Before I officially enrolled as an IEDP student, I had a lot of questions. Because the IEDP Program Coordinator’s contact information is listed clearly on the IEDP page, I first reached out to the wonderful Lauren Scicluna when I was thinking about applying (….and then again when I started my application….and when I was weighing the admissions offer….and as I waited for the program to start).  

Basically, I was in contact with Lauren a lot before the first day of classes.

I know I’m not the only member of my cohort to have relied heavily on Lauren’s incredible knowledge of Penn overall, GSE, and of IEDP specifically. If you’re thinking of applying to the program, you may have been in touch with her already.

Lauren kindly agreed to participate in a Q&A. Today I’d like to help you get to know a bit more about the person who will be answering your questions throughout the application process

IEDP Program Coordinator Lauren Scicluna

Where did you grow up, and what’s one thing you love about your hometown?

I’m originally from Brownsville, Texas, but was raised here outside Northeast Philadelphia. I like to think I am Tejana made and Northeast built. My dad (adopted) is also an immigrant from Malta and I spent most of my summers there as a kid with my family – so I like to think that I have three “homes”: Bugibba, Brownsville, and Philly.

My last name is VERY old school Maltese and I’ve missed my time there a lot during the pandemic. Fun fact: We have the only Semitic language in the EU and it’s a jumble of Arabic (closest to Tunisian Arabic), Italian, English, and French with its own unique lettering system. It was also one of the last crown colonies of England, so everyone grows up speaking both Maltese and English.

Tell us about your road to Penn. You earned your M.S.Ed through the Higher Education program at Penn GSE, right? What made you apply?

Very honestly, I started applying to jobs at universities because I knew it was one of the only ways to be able to afford additional education. I am the first in my family to go to college and the idea of pursuing a master’s degree was very much “you are on your own.” Getting funding was always a priority for me, so I worked fulltime and went to class at night over a few years to finish the program.

Thinking back to your time as a GSE student – any advice you’d give to people who are thinking about applying? Big lessons learned, or things that you wish you had known before classes started?

As a first-generation student, I felt EXTREMELY out of place at my undergrad (NYU) and never realized that academic identity ties into things like stereotype threat until I started taking classes on these theories at Penn. Then it all just made sense.

I always pretty loudly take up space to push back on the idea that some students in the Ivy League and elite spaces are actually smarter than others. Some students just have access to things like resources, time, and language that some of us just didn’t grow up with. So much of the academy is performance based and it’s difficult to not get sucked in or change and compare yourself. Just focus on yourself and value your experiences / ways of knowing.

What brought you to IEDP, ultimately?

I started here! I just applied one day and interviewed with faculty, including Dr. Wagner. I guess I just never left over the last nine-ish years. It feels like I grew up here a bit.

From your perspective, what makes IEDP unique from other programs?

I would say the size of the program is normally something we think of, but it’s also the fact that our faculty and staff have been together for almost a decade. This means that there is a certain level of fluidity and access for both faculty, staff, applicants, and students.

Since we work with each other and with applicants throughout the process, we are often familiar with incoming students before they get here to campus. It’s really just putting a face with a name at that point, which I think shocks people. We have worked really hard to make sure we intentionally create this feeling of small program, large uni. It’s especially important to me when I think of both first-generation student needs and international student needs. Many students never physically see the campus or even know of Philadelphia before they apply/move here.

As you talk with cohort members each year, what are some “fan favorites” about the program?

I feel like we are still working to adapt to the university setting during COVID, but we always had informal events like a welcome brunch at Dr. Wagner’s for all of our students (first and second-years), and there are constant informal meetings on the fourth floor of GSE (it’s normally dominated by IEDP students working as well as faculty and staff). I also weirdly love the really large global conferences we used to host about every other year. It was always a great working opportunity for students to do things like help with organization and meet IED professionals.

If prospective students want to get more of a “feel” for the program before they apply – any recommendations?

Absolutely attend all the IEDP virtual events you want. Even if you want to come to a few. I think they give you a more direct connection with faculty, staff, and current students. I think our social media helps a lot as well, especially things like the blog (you can look at multiple years), Instagram, and some of the videos our GAs have made for the YouTube channel.

I’m super available virtually via email and Zoom calls as well if ever needed. A large component of my job is helping with the admissions cycle, so never feel weird about shooting me an email or asking for some time.

In addition to committing to Penn for the duration of the program, new students are also committing to living in Philadelphia. What do you want people to know about the city?

Philly is super affordable compared to other cities in the Northeast, though clearly a lot of this depends on how much you feel comfortable spending on things like rent/roommates/groceries, etc.

University City in West Philadelphia is super small and hyper connected because of universities like Penn running their own buses, vans, etc. around…but Philly is a large city. People just get stuck in a small block radius, and I always encourage students to get out of this bubble.

Any favorite Philly food, events, locations, and/or tourist spots?

My favorite random restaurants are small places in the outside areas of Philadelphia. I like to go to Norristown monthly for food staples and sweets. I just work my way down in supplies throughout the month. The town is heavily dominated by immigrants from two particular regions of Mexico, so I love going to pick things up and eat. I have weirdly particular habits in the Mexican cheese I like to buy and types of peppers lol. The town is full of individually-owned corner stores, tucked-away taquerias, and Eli’s (a panderia with tons of sweets, house-made cakes, and paletas in the summer). In the colder months, places serve champurrado behind the registrars with churros to grab.

If you are in Philadelphia, South Philly has some good options for shopping and food. The community has been dealing with rising rents and heavy gentrification in the area which is pushing out smaller businesses a lot (especially during COVID). South Philly has a heavy presence of immigrants from both North and Central America as well as South East Asia (really good South East Asian grocery stores if you are looking).  Veracruzana is a community staple and Juana Tamale will be opening a physical store serving her birria this fall. El Pueblo Refresqueria has great mangonadas.

And that concludes our Q&A with Lauren. She’s a wonderful resource to the IEDP community – Feel free to contact her with questions as you apply! sclauren@gse.upenn.edu