You asked, and we listened. This week's Ego of the Week was the most requested member of the senior class on last semester's nomination form. Rob Warshaw is pretty involved across campus, but this self–proclaimed goofball is best known for his cheerful demeanor and outgoing nature. After all, it's about time we started celebrating more people for being plain ol' good friends.
Hometown: Wynnewood, PA
Major: Management and OIDD
Activities: PennQuest, Wharton Dean’s Advisory Board, Wharton 101 Teaching Assistant, Kite and Key, Phi
Freshman Dorm Room: 333 Hill (Hill's address is 3333 Walnut St., so that's seven threes)
34th Street Magazine: You’re a pretty involved Ego of the Week. What’s the coolest thing you’re a part of?
Rob Warshaw: That’s really difficult to answer! I can't choose between my cults. Between the Dean’s Advisory Board, PennQuest, and my fraternity, they're all cults—not so much in that they’re homogenous, but that they're all really tight.
Street: Ok, so let’s go cult by cult. What’s the Wharton Dean’s Advisory Board like?
RW: I think because the name is really pretentious, people assume that WAB is just a bunch of these really Type A, aggressive people. In reality, the people in WAB are some of the kindest people at Penn. They are so kind, and goofy, and smart, and not at all aggressive. I can kind of break down my time in WAB into the “giving view” and the “taking view.” In terms of giving, it's been so cool to be able to have a positive impact on the Wharton academic experience. We get to problem solve and approach new ideas from tons of angles, like if we want there to be a new concentration, or any other problem, it’s fun to figure out who we need to talk to, how we can present it, what research we need to do.
In terms of things that I've gotten out of it personally, everyone in that group is just so committed and by being around them I’ve gained so many skills in terms of how to think critically about issues. It's interesting, because I think a lot of other groups at Penn are either academic or social, and so you don't really ever get feedback on yourself as a whole person at Penn. My friends on WAB will give you feedback on critical thinking and on writing and on things like that, but they'll also give you feedback on stuff like how you are as a friend, and how you are as a person. Because you really feel like they know you so well and in so many different domains, you can really trust that whatever they're telling you is true and honest feedback and mentorship.
Street: What does WAB do?
RW: WAB works with faculty, staff, and administrators to generate and implement new academic initiatives that benefit the Wharton academic environment. We helped create the social impact responsibility concentration, and helped spearhead the consumer psychology university minor. Last year, we helped create the Wharton Wellness board as a dual effort with the Wharton council. And then in the past year or two we've done the passion projects, which is where people can apply for $300 grants to pursue anything that they could not receive money for anywhere else at Penn. The grant funded the Hot Cheeto cookbook last semester. We also have WAB seminars. We recognize that people want to learn things just for the sake of learning. So we started offering things like a coding class, a Photoshop class, and a blockchain class.
Street: Switching gears, let’s talk about your biggest cult: PennQuest.
RW: PennQuest! I love Penn, and a big contributing factor to that was PennQuest. I think coming into college, there's a lot of pressure to be “cool”, or to very quickly assimilate to what everyone else is like. For example, when I was shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond for college stuff, I remember looking at the display of trash cans for ten minutes and thinking, “How will people judge me based on my trash can?” Then, I went to PennQuest and had the most amazing time and felt so much more comfortable with who I was. I was so happy to realize that people at college would like me for who I am, like my home friends did. It sounds silly, but I think we all have that same worry, like, “My home friends like me for who I am, but my college friends will never get that.” I remember coming back from PennQuest, and seeing my trash can and thinking, “I can't believe that I cared what my trash can looks like, or thought that anyone else would care.” PennQuest allowed me to be myself coming in to college—to just be a weirdo and be goofy. I think carrying that same personality with me across all my different groups at Penn has let me feel much more like I'm being myself and has helped me meet a lot more people.
Street: What trashcan did you end up getting?
RW: Oh, I still have it. It’s this really nice greenish–blue trashcan, very sturdy.
Street: What has being a PennQuest leader been like for you?
RW: Oh, I can go into the stereotype of PennQuest leaders. I think a lot of people assume that the PennQuest leaders are super outdoorsy and granola, and love biking around campus and things like that—which is true of some. But my first time hiking and camping was PennQuest freshman year, and my second and third times were leading freshmen this year and junior year.
