I already knew that I was interested in interdisciplinary work, to learn about how different identities and experiences are acknowledged. The Urban Studies major put my values into practice. This is the sort of major where you can do that.
Aliya, an Urban Studies major, interned at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger during her junior year. As part of their fieldwork experience, Urban Studies majors spend at least one semester working with Philadelphia-area community organizations. On campus, students and professors converge in the classroom for weekly discussions about their ongoing experiences. Aliya’s internship felt meaningful as she assisted individuals in the process of applying for food assistance or looking for nearby food pantries. Aliya’s internship informed her senior year thesis, in which she investigated how social service workers manage stressors and find support in an under-resourced system. Aliya’s experiences demonstrate the synergy between academic study, student work, and research on campus and in Philadelphia.
Alongside her undergraduate degree, Aliya is completing a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership through the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). Similar to her Urban Studies coursework, SP2 classes combine theory with practice. One of Aliya’s most influential courses, URBS 404: Philanthropy and the City with Professors Doug Bauer and Greg Goldman, provided a deeper understanding of nonprofit funding and the role of foundations in making decisions for the public good. The class simulated the work of actual philanthropic organizations by dividing the students into groups that act as mini foundations. Each group chooses an area of focus, drafts their vision, and formulates organizational values. They then are given $10,000 to bestow on an organization that they feel represents their ideals and priorities. Aliya’s group contacted organizations working on housing and throughout the semester reviewed grant applications and conducted site visits, meeting with key community leaders. In a final presentation, Aliya and her peers outlined their process and their decision to support Dignity Housing, a program committed to relieving homelessness and poverty in Philadelphia. Building on this experience, Aliya and a Penn classmate attended the Philanthropy Lab Conference where they represented a Philadelphia nonprofit, PAR-Recycle Works, and met other students passionate about nonprofit work.
Aliya is interested in exploring faith communities through her studies, and her Urban Studies coursework enables her to weave her personal connection to the Shia Ismaili Muslim community into daily life at Penn. Through Professor Andrew Lamas’ course URBS 405: Religion, Social Justice, and Urban Development, Aliya and her peers find space to unpack the intersection between religion and social justice. The weekly three-hour seminar allows for in-depth conversation on topics including marginalized religious communities and relationship-building across faiths.
Aliya is earning a minor in Arabic and Islamic Studies. While she was exposed to Arabic during her early schooling, her Penn coursework has expanded her vocabulary, writing and reading skills. Aliya can now translate many of the prayers that are part of her regular religious practice.
On campus, Aliya created meaningful connections with students and faculty in the Office of the Chaplain and the Spiritual and Religious Life Center (SPARC). Aliya participated in several intercultural leadership initiatives including the Intercultural Leadership Program and the Fellowship for Building Intercultural Communities. Aliya is also the chair of PRISM (Programs for Religious, Interfaith, and Spiritual Matters), an umbrella organization for faith-based groups on campus. One of Aliya’s favorite experiences in this role was bringing ARTolerance, an organization committed to creating dialogue through visual art and performance, to campus. The performance inspired natural conversation among Penn students and community members. Students’ genuine engagement, inspired by art and intercultural connection, was moving and meaningful.