Mya Gordon (C ‘24) is emotionally attached to the black squirrel by Houston Hall and the turtles at the BioPond. It makes sense, given the fact that Mya is constantly invested in the community around her—whether she’s volunteering in the West Philly community or going on a spontaneous walk to explore her surroundings. In the midst of sleepless nights applying for grad school, Mya offered us a sneak peek of her past four years at Penn, reminding us to seek joy wherever we go. Before riding away on her baby blue bicycle, Mya tied up her pants with a hair tie so they wouldn’t catch in the gears and headed off on her next adventure.
Name: Mya Gordon
Major: Urban Studies
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Activities: Netter Center Student Advisory Board, SNF Paideia Student Advisory Board, Silverman Fellows, UPenn Outdoors Club, Netter Center Civic Development Intern, Penn Institute for Urban Research Fellow, Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy Research Fellow
Can you tell me about your work at the Netter Center?
I'm very involved in the Netter Center. I love the Netter Center. It was one of the main reasons why I actually came to Penn, because I was very involved in community work and DEI–based stuff in high school. I was very interested in continuing that work. In my college search, I found the Netter Center. It was very cool to me, and I wanted to be involved. I became a Silverman fellow my first semester on campus, and I worked for an after–school writing program called Robeson Writes at Robeson High School, which was really cool. It was a student–run project. That was kind of my first taste [of the Netter Center], and then I did their newsletters for a while.
That summer after my freshman year, I did the Penn Program for Public Service, which was an awesome experience that shaped my interests a lot. You do 40 hours a week at an internship with their programs. You also do a seminar and learn all about community engagement and the University's role in society—how it can be used for public good and things like that. That was very inspiring.
After that, I kind of did a lot of hodgepodge things. I'm on their student advisory board. A year and a half ago, I started doing a research project with Ira Harkavy, the director of the Netter Center, and with the Andrea Mitchell Center, analyzing the relationship between Penn and the West Philadelphia community. [We also look at] how Penn engages with West Philly and how Penn can structure its engagement practices more effectively to make more of an impact.
What are some things that you do outside of community engagement?
One way that I got really involved in the West Philly community outside of the Netter Center is through ceramics. There's a ceramics studio on 50th and Baltimore that I joined [at the] beginning of last year, and I do sculptural pottery there, which is really fun. It’s just gotten me off campus and out there, going to different restaurants and parks and things. I feel like it's definitely enhanced who I am as a person outside of Penn, in the real world.
I read a lot and hang out with my friends. I love learning about people, so I just spend as much time with others as I can. I'm an animal lover through and through. I have two dogs at home that are my world. I almost adopt a dog every month, and it's a problem because I can't. Emotionally, it’s an issue. I'm a part of the Penn Outdoors Club, which is awesome. It's been a really fun and cool community to be a part of. I just love being outside, and there are good vibes and good people all around so it's just really nice to be in that environment.
Oh, I do some SNF too; that's not for fun, but it's cool. I'm on their student advisory board and I facilitated a few dialogue sessions and conversations amongst different people, specifically civically–engaged students. I like going on little spontaneous adventures around Philadelphia.
What's your favorite spontaneous adventure you've been on?
My freshman year there were a lot of good ones because of COVID–19. You just had to do random stuff outside. My best friend from freshman year was from Philly, and one night we just walked around Center City. It was very fun as a freshman to explore a big city. But it's hard to pick one.
Do you have a favorite memory volunteering?
Last semester, I was volunteering with GSE to tutor kindergarteners in math. I was working with this kid, and it was just so fun. I also didn't realize how hard it is to explain the concept of mathematics to somebody who's never heard of it before. It was definitely a very new experience. But it was really just fun to be around kids and their exploratory energy with so much hope and wonder—all the things that I want to embody myself.
How are you going to continue centering your work in social engagement and community after you graduate?
I'm really interested in continuing my research in understanding how universities and other anchor institutions can be forces of public good by using their massive amounts of resources and leveraging those properly. I'm interested in going into a grad program either focusing on education policy or public policy in general, trying to understand how to best leverage policy to make that happen. I feel like I've been fully indoctrinated by the Netter Center’s ideals of community engagement.
What advice would you give to Penn students, whether they're seniors or just starting out?
The most valuable thing I've gotten from Penn is just how much I've watched myself change over the years to become who I am today. Being in college is just a very special time to do that. Pay attention to see how you're changing and what direction you want to go. Explore all the things that you're interested in, even a little bit, and if it doesn't work out, then that's great. You learn something new about what you like and what you want to do.
College is a perfect time to explore who you are as a person—what brings you joy and happiness.
Do you think you've changed from freshman year?
I think I'm better. I feel more sure about who I am as a person—what my purpose and place are in the world, which is cool. I'm still exploring that. Penn is so pre–professional all the time. It's really easy to get caught up on some things that you probably don't need to be hyper–fixating on. I think a big part of my journey at Penn has been finding who I am outside of academics, as well as who I am in the real world. Not a lot of people have the opportunity to do that, but I think they should.
Penn has a lot of cool opportunities, but I think people see them as something that needs to get accomplished versus something that needs to be explored. Focus more on exploration. Do things that bring you joy—life is all about joy. That could be your academics or something else entirely.
Favorite Spot on Campus? BioPond
Favorite Eatery in West Philly? Mexicali Foodtruck on 38th and Walnut. My bestie runs it, and I go there all the time.
No–skip album? The new Metro Boomin Spiderverse Album, no skips, perfect.
Favorite Movie? Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
If you were a building at Penn, what would you be? Probably Fisher Fine Arts Library. I love it so much, and I hope that I am like that.
There are two types of people at Penn… I don't think I can answer that question. I meet so many different people, and even the people who I thought would be different from me end up being the same. We are all trying to do the same thing in our own little different ways. We're all so complicated. That was a cop out.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.