BackgroundInterview Date:March 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Gay
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Private school in Vietnam with a graduating class of about 550 students. There was not a culture of going to college in the United States.
First Generation College Student: No, but I’m the first to go to college in a different country
Major: Computer Science
Minors: Sociology and Math double minor
Extracurricular Activities: I was in Chorale for four years, I have a [leadership role] in the Computer Science Student Advisory Board, and I worked as a Career Fellow.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
I love music but have never done anything too official with it before, so having Chorale, which is open to everyone, was really great because it was a good way for me to work with music a little more seriously and it was really fun. It was a great way to destress after class.
The Computer Science Student Advisory Board gave me the opportunity to work with faculty very closely. I got to understand the inner-workings of academia, like, the hiring process, what they need to do to give professors tenure, and how to construct a curriculum. We also organized a lot of events and created a lot of resources for students in the department to help them prepare for a career which helped me a lot in my own professional development. I think the department really listens to the student’s concerns and are really great.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
There’s a variety in Computer Science. We have coding-based classes where you have to turn in weekly or biweekly projects, mostly in groups. We have theoretical classes where there are homework problems that we have to do weekly. We also have classes that are more hardware-based where we have to work in the robotics lab, for example. Those classes are also project-driven. In general, your grade is made up of half exams and half projects. For most classes in Computer Science we have TA’s to help students along the way, so we have great resources.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
What it does really well is there is a really great community. I don’t think any other department has the same sense of community we have because we have so many group projects throughout every single class. We also have so many teaching assistants who care a lot about their jobs. We also all work in the same space.
I am also proud of my work with the Student Advisory Board where I have been pushing for a lot of community-driven events and keeping people in the loop with what’s going on. We go to off-campus events together and a newsletter run by students.
I also have really happy with the diversity of course offerings we have for the major. We have a class for pretty much every field in computer science, which is really rare for a small college to offer.
One negative is that we rely a lot on adjunct professors, which we don’t like. But, that’s an issue for all schools because people in computer science tend to want to go into industry instead of academia
How would you describe the learning department? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s really collaborative. Sometimes I think we collaborate too much [laughs].
How accessible are your professors?
They are incredibly accessible. It’s a wonderful department in terms of the community spirit. Professors are so willing to sit down and talk to students and guide them through any problem. It’s also one of the fastest growing departments and we don’t have enough faculty, like, my advisor is very overworked and has too many advisees to handle. But, she tries to make it work.
How was transitioning academically from your school in Vietnam to Connecticut College?
I don’t think my story is representative of all students from Vietnam because I was really lucky to attend a few courses on American literature and culture before going to Conn which prepared me for the writing courses and life in the States. I didn’t find it to be super challenging to transition because Conn is such an open and welcoming space and there are so many student activities so that if anyone is interested in anything they will be able to find their peers.
Were there any resources that helped you transition?
My freshman seminar was incredibly helpful for me. Right away I was thrown into a challenging course. It was with a professor in the Philosophy department and it was very reading and writing intensive, but the professor gave very detailed comments on essays that really helped me and he was always available for office hours. I worked with him a lot my freshman year and it was really great.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m very happy with my choice. I came to Connecticut College as a Sociology major and I did that for a year. After my first year, I had a project during the summer and met with a very inspiring person from M.I.T. and she encouraged me to try out computer science because she thought I would be a great engineer, so I tried it out and now I’m here. I doubted myself a lot of times but I had all the resources that I needed to do well. I also keep coming back to the community and the professors who helped me so much.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Triple in Hamilton but then switched to a double in Windham
Sophomore: Double in Windham
Junior: Abbey House in a double
Senior: Abbey House in a single first semester and then I switched to the 360 Apartments and am in a double
What was your favorite living situation?
Definitely the 360 Apartments. Independent living is where it’s at! [laughs].
How was transitioning from your hometown in Vietnam to New London, CT?
It was interesting because I had never been to the States. When I looked online I thought it was going to be a small city, which is what I wanted because I come from a big city, but when I came I realized it was a very small town. But, the location is great because it’s really accessible to New York and Boston. It’s so easy to get out of New London, which I think is so great about it.
Can you describe the level of safety you have experienced on and around campus?
It’s really safe. Although we have had a few break-ins in the Village, I don’t feel threatened on campus.
Pros and cons of being in New London, CT?
Pros: (1) The scenery is beautiful. We have a great view of the Thames river and the town is cute.
(2) It’s really easy to get out of the city.
Cons: (1) You need to have a car to get off-campus or take a train.
(2) The town gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I am not a big party person, so usually I host my own parties with my friends. I live in a double, so it’s a lot of spending time with my roommate, going out to dinner in Mystic, and even working. Nightlife for me is not a major component of college.
What are some of your favorite events to go to on campus?
