“I remember waking up one day just before this semester started, thinking, 'I should take Japanese.' So, I just signed up, went to class, and I haven't regretted it since,” says Jason Lu (VIPER '24). This senior's spontaneity isn't just limited to his course selections; it's a defining trait that permeates through his diverse interests and activities at Penn. From the vibrancy of lion dancing to the innovative frontiers of the VIPER program, Jason's eclectic pursuits underscore a unique blend of cultural heritage, academic rigor, and a keen desire to impact the community positively.

Name: Jason Lu 

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia 

Major: Dual Degree through VIPER in Chemical Engineering and Math 

Activities: Lion Dancing, PennGreen, PHINS, Research in the Chemical Engineering Department 

You've got quite the fan base among the freshmen! How do you foster these connections, and why is it important for you to serve as a mentor to new students?

While going down Locust Walk, going into buildings, or in–between classes, I noticed that I'd say hi to all freshmen and they'd say hi to me. Probably more than most people in my year. 

That's probably because I was pretty involved with New Student Orientation. Last year, I was a PHINS leader, and I was also on PennGreen. I think I really enjoyed my time with my advisees because older students helped me while I was a freshman.  I really wanted to have the same impact on the students that were coming in, particularly after my junior year. I would say it was kind of a spontaneous decision. Once I got the position, I was committed and had to stick with it.

Can you share more about your involvement with PennGreen?

PennGreen is a pre–orientation program for incoming freshmen. It's something I applied to my freshman year, so it ended up being on Zoom. It was definitely a different experience than current students would have. I would say that you can meet a lot of the friends that will stay throughout your time at Penn. I know that's true for people in the year below me and in the freshman year that I helped lead. I think in both those years, a lot of those freshmen have stayed friends. I still see them around campus hanging around. They even say hi to me!

You were also involved in orientation as a PHINS leader. What was that experience like? How do you think you have impacted new students? 

So PHINS came right after PennGreen, and I was already a bit tired. However, I think being a PHINS leader was worth it. A lot of students were asking me, "What do you get out of this? Are they paying you?" I received some meal swipes for orientation, but that was about it. What I truly enjoyed was talking with new students. Regarding a specific experience that might have impacted a student, one student messaged me afterward to ask for advice. We actually went to Chinatown, and I was able to help her because I was familiar with Chinatown.

Can you share a little bit about your involvement in the Penn Lions community?

Penn Lions is the lion dance group here at Penn, which I think is pretty special, since not many colleges have lion dance groups. It's not really something I think college students typically have the chance to experience. But back in my elementary school in Queens, we'd have special performances during Chinese New Year, and lion dance was one of them in certain years. It was really cool to me as a kid. 

When I found out that Penn had a lion dance club, I really wanted to join. I joined in my freshman year, which was kind of weird because it was on Zoom. It was really weird, actually. They couldn't really have tryouts, so they held more social events to gauge the freshmen they'd be recruiting. They even sent us weights, like dumbbells, about 15 pounds, and we would be in front of a Zoom screen holding them, doing chest presses and moving around. Yeah, it was kind of funny. 

Being part of this means a lot to me since I'm also Chinese American. A lot of our members are Asian American, so as an Asian American, there's a strong sense of community. We also have Vietnamese Americans, people from China, and Taiwanese Americans—it's a pretty cool place where people with the same interest in lion dance come together. And if you're not Chinese, you can definitely join; we have some Japanese American members too. I think it's really cool, especially getting to perform around New Year's. There's this big event with Penn Dining where we go around the dining halls and perform. So around the Lunar New Year, you might see us there. We also perform locally, like at the library for the kids. That's something I've really enjoyed, sharing lion dancing with the community.

You’re also a member of the VIPER program, and you're at the forefront of sustainable energy research. What inspired you to pursue this path, and how do you envision applying what you're learning to realworld challenges?

My first summer was really cool because I got to work on energy research. They've made some changes since my freshman year, but now I think you're required to do two summers of research. You'd do it here on campus at Penn, and you'd get a stipend for it, let's say for about 12 weeks. But if you want, you can also opt for a third summer of research, and they provide funding for that too. I actually did two summers of research here at Penn. My first summer was virtual due to COVID. A lot of things were up in the air my freshman year. But in my second year, I was able to do research in person at Penn, focusing on computational work because that's what I started with during COVID. So, after my sophomore year, I worked on catalysis issues with Professor Aleksandra Vojvodic. Yeah, it was really cool.

For my third summer, I didn't do research here but went to Japan instead. It was through a program I found, not directly associated with Penn. The program was pretty flexible, allowing me to count it as part of my summer energy research. I would definitely recommend doing research abroad, maybe even outside the US, if you can.

Considering your diverse involvements and interests, how do you envision integrating these experiences into your future aspirations post-Penn? Do you have any specific plans?

I guess you could say my interests are quite varied. I'm definitely someone who's a bit spontaneous, but I'm also drawn to research. That's likely the direction I'll head in after this, probably aiming for grad school or a Ph.D. program. I'm not quite sure where yet, but ultimately, I'd like to work abroad, outside the US. I'm really into learning about different languages and cultures. I might not know as many languages as some people around here, but at home, I speak Chinese with my parents. I studied French and Japanese in high school, and I've continued with both here. Actually, I'm taking Japanese right now.

Lastly, if you could offer a single piece of advice to the freshmen you mentor, what would it be?

I'd say not everything needs to be meticulously planned out. You can definitely embrace spontaneity and still find happiness. Many decisions that I initially thought I might regret or that seemed like they were made on a whim turned out to be some of my best choices. Whether it was opting for chemical engineering, venturing abroad for research, deciding to study Arabic, or getting involved with orientation and connecting with incoming freshmen, each has been an invaluable experience. I've had the chance to meet so many people through these choices. I might not consider myself the most interesting person, but I enjoy chatting with others and learning about their lives. It's pretty cool.

Lightning Round: 

Favorite year of Penn: Junior year

Favorite singer: Ed Sheeran 

Best building on campus: College Hall 

Best place to study on campus: Kings Court English College House 

There are two kinds of people at Penn: Those who plan and those who are spontaneous. 

And you are? Spontaneous.