Exchange at Penn, Alumni A Patently Unique Experience
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March 30, 2021
Josh Pontrelli, Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager
Exploring courses outside of one’s major is a hallmark of U.S. liberal arts education. And for most exchange students, this concept is very different than their home university’s curriculum, which typically is focused on courses around the major they choose when starting their college career.
For Dr. Philippe Knüsel, who attended Penn as an exchange student from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) in Fall 2010, the wide array of academic exploration opportunities afforded to students was a novel approach to education.“Penn encouraged me to look beyond my field,” said Knüsel, who is currently a patent attorney candidate at Hepp Wenger Ryffel, a large patent law firm in Switzerland – a far cry from his undergraduate degree of Materials Science and Ph.D. in Chemical and Process Engineering. “Being at Penn, I realized... it can be a good thing to maybe change directions.”
Though his current work and educational background are different from his undergraduate studies, he still draws on his engineering background and academic experience at Penn as he reviews patent protections in Europe and the United States. "Academically, the classes at Penn were different and much smaller than at ETH. The personalized interaction with professors was obviously positive. It was easier to ask questions and discuss more. The engineering courses were very fulfilling,” he said. “While impossible to pinpoint one particular reason, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without Penn.”
In addition to enjoying his classes, Knüsel also loved student life, including football games with friends and the wide array of on-campus opportunities. “The first thing that astonished me was the campus culture, which is not a big thing at ETH. I would go around and see the whole neighborhood that was Penn’s campus – the College Houses, Penn Police, Penn this, Penn that. It blew my mind. You see it in movies, but I didn’t think it was really a thing,” he said. “I met a lot of friends that I’m still in touch with today.”
After returning to Switzerland and graduating, Philippe was able to continue his connection with the United States, as he ended up marrying an American who was studying in Switzerland. And even though she didn’t graduate from Penn, his experience with US culture may have played a factor in their relationship: “What I keep noticing from being at Penn, is that my experiences have steered my life in a certain, unique direction."