Hi there! I’m Davis, the outgoing Director for Penn Labs this past school year. Recently, I’ve been thinking back on the year we’ve had, and how lucky I’ve been to be able to be a part of Penn Labs during this super exciting time in the organization’s devlopment. Even with everything going on in the world right now, we’ve accomplished so much as a club this past year. I thought it would be a good time to take a more official look back and highlight the amazing things Penn Labs members have done. Hopefully, this can start a trend where the outgoing director takes a big-picture look backwards at the end of their tenure.
By the numbers
We are a technical club, and we do love data, so I thought I’d start off this review with some cold, hard numbers.
This club is nothing without the people that make it up. After our most intense and selective process yet, we welcomed thirty-six new members between our Fall ’19 and Spring ’20 classes. Our fall class alone doubled the size of Penn Labs.
This kind of explosive growth has its challenges, but we’ve been able to take them in stride, and our new members have done amazing work for their product teams and accross the organization.
Alongside our team, our products have also seem super amazing growth this past year. The section below points out a few big highlights.
Our course registration products are used most heavily during the registration period around when schedules are being released. During that time, two of our established course products saw pretty amazing growth.
Penn Course Alert was started in Fall 2017 to help students more easily discover when courses have opened up for registration. The service’s userbase has grown steadily since then: each new freshman class brings a new opportunity for new users, who haven’t yet formed habits with other services. This year, we had a whopping 290% growth year-over-year in the days after schedules were released.
Penn Course Review is the website that Penn Labs was first built around. Even though it’s been around for ten years, we’re still seeing growth among graduate students, faculty, and the undergraduate population. Usage during registration grew 24% year-over-year, which is pretty amazing for a tool that’s already ubiquitous in the student body.
Penn Mobile has always been one of our most well-known products, and this year we’ve added integration with your dining plan and an amazingly beautiful re-design on Android. On iOS, Penn Mobile has seen 70% year-over-year growth in its weekly active users, and on Android there’s been about 20% growth year-over-year!
It’s truly crazy how many new things we’ve launched this year, but I’ve tried to give space to them all. Hopefully, many of the items mentioned here will get their own blog posts some day!
Business Development Team
The BizDev, role was piloted during the 2017-2018 school year, but ultimately not continued for reasons chronicled in this article from our archives. But if at first we don’t succeed, we certainly try again. BizDev was rebooted this year with a focus on outward-facing projects, encompassing everything from marketing to stakeholder relations to product management. Our BizDevs have been a core part of our success over the past year, and I’m excited to see how the role evolves in the future.
Penn Mobile Portal
The Spring of 2019 saw the indroduction of Penn Mobile’s homepage, which allowed users to see an at-a-glance view of all parts of Penn Mobile. We wondered how we could give groups around campus the ability to leverage this platform, and the Portal is our answer to that question. It’s been in beta this past year, but look for a general release in the next school year!
Up until this Fall, all Penn Labs products were running on a single server. As we added more and more products that were serving more and more users, we realized that we needed a total overhaul to keep up with our growth. Our Platform team put together a really awesome system built on top of Kubernetes that will allow us to continue to scale out as we grow!
Penn Basics has been in the works since 2017, and finally was released in the Fall of this year. As a web-first view into all kinds of information at Penn, Basics has a real opportunity to give students tons of detail into resources around campus.
Penn Clubs began as a partnership between Penn Labs, the UA and SAC to provide a way to discover clubs on campus that is much less stressful than the in-person club fair. After a crazy fun hackathon, we launched the day of the fall club fair, and ever since we’ve kept working with our stakeholders to improve the experience for students, club officers and administrators.
Penn Course Plan
Last year, we took over Penn Course Search from a graduating senior. After over a year of work, we re-designed the product from the ground-up and rebranded as Penn Course Plan. You can read a lot more about the design process in Jess’s amazing writeup.
We’ve always had a tight relationship with the University, but this year we’ve strengthened existing ties and reached out to create new ones.
The Office of Student Affairs has been an amazingly strong advocate for Penn Labs in recent years. With the development of Penn Clubs, we’ve had the opportunity to work even closer with the OSA to shape the future of how students and leaders interact with clubs on campus and the administration.
For the first time in almost 30 years, the University is replacing Penn InTouch with a new system. Penn InTouch is most students’ main interaction with course registration and academic planning, areas in which Penn Labs is heavily involved. We’re greatful that the University has brought us to the table in discussions surrounding the Next Generation Student System, and it’ll be exciting to see where this initiative goes over the next two years.
Wharton Computing + CETS
This year, we’ve sought to reach out and strengthen connections with Penn’s various IT organizations, specifically Wharton Computing and CETS within the Engineering school. Both of these organizations support a wide array of infrastructure that students use every day, and by opening up a line of communication, we can look for ways to better serve students while leveraging what groups have already built.
In recent months, we’ve been involved in a knowledge exchange with Cornell’s Design & Tech Initiative, an organization with a similar mission to Penn Labs. While our clubs are different, it’s been extremely illuminating to learn about how DTI designs and develops products.
Internal / Social
Right after our Fall newbies joined, we went on our first ever retreat to Chamounix Mansion just north of campus! It was a really great way to get to play some boardgames (shoutout to Catan and Codenames) and get to know everyone outside of our usual environment.
In December, we expanded our end-of-semester team dinner to a full-on formal! Labbies could bring a guest to a great evening of dinner and Dave & Busters.
A year is honestly a really long time, and so this post shouldn’t serve as anything more than an overview. But we’ve been able to do some amazing things for the Penn community since last May. There still are challenges ahead: we’ve grown quickly, but we’ve been able to maintain our sense of self and our sense of community. As time goes on, it’s important for us not to forget what makes Penn Labs special.
I want to thank Valencia for being such an amazing mentor and partner, teaching me so much this year. I also want to thank Armaan for being an awesome co-director this past semester – I know that him and Marta are going to do amazing things this next year!