Street: What would you say is one thing about M&T that people don’t usually know?
Connor Swords: M&T students tend to be really active on campus, which is something that not a lot of people would guess. Whenever we have new students coming in trying to learn about the program, they always ask, 'Do you guys have time to do things outside of school? Do you have social lives? Are you involved in organizations?' Overall, M&Ts are as active as the average Penn student, if not more.
Street: What activities are you involved in on campus?
CS: I’m one of the co–chairs for Wharton Council, I’m a Management 100 TA, I’m the president of Fiji and I’m a facilitator for this program called Wharton Roundtables, which is a mental health initiative where you just have open conversations related to Wharton as a school.
Street: How often do you have discussions?
CS: Generally they’re once a month. We really just send out an email to all Wharton students and say, 'We’re having this discussion forum, for you to discuss any kind of challenges or any concerns.' We don’t really come up with any agenda. It’s just an hour long of talking. It's surprisingly really constructive even though we don’t really put any format into the discussion. We usually have 10–15 students per session.
Street: What do you do for Wharton Council?
CS: There are kind of two branches to what Wharton Council does. The first is overseeing the clubs, which is what I’ve been primarily involved in in my past three years with Council. We provide funding for all of Wharton, recognize clubs, we recognize new clubs when they come to us with a new idea. We have events for getting club leaders to get to know each other. And we bring in lecturers to talk to them about different ways to lead their clubs. Then the next side is Traditions, which are the annual events that we hold. So we mostly have events that are meant to be kind of fun, distract students from some of the other stresses with school or work. One coming up is Wharton Pumpkin Patch this week.
Street: Can you talk about how you got to be a Management 100 TA?
CS: So like all Wharton freshmen, I took the class my freshman fall, and enjoyed it and thought it was an introduction to the school that was very different than any class I had taken before. And my TA, Tim Flank, was pretty influential for me in my freshman year. So he really led me through freshman year, answered my questions, not just about the class but about other things when I had them. He kind of set the example of a mentor that I thought was really cool and something I really wanted to be. That’s what got me to apply. Since then, I’ve had three different teams. One thing I always stress with those teams is, 'Yes, I’m primarily attached to the class, but I’m much more focused on making sure you guys are successful in school outside of this class and outside of classes themselves.'
Street: Having actually worked in a field that you’re going to continue in, would you say there are any skills that management taught you that you’ve applied?
CS: I think one of the most important ones that is kind of overlooked is the process of getting and receiving feedback. The class made me much more comfortable being very open with members of the team. Both in times when I’m like saying something good that they’ve done, and also times when I’m suggesting something that they could do differently—it’s just a transparency and honesty that I think is really important for any team that is core to Management 100.
Street: Would you say you apply any of that to being president of Fiji?
CS: Yeah, I would say so. As a TA, you’re overseeing a team of ten students. A fraternity is slightly larger than that, but nevertheless, there’s a diversity of perspectives and opinions on that team, where it’s your job to make sure everything is going well. Just like a fraternity where I wouldn’t step in and organize something that our philanthropy chair was doing, making sure that he has ownership over his work. It’s kind of the same way with being a TA. You have to make sure everything is going well without becoming too involved in the affairs of the students. So I think that’s been a valuable way of learning how to be a facilitator rather than someone who’s actively telling everyone what to do.
Street: If you are what you eat, then what are you?
CS: Some kind of barbecue. It has to be something that’s slightly Southern. We'll say barbecue sandwich.
Street: What would you be infamous for?
CS: Sarcasm. I think all of my close friends are getting better at understanding when I’m serious and when I’m not. I’d say if you asked all my friends, 'What is Connor infamous for?' it’d be sarcasm, and an inability to figure out what he’s actually trying to say.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
CS: I would say it’s the people who stay on campus and the people who get off campus. Or the people who are confined to the University City and the ones who get into the rest of Philadelphia. I think the biggest shift of my college career was trying to get outside of campus more often and explore the city. I think it’s been something that’s really opened my perspective as a student at Penn.
Street: Are there any spots in Philadelphia that you particularly like that you don’t think people are familiar with?
CS: I frequently visit coffee shops throughout the city. I’ve made an effort to try and visit as many coffee shops as I can. I really like getting into Fishtown and the Northern Liberties area. I think it’s a really cool part of Philadelphia that’s not incredibly accessible for Penn students, but this year and kind of the end of last year, I’ve made an effort to get out there more to coffee shops. The La Colombe flagship store out there is really cool. There’s also a lot of community events out in Fishtown that are really interesting.
Street: What’s one question we forgot to ask you?
CS: Maybe as a senior, what advice would you have for yourself as a freshman?
Street: What would you say?
CS: Don’t take yourself too seriously. It can be difficult at Penn sometimes to try and have a good time and not be too focused on everything you have to do, and to feel like you have to do things because other people are doing them. I think that every time I’ve done something for a reason outside of me wanting to do it, it’s always backfired on me and I’ve always ended up feeling more stressed than productive. So I’d say consider the things that you enjoy and only do the things that you get value out of, and don’t feel like you have to do things that other people are doing.
Street: What’s something you feel you were pressured into doing that backfired on you?
CS: As a freshman I joined a lot of clubs just because I saw people around me doing them. And I’d say that wasn’t productive and I eventually found the things that I get value out of and I think that I’ve done a good job narrowing down the things that I want to do. I’d also say being worried about jobs is something that is really difficult to kind of prevent yourself from doing. And there have certainly been times when I’ve kind of freaked out because I think I’m behind people, but really when it comes down to it, you have to understand what you value. You have to understand that you’re a different person than those around you. I think that when I’ve taken that mindset, clubs have worked out, classes have worked out and job stuff has worked out despite me not freaking out like I’ve done in the past.