I worked as an administrative assistant at a busy news magazine. I soon found out that the independent skills I learned from being a college student, such as juggling multiple assignments, keeping a to-do list, and staying on top of my schedule, were all transferrable to the workforce. For example, when I had a big project to tackle at work, I thought of large research papers I had written, and how I had broken them into smaller steps and assigned deadlines.
In my current role as a learning instructor, I often reflect on how the skills we focus on at Weingarten are setting our students up for success not only with coursework, but in their many off campus pursuits. Here are some practical ways you can use Weingarten learning strategies over the summer and beyond:
- Plan your syllabus. A syllabus is really just a roadmap, a kind of project plan with a few over-arching goals, and key dates and deliverables. Think about how you might use a similar syllabus or project plan to stay on track this summer. Remember to pick 3-4 big picture goals.
- Make a summer calendar. Many students love the colorful Weingarten semester calendars, which provide an overall view of key assignments. Why not make your own to plan out major dates and deadlines this summer?
- Use active learning strategies. Whether you are trying to ace an entrance exam for graduate school, or learn a new language for study abroad, remember to use visual diagrams, practice problems, and other techniques to keep your brain active.
By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow
Wellness: Mindfulness at ICA Museum
Have you considered how you will practice self-care and prioritize your wellness for the rest of the semester? Consider attending the Mindfulness at the Museum Series at PENN’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA):
“Mindfulness at the Museum is a series of drop-in sessions focused on helping our wider community—inside and outside of the museum—to have access to tools to become more aware. Mindfulness meditation can help us to develop healthier minds and bodies, reduce stress, foster compassion, and increase our memory skills, among many other studied benefits. Participants may discover that this appreciation of the “here and now” extends outside the museum” (Mindfulness Program Series at UPENN-ICA).
- These free drop-in sessions are open to all. No special clothing is required. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. No prior meditation experience is necessary.
While attending a public Mindfulness program series is not necessary, and you can just as meaningfully practice within the privacy of your own space and in the moments afforded in-between, there is so much support and joy in practicing mindfulness in community.
Also, an aesthetically stimulating, yet peaceful space such as the ICA Museum plays an important role in helping us connect to our sensorial system. Awakening our senses and re-connecting to our inner being and the world through them is an essential part of well-being.
Take a study break and practice self-care through Mindfulness at the Museum!
By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow
Reflection: What I Have Learned from Penn Students
A Learning Specialist’s Reflection: What I Have Learned from Weingarten Students
Returning to student life this Fall after over a decade was a humbling experience for me. Although I reveled in all of the opportunities and resources on Campus and the intellectual stimulation of my classes, I also came close to tears trying to figure out the EZ-Borrow system for a book I needed and ruined my favorite pair of shoes trudging through a flooded walkway because it was the only way I knew how to get to class.
Although I began my position as a Weingarten Learning Fellow (one of several doctoral students in the Graduate School of Education who works as a Learning Instructor) with learning strategies based on my own academic training and life experiences, I soon realized how much I take away from students. I continually find our one-on-one sessions and workshops an opportunity to find out about new tech tools and resources on Campus, talk through different exam preparation and writing strategies, and about a million other things!
Coming from a 9-5 office-type schedule, I originally had a tendency to try and study for five or six hours at once, without taking more than a 15-20 minute break to scarf down my lunch or make a phone call.
One thing I have learned from being able to work with so many students on their own schedules is the importance of taking meaningful breaks throughout the day, whether it’s lunch with a friend, going to the gym, or taking part in a club or activity that you enjoy.
I am proud to say that I now work for only two or three hours at a time, and then enjoy a long walk with my dog or a mindful lunch break where I actually sit computer and phone free to enjoy my food. I also try to embrace the student mindset of continuous learning and reflection, and I gain courage from so many of our resilient students who bounce back from failure and are willing to try again.
