Bachelor of Arts, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations ’20—expected
“I hadn’t been in school in 30 years. Now, I hold my own against PhD students in courses on Cuneiform,” shares Cindy Srnka, a Corporate Engagement Associate for Grounds for Sculpture, who is currently earning a Bachelor of Arts in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She continues, “I decided to go back to school when I was almost 50 because I felt the desire to pursue an education related to my passion of art. It was something that I wanted to do upon high school graduation, but due to circumstances at the time, was unable to fulfill. After high school, I worked my way up in the corporate world as far as I could without a degree.”
Following her love of fine art, Cindy attended Mercer County Community College from 2010 to 2013 where she studied art history. She sustained a 4.0 throughout her time there, earned recognition on the President’s List and was inducted into the honor society Phi Theta Kappa. She then became involved as an officer of Phi Theta Kappa all while working and raising a family. The College of Liberal and Professional Studies took notice of her achievements and the Bachelor of Arts’ Program Director Kathy Urban reached out to Cindy personally.
“I came home from a long day of work and classes and sat down to begin homework. I opened my e-mail and saw a message from the University of Pennsylvania with the subject ‘Consider the possibilities,’” she recalls, “I was amazed. I went to Philadelphia shortly after and met with Kathy. We talked about my background and goals, and she strongly encouraged me to apply.”
When Cindy received the notification of her acceptance on decision day, she remembers, “I called my husband and daughter right away. I almost couldn’t believe that someone like me just got accepted into an Ivy League school.” Not only did Cindy get in, but she was also awarded a prestigious Bread Upon the Waters Scholarship to cover the full cost of her Penn education.
Cindy grew up in Cliffwood Beach, New Jersey, a small seaside town where she and her family lived in a two-bedroom bungalow. “We didn’t have a lot of money or resources,” she shares, “My grandmother had a big influence on me. She brought me library books on her weekly visits, and during the summer, my sister and I would spend a week at her house. The week was filled with visits to different cultural and historical destinations. It was through these experiences that I found a little bit of hope and light which encouraged me to keep pushing forward.”
As soon as Cindy started her BA at Penn, she took advantage of the University’s vast academic, cultural and professional resources. Within her first term, she got involved with the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She worked as a research assistant for Ur Online, a digitization project of excavations from ancient Mesopotamia. As a result of her work there, her interests became more focused on the Ancient Near East, its history and the formation of what has now become the current Middle East Region. It was at this time Cindy decided to change her major from history of art to Near Eastern languages and civilizations.
Looking ahead, Cindy notes, “Ultimately, I’d like educate people about the side of the Near East—Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Syria— that most of us never get to see. The perception most people in the US have of this region is what is presented to us through the press. Many people don’t realize that numerous customs and practices that we use in our society today, such as writing, math and law codes, stemmed from practices that originated in the Ancient Near East in Mesopotamia and from the Sumerians.”
Cindy reflects, “It is through the opportunity as a student at Penn that I now have the tools and resources available to accomplish the goals and passions I always hoped to achieve in my life.”