Theoretically, the McNeil building shouldn't get that much attention. It's obscured by Huntsman and Commons. It looks unremarkable from the outside. However, McNeil is home to Career Services, a basement office that serves as the physical hub of Penn's pre–professionalism. 

It’s where people interview for their dream job: a business development operations analyst.

But really, who actually wants to be a business development operations analyst? What even is that? These are the questions Helen Nie (C’18) addresses in her recent art installation, titled When I Grow Up.

Courtesy of Helen Nie

For Helen, When I Grow Up is essentially a commentary on “the way that the OCR process has become very glorified on campus—as the only way to get to something that you want, or sometimes you don’t even want it and you’re just going for it for the sake of going for it.”

Each slab of granite encircling McNeil is stickered by job titles, such as "Associate Management Consultant," "Technical Marketing Coordinator," and "Point Solutions Sales Lead." 

Courtesy of Helen Nie

“They are all just really long titles, which just by looking at it, you would have no idea what the job actually entails, which to me, is kind of a red flag. People are trying so hard to get these jobs that they never would have found or thought they would have wanted had it not been for Penn serving it to you on a silver platter,” Helen said. 

The ambiguity of each position is no coincidence; it illustrates the glorification of the OCR process and how we collectively tend to just dump our résumés without really considering the intricacies of the job. The process is the sole means to an end, an end that for many translates into Wall Street or consulting.

Artist Helen Nie on Locust; Photo courtesy of Helen Nie

Using vinyl stickers cut from a vinyl machine, Helen presents When I Grow Up in Times New Roman, 150pt font, and in italics, the standard format for a resume. Upon first glance, it’s just one job title. But the empty job titles do not end after that. With each step, there's another long job title, an homage to the list as it appears on Handshake. Looking down at the title on the curbside, it holds little meaning—so why is it that Penn attaches so much value to these titles when they appear on Handshake? 

Photo courtesy of Helen Nie

The piece is reminiscent of two other artworks on campus: Locust Bridge and 125 Years. Locust Bridge has engraved into it the names of famous alumni who have since donated or contributed financially in some form to Penn. 125 Years is a remembrance of the history of women on Penn’s campus, though the wording on the piece does not fully represent women as they should be viewed by modern standards. Because the installation is shown in a similar format as these two pieces, it is implied that there is a degree of importance to its content. But at closer look, the names are only job titles devoid of real meaning.

Photo courtesy of Helen Nie

Growing up is inevitable; it's a process that shapes all of us. But we get to decide how and what we grow up to be—and maybe we need a reminder of that. 


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