By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow
Wellness: Mindful Transitions
“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.” – Nikki Giovanni
Whether you are an undergraduate living away from home for the first time, a graduate student new to Philadelphia, or even a returning student planning for life after Penn, chances are you are undergoing a period of transition. As the semester begins, it’s important to recognize that we are all experiencing change in one form or another. Although this can bring uncertainty–sometimes manifesting as anxiety, or lack of focus–there is also an upside. Transitions can lead to tremendous personal growth. In the words of the poet Maya Angelou,
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
- Have there been times when you felt frustrated this semester?
- Did you get lost on the way to a new class, or struggle to understand an assignment or reading?
In addition to feeling frustrated (because this is a valid way to feel!), try to acknowledge these moments as a vital part of your journey – as a student, a learner, a thinker, and a member of the Penn community.
While transitions are necessary, there are ways to make them gentler on your mind and body. Notice how you are feeling. If you experience negative thoughts, like “this is too hard,” “I’m frustrated,” “I feel lost,” or “I’m not smart enough,” try to stop judging yourself or comparing yourself to others.
Instead, realize these thoughts are normal, take a deep breath, and let them go. Don’t forget to pay attention to your body. You might feel tired, or tense, or hungry at hours that are not normal for you. Try to attend to what your body needs, whether it’s more sleep, a long walk, or eating delicious and healthy food.
Wherever you are in your academic journey, remember that the staff of the Weingarten Center are always here for you. Whether it’s helping with time management skills, identifying additional resources on Campus, or just talking through how you will manage a stressful week, we are committed to helping all Penn students cope with transitions!
By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow & Instructor
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.
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 were some common themes that connected the different stories.
- While each person shared their own individual stories of facing challenges, feeling like they needed to hide who they were, or 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 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 Center is here for you.
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.
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.
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
Wellness: Get Moving with Some Brain Breaks!
With finals just around the corner, it is important to set up “brain breaks” in order to increase productivity. Studying is most effective when done in relatively short chunks of time to ensure focus. Once you’re feeling distracted or have been studying for a decent amount of time, consider taking a brain break. Since the weather is finally warming up (hello, Spring!), now is a great time to get outside during your study breaks and enjoy the weather. Here are three ideas that will get your body moving and give your brain a break.
Meditation is a perfect study break because it can be done anywhere for any duration of time. For guided meditation, check out weekly offerings from Campus Health.
Walk/Run the Schuylkill River Trail
The Schuylkill River Trail is a beautiful path that spans over 60 miles. You can pick up the trail right on Spruce Street and stroll north to see some beautiful Philadelphia sights. Additionally, Campus Health has developed 1, 2, and 3-mile walking/jogging loops around campus. Check it, and other valuable information, out here.
Visit the Morris Arboretum
Visit this beautiful garden for a quick break from city living! It is free for Penn students and you can hop on a shuttle at the Penn Bookstore to get there. Some highlights include the rose garden (pictured here) and an amazing rock wall garden. The Morris Arboretum is open year-round and offers seasonal specials, including a Cherry Blossom festival in the Spring and Fall foliage events.
Staff Writer: Cassie Lo
Time Management: Scheduling to Reduce Stress
Many of the students I see in the Weingarten Center come in because they feel like they are not using their time efficiently or are studying all the time. When I ask them how they schedule their day and manage their workflow, many students pause then explain that they keep their schedules, deadlines, and assignments in their head, referring to planners or schedules as too rigid. There are many stated reasons that students dislike the rigidity of keeping a planner or calendar, but the most common objection is that the perceived rigidity stresses them out, or they feel they don’t have enough time in their day as it is, so planning daily would be another burden added on to an already stacked plate. The reality is that it takes time to develop new habits and planning sufficiently should reduce feelings of stress over time. There are a variety of resources students can use to fit all working styles such as Google Calendar, Apple iCal, a traditional paper planner and methods of planning referred to as “unscheduling.” This last one tends to resonate with students most hesitant about traditional planning methods. This blog post is the first in a series that will cover each one of these methods in detail. This first post will focus on traditional paper planning with electronic planning (via Google Calendar and iCal) and unscheduling to follow in subsequent posts.