When I did PennQuest, there wasn't a single Wharton leader, and that really bothered me. I wanted to see people in Wharton who had the same qualities that my group’s leaders had, just had in terms of being funny, weird, self–deprecating, confident, and not caring what others really thought of them. For me, one of the big reasons I wanted to be a PennQuest leader was to help show other people in Wharton that the stereotype doesn't hold. You can be really weird and goofy and also be yourself. One of the difficult parts of PennQuest is that it is a short trip, and as a leader you have to keep that community of people who have seen you at your most vulnerable and your most open with you moving forward. Having a group of people like that continue with you over the four years is just such an incredible safety net, and such a diverse group of people.
Street: What has been the most surprising thing to you about Penn?
RW: I think I do have to say the prevalence of mental health issues. I think freshman through junior year I really thought that it was something that affected Penn, but didn't really hit my close circles. This year, I've seen a lot of people in my close circles really dealing with those issues, and in recognizing that, I don't know if it's a Penn bubble or a higher education problem but it’s important to realize that people here are struggling. It’s hard, because at Penn there's a lot of emphasis on being accomplished, and being in lots of clubs, and getting lots of great grades, and getting great internships—and I think that all takes time. What’s not really valued is the fact that being a really good friend takes a lot of time, too. And that's time that is taking away from those accomplishments. There are some people at Penn who aren't really involved in any clubs that are incredible friends. If Penn could be a place that has a lot more of those types of friends, it would be a more comfortable place. Those people are really making this a safe and comfortable space for their friends and taking time aside from selfish goals to really help those around them get by. And we should value that more.
Street: You talk a lot about the importance of being yourself. Have there been any times at Penn where you feel like you’ve struggled to stand by that?
RW: I can't think of any big overarching examples, but I think all of us have times in a day or in a week where we leave a conversation or a meeting kind of feeling like, “That wasn't really who I am. I didn’t really put my real self forward.” And I think it's okay when those moments happen. It's really easy to feel pushed in certain ways that you're not comfortable with when you’re intimidated, or nervous, or whatever. But I think the most important piece is just being able to recognize that, and check in with yourself. It’s much more important to be willing to know when you're being inconsistent than to only be worried about possible inconsistencies.
Street: How are you going to make sure that you stay true to yourself and your goofiness post Penn?
RW: I think it's a lot easier to be true to yourself when you surround yourself with people you respect and who elevate you. So I think just continuing, whether it be at work or in my personal life, to keep people who I trust and respect close, and to always try to bring them in to check myself and make sure that I'm being true to who I've always been. I think that's always going to be the best move.
Street: Considering all of the different communities you’ve been a part of at Penn, are there any things you think could change to make the school less divisive? How do we get more Wharton kids leading PennQuest trips?
RW: Hmmm. I think change has to start small. So there are a few things that just came to mind that I think could help reduce divisiveness at that level. One is that the current trend in snake memes needs to end.
Street: The Wharton ones?
RW: Yes! I interview for the Dean's Advisory Board, and during the interview we ask students about problems they want to solve. We found that this year an overwhelming number of them talked about the competitiveness at Wharton, even though they had only been here for about a month or so, and students in the past generally haven’t mentioned that. I think that the snake memes have actually perpetuated a culture that might not have fully existed before! And I think we see the freshman feeling the need to fall into that stereotype, so I worry because although I know that the meme page is a joke and people don't take it that seriously, I think that the prevalence of the snake memes is possibly having the opposite effect that those who are using it wanted it to have. As someone who never wants any group to be labeled, I think that the more we stay away from applying labels and stereotypes at Penn, the better off we will be in terms of reducing divisiveness.
Another piece is that I think people stop opening up their circles after freshman year. Once sophomore spring rolls around, when someone introduces you to a friend of theirs, you think “Oh, well, it was nice meeting that person” rather than, “Oh, this is a possible new friend for me!” I think that people who go through all four years wanting to meet and get to know more people are better off, whether they’re friends, or acquaintances, people in group projects, people at Wawa, people at Pret, people at food trucks. Just really being open to making new relationships and meeting new people. Penn starts to feel incredibly small, and it would reduce divisiveness so much if everyone got to know more people in more circles. We’d all have more empathy.
My Common App essay was about... Raising awareness for this new law Pennsylvania had called the Good Samaritan law, which basically allowed you to not get in trouble for calling the police if your friend was really drunk.
The best place to poop on campus is... The single bathroom in College Hall that I've Instagrammed with Lizzie McGuire Movie lyrics.
The best food truck on campus is... Bui's. I have gone almost every single day since freshman year.
The song I can't stop listening to right now is... "Don't Waste Your Heart" by the Dixie Chicks.
There are two types of people at Penn... People who are openly weird and people who hide their weirdness.
This interview was conducted in December 2017. Rob and Street staff send their heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of Will Steinberg, who was a beloved member of Rob's PennQuest group.