David Gordon (C ‘19) didn’t always plan to double major in biology and architecture. When he entered Penn, he knew he was interested in architecture and liked how the design curriculum was taught in a liberal arts context, but also recognized that he had a “science brain.” He hoped that taking classes in both fields would allow him to come to a decision. “And here I am now, still doing both,” David says.
However, David finds that biology and architecture have a lot of “parallels.” “Both are really operating on solving a problem with a given set of constraints,” he says. “We do more scientific design—thinking in architecture classes and just as much design—thinking in biology classes, which something I wouldn't have expected.”
However, unlike biology, the undergraduate architecture community is small. In Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall, David and his 12 other classmates share a large room, and each person has their own desk, which they receive at the end of their sophomore year.
David says, “Everything here is collaborative: we all help one another and we all really strive to make each other as successful as we can.”
Last spring, David and the rest of his classmates were able to see one of their projects in virtual reality (VR). “We got to walk through the project we spent the whole semester developing,” he says, “That was one of the first times I've walked through a project I designed and executed.” He adds, “It's really cool to see that something you worked on is actually happening—even if it's just in this virtual world.”
In his sophomore year of high school, David worked on designing a two–mile trail, including 100+ feet of bridges, behind his school, and the project was completed last year. He says it was “really cool” to be involved in the plan from “conceptual design execution to final plan.” While he couldn’t be at the grand opening, which featured a kick–off 5K, David was able to see the structure being built. He said, “Unlike a project that was in VR you actually got to walk around and be on it.”
When he’s not in Addams, you can most likely find David at MERT headquarters in Butcher's Basement in Ware. David is chief, which is the highest–ranking position in the organization.
I arrive at the Quad later in the day to finish our interview. David is currently on the 5—11 p.m. shift. He’s at ease here, joking with the other members on his shift and moving comfortably and quickly in the basement, despite its somewhat awkward longitudinal layout.
David knew that when he applied to Penn, he wanted to be involved in Emergency Medical Services "in some way shape or form.” In fact, David took his exam right before NSO. “I was in a pre–orientation program and disappeared off the orientation program in the last day to take the EMT exam. So I had to drive up from this random summer camp in the middle of Pennsylvania back to New York, shower, take the EMT exam and then be back in Philadelphia later that night to rejoin the group and start freshmen orientation.”
Deciding to run for Chief was a difficult decision for David, however, it seems that David is now a symbol of the organization. When we were in Addams, an architecture student in the room during our interview said to David, “We all want to get MERTed by you.”
Unlike MERT, SCUE (the Student Committee of Undergraduate Education), was something David had never heard of before Penn, and he wasn’t entirely sure he was going to join. What ultimately convinced him was speaking to Justin Bean, the current chair external of SCUE. Now, SCUE is like “a second family.”
“Both SCUE and MERT are project–driven,” he says. “For MERT, it’s caring for the health and well–being of our community, and for SCUE it's really looking critically at academic policy and figuring out what we can do and recommend to improve it. It says something about the way I like to go about things, for sure.”
Another important part of David’s life is his dog, Dari. Despite his busy schedule, he always has time for her: “I'm one of those who FaceTimes the dog,” he says. Her Instagram, @dari_the_doubledoodle, is managed by his whole family. He says, “It's just a fun way for all of us to stay connected as well as let the dog have her moment of fame.”
David also likes to go running or biking, usually every Friday and weekend morning. “I love getting off campus and exploring the areas around Philadelphia.”
“I've been able to see so much,” he adds. “In one architecture lecture we were talking about a Louis Khan house—the Venturi house—that's in Chestnut Hill. Two weekends after, I went out and biked towards it and I got to take a peek.”
Before our interview, David texted me to let me know that he was biking over from Grays Ferry, where he helps out his friends that are fostering a dog in the Penn Working Dog program. “I pitch in every so often, so I picked the dog up and I brought the dog to school,” he says, “It makes me feel like a dad.”
Funnily enough, two of my friends who are on MERT jokingly call David “Dad,” but spending time with him makes it obvious why.
When a fellow architecture student entered the room during our interview, David asked if we were bothering her, and immediately lowered his voice to allow her to work more easily. He also always has snacks (he’s the “granola bar” man) in his desk. He also works as a TA for BIO–101 in the spring semesters.
David speaks passionately and thoughtfully, and almost always connects what he’s doing to the well–being and development of his community. David says, “We're at Penn for four years, how can we make the most of it?” And David has definitely made the most of his time here. From MERT to SCUE to architecture, David works, diligently and excitedly, to make Penn a better place.