Ben Watkins, C’13, is a recent graduate of Penn who resides in New York City. He currently works as a client relationship manager at Kinnek, a startup specializing in B2B purchasing for growing businesses. In his spare time he enjoys both cooking and dining out, attending local concerts, and generally enjoying everything that the city has to offer. Ben sat down with us to talk about what makes Penn such a special place to him.
How did you first become interested in Penn?
When looking at colleges, I wanted to be at an academically rigorous school located in or near a big city. I was looking at New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, but I didn't think to add Philly to my list. To be completely honest, Penn wasn't even on my radar until October of my senior year.
A family friend recommended looking into Penn, and I came down for a short visit. I just fell in love with campus, more specifically Locust Walk. I was walking down the walk around 11:45 a.m. and before I knew it, I was completely surrounded by people. The buzz, the fliers, the trees, the squirrels: I knew Penn would be a place I could be happy at for the next four years.
What coursework/extracurriculars were you involved with while here? What are a few special memories or standout experiences that you had?
I studied economics in the College and was lucky enough to be involved in multiple communities at Penn. I found a home within the APA (Asian Pacific American) community, and spent a lot of my time with the Penn Taiwanese Society, Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, PEER (Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships) Mentoring Program, and Oracle Senior Honor Society. I got involved with student government starting freshman year, serving on the 2013 Class Board, and continued my service through senior year, when I also served as a Co-Chair on Seniors for The Penn Fund. I spent two years as a Resident Advisor in Rodin College House and was also an active brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Phi Omega throughout my four years.
Freshman year elections was a tight race. I had campaigned hard that week, wearing a humongous board to advertise myself on Locust between classes. Up until the last minute, I was walking around with my laptop, encouraging my peers to vote (advocating for myself of course) and knew I had given it my best. Later that night, the vote was close, and I narrowly won by only four votes. That experience taught me that if you really want it, you need to lay it all out on the line, and every vote counts.
I hosted a lot of prospective students when I lived in the quad, and one of the most satisfying experiences was when I was sitting in the dining hall my junior year and this guy came up to me and called me by my name. I didn't recognize him, but he mentioned how his visit two years ago was the main reason why he chose to come to Penn, and he thanked me for being a great host.
How did Penn prepare you for where you are today?
Penn not only encourages growth within the classroom, but I felt my extracurricular activities and Penn's focus on professional development helped me get to where I am today. While I don't believe on-campus recruiting is the best way to explore career options, it taught me many valuable lessons including the basics of resume and cover letter writing, how to successfully go through interviews, and how to present myself to a company I'm interested in working for. My internship experiences over the summers gave me glimpses into what it would be like working as a teacher and a data analyst, pursuits that were heavily encouraged by my peers and advisors.
In general, Penn has an unparalleled pool of resources, and my four years taught me to ask for what I needed, take it when I figured it out, and use it appropriately. I can confidently say that without my Penn experience, I wouldn't be where I am today.
What do you do as a volunteer? Why is giving back to Penn important to you?
This past year I helped spearhead the fundraising committee for the One Year Reunion, working closely with The Penn Fund. I currently serve as the yPenn representative to the Board of Trustees as well as the Vice President of Communications of UPAAN, Penn's national Asian alumni network.
As a student that heavily depended on financial aid, I realize how important it is to give back as much as possible. Without those funds, my Penn experience wouldn't have been possible, and I want to do as much as I can to ensure that future classes have access to the same opportunities as I had. While I'm not in the position to contribute record-breaking donations, I choose to volunteer my time whenever possible because I know that every bit counts, and it encourages my peers to join in and give back.
How would you encourage your fellow alumni to become involved with the University?
It is impossible to look back on your years at Penn and not come across something that wouldn't have been possible without the work of alumni. Financial aid isn't the only recipient of alumni contributions. Many college houses, clubs and organizations, even AirPennNet heavily depends on alumni contributions, and we should all feel obligated to give back and make sure the same opportunities that were afforded to us are still available for classes to come.