Name: Emily Saperstein
Hometown: Livingston, N.J.
Major: Computer science with minors in fine arts and math
Activities: Penn Glee Club, Penn Sirens, Penn Hillel, CIS 110 TA, Penn Women in Computer Science, Shamash Senior Society, Penn Student Design
Tell us about your unique combination of STEM and the arts.
I guess first of all I would say I'm definitely a person that likes to do a little bit of everything. I'm grateful that I've been able to do that at Penn, and I've tried to create a balance so that I'm actually able to do a little bit of everything. But I also like to be extra involved in the pieces that I do really like a lot. So on the STEM side, one of the things I really love is being a CIS 110 TA. I really liked being able to give back in that academic setting, and also to act as a role model for other students—especially because CIS 110 is the intro class at Penn. When I came in, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do computer science, and that class really solidified it for me. So I really like being able to help others in that way, and I do the same thing as a Women in Computer Science mentor. That's sort of the STEM side.
On the arts side, I've always been a big music person and a big visual arts person too. I’ve done graphic design for a long time, so I love continuing to do that through my fine arts minor. On the music side, being in Glee and Sirens and being able to sing is really important to me. I get to do that kind of outside of academics too, which is really nice. It’s definitely a big mix.
Did you plan all of this out before arriving at Penn?
I knew I wanted some elements. But for example, I had no idea I wanted to be a TA until I took my first college class. I also guess I just sort of knew I wanted to prioritize music because music has always been really important to me. I was in choirs in high school, but I didn't really know that I wanted to get more involved in other things. I was sort of more like, “You know, what I do for STEM in my classes is great, but outside of class, I really want to do music.” I was pleasantly surprised that I'm kind of able to do both, which is really nice. Especially finding that TA opportunity.
So how do you supplement your passion for the arts?
I just look for opportunities to do the things that I like in whatever situation I'm in at a given time. So what that means is let's say Penn Hillel needs me to design a graphic or flyer for an upcoming event, I’m immediately in because I love to do that. Or when a contest comes up, like for Class Board, I’ll submit a drawing for that. I entered the design contest for the Hey Day T–shirts and I actually won it, so my design is on those shirts. It’s nice to get to do these things when I have some free time. I guess in the opposite sense, like in Glee Club, where I’m an Alto section leader, I get to use some of my TA skills when it comes to teaching people music.
Tell us about your involvement in Penn Hillel.
I just finished my term on the Executive Board as the Vice President of Jewish Life and Education. What that meant in practice was focusing on doing holiday events and other events that brought different members of the Jewish community together who might have different religious practices while promoting pluralism. Trying to manage after COVID–19 was kind of hard, especially with doing a lot of outdoor events, but it honestly worked out really well because people were kind of really excited about getting together in the best way that they could. I have been involved with Penn Hillel since I was a [first year]. I went on their pre–orientation program, I’m there every weekend, and I really consider it my home on campus.
Tell me about yourself a little bit outside of school.
One thing I'm really excited about is baking. I come from a major foodie family. We held regular family cooking competitions during the pandemic and over winter break, and we still continue doing them. Other members of my family are more into frying things or cooking, but I’m definitely more into baking specifically.
Also, music is my life. I listen to music all the time and especially a lot of musical theater. I also like spending a lot of time with my friends and family.
What's been your most memorable experience at Penn?
It’s hard to remember now that the pandemic came in between everything, but as of now, I would have to say my most memorable experience was being able to sing at Convocation this year with Glee Club. I was in Sirens before, which is also super important to me too. It was my first time singing at Convocation with the newly merged Glee Club and Sirens, though.
We were rehearsing a lot and everyone really had the chance to bond together. We just ran up to the stage and we were beaming as we listened to how we were sounding. It was also crazy to have that perspective when it was our first time being back on campus and seeing all of these new [first years] after being online for so long. It was very overwhelming with so many new people but super memorable. I just really enjoyed all the rehearsals and bonding for such a momentous performance.
What’s been your biggest struggle in balancing everything you do?
My biggest struggle has been figuring out that balance of how much I want to push myself in everything I do. What that meant for me was learning to not be so hard on myself in every single thing that I did, because if you want to do a little bit of everything you can’t absolutely commit to every single thing for every activity. It was definitely hard in the beginning to figure out that balance, but it meant prioritizing different things at different times and figuring out what I really love the most and trying out different versions of that until I found the balance I really liked. It’s changed year to year; it’s not static. I think it's a good thing because I was able to get myself more involved in different spaces at different times throughout my Penn experience which has been really valuable.
What’s something you’ve learned throughout this process and your four years at Penn?
It relates to the last question, but for me it’s been learning how to not be crazy hard on myself. I’ve always been somebody who pushes myself to the limit to do as much as possible. Every activity and class at Penn is of the highest quality you can possibly get from anywhere, so learning to find the balance without being so hard on myself was super important. I had to learn to be okay with things sometimes being mediocre so that other parts of my life could be spectacular.
It’s a hard thing to learn but it’s also super valuable. I’m sure it applies for later in life too because life is crazy. Overall I had to learn a lot about not pushing myself too hard, not being too hard on myself, and learning to balance all of the different things I do.
What's next for you after Penn?
I'm going to be joining Google full time as a software engineer. I’m really excited—it’s been a big dream of mine and I’ve been hoping for it for a long long time.
Last song you listened to? “Come To Your Senses” by Jonathan Larson from “Tick, Tick… Boom!”
Last thing you baked? Double chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate candies in them.
Death row meal? Eggplant parmesan.
Favorite study spot on campus? Fisher Fine Arts.
There are two types of people at Penn… People who walk to Trader Joe's and the people who take SEPTA or drive.
And you are? The person who walks. I like walking around the city and it gives you exercise.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Glee was “newly virtual,” which we have since determined is incorrect due to an error in Zoom audio processing. The piece has been updated with the correct information. Street regrets this error.