It seems like Penn has a club for everything. Performing arts groups, business fraternities, and debate simply scratch the surface of everything there is to offer. Despite over 650 clubs and organizations being available to students, it’s still possible to find that there isn’t a club for a specific interest. 

What do you do then? Like Sofia Cataliotti (C’ 22) and Julia Halas (C ‘22), you create your own. 

As a biology and nutrition double major, Julia has always been interested in nutrition and the way it impacts the Philadelphia community. Similarly, Sofia—a biology major and nutrition minor on the pre–med track—became interested in nutrition when she participated in research surrounding the Starting Early Obesity Prevention Program

“We have experience that led us to realize how important nutrition is in terms of future health and present health. We were surprised to see that Penn didn't have a student–run organization that was doing something that we wanted to do—which is to raise awareness of and take action in a nutrition–related setting,” Julia says.

Once they recognized this gap, they decided to develop NEST: Nutrition Education Service Team. Sofia explains that NEST is an “educational, service–based club.” Ultimately, their goal is to impact both the Penn community and the Philadelphia community at large. 

One of their main objectives is to educate the Penn community on nutrition. Nonetheless, they aim to positively impact West Philadelphia by carrying out activities that “improve awareness of and access to nutritious choices,” Sofia says. 

Even though they just started recruiting members, the co–founders have been working hard on building the club since the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. Sofia and Julia had to work together to figure out the structure of their club, as well as their mission and the activities they want to carry out. 

“I have to say, Penn actually makes it really easy. And one of the things that I've always just loved about Penn in general is, if you have an idea to do some crazy thing, you probably can find a person or an organization that will help you,” Julia says. 

Courtesy of Sofia Cataliotti and Julia Halas

The past semester consisted of frequent meetings to build the skeleton of the club. This winter break, Sofia and Julia had the opportunity to choose their first executive board, which will begin in a completely remote setting. They have also faced logistical challenges, such as figuring out how to properly use Slack channels. Additionally, they have to go through a formal process with the Student Activities Council to receive funding. Ultimately, Sofia and Julia are excited about beginning NEST programming this semester and building their community (you can fill out NEST’s interest form to join the team). 

“Given the fact that many families are experiencing greater financial strain during the pandemic, and many students are missing their school–provided meals, we really want to emphasize that the club's mission is needed now more than ever. We're excited to get to work this semester,” Sofia says. 

Even though their programming will have to remain virtual this semester, Sofia and Julia have plans for what regular programming will look like in the future. Some ideas in the works include having weekly meetings with students to educate them on specific nutrition–related topics, bringing in keynote speakers, collaborating with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, volunteering at food banks, and attending cooking lessons together. 

Julia talks about the experience with enthusiasm: “It can be really daunting to start a club from the ground up, but it's very motivating to think about the impact that we will hopefully have. You know, not only educating college students, but also making them aware of and helping the surrounding West Philly community in this kind of setting. So it's really exciting.”