Carnegie Mellon University
BackgroundInterview Date:December 2018
Gender Identity: Female
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Straight
High School Experience: Public school in the Bay Area with a graduating class of about 700 students.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Statistics and Machine Learning, it’s a combined major
Extracurricular Activities: I’m a tour guide, I’m heavily involved in the Asian Student Association and the Society of Women Engineers, and, beyond that, I play some intramural basketball, frisbee, and Quidditch on occasion.
Have any of your extracurricular activities had a particularly big impact on your experience?
Tour guiding is a really big part of my life, it’s really cool to walk around and introduce Carnegie Mellon to prospective parents. I’ve met a lot of great friends from my fellow tour guides. It’s been a really good experience.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
A lot of my curriculum revolves around Math and Computer Science. I’d say that, on average, I take about three Math, so anything from linear algebra, matrices, probability theory, and stuff like that. I usually take one Computer Science course, so that may be in Python or regular machine learning concepts, and then one general education requirement to round that out, which will be a history or science class. For example, this semester I’m taking an algorithms class with the Computer Science department, I’m taking two statistical computer classes, a proofs class for Math, and then a random Physics class for a general education requirement.
What are your major graded assignments?
For my Computer Science classes, we usually have around two to three assignments a week, one is a written proof that is 10-15 pages long, and then a programming assignment. This holds true for most programming classes.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
My major is located in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which is weird because it is math and computer science heavy major. There have been a lot of petitions to remove it from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and insert it into the College of Engineering mainly because humanities students don’t get the same priorities as engineering students for taking engineering or science classes. We get put on wait lists for classes that we should be able to take if we want to and a lot of classes are engineering restricted, which means we can’t register for them even if we attempt to. We do get priorities for registering for humanities courses, but it’s a very STEM-focused major, so the humanities aren’t of interest to me right now. In terms of stuff they do really well, there is a lot of support. I personally see my academic advisor at least once every two weeks. I see her not only just to figure out my life and my schedule but also just to catch up and chat. She’s really accessible, as are most of the other academic advisors, which I think is really great.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s very competitive. That’s not to say that there isn’t a great culture of collaboration here. The main difference between college and high school is that is that there might be competition in that everyone is looking for jobs and internships, but the difference here is everyone at this point knows that we are going to be successful in our own way, so there’s no point in being nasty to other people. Everyone actually tries to help each other and it’s really nice. We have a lot of resources on campus to help you where you need it. We also have teaching assistant office hours. I think it is a competitive school, and that may be because it is a STEM-focused school.
I will say one thing though is there is a stigma against students who are humanities majors just because they’re not super common because our curriculum is more computer science focused. I came in as a freshman as a Political Science major and that was something I was uncomfortable with just because other people don’t necessarily take kindly to that. They were like, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you studying computer science?” So, I think there is a pressure to take Computer Science courses. Personally, it worked out really well for me personally, but others should keep that in mind.
What has been your favorite class in your major?
Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science. It’s basically an introductory class for Python programming that most students take just because it’s an infamous class at CMU. It’s also a prerequisite for most STEM majors as well. That class was my first interaction with programming. It’s really, really fast paced and there are other classes after it that are less rigorous, but it was really rewarding. I learned so much in just one semester. One thing I like about CMU is they teach really applicable skills and specific problems that you’re likely to see on a technical interview, which is great for us. You do a term project at the end, which is good because companies like to hear about projects you’ve done and they give you the opportunity to do so in a classroom environment.
What has been your least favorite class in your major?
Probably Statistics 36-202 – Statistics & Data Science Methods just because there was not a lot of course regulation in that course. The professor is a really kind guy, but I feel like the material you learn isn’t all that applicable to things you will do in the future. That’s because you learn the same information you learn from AP Statistics, and that wasn’t super helpful to me personally.
Why did you choose your combination of majors? And are you happy with your choice?
I realized at this point going pre-law wasn’t something that was feasible for me at this point, and one of the reasons for that is to be pre-law you have to have a really high GPA, which at CMU is not that common because the material is so hard. I definitely thought that that was one factor. Secondly, being around kids who were in STEM for so long it grew on me and it turned into something that I am interested in. One thing that solidified my choice to switch my major was the summer after my freshman year I participated in Girls Who Code, which is a nonprofit that helps girls learn to code. I worked as a teaching assistant to help teach high school aged girls in a super immersive program and teaching them to code. That was something that I really enjoyed doing and solidified me becoming a more technical focused person.
