<p> Derek Rodenbeck <p> </p>
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Student and Alumni Stories

Derek Rodenbeck


Bachelor of Arts, Visual Studies ‘20—expected

“Coming back to school was hard,” says Derek Rodenbeck, “but I like being challenged. I could literally feel my brain changing.” Derek knows better than most how his mind was exercised in his first few months in the Bachelor of Arts program: he began his undergraduate studies with a concentration in cognitive science, taking classes in neuroscience and linguistics that helped him understand how people interact and communicate.

Derek changed his focus to visual studies when he realized he could combine his interest in cognitive science with his passion for visual arts. “Art is always going to be a part of what I do. I'm a creative person and a storyteller,” explains Derek, who was selected to participate in the 2018 Silverstein Photography Studio Abroad program and art exhibition. “Visual studies is a focus on art, science and philosophy all at one time. It’s like it was designed for me.” He is currently developing an illustrated narrative based on his grandfather’s experiences serving the military in France.

Like his grandfather, Derek is also a military veteran. He describes his journey from service to school as a circuitous path with detours in art school and odd jobs in the comic book industry. When his wife, a Penn Law graduate, encouraged him to consider a bachelor’s degree, he had some doubts. “I was that kid that hated school,” he says, “but I love to learn.” Skeptical, Derek dropped by the campus to learn more about the bachelor’s program. “I went home and immediately applied,” he recalls. “As soon as I came in, it just felt very welcoming.”

For Derek, education is about making connections—whether that involves telling his family’s story or reaching out to people across an ideological divide. Now that he is a parent, Derek reflects that his college degree, along with his wife’s more straightforward academic trajectory, also set an important example to their baby daughter. “We both landed here,” he says. “I’d like to my daughter to know that whatever she wants to do, she can, and it doesn’t matter when. But I’m excited to graduate and take her with me when I walk across the stage,” he adds. “That’s going to be really cool.”

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