Tanusri Balla, a senior in the M&T Program, shared how being a Wharton 101 TA and Co-Chair of Wharton Council enabled her to positively impact the freshman experience.

During her first semester at Wharton, Tanusri (Tanu) Balla, W’20, SEAS’20, took Management 100 (MGMT 100), a class where student teams conduct a field project with local Philadelphia businesses. She especially enjoyed working and connecting with her TA from the course. Although the curriculum was soon redesigned as part of the Leadership Journey, with Wharton 101 (WH 101) replacing MGMT 100, Tanu decided to become a TA her sophomore year.

“I thought that I’d be able to give back and also be that connection for a few students who didn’t necessarily know anyone when they came to Wharton,” she said.

In addition to juggling her dual degree, TA work, and extracurriculars, she wanted to focus her efforts on improving the freshman experience after reflecting on her own first year. Her plan was twofold.

“Part of it was to improve the mental health of the overall Wharton community and that’s where it really ties in with my club recruitment work and what I’ve done on Wharton Council,” she said. “But the other part was really just forming individual connections with underclassmen when they got to Penn and making them feel like they have someone they can confide in. That’s where WH101 TA-ing came in.”

Analyzing Student Feedback

As a TA, Tanu was in a unique position to hear direct feedback about club recruiting from the students.

“As a WH101 TA you spend a whole semester interacting with 10 to 20 freshmen or even 10 transfer students and that’s a lot of one-on-ones and in-class interactions where you really hear about their freshman experience,” Tanu said. “Club recruiting is something that can take over an entire conversation with a student because they either don’t know how to navigate the process, have gone through a few rejections here and there, or they’re super excited about having gotten into a club. There are a lot of emotions there I’ve only seen as a TA.”

Tanu brought these concerns to Wharton Council, a division-sponsored organization that focuses on the Wharton undergraduate community’s co-curricular experience, which she joined with the purpose of improving the freshman experience.

“When we started to look through data we collected in previous years and data we collected that year about how students felt about the club recruitment experience, the reviews were fairly negative,” she said.

Tanu spent the next three years working with Wharton Council to change these results.

Revamping the Freshman Experience

“We took the data we found and we came up with different ideas for how to revamp the experience entirely,” she said. “It’s just too early and it’s too intense. Students aren’t prepared and they’re being evaluated on experiences that they just don’t have.”

After many rounds of feedback between Wharton Council and Wharton clubs, they came up with two main changes for the Fall 2018 season. The first was to push the club recruitment deadline two weeks later to give students more time to weigh their options. The second was creating a series of New Student Programming (NSP) meetings where all Wharton clubs have to provide open, hands-on learning opportunities.

Three students smile outside. Tanu wears a red Wharton 5K shirt.
Tanu (right) with fellow Wharton Council members during the annual Wharton 5K event.

“We made those changes in Fall 2018 and then we started to observe whether or not they worked. What we found over time is that students are definitely less stressed because it’s a longer timeline, but students are also dealing with the stress of other activities at Penn like midterms and other things that tend to happen around the time of our deadline,” Tanu said. “We also found that club leaders weren’t necessarily the most satisfied with the timeline either, and as a result there was a lot of room for further change.”

Even as a senior in her final semester, Tanu continues to devote time and effort towards her goal of improving the first-year experience.

“Because we’re making these big changes now, I’m definitely still pretty involved in seeing the changes through. We are trying to do another revamp of the policy to really make sure that students are able to find a community at Wharton,” she said.

A Note to Undergraduates

As she completes the final weeks of her own undergraduate experience amidst the social distancing restrictions, Tanu offered some parting advice to fellow undergraduates.

“I think that your career is important and academics are important. You should, of course, focus time on those,” Tanu said. “But also remember that these four years are your one chance to really capitalize on the experiences you will remember forever after college. So definitely prioritize your friends and prioritize making new friends. Give them the time they deserve.”

— Erin Lomboy

Posted: May 5, 2020

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