I actually go to all of the Music department’s events. I sometimes go to the theater productions. There are also a lot of lectures I like to go to.
How happy were you with the weekend options at Conn? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I think it was better during my first year and sophomore year because now a lot of events are being shut down at midnight, which I think is really early. People are really discouraged from having parties.
How did you meet your closest friends?
When I switched into Windham, one of them was my roommate. My other two best friends I met through class and working in the library.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s a little bit cliquey. It feels like high school. There are so many wonderful people here and people are really friendly, so I don’t have many complaints about the social scene actually. I think my impression of it being cliquey is because when I was a first-year student a lot of the people came from the same high school and the same region, so a lot of people knew each other already. Now that I’m a senior, that stuff doesn’t really bother me. [About 38% of students come from Massachusetts or Connecticut.]
To what extent do you feel international students mix with domestic students?
For me, I keep a balance. I hang out with a lot of international students, but most of my interactions are with domestic students. For me at least, we are very integrated.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
In terms of sexual orientation, I don’t think it’s ever been a problem here. At least for me, it’s never really a problem. We just talk about what’s going on in our life and everyone is understanding. In terms of races, I don’t think it’s super integrated yet. My social circle is very diverse, but from looking at the interactions on campus, I feel that there is some separation there. [About 71% of students at Connecticut College are White.]
How would you describe the LGBT community on campus? How strong is it?
I don’t think Queer students here are that close because it’s so normalized and welcoming that we don’t have to stay close together. With professors, I’m very surprised to see how willing professors are to connect with students based on the Queer identity. I have so many Queer professors and I talk a lot of them and we get along so well. I never thought I would make more friends with Queer professors than students, but it’s great!
Were there any parts of Connecticut College or American college overall that surprised you?
A lot surprised me, but you get used to it. I thought it was funny that people live so close to each other and how you would hear conversations about drama among friends in the library. I think it mostly comes down to the residential life. It’s interesting how your classmates are your best friends and the people you hang out with on a daily basis. I also think the how accessible the professors are was a pleasant surprise.
How would you describe the international community? How strong is it?
It’s interesting with the international student group because we have a lot of students from China and they all stick together. One thing that we talk about in the international student groups is that if there is an international student event there probably won’t be a lot of Chinese students there. Besides that, people from every other region are very close and we put on a lot of events and dinners together. I’m very grateful for my community. [In 2018-2019 there were 32 Chinese students, the largest international community.]
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Conn by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Conn?
I think if people stick around until senior year, they love Conn. We do have a retention problem with first year students, but the people who stay around are the people who resonate really strongly with the community we have here. [For the Class of 2020 and 2021, 91% of students returned after their freshman year.]
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
For me, every time I talk with the alumni, especially from the Computer Science department, they are so helpful. For Computer Science, we have a shared spreadsheet of all the alumni who are willing to help and I called a lot of people from that list who were willing to talk to me and share their experience. One of them helped me a lot with interview preparation, gave me a referral for an internship.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful are they?
I work for the career office, so I use them a lot. It’s an amazing and wonderful resource. I talked to all of the career advisors and they offer different perspectives and I’m very grateful for them.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
I have financial aid and we have a great policy here for international students where you don’t have to refile your application each year, which is a huge weight off my chest. During my sophomore year, the financial situation in my family changed and I needed more aid, so I applied and they gave me what I needed. It was really helpful.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Conn College before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew how much independent work it would be. Although Computer Science is very collaborative, as a senior, all of my work is independent. I have to sit down and get my own work done. There is no hand-holding. That is partially because I have independent studies this year, but also because, in general, you have to motivate yourself to do work.
What is something a prospective LGBT student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
They should know that it’s totally normal here. If somebody is not welcoming, that person is an anomaly. It’s going to be tough to get back to the real world again because this place is really a bubble.
What is something a prospective international student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
They should really know American culture before coming here. We have such a small campus that you need to know the way it works and how people function. If you don’t, you will miss out on a lot.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
They are only seeing the buildings on a tour. They are not seeing the work being done inside of the buildings. Academically, because it’s a liberal arts institution there are so many things to learn and there are so many interesting people doing great work, so I don’t think you will get that just from a campus visit.
Reasons to attend Connecticut College:
(1) If you’re someone who wants to learn about multiple different fields and make connections across different fields, it’s very interdisciplinary here.
(2) If you like a small environment.
(3) We have nice scenery and the buildings here are beautiful.
Reasons to not attend Connecticut College:
(1) I don’t think people should come to Conn if they want to get expertise in a specific thing. Like, we don’t have a strong engineering program because it’s not an engineering school.
(2) We don’t have career fairs and it’s not a super career-oriented place. You need to apply and reach out to the career office. The career office is a wonderful resource, but they will not bring recruiters to campus like a big school does.
(3) Don’t come here if you want to be in a big city.