Carnegie Mellon University
BackgroundInterview Date:February 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: South Asian
Graduation Year: 2022
Sexual Orientation: Straight
High School Experience: Public school outside of Dallas, TX with a graduating class of about 860 students. There was a culture of going to college
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Statistics and Machine Learning
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of the Data Science Club, Students Using Data for Social Good, Forge which is an organization that works with refugees, and the Spring Carnival Committee.
Have any of your extracurricular activities had a particularly big impact on your experience?
I think that the Data Science Club and Students Using Data for Social Good have introduced me to potential career paths and ideas of what I want to do in the future. The other two have helped me get introduced to other people on campus and finding service opportunities.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
One thing I really like about Carnegie Mellon is as soon as I came here I started taking classes that were relevant to my intended major. I’ve taken courses in both Statistics and Computer Science so far and really enjoyed them. For Statistics, we have weekly homework, labs, and the occasional exam. For Computer Science, we have weekly homework and quizzes.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
One thing the Statistics department does really well is they have a really excellent teaching staff that trains students from the first classes they take on how to apply content to the real world and they teach real world skills that we will use when we go into internships and jobs. In terms of Computer Science courses, they also equip you with the necessary technical skills and also the problem-solving skills that you need to tackle problems that you would encounter if you were to have a job.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it’s definitely collaborative. There isn’t really a competitive culture at Carnegie Mellon which was something I found kind of surprising when I first arrived. They give you a lot of resources to work with others and also help yourself. I’ve noticed that the Computer Science courses especially make an effort to make sure you have access to office hours and have a teaching assistant help you if you are struggling with a problem. They really encourage that while avoiding competition.
How accessible are your professors?
I think they are really accessible. They always make it clear when they have office hours and they will usually remind us of them. Then when you go to office hours they are really helpful.
How was transitioning academically as a freshman? Were there any resources or systems in place that helped you adapt?
What Carnegie Mellon does is during the first week of classes they introduce students to the Academic Development Office and they make it very clear that if you need help with basic time management or if you need extra practice with one on one tutoring or group tutoring they make sure you are aware of those resources and know how to sign up for those. Personally, I do not use any of those resources, but I thought the fact that they were making it very clear that those resources are available was very helpful.
Why did you choose your major?
I decided to pick Statistics and Machine Learning primarily because of the interdisciplinary focus of the major itself and how Carnegie Mellon stresses the interdisciplinary nature of its academics. Machine Learning is between the Department of Statistics and the School of Computer Science, both of which are very well renowned. Also, I have a personal fascination with math, problem-solving, and computer science, so that led me to Carnegie Mellon.
On and Around Campus
Where do you live on campus?
Freshman: Mudge House with one roommate.
How was transitioning from Dallas to Pittsburgh, PA in terms of location?
The transition was a lot smoother than I thought it would be because my roommate and I have very similar interests. In terms of weather, Pittsburgh is a lot colder than Dallas but it gradually gets colder so you’re able to acclimate to it. The temperature was probably the biggest thing, but it was manageable.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
On campus is very safe. The campus isn’t exactly in downtown Pittsburgh and is more towards the residential neighborhoods, so it is safe at all hours of the night. You obviously want to be more careful at night because it is dark, but generally it is safe.
Pros and cons of being located in Pittsburgh, PA?
1) Pittsburgh is a very culturally diverse city. [The population of Pittsburgh is about 65% White, 22% Black, and 6% Asian with strong Indian and Chinese communities.]
2) There’s a lot to do in and around campus. Pittsburgh is known for its food scene and there are other cultural attractions.
3) Carnegie Mellon is in the city but still has its own campus so you have the feeling that you are at a university and on a campus.
1) The cold weather is not the best and it gets cold pretty early in the year.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
Usually, on the weekends I try to volunteer with an organization on campus called Partners Allied in Civic Engagement (PACE) that organizes weekly Saturday trips and community service projects. If I’m with my friends, we like to go explore downtown. The other day we went to go see a ballet, which was something cool that I’ve never done before.
What have been some of your favorite on-campus events at Carnegie Mellon?
I have a friend who’s in an improv comedy group and we’ll sometimes go see their shows which have been fun. Generally, there are a lot of performing arts performances, like an acapella group will have a concert, so I usually try to go to those.
How happy were you with the weekend options at Carnegie Mellon? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I don’t think I would change anything, I’m really satisfied. There’s always something to do and sometimes the campus itself has events on the weekends, so there’s a lot to do.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I met my closest friends because I visited campus in April for an admitted students’ event and when I came back in August some of them were also there. We hung out and got to know our roommates, and through that, we created a friend group.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
Carnegie Mellon gets a bad reputation for not having a social scene but that is not the case. I think the social scene is what you make of it, and it’s generally pretty active. People do tend to hang out on the weekends and go out and do stuff. There’s a lot to do and there is a prominent social scene.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientation mix socially?
There is a lot of diversity at Carnegie Mellon and that diversity is reflected in friend groups. It varies with groups that are mixed and groups that are not mixed because a lot of groups are formed around organizations that are [focused on certain affinity groups]. My friend group is very diverse.
How would you describe the student body on campus?
The student body is pretty diverse in terms of racial composition, but there is a notable lack of Hispanics and African-Americans on campus. There is also a very large population of international students, which I think is very interesting. The stereotype that students at Carnegie Mellon are “nerds” isn’t true. There are people who are nerdy and computer-oriented, but there are also different kinds of people with different mindsets that aren’t that way. You can see those people on campus and in classes you can notice that there are so many different types of people around you. [In 2017, about 26% of the undergraduate population was White, about 29% was Asian, about 23% were international students, about 4% were Black, and 2% were Hispanic.]
How would you describe the South Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
The South Asian community is very strong. There are a lot of Asian student organizations that I’ve seen like dance teams. There is a prominent scene for South Asians and you are able to find and meet a lot of those people.
How do you like the size of Carnegie Mellon in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [There are about 6,800 undergraduates.]
I really like it. It’s a medium-sized university. It’s really nice because the campus has a homey feeling and you don’t feel like you’re just a number. You get to know a higher percentage of people, which is nice.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I have gone to the career office a couple of times and they are extremely helpful in getting you started and getting you introduced to the process. They did resume review, they give you advice on how to look for internships and let you know about events that are happening on campus. They do a good job of making sure all the resources are apparent, I didn’t have to go out and look for the career center, I had already known because they had told me.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
One thing that’s a con of Carnegie Mellon is that our school can’t offer the same amount of financial aid as similar schools because our endowment is not as big. However, this year they announced an increase in scholarships due to a very large donation so hopefully that will improve. When I visited the office before I came here freshman year, they were very helpful and understanding. When I explained my situation, they were understanding and were able to give me more money, but I know that’s a mixed bag.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Carnegie Mellon before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew how cold it was going to be because I did not pack enough jackets.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
You don’t get a chance to explore the neighboring communities and some of those spots are some of the best things. There’s Schenley Park and the Botanical Gardens that you don’t get to see because a visit is so short. You also don’t get to experience the culture of Pittsburgh, but if you come and stay for a longer time, you get a glimpse of that.
Reasons to attend Carnegie Mellon:
1) Carnegie Mellon really stresses the interdisciplinary nature of its academics and gives you a well-rounded experience, as opposed to giving you one path you have to follow.
2) There are a lot of resources available to you for you to get involved with. You can get involved with your passions and also take time to explore what you want to do.
3) Carnegie Mellon has access to a lot of resources that help you explore your career interests and get firsthand experience
Reasons to attend Carnegie Mellon:
I can’t think of any. Even the weather gets manageable after a while [laughs].