Spotlight on the Weigle Information Commons: An Interview with Kemuel Benyehudah

This post was originally written for and featured on the Penn Libraries TRL Blog.

Since beginning his dual Master’s in Reading, Writing, and Literacy and Higher Education from the Graduate School of Education, Kemuel “Kem” Benyehudah has worked closely with WIC staff members and used its spaces for collaboration and innovation. A familiar face around WIC, Kem has not only leveraged its range of technologies to support several initiatives with real impact but also actively used its services to cultivate skills beyond the classroom. Now a doctoral student in the Higher Education program at the Graduate School of Education, Kem sat down with me to share some of his experiences at WIC.

Photo by Chris Vandegrift

What drew you to the libraries here at Penn?

I started my master’s program here in 2013. Prior to this, I worked as a caseworker for children in foster care, and I referred a lot of kids to support services, which contributed to their success while in foster care. So, I believe when I came to Penn, this influenced me to have a mindset that all of my learning wouldn’t happen in the classroom itself. I also came back to school kind of nervous about my own success, especially coming to an Ivy League school and moving to a new city. I wanted to come up with a strategy, and I had heard about WIC. Other students recommended meeting here to collaborate, and I started to notice posters that advertised tech workshops. That’s how I became aware of what was offered, but I also came to Penn wanting to find a space to help alleviate some of my concerns about the classroom not being enough to support my aims and goals.

What worked well for you here?

There’s a lot of collaborative spaces here for you to expand your learning and encounter different perspectives. I met with a variety of people and got to know them on a first-name basis. Even though I worked with peers in the classroom, I began to collaborate with the professionals here as well. They would give me their advice about the work I was doing, and they really made it very comfortable for me to ask questions and get critical feedback. Over the last four years, I’ve learned to use NVivo, Stata, Photoshop, Illustrator; I doubt my development otherwise would have reached the point where it is now.

Can you tell me about some of the projects you’ve worked on?

Last year, I worked on a project at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia at the Mütter Museum, and Chava showed me how to use NVivo. I was working with the data of high school students, most of whom were minorities. The program was designed to help minorities gain access to the health field, in which they’re underrepresented in the areas of physical therapy, nursing, and areas of the health sciences. We used the data to gather self-reported information to better understand their experiences to learn if the program was working for them. Using NVivo, I coded the interviews of focus groups and found themes from which to create a narrative about the program from the students’ perspectives, using their voices to make it a student-centered report. I wouldn’t have been able to organize all of that qualitative data without NVivo, and later, this experience turned into a paid consultancy for me.

Photo by Chris Vandegrift

I’ve also worked with Will numerous times. For example, I was designing a poster for a science initiative we were running. Will gave me critical feedback on the layout of what I had provided. He has a really good eye for color schemes, fonts, and things I just didn’t really pay attention to until I came into contact with him. His approachability and willingness to help really made my work go to another level. He introduced me to thinking like a designer.

Jaime and I would also meet every Saturday at WIC. There was a group of us, and we began with LinkedIn. I started with maybe five connections, and I had no idea how to use it. It was really intimidating. Now, I have around 650 followers—just to quantify the growth the account has made. Working with Jaime helped me to wrap my head around social media. As an older student, I saw it as something that was going to complicate my life and make it more stressful. Jaime helped me with creating a bio and a strategy to build a network of people on LinkedIn, helping me to understand how this would benefit my career. I’m not an influencer; that’s not what I’m striving to be, but I am in conversation with some of the scholars out there, and I can stay in touch with what’s going on in higher education.

Getting out of my head and talking through these projects with people here have been invaluable. When you’re thinking about all of these different things, it adds up, and it can become stressful. Some students are unaware of how healthy these services can be for them and how they can really enhance and tailor learning. A lot of people will tell you to just go online and look up tutorials, but that’s not how I learn best. I learn best when I engage with people face-to-face. I do use some of these online resources such as as supplements that serve as introductions. Working with someone at the library, though, that information becomes more organic and customized. When you’re behind a screen, you’re not engaging with people, and we forget that whatever project we’re working on, at the end of the day, it’s for people.

 What role do you feel the library serves for students here at Penn?

I see the library as a collaborative space to really help students and staff take their work to the next level to solve problems out in the world. The library can be an overlooked resource; it’s a space where you can develop skills for your career. The software programs the library provides alone cost thousands of dollars, and I wanted to take advantage of this. I really believe in the twenty-first century that these types of spaces are not just libraries, but they’re also spaces to reskill people to stay cutting edge in their work. Technology changes every single day, and you’re constantly needing to evolve with it. Coming to the library, in part, made me want to pursue a career in higher education, where I would be in a space that would constantly help me stay on top of innovative technologies.

Photo by Chris Vandegrift

As Kem moves forward with his Ed.D., he plans to focus on the experiences of nontraditional students at community colleges to better understand and support the needs of this population. His own experiences as a nontraditional student in a variety of higher education contexts motivate and inform his research, which he hopes will contribute to creating more opportunities and allocating more resources for nontraditional students.

How can WIC support your work? What new skills would you like to learn? If you are interested in learning more about WIC’s services or have questions, we encourage you to get in touch!