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Alumni Spotlights




Sara Hansson ('23)

Sara Hansson (Class of 2023)

The following profile with Sara Hansson, a brand-new Penn English alum ('23), was featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of OMNIA: All Things Penn Arts & Sciences.

Hansson intended to study earth science, but her experiences at Penn allowed her instead to follow her passion for Medieval and Renaissance studies and pursue a career in law.

By Ta'Liyah Thomas and Alex Schein

Sara Hansson entered college thinking she would study earth science and pursue her interests in the environment and sustainability through STEM. But after taking her first English class as a Ben Franklin Scholar, she realized her passion for writing and analysis could complement her other interests and studies. She also found some unexpected inspiration in Intro to Shakespeare (taught by Phyllis Rackin, Professor of English Emerita), which she took her sophomore fall semester—the first remote semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a very dark time, and everybody was very scared. We were reading King Lear and talked about how King Lear was likely written during a pandemic in Shakespeare’s lifetime,” Hansson says. “It was just amazing that we had this piece of art that came out of such a dark time in Shakespeare’s life. It just helped me deal with the situation we were all in.”

Hansson went on to double major in Economics and English with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, as well as major in legal studies at Wharton. She says her studies in English have prepared her for law school: “In my English degree, they really teach you how to synthesize and analyze, which are really important for law school,” she says. “Even in my Medieval classes, a lot of those texts focus on the very first origins of any form of legal system. So, I have gotten to read about the first trials that ever happened and how people conceived of the idea of having a trial and judges.”

One unique opportunity of her studies in English included taking a class on the Icelandic sagas with Caroline Batten, Assistant Professor of English. This gave Hansson a chance to read ancient texts from Iceland—her family’s homeland.

“Iceland has this strong environmental interest and sustainability interest that has instilled that desire in me,” she says. “It only has 350,000 people, but the Icelandic sagas are this huge wealth of medieval texts that are really widely studied.” Hansson was aware of them, but because they are in old Norse, she didn’t expect she’d be able to study them without guidance from a professor. “It was really cool to read about the town where my mother was born in these Medieval texts from so long ago.”

Besides her many academic pursuits, Hansson was a singer in Penn Sirens, which merged with Penn’s Glee Club during her sophomore year. She was part of the first cohort of female singers to join the historically all-male group and performed at this year’s graduation. She will be touring internationally with the group this summer, and will begin her first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School this fall.

Pathways is a student series from Penn Arts & Sciences that highlights the academic journeys of students in the College of Arts & Sciences and the transformational moments that have shaped their intellectual experiences.

See this coverage as it originally appeared—with bonus video content!—on the OMNIA website:


Gwen Lewis (Class of 2014)

The following is a post authored by Gwen Lewis, a Penn English Major from the Class of 2014. Gwen is Senior Product Manager at The New York Times.

I work in the technology and product development division at The New York Times. We build the entire digital experience and the content management tools that the newsroom uses. I’m the senior product manager for the story team, and my scope is user experience. My team ensures that every article maintains the premium New York Times feel and offers a reader experience that matches the quality of the journalism.

Part of being a product manager is knowing how to speak the language. Talking to a group of engineers is totally different than talking to a room of reporters, a room of editors. You have to put on different hats constantly to understand how to talk about something to the newsroom and then translate that to the engineers who need to code it. That being said, we’re one company. The culture is not intimidating. It’s not cliquey. Everyone respects and appreciates each other. I love talking about writing, so it’s amazing that’s the nature of the company.

At Penn I was an English major. I worked at the Kelly Writers House. I took a bunch of classes in the Kelly Writers House and was taught by amazing professors. The conversations that we had around writing and reading in my classes, and the writing that I did myself—they helped me to officially see myself as a writer. Friends who went to other colleges didn’t get to do the types of projects that I got to do at Penn. They didn’t get to meet the types of writers and people who I got to meet. It provided me with actual skills that make me confident in the caliber of my writing.

I know people don’t encourage majors like English now—it wasn’t too different when I went to college—but at a school like Penn, you absolutely have to study what you care about and what makes you happy. Doing that makes the experience more magical, meaningful, and manageable. And it will pay off. There’s nothing about an English major that says you can get a job in tech, but I did. If you study what you feel passionate about, you’ll be excited, you’ll be able to sell your skills and yourself.

See this coverage as it originally appeared on the Penn Arts & Sciences at Work website:



Sonie Guseh Osagie (Class of 2010)

The following is a post authored by Sonie Guseh Osagie, a Penn English Major and Hispanic Studies Minor from the Class of 2010. Sonie is Senior Director of Strategy and Operations at CNBC in San Francisco, CA.

As the Senior Director of Strategy and Operations at CNBC, based in San Francisco, I bring over a decade of experience in developing and executing strategies for new and emerging content businesses. My background in English and Hispanic Studies has served as a foundation for my passion in content creation and audience engagement.

I have led launch experiences at companies such as HBO, Conde Nast, and Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, and have learned the importance of understanding what resonates with your target audience. Currently, I lead a team that focuses on membership and audience experience for CNBC Councils and CNBC Events, which are part of the NBCUniversal News Group. Our premium content, tailored for C-suite leaders, investors, and other executives, is delivered across various platforms, including virtual and in-person events.

