Name: Shaila Lothe

Hometown: Richmond, Va.

Majors and Minors: Political science and economics with a minor in Hispanic studies

Activities: Penn Appétit, Wharton Undergraduates in Public Policy, Penn Democrats, Social Impact Advisory Board, TA for OIDD 290, Behavioral Economics Research

Tell us a little bit about your work with Penn Appétit.

Penn Appétit is the largest student food organization on campus. It's really just a hub of people who are interested in talking about food. It is definitely the biggest thing that I've been involved with on campus related to food; being on the board for two years was a big commitment. Last year, I was doing more of the work internally within the club. The year before that, I had a larger responsibility to the club, as I was assigned to run [the website]. It was a really fun experience, and I was able to get some good leadership experience. I was able to manage a team of 16 people. 

One thing that really stuck out to me during my time at Penn Appétit was the impact of the diversity here at Penn. Many people fall in love with food because of the cultural significance it can have. Thus, when people write about food, they tend to write about culture. I found it really fun to read about people's heritage and families—all of that comes out when people are talking about food. 

Tell us about your food adventures while abroad in Argentina.

Food during my time abroad in Argentina was interesting because I'm a vegetarian. I believe Argentina, at the time, was the number two per capita beef consumer in the world with number one being Uruguay, which is right next door. So it was definitely a challenge to be a vegetarian there at times. However, when I was there, I found food as a way to connect with the local people. In Argentina, I was living with a host family, and every night we would have dinner together. Having a space to connect with people over food and talk about recipes that I like to make with my host mom made my experience abroad really fulfilling. Ultimately, I just see food as a way to connect with people. Actually, Penn Abroad made fun of me because all of my blog posts about my trip abroad were food–related.

How has being vegetarian changed your relationship with food? 

I've actually been vegetarian forever. For me, it's more of a cultural thing. I don't think of it as being weird in any way. However, I obviously know there's a bunch of stuff that I'm probably not going to try and will never try. It just feels normal to me, but I get that it feels very different to some people.

Out of all your extracurricular activities, which would you say has had the biggest impact on your experience at Penn?

I would say that probably being president of Wharton Undergraduates in Public Policy was a really interesting experience. The year before I was in charge of the club, it had actually been affiliated with Wharton directly, the now–defunct Wharton Public Policy Initiative. When I took over, it was really in a time of transition, and we had to rebuild the club from scratch without that Wharton sponsorship and the institutional support it had. COVID–19 also complicated the process of rebuilding the club. I was in charge of the club starting in August 2020, and it was a really big challenge, but also something I'm really grateful to have experienced.

Any memories with food and friends on campus? 

During COVID–19, in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, we had a friend group that ended up going out a lot more. There were so many days of outdoor happy hours and going out in the middle of the winter with blankets and giant thick socks to try to not freeze. Philadelphia’s indoor dining [scene] was shut down, so we didn’t really have an opportunity to experience food in the traditional sense. Honestly, just going out with a blanket and stuff is something that's wild to me now. I don't think I'll ever forget freezing under a heat lamp in 20–degree weather just because we all wanted to eat dinner together.

How have you found balance in everything you do?

When I was coming into Penn, I tried a bunch of things that looked interesting to me, even if I didn't have a ton of experience in a certain thing and even if it wasn't something that I thought I would like. By trying a bunch of things, I was able to find and keep doing the things that were important to me. This helped me to be happy and find the right group of people to be around. I would say that if you're actually doing things that make you happy, then the balance isn't that hard to achieve. However, a lot of people get overwhelmed and stressed when they do a bunch of things they don't actually care about. So, find things that you care about and stick with them.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during your time at Penn? 

I would say just follow your own path. There are a lot of external pressures to do certain things depending on certain groups. It can feel like all of your friends are doing something or that everyone's going to one place or everyone's trying to get an internship at a specific firm. I would say to do the things that you truly want to do and block out all of the noise around you. Don't do what everyone else is doing; do what actually makes you happy. I feel like I saw the value of this with my internship abroad my first year. It felt like everyone was trying to do preprofessional stuff their first summer. They were all staying on campus doing research or working a professional internship. But for me, going abroad that first summer really taught me a lot, and it was something that I really wanted to do. That’s just kind of my own example of why I think people should follow what they're truly interested in instead of what may seem like the path of least resistance.

What is some important food advice you have for students at Penn? 

Don't stick to the restaurants just around Penn. Make sure to explore farther west and throughout other parts of Philadelphia. The best food is not directly on campus.

What's next for you after Penn?

I'm most likely taking a year off to travel, and then I'll be returning to Bain & Company to consult the year after that.

Lightning Round:

Last song you listened to? Out Of My Head” by Charli XCX ft. Tove Lo and ALMA.

Last thing you cooked? Pasta with these weird mushrooms I found at the farmers' market.

Favorite Restaurant Near Campus? Taco Taco.

Death row meal? Mac and cheese.

Favorite study spot on campus? Wharton Academic Research Building.

There are two types of people at Penn… People who study in libraries, and people who don’t.

And you are? I don't think I've been into a library voluntarily since my first year.