BackgroundInterview Date:January 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: I grew up in Uganda and went to a private international boarding school in New Mexico for high school with a graduating class of about 100 students.
First Generation College Student: I’m the first to go to school in the U.S.
Major: Computer Science
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of a dance group, I [have a leadership position] in Colby African Society, I play Club Soccer, and I play drums with my friends.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
The Colby African Society has played the biggest role because there are very few Africans at Colby so it helped me find people I could relate to. The dance group is fun because it lets me blow some steam off. Practice is during the weekend and is fun. I play soccer just because it’s fun.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
In the Computer Science courses, I will have more group work than the Math classes I take. Specifically in the Computer Science courses, the weekly course load depends on how much work the students want to put into their projects because we have weekly projects. The weekly projects are the main thing because in the end they contribute to about 50% of your grade, which means some people put in maybe 12 hours a week. I put in about 6-8 hours a week depending on how much work I have in my other classes. We also have a weekly quiz and exams every month.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
At Colby, the Computer Science major is small, but the professors are very available. You could reach out to them anytime. There’s a professor named Bruce Maxwell, who basically has dedicated his life to building the Computer Science program at Colby, and is pretty much here every day and sometimes very late at night.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It can be as competitive or collaborative as you want it to be. My first year at Colby I didn’t really know how U.S. colleges operated so I was mostly doing stuff by myself. Back home school is more competitive, so I thought it was the same in the U.S., but then I discovered I was wrong in my sophomore year and it can be very collaborative. At the end you still hand in your own version of the work, but you’re allowed to consult with anyone else. The professors let you talk with your friends as long as you give them credit when you hand it in. I think it’s a very collaborative space, and that goes for Math, Economics, and the other courses I’ve taken. They let you turn in problem sets that you can do with the professor, T.A.’s, or your friends.
How accessible are your professors?
Very accessible. All of the professors I’ve taken classes with give you enough time and are, more or less, always available. For example, for an Economics class I took, Corporate Finance, the professor was there every day from 2PM to 4PM every day of the week, we had teaching assistants available from 7PM to 9PM, and then you could schedule more time if you needed. They’re very available.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m very happy with my choice of major. I hadn’t done any coding before college. I was actually planning on becoming an engineer, but then physics wasn’t my friend in high school. I came to college with a clean slate and I didn’t want to take physics, so I tried out a Computer Science course out and loved it. The help was there, it was very practical and fun, and was new and exciting.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Marriner, which is one of the Hillside Dorms with one roommate.
Sophomore: East Quad in a two-room double. I had a roommate but there was a door in between us.
Junior: Single in Mary Low Coburn
Senior: Alfond Commons Apartments. I’m in an apartment of four people with each of us having our own room and a shared kitchen space.
What was your favorite living situation?
Definitely the Alfond Commons Apartments. I’ve been told by my international student advisor that this is probably going to be my best living situation I’ll be in for the next five years or so. It’s very nice.
How was transitioning from Uganda and New Mexico to Waterville, ME?
Very rough if we’re being honest. Uganda has an equatorial climate where it’s in the 70’s and is very wet and humid and then I go to New Mexico where it’s very dry and hot. It’s not dry in Waterville, but it’s cold two thirds of the year. The winters here are also very cold and it keeps on snowing and there is no sunshine.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I feel pretty safe. From my interactions with others, no matter it being on campus and off campus, have felt pretty safe. I needed a good winter jacket and winter boots but I was able to get help from the international student advisor and get all the stuff I needed. It was a rough transition but, fortunately, I had help.
Pros and cons of being located in Waterville, ME:
Pros: 1) You get to focus on school because there’s nothing happening around you. You get to study and then go to the parties on campus on the weekends. On Mondays there is nothing else happening so all you have to do is work.
Cons: 1) It is very remote. There isn’t that much here, which means you have to build a community at Colby of friends on campus. It’s a boring place.
2) It’s cold.
3) Colby kids are the youngest people in the surrounding area, it’s mostly old people around. [About 29% of the population of Waterville is 55 or older.]
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I enjoy dancing. I’ll have dance practice where we dance with friends in an organized setting until like 9PM. After that we go to a party. I don’t do as much partying now, I think I’m growing old [laughs]. There are no nightclubs or anything like that around so we do everything on campus in people’s rooms. We have no Greek life, so everything is held by friend groups, athletic teams, or clubs. All the parties happen on campus either in dorms or in a Colby owned apartment. There are also school organized events in [dormitory] common spaces. It’s really what you make of it, I have friends who still go to parties on campus.
What nights of the week do you go out?
My first and second year it was just Friday and Saturday. When I came back from studying abroad my junior year, I found myself hanging out with friends on Tuesday night if Wednesday was a light day. Now, things happen Thursday night through Sunday night as long as my schoolwork is taken care of. It’s all about balancing your time.