For most students, my preferred approach to planning includes a combination of setting a regular but flexible weekly schedule, combined with making a daily task list. The first step I suggest to students is to make a list of all of their classes and then estimate a total number of hours of study time necessary to maintain academic success in each class. A typical schedule for a Penn student might look like this:
The next step in the process is to map a typical week on an hour by hour basis including class schedule, meals, work study, athletic requirements, sleep, and any other regular weekly meetings other commitments you might have and then fit in study time and self-care/free time in the remaining space. A typical student schedule may look like this:
This approach is also helpful when registering for classes. It is important to consider the demands of each class and how demanding they are of your time. There is only so much time in a day and making time for things such as self-care, exercise, sleep and free time is essential to prevent burnout and promote academic success. You may have noticed that I scheduled in general study time instead of assigning work for specific classes in each of those spaces. This is to allow for the flexibility that is necessary for the changing workloads typical in classes throughout the semester. A heavy week in one class may be paired with a light week in another class. I suggest students spend the first 15 minutes of their study time each day making a task list of work for the day. Make sure to break up assignments into smaller tasks of approximately 45 minutes for each task. This is referred to at Weingarten as “chunking your work” and should help to mitigate the desire to procrastinate. You should also take frequent study breaks of about 5-10 minutes after every 45-60 minute work session. This will help maximize productivity and increase knowledge retention.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Making New Habits Stick
January is the month of New Year’s resolutions and good intentions. Many of us strive to be a little bit better at something than we were before. Maybe we vow to be better at time management – to get and use a planner, to not procrastinate as much, or to start papers and projects early. The problem with resolutions, no matter how well intended, is that most of our behavior is based on unconscious habits. In order to really make a new habit stick or to change an old one, we have to make our behavior more conscious.
The brain likes to be efficient and thus repeated behaviors become automatic habits. This default towards efficiency means you can sail through your morning routine of showering and getting dressed on autopilot and still have brain capacity left over to think about your upcoming day. Bad habits are hard to break because we’ve stopped making conscious decisions about what we’re doing. We just automatically do it. For example, when our phone alarm goes off in the morning that noise serves as a cue to pick up the phone to turn off the alarm. If you, like me, then spend the next 30-40 minutes looking through your newsfeed, that is an automatic behavior triggered by the alarm. The reward for 30-40 minutes of scrolling is a sense of being informed about the day. Did anyone text overnight? What are the breaking news stories? I’m sure if I didn’t automatically scroll through my newsfeed every morning, I’d be out the door much earlier.
This cycle of cue, routine, and reward is what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls the habit loop. Becoming consciously aware of these three elements can help you form new habits or change old ones. To form a new habit, first think of the benefits of changing your behavior. What is it that you want to start doing? What are the long-term pay offs? Then think of a cue that will capture your attention at the moment you are most likely to take action. A cue can take various forms. It can be something visual like seeing your planner on your desk or it can be an action like coming back to your room after a long day of classes. Then think of the reward you’ll get for doing the routine or behavior triggered by the cue. If seeing your planner on your desk triggers you to spend a few minutes prioritizing your tasks for the next day, the reward might be a sense of calm or a feeling of being in control. Eventually, you’ll start craving that sense of calm and control as soon as you see your planner and will automatically pick it up to organize your day.
To change a habit, keep your familiar cues and rewards but change your routine. For instance, for many of us, coming back home after a long day is often a cue to flop on the bed or couch and just relax “for a few minutes” before tackling something else. The reward is a feeling of relaxation. However, “just a few minutes” often expands into an hour or more and suddenly we wonder where all our time went. What if we kept the cue of coming home after a long day and the reward of relaxation but changed the routine? Other activities that aren’t such time sponges like taking a shower or making a cup of tea can be inserted into the habit loop and eventually make us more productive.
As this new semester gets underway, start paying attention to your cues and rewards to change your habits. Anticipate the rewards – a feeling of satisfaction after checking items off a to-do list, a smoothie after a workout – as these cravings will push you to get stuff done. Finally, believe that you can change your habits or make new ones stick. Because you can.
Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds