Kia DaSilva (C '21) is a Philly native, but she grew up very differently than any other students who hail from the City of Brotherly Love—Kia grew up in the Quad.
“My mom was the faculty master for Riepe College House, so I was like the "Riepe baby." I’m actually an RA for Riepe right now, so it’s come full circle,” Kia says. “Penn is, in many ways, my home.” She moved in to Riepe when she was four years old, and lived in the college house until she was 10.
“I just have a lot of fond memories of growing up in the Quad. As a child, it’s like literally growing up in a castle. There is this giant, imposing building, and all these narrow turns and hideaways," Kia says. "The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books growing up, just because I really related to her."
After living in Riepe, Kia’s family moved 10 blocks west to a home on 48th Street, still close enough to engage with Penn’s campus and culture.
Now, Kia makes her mark on Penn’s campus through her academic passions. She is a Near East Languages and civilizations major. Growing up, Kia took Arabic at a camp called, "Al–Bustan Seeds of Culture," which was a large inspiration for her current course of study.
“They very much instilled in me that language is also learning cultures, so I was learning about cultures in the Middle East, especially at a time there was a lot of Islamophobia and a lot of anti–Arab sentiment in the United States,” she says.
When Kia first came to Penn, she wasn't sure what she wanted to pursue. This changed once she took "Introduction to the Ancient Near East" to fulfill a requirement, and “fell in love with the course.”
“There was one point where the professor pulled up an ancient tablet, and I was like ‘OMG can you read that?’ and he was like ‘Yes.’ He was reading it fluently from the screen, and it blew my mind," Kia says. "I couldn’t believe it. And so I said, ‘Can I take that? Is that a language I can take?’”
The tablet was written in Akkadian, which Kia immediately signed up for, and has been taking ever since. This love of languages has persisted, and Kia worked on a project updating the interpretations of words in the Electronic Pennsylvanian Sumerian Dictionary during the summer after her freshman year. She is currently the only undergraduate student in advanced Akkadian.
"Because I was the only student studying it, a lot of resources were thrown at me, and I got involved with archaeological science, because I still had an interest in science and the scientific method,” she says.
Kia went on her first archaeological dig in Oman through the Penn Museum over last year’s winter break. They dug at an archaeological site called Bat, which is about three hours away from Muscat. “Being able to tell all sorts of details from literal fragments, and really inconspicuous, innocuous pieces of bone, or metal, or ceramic is mind–blowing," Kia says. "You really feel like you’re contributing to knowledge in a way that other people can’t.”
This summer, Kia also went on two different digs in Azerbaijan and Israel. To avoid the brutal heat, work often starts and ends early in the day. In Israel, Kia woke up at 4 a.m., started to dig by 5 a.m., and worked eight–hour days until 1 p.m.
One of the craziest things Kia encountered on her trips was during a dig in Azerbaijan. While the team only expected remains from a Roman administrative settlement, they also found a baby burial ground.
“All of a sudden we’re digging, and someone was like ‘Wait, that’s a human bone!’ I think we had over 20 burials, mostly children and babies,” she says. “I realized they’re all oriented towards Mecca, and then we were like ‘Oh, it’s an Islamic burial ground!’ Being able to have that direct connection with humans—actual humans—is just incredible.”
Kia also recently declared a music major and a minor in computer science. This feels appropriate, as she grew up singing opera for most of her life, in both private vocal lessons and locally produced operas as a child. On campus, Kia performs with the Penn Singers Light Opera Company, and she now serves on their audition committee.
“My first day freshman year, I researched all the clubs. Super nerdy and overeager, I went to the Penn Singers while they were rehearsing for the Freshman Performing Arts Night, and I was like ‘Hey! I’m Kia. I want to know when your auditions are!’ It was so embarrassing,” Kia jokes.
The company just performed Candide written by Leonard Bernstein, which is a “whopping monster” of a show at two–and–a–half hours. It is based on Candide by Voltaire, and Kia appreciated “just really being able to immerse myself in the show, and in the music. It’s so interesting, and jarring and dissonant, but also beautiful.”
Kia also read the book so she could learn more about the characters.
“Being able to understand that book truly was just one of the best experiences I’ve had in a club at Penn. Being able to tie in academics that I kind of ran on my own schedule, with something that was fun and engaging like performance, and having those books influence the way I thought about my character, was just really rewarding,” she adds.
After graduation, Kia hopes to maybe incorporate her interests in computer science with archaeology.
“There’s a growing field of digital archeology and using digital tools to help with archeology and improve our data collection," Kia explains.
She’s also interesting in pursuing academia. She looks up to her mother, who works as a professor in the History Department and founded the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Penn.
But Kia also searches for knowledge outside of the classroom. She has been a part of the Philomathean Society since her freshman year. She currently serves as the First Censor, and acts as the recruitment chair.
"It’s a collection of thinkers and really people who are just curious about learning for its own sake and share the passions that you love with other people,” she says. “There’s this other girl who also loves opera and she brought in the composer–in–residence of the Philadelphia opera, and that was just one of the most magical conversations I had.”
This passion accompanies Kia with almost every topic we touch on. Sitting across from me at Pret, she speaks excitedly about every class and club she's been involved with.
“I knew this is where I wanted to be," she says. "I've been a part of Penn always."