How was transitioning as a first-generation student academically? Were there systems in place that helped you adapt?
I have an advantage that my sister went to college before me and worked as a resident assistant. I knew about the pitfalls of college because she would say I have a resident who did this and you should definitely not do that. There is the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion where there are a lot of open forum discussions about what it means to be a first-generation student and diversity. We recently had a lot of racial and religious dialogue come up because there was the synagogue shooting that happened less than a mile away. The Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion was a big help to a lot of students during that time because we have a large Jewish population here as well.
I would say that the students here are really friendly and welcoming. There is a large international student population, and a lot of those students are first-generation students. About [22%] of the population at Carnegie Mellon is international, so that creates a really diverse population to be comfortable with.
On and Around Campus
Where did you live during your Four years?
Freshman year: Stever House, which is all-freshman housing. I had one roommate, and I’d say most people on campus live in doubles or triples. It was a great place to live on campus. We have air conditioning in each room which can be very helpful. The community is also very strong, I got to know most people who lived in the dorm.
Sophomore year: Fairfax Apartments, which is off-campus but campus sponsored. I live with one roommate and have a kitchen and bathroom that we share.
Junior: Next year I’ll move off campus to an apartment that I’ll share with three roommates. It’s pretty common to move off campus. Pittsburgh has a great bus system and the bus fare is included in your tuition, so a lot of students move off campus.
How was transitioning from the Bay Area to Pittsburgh, PA?
It was definitely a transition. I’ve never lived on the East Coast before. Culturally it’s a bit different because East coasters have a different style of living. The biggest difficulty for me was the weather coming from California. I learned that seasonal depression is very real. Now that I’m a sophomore, it’s gotten a lot better. I’m pretty used to the cold weather now and every else is struggling with you anyway so it’s not a huge deal. Beyond that, traveling to Pittsburgh is kind of a hassle because there are usually layovers and also, because it snows a lot in Pittsburgh, there are delays. I’ve had flights delayed overnight and I had to sleep in the airport.
The school is very much integrated into the city, which is very nice. The buses run pretty much all over Pittsburgh. There are also some really great food options that you can go to on and off campus. People choose to eat off campus a lot because it’s very accessible to get to. I think it was a good overall transition for me, I didn’t have a super hard time going from one place to the other.
Do you ever feel like you are more so a resident of Pittsburgh than you are a student?
Yes, I would say so.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
The campus itself is really safe. As a result of the synagogue shooting in October the campus security has really beefed up. That is also because we had some incident with [somebody writing anti-Semitic language in a book in the campus library]. We have a really small campus, so I think it’s very safe to go from one location to another because, even at 2 or 3 in the morning, you are guaranteed to run into somebody you know on campus.
Pros and cons of being located in Pittsburgh, PA?
1) You’re located in the city.
2) The bus transportation system is really great.
1) Traveling to Pittsburgh is rough because there are not a lot of direct flights.
2) The weather is not great. There is a lot of snow and flooding. [In 2018 Pittsburgh experience over 40 inches of precipitation, over 10 inches the national average.]
What kind of nightlife do you like to participate in?
There’s definitely a big Greek life social scene, but you don’t have to be involved in Greek life to participate in Greek parties. There is also a lot of stuff that happens on campus. [It’s common for clubs] to have a scavenger hunt on Friday night, which is nice. I don’t go out too often because I’m a lot busier this semester. We have Greek life parties and kickbacks every week. If I were to go out, I’d go out on a Sunday.
What have been some of your favorite times at Carnegie Mellon?
We have two annual events called Booth and Buggy. They both take place during our Carnival weekend in April. Booth is when organizations get together to build a building in five days that has to comply with international building regulations, which means running water, electricity, and it has to be structurally sound. Buggy is when people build a seven-foot carbon fiber and race buggies I’m a mechanic, so I’m really involved in the building of the buggy.
