On a gorgeous Philadelphia spring day, Natasha Chity–Guevara (C ‘22), wearing a bright pink sundress, leads us from Huntsman Hall back behind McNeil to her favorite spot on campus: the Lehman Brothers Quadrangle.
It’s a tranquil area with robins pecking at the cobblestone–lined walkway and bumblebees flying between the overhanging trees. We sit at a wooden bench in the shade as Natasha explains how she found this place.
“It ties back to my first favorite class which was my intro to literary analysis Spanish lit class my freshman spring,” she explains, smiling as she thinks back to the fond memory. “There was one day that my professor was like, ‘We cannot stay inside in this dimly lit room when it’s so nice out…’ We just wandered down and we ended up in this little green area in the midst of all these Wharton buildings.”
Unlike most places on campus, this one is relatively remote. The high rise field and even College Green are hoarded with students as soon as it gets warm out, but somehow Lehman Brothers Quadrangle remains peaceful.
Natasha grew up in Philadelphia, although she was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. She came into Penn considering a pre–med track and chose to major in Hispanic studies with a minor in modern Middle Eastern studies. “I wanted to do cultural studies that reflect my identity … my mom is Ecuadorian and my dad is Iranian,” she says.
Although she started her college career wanting to be pre–med, things began to change during her first couple of years, especially once COVID–19 hit. “It was gradual,” she shares matter–of–factly. “I loved [working in my] lab, but I didn’t really like the actual coursework … I was like, it’s just really wearing down on me and [if] there’s something else that I love to do that I can see myself doing long term, then why am I sacrificing parts of my life for that? … So, the pandemic happened, and it just felt like a sign. You’ve been struggling with this for forever, just do it. Just let go.”
Throughout her time at Penn, Natasha has taken on multiple jobs, from translation to working with small businesses in the Galápagos during COVID–19 through the Perry World House Galápagos Education and Research Alliance. It’s a major multifaceted project aimed to help the Galápagos communities in terms of conservation, resilience to climate change, and overall health. Natasha primarily worked as part of a small business sustainable consulting pilot program, which became increasingly relevant after the onset of COVID–19 when many Galápagos small businesses struggled to survive. “I was there [as] a cultural liaison and interpreter working with businesses in the Galápagos and the experts we had on our team to develop marketing strategies and applications for loans. Because it’s a cash economy based on tourism, when the pandemic hit, [their] means of survival [were] very limited,” she says.
When asked about what it was like connecting with these businesses over long distances, she replies with a light laugh, “It was kind of messy, not going to lie. Because even my internet connection here is bad … my family is from Ecuador, so I know firsthand how spotty the internet can be there as well.” Zoom wasn't an option, so Natasha and her coworkers were forced to audio call using WhatsApp.
As someone who grew up in a trilingual household speaking English, Spanish, and Farsi, Natasha has also done work as a Spanish transcriptionist for the Penn Museum. She worked on a project investigating women’s and neonatal health in the Peruvian Andes. Later in her Penn career, she also did on–campus research for the Dispossessions in the Americas project with professor Tulia Falleti in mapping and researching different Indigenous groups in Latin America with the goal of creating a public interactive database. This past semester, she started working with a Washington, D.C. think tank called the Inter–American Dialogue as part of its education department doing research on training for teachers in Latin American countries.
Of all of these work experiences, when asked about what she was most proud of, her face lights up as she takes us back to Perry World House. “We had the opportunity to host the vice president of Ecuador and a bunch of different ministers within the Ecuadorian government,” she says. “We [had] lunch and chatted about the country and how things are going. And that was a very surreal moment for me, like, ‘Wow, I get to meet someone who my family elected.’” She described how her family responded when they found out: “They were so excited … they put it all over Facebook and the amount of chain messages and things I was tagged in, it was awesome.”
Outside of her work, Natasha was co–president of the Penn Persian Society, chair of the Latinx Honor Society Cipactli, and marketing director for La Vida Magazine. She was particularly passionate about Penn Persian Society and La Vida as they were some of the first clubs on campus she joined her first year. Similar to many organizations, though, the pandemic made it difficult to keep up club meetings. “A lot of clubs, especially cultural ones that depend on more social, in–person, interpersonal interactions, had a hard time in the pandemic,” she explains. “I’m really proud that they were able to maintain themselves, especially with the Persian Society because I was president of it for pre–pandemic and post–pandemic. We’re very small. There’s only maybe 25 to 30 Persians in all of the thousands of kids here. Once we’re together, we have to really advocate for our holidays and our events.” Specifically, she mentions how the Penn Persian Society used to do a huge event for the Persian New Year, called Norouz, where Persians from all over Philadelphia would join and celebrate. “Pre–pandemic, it was one of the most important memories that I had of my freshman year. It was amazing to have that sense of community that I just didn’t think I would find in college,” she says. Fortunately, this year they were finally able to bring it back to campus.
Aside from her impressive academics and extracurriculars, Natasha is an avid baker of gluten–free treats. She also enjoys going on runs, specifically along the Schuylkill and down Kelly Drive. She laughs as she mentions how she used to be really into reading classic novels: “I like modern things, too, but when I was younger, I was that 8–year–old who was in love with Pride and Prejudice, and [people] were like, ‘Why does this 8–year–old know what Pride and Prejudice is?!’” Now, she’s also a huge advocate for Latin American literature.
Looking forward, Natasha plans on working as a teacher at The Taft School, a boarding school in Watertown, Conn. while simultaneously getting her master’s from Penn’s Graduate School of Education. At some point in the future she hopes to get her Ph.D., but for now, she’s happy to not jump right into it. She speaks warmly about the friends she made at Penn and how she’ll miss them most of all.
As our conversation came to a close, I inquired what advice she would give to incoming first years. “Try everything,” she says. “You never know where you’re going to find your calling. You never know where you’re going to find your people. Because if you don’t, it’s really easy to get stuck in your own little bubble. Put yourself out there so you can find your communities, your people, your spaces, and really thrive.”