Student Spotlight: Katie DePaola, Class of 2020

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Katie DePaola

Hometown: Scotch Plains, NJ
Major: Pre-Med 

What are you currently doing with Civic House?

As a Civic Scholar, I attend biweekly proseminars, take particular courses, and volunteer through a Civic House community partner. The community partner I am currently working with is Why Not Prosper. There I help present workshops on resume building, email writing, job searching, and housing searching. Additionally, I assist with administrative operations.

I am also a tutor for the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.

What made you get involved with Civic House?

I applied and was accepted to the Civic Scholar's program, which has opened doors for me in terms of civic engagement. I would like to think I would have still been drawn to Civic House even if I was not in Civic Scholars because of my prior experience with civic engagement.

Describe your favorite civic engagement experience. What did you take away from this experience?

My favorite experience was witnessing one of the women at Why Not Prosper transition and then graduate from the program. I remember helping her apply for a job in which she would go to prisons and give speeches to talk about how she has changed her life. The woman who previously had this job had also gone through Why Not Prosper. She used this woman as a role model. I remember being honored to be able to volunteer at an organization that creates role models and changes lives. Founded by a formerly incarcerated woman, the organization understands the needs of the women like no one else could. Organizations founded by community members for the community are the backbone of civic engagement and social justice.

Describe your most challenging or thought-provoking civic engagement experience. What did you take away from this experience?

I think the most challenging aspect for me has been acknowledging my place at Why Not Prosper. The majority of my prior experience in civic engagement came from volunteering at a rescue squad. My roles were very outlined, though sometimes limited. I knew when I was needed in the situation based on laws and training. In contrast, I am continually rethinking my role at Why Not Prosper with the other volunteers. One point we recognize is that we do not have the experiences needed to guide the women in many scenarios; we have never applied for low-income housing or had experience writing resumes for full-time jobs. These issues force me to analyze my part in the organization. We take some actions to attempt to combat these issues, such as talking to employers and referencing Career Services when we give workshops. Though these resources do not completely eliminate our lack of knowledge, they do help us become better volunteers. Overall, this experience has taught me to acknowledge my flaws and limitations in civic engagement, but not to neglect volunteering because of them (unless the impact on the organization is negative).

What are your civic engagement interests?

I am interested in the health issues faced by minorities, specifically Natives. This is what I plan to dedicate my life to. At Penn, my interests include helping persons released from prison and the transition to society and educational inequalities.

Why are you passionate about civic engagement?

My parents raised me as a person who not only recognizes my privileges, but also uses my privileges to fight injustices. In my opinion, it's morally wrong to not participate in mutually beneficial, impactful civic engagement. I have an obligation to volunteer and address issues in my community.

How do you wish to make an impact?

My life goal has always been to make a positive impact on the Native American community. Although I am part Native, most of my life I have been somewhat distanced from my culture. The majority of my family, who are Native, live in Oklahoma with the rest of my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek). My mother instilled in my family our values, traditions, and history, but I have been privileged enough to be somewhat distant from the struggles that the rest of my community, including my grandmother, face. In recent years I have visited my tribe and gone to festivals, which have strengthened my commitment to helping Natives. As someone who is interested in science and medicine, I would like to help improve the healthcare standards for Natives, which are neglected within the American context. 

What do you do outside of Civic House?

Outside of Civic House, I am involved in PennPals. I have a fifth grade pal from a local Philly school, and we hang out and do fun activities every once in a while. I joined this club my freshman year because I enjoy working with children. It's always a nice break from school to hang out with my pal.

I am also a member of Natives at Penn. I've also attended a Native American awareness group that is unaffiliated with Penn; I hope to become more involved with that, considering the Native population at Penn is small.

What advice would you give to students looking to become more involved in civic engagement?

My biggest piece of advice is to choose something different for civic engagement, maybe even out of your comfort zone. In high school, I was involved in tutoring and volunteering at my local rescue squad. Although I do still tutor at Penn, I am glad I decided to work with Why Not Prosper. It has opened my eyes to social issues I had limited exposure to. Philadelphia has an abundance of different opportunities for civic engagement, and getting out of the Penn bubble and my own personal comfort zone has afforded me great experiences over the past year.