I played a crucial role in launching and executing the strategy and operations for our group, and the team I lead now manages end-to-end audience and member relationships, as well as strategic planning and analysis. We are proud to produce content that inspires and supports leaders in their day-to-day roles.

When the pandemic hit, we successfully transitioned from physical to virtual programming, drawing larger audiences across locations to our events. I am also proud to have worked on the development of CNBC’s award-winning daily news podcast, Squawk Pod.

I am excited by the opportunities in the media industry and the ability to create content that informs and inspires audiences. My freshman-year self had no idea that there were jobs like this out there. I was always interested in journalism and media, but I didn’t realize how complex media organizations can be and how there are so many different content platforms and ways to forge a path in this industry. I’d like to think that my freshman-year self would be proud.

See this coverage as it originally appeared on the Penn Arts & Sciences at Work website:


Laura Zandi (Class of 1977) and Sarah Zandi (Class of 2017)

The following is an interview with Laura Zandi, a Penn English alum (’77) and her daughter Sarah, a Penn English alum ('17) who conducted the interview while still a student.


My mother and I have lived strangely parallel lives. She was named after the movie Laura, and subsequently named me after a Hall & Oates’ song, “Sara Smile.” She was raised in Briarcliff, New York, only ten minutes away from my town of Chappaqua. We grew up reading the same books (Anne of Green Gables, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle), went to diners on Friday nights, watching White Christmas every holiday season—all things that we still like to do. She went to the University of Pennsylvania in 1977 and graduated four years later, after majoring in English and focusing on nineteenth-century literature. I will graduate Penn in 2017, with that same English degree, but instead choosing to concentrate on creative writing. Things start to shift after that: my mom went to business school at NYU a few years after graduating Penn, and she now works for a magazine company, managing its communications department and writing advertisements. As for me, I’m still not sure. Business school is probably not in the cards, and the writer’s life has always appealed, but everything is still up in the air.


Sarah Zandi: Mom, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview with me.

Laura Zandi: You’re welcome!

SZ: Um, I wanted to start off by talking about some of the great books you read, and classes you took in the English department. And I was wondering if there were any professors that you were really loved and really impacted your experience positively?

LZ: Absolutely. I had some amazing professors at Penn that I remember to this day. I remember being in the classrooms with them. The one that I remember first was Dr. Laws, who taught a class about Paradise Lost and The Canterbury Tales. He was an older gentleman; amazingly sophisticated, incredibly knowledgeable, and really brought to life books that I found very hard to read. I had an amazing several classes with Dr. Elaine Scarry. The class that I first took was nineteenth-century literature where we read Wuthering Heights and Adam Bead. And the class was packed, which I thought was interesting for an English class, and come to find out later there was good reason why it was packed, because she was just so incredible. Her knowledge of the books was amazing, but even far beyond that she was able to talk about so many different subjects and interweave them into the stories and into the education about the book. I had a few other classes with Deirdre Baer: twentieth-century women writers that I found very inspiring. It was the first time that I read a book by Anne Tyler called Searching for Caleb, and Deirdre Baer enjoyed the book so much she was able to convey that joy to the class. And, yeah I had so many classes like that—my Shakespeare class with Dr. Turner, I learned so much about reading Shakespeare, and, that’s it!

SZ: One of the things I felt at school is that the English department has helped me, sort of, change the way I read. And I was wondering if you felt that way—like maybe you became more intuitive, or more thoughtful as a reader.

LZ: I definitely think that I became a better reader. I learned to look for things that I never looked for before. But also, I was taught that it’s okay to read the way you read. And I also was taught that it’s okay to read the end of the book. And to this day I still read the end of the book first.

SZ: I like to do that too. And, another thing I’m fascinated by is how many parallels there are in our lives—growing up ten minutes away from each other, three decades apart, and both going on to Penn to become English majors. And, my question is, does my current experience as a Penn student in the English department allow you to view your own experience differently? Is there a wave of nostalgia, or an influx of memories?

LZ: I absolutely think so. I think that the experience of walking into Bennett Hall with you during that first few days of school, I definitely had nostalgia for my own English classes. And the experience that I had always walking into Bennett Hall was that this was the best building on campus. It was the warmest feeling; it had the nicest classrooms even though it was one of the older buildings but I just felt a wave of warmth every time I walked in. I do think though my experience as far as being an English major so far has been a little bit different than yours. I kind of think mine was more of a solo act; I had friends in the English major but I pretty much, you know, was not in contact with professors or doing group projects. I feel that you’re much more connected into the English department, and I think that that’s a great thing. I wish that my experience was a little bit more like that.

SZ: So, any advice for me, in the next three years?

LZ: The thing that I thought was so great was that I could take so many different types of English classes, and every time I took one I thought to myself, Wow, I never thought that this was a subject that would interest me. And suddenly, that was a newfound love. And so I would say, take as many of those classes as you can, because nothing beats English at Penn.

SZ: Thank you so much!