VIPER Frequently Asked Questions

VIPER FAQ's

Q. What makes the VIPER program different from other programs?
Q. Where can I find a list of previous research projects and mentors of VIPER students?
Q. Is VIPER a lot of work?
Q. How do I find classes that satisfy both College general requirements and the SEAS SSH requirements?
Q. What does a VIPER first semester look like?
Q. Do VIPER students take courses with other Penn students?
Q. How do the “paid summer internships” work?
Q. Is VIPER a class?
Q. What are the course requirements for the VIPER program? Are there VIPER-specific courses other than VIPR 120 and 121?
Q. Where can I find information about potential research mentors?
Q. Are there field trips?
Q. Is there a VIPER alumni society?
Q. I am a transfer student. How do I apply to VIPER?
Q. I am a freshman at Penn. How do I apply to VIPER as an internal transfer student?
Q. Who should I contact if I have a question about VIPER?
Q. How much does it cost to be in the VIPER program? What is the cost of enrolling at Penn?
Q. Should I apply early decision?
Q. What is the VIPER class size?
Q. Do VIPER students still do the engineering senior design?

Q. What makes the VIPER program different from other programs?

A. The VIPER program engages students in energy research early on, enabling them to perform graduate level work as undergraduates. Upon successful completion of the program, students receive two degrees: a BSE and a BA. The ultimate goal is to raise innovators in high-caliber research careers who develop sustainable ways to harness, convert, and use energy. The VIPER program has faculty and staff dedicated to advising the VIPER students and meet one-on-one with each cohort member. Cohorts bond, study, work, and get involved in research starting their first year at Penn.

Q. Where can I find a list of previous research projects and mentors of VIPER students?

A. You can read about previous students’ research on the research page here.

Q. Is VIPER a lot of work?

A.We like to say it is a lot of challenging fun! VIPER students, like any student doing a dual degree with SEAS, must complete at least 46 credits to graduate. As part of these credit units, student complete the VIPER requirements described on the curriculum page, the SEAS requirements, the SAS general requirements, and the requirements for each of their majors.

Keep in mind, however, that a dual degree doesn’t mean double the work. Many courses between the SAS and SEAS double count, but there is somewhat less flexibility with electives due to the requirements involved in completing two degrees. Studying languages, going abroad, and getting a minor could all be accomplished with sufficient planning, but may extend the time needed to complete the program. AP credits can help lighten the workload and make these possible.

Q. How do I find classes that satisfy both College general requirements and the SEAS SSH requirements?

A. The College website lists its Sector and Foundational Approach requirements, which PennInTouch can filter when performing an advanced search.

In order to find courses that satisfy a Foundational Approaches and/or Sectors I, II, and III requirement and also fulfill the SEAS Social Science (SS) or Humanities (H) requirements, just look on this website for a list of departments (with course exceptions noted) and make sure that the courses you are choosing to satisfy your College requirements are 500-level or below courses from the listed departments, and that they are not listed as the exceptions, so that they can also count as a SEAS SSH requirement.

Q. What does a VIPER first semester look like?

A.The basic VIPER freshman schedule includes a math class (i.e., MATH104, MATH114, or MATH240); a course in chemistry (e.g., CHEM115, CHEM101); a laboratory class (i.e., CHEM053 or PHYS51); a physics class (e.g., PHYS150, PHYS170); an introduction to their engineering major; and a writing seminar. VIPER students receive additional curriculum advice and consult with faculty and staff the summer prior to entering Penn. An overview of the VIPER curriculum can be found here.

Q. Do VIPER students take courses with other Penn students?

A. Yes, VIPER students take courses that other Penn students take. An overview of the VIPER curriculum is online.

Q. How do the “paid summer internships” work?

A.All VIPER students work with the program directors to connect with a research mentor on campus to work with after their first year. The research stipend comes from VIPER funds and covers basic living expenses for the summer. Additional paid internships can be set up with CURF and other Penn resources, and VIPER will help students through this process.

Q. Is VIPER a class?

A.There are two courses specific to the VIPER program, VIPR120 and VIPR121, taken in the spring of the freshman year and fall of the sophomore year, respectively. These courses provide an introduction to doing scientific and engineering research. VIPER classes (or cohorts) take these classes together. They complete many other courses together as well, collaborate on projects, and work together inside and outside of class. They study together in the VIPER student room and have a shared experience in the program that makes for a supportive and collaborative group.  

Q. What are the course requirements for the VIPER program? Are there VIPER-specific courses other than VIPR120 and 121?

A. There is also a requirement to take 3 CUs worth of energy-related coursework, which can overlap with the students’ general and/or major requirements; up to 2 CUs of independent study; and 1 CU of a capstone/research portfolio credit. See the curriculum information here for more information.

Q. Where can I find information about potential research mentors?

A. The list of Pennergy, The Penn Center for Energy Innovation, members is one place to find potential mentors, but there are other faculty on campus who do research relevant to the science and technology of energy. Students are encouraged to look for researchers in the following departments on campus: Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, Biology, Biophysics, Earth and Environmental Science, and Bioengineering.

Q. Are there field trips?

A. Yes! In the first year, field trips included visiting power plants, solar fields and wind turbine manufacturing plants in the Fairless Hills; a hike in the Wissahickon Valley; and a trip to the Chemical Heritage Foundation and Reading Terminal.

Q. Is there a VIPER alumni society?

A. Not yet, the first VIPER class graduates in 2016, but you can find more information about Penn Alumni here.

Q. I am a transfer student. How do I apply to VIPER?

A.The VIPER program cannot admit students who already have started their undergraduate education at another college or university.

Q. I am a freshman at Penn. How do I apply to VIPER as an internal transfer student?

A. Contact the program manager, Dr. Hughes, at khugh@sas.upenn.edu as soon as possible. You can read more about internal transfers here.

Q. Who should I contact if I have a question about VIPER?

A.You should contact the Managing Director, Dr. Hughes, at khugh@sas.upenn.edu.

Q. How much does it cost to be in the VIPER program? What is the cost of enrolling at Penn?

A.The VIPER program does not charge twice as much as it would to enroll in a single school at Penn. Student Registration and Financial Services publishes a cost-of-attendance overview here.

Q. Should I apply early decision?

A. If Penn is your first choice, applying early decision is encouraged.

Q. What is the VIPER class size?

A. The size of the VIPR120 and 121 seminar is dependent on the size of each VIPER class, which has been 10 and 13 students for the first two years, respectively. These classes may grow in size, but will not become larger than 25 students. Other classes at Penn can vary from seminar size (10-20 students) to large lecture classes of 200 students. This information can be found when signing up for classes on PennIntouch.

Q. Do VIPER students still do the engineering senior design?

A. Yes, VIPER students do research as well as senior design in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.