Penn Green – Q&A with Pre-Orientation Student Directors

Penn Green Leaders
April 8, 2015

PennGreen is an environmentally focused Pre-Orientation program offered to 40 incoming freshmen, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Undergraduate Assembly, the Penn Sustainability Office, and the Trustees' Council of Penn Women.

PennGreen offers students an introduction to environmentalism at Penn and in Philadelphia, giving them a chance to form personal relationships with peers interested in environmental issues, outdoor trips, and community. Students get to know Penn, the City of Philadelphia, and other excited and engaged students before New Student Orientation (NSO) begins, and will have a community of close-knit friends with whom they will begin their Penn journey.

PennGreen is led by upper-class students who have returned to share and build upon their PennGreen experiences; many are members of various environmental groups on campus or have contributed in some way to the green movement at Penn. The Fall 2015 Student Directors are Sandra Loza-Avalos (C ’17) and Ian Stark Grohsgal (C '16), interviewed here about the interest in sustainability and their plans for this year’s program.


Q: Tell us where you are from. How does it differ from Penn’s Urban Campus?

Ian: I am from the suburbs of Cincinnati, OH. One of the things that drew me to Penn was the unique integration of the campus with the city. From the number of activities available to the diversity of people and experiences, Penn’s urban campus was different enough to be exciting but not so different that it was uncomfortable.

Sandra: I was born in Chicago and lived there until I was six - I lived in South Chicago, so it’s an area that I can see reflected in some aspects of Philadelphia. I was raised in San Antonio, Texas, though, and to me, it’s the epitome of suburbia. I love not needing a car [at Penn] to get around and being able to interact with the city and community in a much more connected way, something very difficult to do in suburbs. I love being in the bustle, and the interaction with the city that Penn’s campus and community has is something I really enjoy.


Q: Is an interest in environmental sustainability something that you brought with you to Penn, or have you discovered it during your time here?

Ian: I brought my interest in environmental sustainability with me to Penn. I grew up in an environmentally conscious household where we sourced local beef from nearby farms, composted all of our food waste, and often kept the heating on low during the winter months. I believe that my interest in the environment has been well sustained here at Penn.

Sandra: I became interested in environmental sustainability and other issues when I was around 11 years old. It was something I learned about on my own and then taught my family about. Coming to Penn, I planned on enhancing my knowledge about sustainability and I definitely feel as though I’ve grown and learned a lot here in regards to all of my environmental interests.


Q: Talk about the value of pre-orientation programs in general, and PennGreen in particular.

Ian: I believe that the Pre-Orientation programs here at Penn are one of the most valuable opportunities for incoming students. No matter which Pre-Orientation program one enters into, they find a group of people who they can share common interests and experiences with, allowing them to enter into Penn already having a close-knit group of friends.

As for Penn Green, I believe it is a unique program that brings together students who share a passion about environmental issues and want to learn and do more to decrease humanity’s harmful impact on the planet. I found PennGreen to be an amazing program. As an incoming freshman, I was exposed to a unique urban farm, a stunning arboretum, and an unequaled industrial-sized composting center.

There is no other way I would rather have started the best four years of my life.

Sandra: I agree -- the Pre-Orientation programs are so valuable in that they give students the opportunity to come to campus and not be so overwhelmed by the immediate rush of NSO. They allow students to meet upperclassmen mentors, make new friends right off the bat, and learn about communities on campus that may interest them and really give them a headstart into utilizing the resources Penn has to offer.

I may be biased, but I believe PennGreen is the best pre-orientation program because it blends so many aspects of all the other Pre-O programs. In addition to the issues of sustainability and environmentalism that it tackles, it also covers lots of ground in terms of Philadelphia and its surrounding communities, questions of social justice and equality, leadership, and team work.

PennGreen was truly an amazing experience and I love being able to come back and see how it positively affects every year’s incoming freshman as it did me.


Q: Describe what you’d like to see students get out of this year’s PennGreen experience.

Ian: PennGreen was one of the best decisions I made at Penn because of the close and vibrant community I got out of it. I hope that, in addition to learning amazing and extraordinary things about the environment and themselves, they leave the program feeling the same way I do about PennGreen, that it was one of the best decisions they ever made.

Sandra: I would love this year’s PennGreen-ers to really learn about the broader topics we explore and find something that resonates with them and that they’d love to delve into further - whether it be food sustainability, urban health, watershed ecology, sustainability, whatever, I want to be able to see the students learn and grow and find something that really speaks to them - or at the very least, piques their curiosity and gets them thinking about larger issues.


Q: What sort of activities can participants expect? Will there be a visit to a farm, or a camping trip, for example?

Ian: Certainly there are changes every year where we go to a different location or different farm, but we always try to have the same level of diversity in the places students are exposed to. For example, we always try to visit an urban farm, two to three sustainable eateries, an organic farm, an arboretum, LEED certified buildings, and a campsite.

Sandra: The overnight camping is always a must! It’s a wonderful bonding experience and it’s a relaxing way to wind the week down and reflect on the PennGreen experience. I think the urban farm visits are crucial because of how close to home they are, and because many people have certain things that come to mind when it comes to farms, so breaking some of these stereotypes down is important.


Q: Where would you like to see the University’s sustainability efforts focus on or expand in the next few years?

Ian: I would like to see the University invest a little into educating the student body better about recycling in terms of what can be recycled, what the different numbers mean, and how to improve the recycling. Certainly there are plenty of signs, but I find that many people ignore them or are not completely sure what the rules are for recycling.

Sandra: I would love to see more efforts going to education about sustainability and environmental issues. It’s very easy for students who have an interest in these things to learn about them and move towards greener lifestyles, but if we want the University as a whole to move in a greener direction, I believe we need to try and get everyone educated about the issues and aware of what our daily actions might mean in terms of environmental impacts. Everything adds up! If we can get the University community consciously thinking about what it means to recycle, or what it means to reduce waste, that will, in the long run, lead to a greener campus.