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by Harcourt Allen

Coming out of undergrad, I wanted to prioritize a few key things: being in San Francisco, getting more experience with UX Design, and having a cohort of people with whom to start my professional life. I had a plan that seemed realistic, exciting, and promising, but then, you know…COVID-19 happened.

Suddenly, my future was up in the air and my plan was pretty much the definition of unrealistic. Entry level UX jobs were being pulled off the market, travel was a no-go, and I wouldn’t be getting near any new people due to social distancing and start-dates being pushed back to 2021. All of that to say, I had no idea what to do.

But then I got an email from Experience Lab at Penn inviting me to an informational session. Quarantining at home all day, I thought I might as well check it out, even though grad school was never something I had considered. Several things struck me about the call. First, we were put into breakout rooms to actually chat about how we were doing with everything going on (people who care!!). Second, there was a ton of emphasis on gaining experience at a startup (SF vibes!!). Third, the digital marketing track was the perfect supplement to my engineering background (UX Design!). And finally, the other recent graduates on the call were awesome (a dope cohort??! Yes plz!). 

I applied and was accepted, but I wasn’t sold on Experience Lab at Penn until I had my call with Matt Meltzer. He said to me “Harcourt, you don’t need Experience Lab, but I think it will give you more confidence in your abilities.” As counterintuitive as this sounds, that was exactly what convinced me that I did need Experience Lab.

Fast forward to September. I had learned about inbound marketing, earned my certifications, moved to San Francisco, and gotten my placement at Hylite, a startup focused on giving employees the positive feedback they deserve. I thought I was ready to start my adult life. 

What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t truly be ready until I had met two special people during Experience Lab at Penn's very first workshop: Nina Sugaya and Kayla Tumblin. Nina and Kayla quickly became an integral part of my San Francisco experience. We did work together, explored the city and surrounding areas, hiked, got dinner and did picnics, and even held a brainstorming session for Nina’s work. They were the first ones I reached out to for job updates, résumé reviews, and marketing ideas. They were also the ones I reached out to when I was feeling homesick, bummed out, or overwhelmed. They supported me in and out of a professional context and they gave me the “cohort” experience I was looking for.

I’ve learned a lot about Digital Marketing through this program (mainly that I’m not particularly interested in it — which is okay!!), but more importantly, I’ve learned the power of professional support and how that ties in with real human connection.

My friend from Experience Lab at Penn, Phoebe Sajor, will listen to me cry about a boy on the phone but will also promote my artwork to her Instagram story, so my illustration business gets more traction. My group leader, Hayley Darden, will talk through my professional life with me for an hour, offer me freelance work, then sing Dora the Explorer’s “We did it!” song while dancing on Zoom. An Experience Lab Founder, Aaron, will hop on the phone with me to discuss the pros and cons of a job offer, but not before asking me genuinely how I’m doing.

You’re not just getting professors and a “cohort” through Experience Lab at Penn; you’re getting top-tier mentors and lifelong friends. For that, I will always be grateful.

Harcourt Allen, Experience Lab Fellow, Fall 2020