How happy were you with the nightlife at Carnegie Mellon? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m happy with it. I think for how small our school is we do a pretty good job with having a really active Greek life population. I was actually briefly involved in Greek life my freshman year but dropped because it was a lot of money and time. Most of the parties on campus are hosted by Greek life. I think it’s a good culture because people focus on their school work and work really hard and then go out. Work hard play hard is really embodied here.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I made a lot of friends through my freshman floor. I’m still living with my roommate from freshman year, and I’ve become close with the other people I live with. I also have become close with the people who I have classes with and through the Asian Students Association.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s good. In high school there are outcasts and people who don’t hang out with each other, but I don’t see that a lot at CMU. No matter what your interests are, you’re bound to find at least one person who has the same interests as you. I think most people do party in one way or another, that’s prevalent here. I think that’s really nice because there are a lot of people who take studying very seriously, but can also [have fun]. During finals season everyone has the same mentality that we need to stop partying now and start studying.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientation mix socially?
It’s fairly common. There’s no discrimination or anything like that here. Diversity and inclusion is a big thing on campus. In terms of political affiliation, we’re a left-leaning campus, which I think creates more friendliness and acceptance on campus. There is a lot of intermingling between people.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Carnegie Mellon by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Carnegie Mellon?
I think it varies. I think people feel very rewarded when they come out, it’s definitely not easy to study here. It’s universally understood that it’s hard but the rewards you reap are really good in terms of the good jobs and internship you can get. I think people become less satisfied when they haven’t gotten a job, I have friends who are interviewing now and some of them wish they switched to a different major and stuff like that. Generally, I would say that people are pretty with Carnegie Mellon as a whole.
How do you like the size of Carnegie Mellon in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that influenced your experience?
It’s definitely a pretty small school, there are about [6,400] undergraduates and then there are another [about 7,600] graduate students, though they don’t emerge too often because they’re in a separate building. I like being in a smaller school setting, I think it allows for a good experience in terms of getting closer to your classmates, and also there is a [13:1] faculty to student ratio. I think you make closer bonds because just walking across campus I’ll see at least three to four people that I know. I like that I actually run into people I want to interact with. I think most people enjoy the small size because of the strong connections and the opportunity to bond with professors.
Has being a first-generation student impacted your social experience?
No, I wouldn’t say so.
Has the alumni network helps you find internships or jobs?
Yeah, I would say that the Carnegie Mellon has a pretty strong alumni network. Because it’s a small school, the alumni network is more interconnected. This summer I’m working as a software engineering intern in New York and one of my interviewers was from Carnegie Mellon. I think that helped me a lot because we had a lot of things to talk about and joke about certain classes that I’ve taken. They also know exactly what I knew because they had taken those courses as well. Having that alumni connection is really great when you’re looking for
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I think the career office is pretty helpful. They do a lot of resume workshops which are really, really helpful because that is hard to do sometimes. For my major, we have internship panels where upperclassmen will come and talk about their internship experiences.
What computer programs have you learned through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned Python in Fundamentals of Programming. It’s a sequence so after that you learn C Programming, and then machine learning stuff. There is a class called Databases where you learn how to use Sequel and in Probability Statistics you learn how to use R. Those are the big ones in terms of what you’re required to take. As you go higher up in your computer programming classes it gets more specific and less universal. At Carnegie Mellon, there’s a class for pretty much every program or language you would want to learn.
Have you used financial aid? How accommodating has the office been to your needs?
Yes, and the office has been pretty helpful.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Carnegie Mellon before entering as a freshman?
Just that I wouldn’t be staying a Humanities major. I think that’s a big thing that may have affected my decision of whether or not to come here, but ultimately, I think I’m happy with my choice.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The Number Garden. It’s just a really, really beautiful place.
Reasons to attend Carnegie Mellon:
1) There’s a really good community here. That’s really important to me.
2) The educational benefits you’re able to reap are really fantastic. You’re able to learn so much.
3) Intellectual stimulation. You get to learn so much that you never thought you’d be able to learn before.
Reasons to not attend Carnegie Mellon:
1) Don’t attend if you’re planning to go purely into the Humanities in my opinion. I don’t think there are a lot of opportunities here for pure Humanities students, the school caters a lot towards STEM students.
2) If you’re not into Pittsburgh or are not into traveling to Pittsburgh. A lot of people I know are very anti-Pittsburgh because of the cold, transportation issues, and being far away from home.