Jo Armstrong (C '24) is the kind of person you want on your team. Jo may be known as one of the best players on Penn’s Varsity Volleyball team, but off the court she’s living out her Hannah Montana lifestyle as a seamstress, artist, and die–hard music lover. Jo is a kaleidoscope of passion, creativity, and dedication to her craft. 

Before the genesis of Jo’s creative identity, she was a Penn athlete first and foremost. Early mornings were spent on the court and in the gym. While other Penn students galavanted from party to party, Jo was at weekend volleyball games. Despite the overwhelming demands of D1 athletics, Jo found time to explore her passions and identity outside of her sport.

“I kind of always say that I actually am really thankful for COVID just because I got to explore myself outside of volleyball, which was something that I really didn’t have the time or like energy to do previously in my life,” Jo says. Since her childhood, her afternoons and weekends were full of practicing and perfecting her sport. She would go to one practice after another when school ended, hit her homework at 10 p.m., and repeat. When COVID restrictions hit, Jo was forced to find other ways to fill time. 

One hobby came from close to home. Jo’s grandmother was an avid sewer, and had made all of Jo’s childhood Halloween costumes. Jo always had bragging rights for the self–appointed title of “Most Unique, Elaborate Costume.” When her grandmother gifted a 12–year–old Jo a sewing machine her creativity flourished. 

“During COVID I was kind of sewing a bunch of clothes and kind of just figuring out how to make my own patterns and just creating different garments that were unique,” Jo says. To this day, Jo will never show up to a party without being dressed to the theme. For her twenty–first birthday party, Jo wore a hand–sewn cake dress, complete with candles and lace–frilled tiers. This past semester, Jo even designed a clothing collection that The WALK featured in print. “It was incredibly exciting,” she beams.

Another creative outlet took shape in music. Freshman year, Jo joined Jazz and Grooves, a branch of SPEC that organizes a few concerts each semester to introduce the Penn and greater Philadelphia community to up–and–coming artists. The group allowed her to explore her artistic and musical side, and it quickly became a way to channel her love of music in college. She later became director of the group, bringing artists like Leith Ross and Indigo De Souza (her personal favorites) to perform at Penn. 

COVID didn’t only reshape Jo’s passions, it reprioritized them. “During that time in my life, I probably just would have said that my goals were volleyball–oriented. I probably would have told you that like I would love to start,” she laughs. But after a year spent detached from the sport, the Jo that came to Penn was more interested in discovering her passions, not her athletic goals. 

But that doesn’t mean she’s not proud of her time on the volleyball team. Jo said that of her time at Penn, she is most proud of “getting through” the four seasons of volleyball. Her original goal of becoming a starting player didn’t pan out, which was disappointing because it was such a visible marker of success on the team. But she still worked up to starting a few games by senior year. And she is “really proud of [herself] for pushing through that struggle and really allowing myself to dedicate my time and effort to my teammates these past four years.” 

Still, Jo wonders what her years at Penn might’ve looked like if she’d pivoted earlier. “I might have chosen more of a fine arts track. Growing up I was always really interested in painting and drawing, art and architecture.” Jo’s craving for creative outlets that challenged her led her to an architecture minor her freshman year, and figure painting classes. She started painting again her first year, which makes her feel “wonderful.” 

But Jo’s world of wonder extends beyond her creative endeavors. Her people are her family; her teammates, friends, roommates. She’s grateful to the COVID years for helping her beat the stereotype that athletes only hang out with other athletes. “I feel really thankful that I had that freshman spring to kind of branch out and meet people who were non athletes that were more similar to me,” Jo muses. They’re her “chosen friends,” she says. 

Jo lives with all those chosen non–athletes, which she loves. “Getting to know people from all spheres of life and university places and backgrounds and interests really makes you relate on a more fundamental level.” But that’s not to say she doesn’t love her volleyball teammates as well. She calls them her family—the sheer amount of time and bonding has created a bond unlike any other. “You really get to cultivate super real and authentic relationships, which is super unique, especially in university.” 

As for the future—that ball hasn’t quite landed. Jo’s still figuring out her career plans after Penn. “It’s all kind of up in the air,” which has caused a bit of stress. But it’s also the place where Jo envisions a true fusion of her passions. She’d always been drawn to marketing, and wondered if sports marketing might be for her. “I think that if I could kind of combine that creativity of marketing that I see with this, like, athletics world that I am very comfortable in. That would be really rewarding and ultimately successful for me,” she says. 

For all that Jo follows her heart when it comes to higher artistic callings, her love for her team, her family (chosen and otherwise) is enormous. Without her teammates, “I don’t think I would have been able to complete the four years. I did it for my team and to be with them.” And her chosen friends from freshman spring “are still [her] best friends to this day.”