Interview by Wharton freshman Monica Volodarsky
“How did you get to where you are?” is a question that many WSII staff members get when they’re working with students. That’s no different for the newest member of the team, Yuri Seung. She brings a diverse academic background in English literature, East Asian studies, and combines that with professional experiences in government, philanthropy, and higher ed. It may seem like an unconventional path, but there’s one common theme – her desire to create meaningful impact. Sitting in the remodeled student hub within WSII’s office, I had the opportunity to ask Yuri some of my most pressing questions.
So, what is your role here?
YS: I am here to focus on ways to enhance the experience of all our students who engage with WSII. I am working with our team and students to find ways to strengthen our programming, nurture our growing community of students, and make sure all students feel connected across our programs. I’m also going to be looking at different ways to engage our alumni, and showcase more of our students who have gone on to do amazing things in the social impact space.
What do you look forward to connecting with students about most?
YS: I am looking forward to hearing about their interest in social impact, and how WSII has helped further that interest. I’m also very open to hearing about what’s working and what’s not. Where there are gaps—what’s on your wish list? Do you want tweaks to the programming, field trips, or different speakers? I’m eager to listen about what the student experience has been like so far, and will be setting up office hours this fall to accommodate folks who want to drop by and chat.
Why did you choose WSII?
YS: I am passionate about the mission of WSII. My career has been rooted in service, and finding new ways to address some of cities’ biggest challenges. I know that our students will leave Penn leaders, and WSII complements that by connecting those with a passion for social impact to real-world opportunities. We are helping create a pipeline of talented young individuals who are aware of the importance of social impact, and are committed to integrating it (in some way) in their careers once they graduate.
You were a Program Manager at Drexel. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience there and what was the most important thing you learned?
YS: I worked at Drexel University’s Office of University and Community Partnerships, which supports Drexel’s city wide initiatives. My work there focused on designing and implementing innovative initiatives to improve the system of workforce development. It gave me a chance to collaborate with Drexel staff, faculty and our West Philadelphia community, as well as engage our partners in city government nonprofits. I’d say the most important thing that I learned during that experience was to build diverse teams. When you’re thinking of new solutions for persistent problems, it’s really important to get different perspectives at the table.
You also have a background in East Asian studies! How does that influence your work?
YS: It definitely helped kick start my passion for social justice and impact. I spent some time in Tokyo, Japan as an undergraduate where I studied social policies that affected women in the workplace, single mothers, and minorities. This experience sharpened my research and writing skills, and required me to ask critical questions to fully understand the extent of the social inequalities I was investigating.
Besides office hours, what other way can students contact you?
YS: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also encourage students to come say “hi” during business hours in our new student hub in Vance Hall! We have coffee!
Okay, now for some Speed Round questions. If you had to choose one core value, what would it be?
If you could solve one of the world’s problems, what would it be?
YS: Access to opportunity
Name a recent read that you would recommend.
YS: Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley
Most exciting thing about Penn?
YS: Lifelong learning
After speaking with Yuri, I found myself reflecting on the notion of interconnectedness that came up at various points in our discussion. From all of the time that I spent at WSII, I have learned that this is truly a place for everyone. I have forged friendships with undergraduate as well as MBA students, led amazing conversations with people whose backgrounds range from medicine to finance, and met professionals who are generating social impact across the board.
However, with the new addition of Yuri Seung to the team, I am positive that the WSII community will continue to expand. What Yuri brings to the table is an ardor for building a personalized experience for each student who has an interest in creating good and that is a breath of fresh air for us, Penn students, who oftentimes feel like we have to fit a mold in order to be successful. I know that I will definitely be grabbing a coffee with Yuri in the next few weeks and I recommend that all of you change-makers do, too!