What is an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
This also comes down to who you surround yourself with. Because I’m a senior I don’t do as much partying now, so I will stay in my apartment and have some friends over and we’ll play some video games, sit around and have a few drinks, or do some dancing. The alternative is to just hang out with friends. [Colby allows students 21 years old and over to have beer and wine on campus, but not hard alcohol.]
How happy have you been with the nightlife at Colby? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Honestly, there are times when you wish there was more because at some points it becomes monotonous. I wish there was something else to break up the monotony. I think it’d be nice [if we had more organized activities].
How did you meet your closest friends?
They’re from different sectors of the school. Some of them I found through the African Society as it was a whole different path. I also met people just through interactions on campus that I can pinpoint to anything in particular.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
A cliché descriptions people use is “cliquey,” but I think that can have a negative connotation to it. I find it to be a healthy social environment. Yes, there will be teams who tend to stick together, like the football team or the soccer team, there will be clubs who stick together, so the African-Americans may tend to clique together and the Africans in my dance group tend to stick together. Different sections of campus tend to clique together because of the friends that you have, but there are no set boundaries. There is mixing between groups at parties and stuff like that.
To what extent do international students and domestic students mix socially?
It depends on the student. I’ve been both. I interacted a lot with domestic students, then I didn’t, and now I do again. It just depends on what you want. You could also end up closing yourself off if you are just part of Colby African Society and find yourself with just Africans, I know people who do that. You can also be outgoing and talk to anyone.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
You do what you want more or less. You can mix with who you want.
How strong is the Black community on campus?
It’s pretty strong for a small school like Colby. There aren’t many of us, so we do our best. We have a pretty good presence even though it’s just a few of us. [In the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 49 Black students at Colby making up about 2.7% of the student population. Over 20% of the student body are students of color and over 10% are international students.]
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Colby by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Colby?
People stay, so yes. I think at every place you go there are people who are complaining about stuff, but those same people will stay until the end. I stayed and I complain a lot, so I’m one of those people, but I also make the best out of everything. I would say people are relatively happy, they’re not the happiest, but they’re relatively happy.
Were there any parts of Colby or American university overall that surprised you when you arrived on campus?
Yeah, I mean it was a huge culture shock to be honest. The social interactions were very different, like people saying hi to each other all the time. Academic-wise the collaborative nature surprised me because it wasn’t the same case back home in Uganda.
How do you like the size of Colby in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has it influenced your social experience? [Colby has about 2,000 undergraduate students.]
I think it’s a good size. It means the professors are able to give as much time to a student as they should and you are able to be part of closer-knit communities and have a closer-knit friend group.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I got both my internships through alumni. This is where the size aspect comes in as a setback because we have very few alumni. For me, I want to become a software engineer, but most Colby alumni don’t usually take that pathway. Students usually go into consulting or banking, so the alumni network for students interested in that is great for them. For me on the other hand, it’s not the best. [36% of the Class of 2017 went into business and financial services, STEM and healthcare tied for the second most popular industries with 14% of the class going into each.]
What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
They’ve been very helpful. I used them for help with my resume and cover letter, and to get in touch in touch with alumni. Right now, I try to reach out to them as much as I can to reach out to someone who does software engineering. I make the most of what I have with them.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful and accommodating are they?
Colby gives very good financial aid because Colby has money. When I’ve been to the financial aid office they’ve been understanding. [Colby recently launched a new middle-income financial aid program that makes Colby one of the most affordable colleges in the country. If a family has a total income of $60,000 or less, they will have a contribution of $0.]
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Colby before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew it was cold for a long time. I knew it gets cold, but I didn’t know that winter could go on until April and start in October.
This is not something I wish I knew, but I wish I took more into consideration that Colby is a very White school. I went to an international high school where there are people from all over the place. There, I was a minority as a Ugandan, but everyone else was a minority too. Colby’s different because I don’t feel like a Ugandan or an African, I’m was a Black person. So, there are some demographic things I should have look in to.
What is something a prospective international student should know that we haven’t touched on?
They should know that they should ask for help. One thing that really set me back at the beginning of was that I was afraid to ask for help. If you need help with classes or if you need a job or help paying for textbooks, you can ask for things. Nobody is going to hand you cash, but they’ll show you how to survive. They tell us that all the time, but they should know to ask.
Reasons to attend Colby:
1) All of the resources, academically, financially, and just in general.
2) It’s an interesting mix of people.
3) The new president is really trying to renovate many buildings and the facilities are really improving. The downtown Alfond Apartments are a dream for any college student. They are also building a new athletic complex and a new arts center. [Colby’s president, David Greene, took over in 2013 and one of his main focuses is to renovate campus spaces and downtown Waterville. Notably, the Alfond Main Street Commons, which houses senior apartments, has spurred jobs and positively impacted local businesses.]
Reasons to not attend Colby:
1) The number of White people around can be overwhelming. There’s only [2,000] of us, and [about 20% of us are students of color], so it’s easy to feel closed in.
2) Waterville is not the best place to be in the prime years of your youth. There’s not a lot happening around.
3) Colby’s very academically rigorous, and if you’re not used to that then this may not be the school for you.