The daughter of entrepreneurs, Shoshanna Israel came to Penn to immerse herself in a community that fosters and values business innovation, while also bringing her longstanding interest in policy into the fold. “Penn does an incredible job encouraging students to become future founders” of new enterprises, “and being surrounded by folks who are interested in business and entrepreneurship has been of paramount importance to me,” she says. For Shoshanna, her interests in business and public policy have coalesced in her fascination with technology.
The critical connections between business, technology, and policy became apparent to Shoshanna during her first employment experiences, working at Philadelphia-based tech startups such as ROAR for Good, a company developing wearable self-defense technology for women. “I found myself working for startups because I was really young and no one else would hire me,” she recounts. “I kind of fell in love with it, though. I was impressed with the audacity of the startup dream: the idea of building something out of nothing, with all the various moving parts that go with it. I saw up close the way that economic growth works.” The entrepreneurial environment, though, also exposed her to all of the ways in which government decisions can fuel or hinder the growth of small tech businesses. This is something she got to explore more fully by interning at the Department of Commerce for the City of Philadelphia, where she contributed to small business initiatives, including a $6 million public-private venture capital fund, StartupPHL. In all, as Shoshanna puts it, “my interests in technology and entrepreneurship have helped me understand good economic development policy at ground zero, and spending most of my time around entrepreneurs and small business owners informs the focus and meaning of my public policy interests.”
Shoshanna’s interests in technology and public policy also fuel in her commitment to supporting voting rights. She has volunteered for Rock the Vote over the past year, and also canvasses and staffs phone banks for local Democratic candidates. While there are elements of technology that Shoshanna understands have negatively shaped the electoral process, she knows just as surely that it can be a driver of positive change. “Regulations can help make technology and social media forces for good, and technology offers the opportunity to spread political awareness and voter participation further.”
One thing Shoshanna has appreciated about Penn politically is the “diversity of opinion here.” As she describes it: “While I identify as a liberal/Democrat, I’ve been challenged on a number of issues by more conservative classmates in a way other universities don’t necessarily enable, and have been grateful for the opportunity to better support and refine my ideological preferences.” Engagement with a multiplicity of political views is one of the things she likes most about being a leader of the PPI Student Group (PPISG), which maintains a student-run blog on the Penn Wharton PPI website. “I’m proud that the PPISG executive board has a near equal number of each political party, and that a plurality of voices on topics like tax policy abound.”
In that spirit of engagement, Shoshanna aims to leave her own mark on the University community. “I’d like to make sure two things are certain when I leave Penn,” she says. “The first is that students should feel that an opportunity to work in government, politics and policy is viable after leaving this school.” In that, “I’ve been heartened by the degree and intensity of enthusiasm for public policy I’ve seen among my peers on Public Policy Initiative Student Group, and I’ve been working with them to help build out our alumni networks, to better connect students with policy opportunities for after graduation.” Second, Shoshanna aspires “to better connect Penn more generally to local politics in Philly.” As she has found through her own engagement in local government, Philadelphia, in its struggles over “economic opportunity, social justice, education and so many other issues, is a microcosm for many issues that we face nationally.” Going to school in this city offers a rich opportunity “to see how politics and policy matter,” Shoshanna says; “and I believe understanding our local political landscape enables students to better understand policy, wherever they eventually end up.”