BackgroundInterview Date:February 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Graduation Year: 2019
Sexual Orientation: Straight
High School Experience: Public school in central New York with a graduating class of about 100 students. There was a culture of going to college among the high-achieving students, but only about half of the students went on to a four-year school.
First Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in student government and I sing in an acapella group.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Both absolutely painted my experience here at Union. They allowed me to get to know so many different people. Especially with Student Government, getting involved early and initially getting to know so many people in my class made me become the person for people to go to with questions and helped me gain a well-rounded knowledge about the college. I think that propelled me even more to learning more about Union, how it operates, the fundamentals of the student body, how admissions works, relationships between the faculty, staff, and administration, and all that stuff. My experience at Union has been pretty unique in that I’ve been able to meet so many different people, especially outside the student body.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
Because of the trimester system at Union, I try to have one lab class in the three courses I take each trimester because that will double my classroom time per week. Typically, I have two Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes that are an hour long and one Tuesday-Thursday class that is an hour and forty-five minutes. My grades are mostly exams and quizzes. If the class has a lab component, that will be about 30% of the grade. If you have a writing-heavy course, which you usually have to take six of to graduate, you’ll be pumping out a lot of essays over that ten-week period.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
For especially well, there is a great number of students who are interested in taking Neuroscience courses and end up majoring in Neuroscience, and I think that is attributed to the faculty here. They help make the experience for Neuroscience students really great. One thing that’s weaker is the department isn’t its own department because it’s a small school here. It’s overseen by the Biology and Psychology department, so sometimes you might fall in the cracks between the departments, but usually there’s not an issue. The biggest issue I ran into was figuring out a thesis advisor and if it was going to be a Biology or Psychology professor and if you are fighting for those thesis spots between other Biology or Psychology students.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I would not say that it’s competitive at all. Students are competitive amongst themselves, but you’ll see a lot of study groups and students finding friends within the courses because the classes are so small. Students will form study groups early on in the class and work to achieve together. That’s more of the environment that’s ensued here.
How accessible are your professors?
Extremely accessible. Their office hours every week are lined out pretty clearly and professors are very open to having students come to their office outside of those office hours. Professors here at Union don’t want Union students to see them as a stepping stone, they want students to genuinely develop relationships with them.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
I think Neurobiology was my favorite course because it was probably one of my most challenging courses but I had a phenomenal professor and learned so much that has been applicable to all my other courses. It pushed me into wanting to pursue neuroscience after Union.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose Neuroscience halfway through my freshman year here at Union. I came in as a Biology major on the pre-med track because that’s what you think you have to do if you’re interested in healthcare and biological sciences. I discovered that some of those courses weren’t that interesting to me and I fell in love with psychology after taking a class and talking with other professors. The classes around the brain and neuroscience I felt were more challenging and interdisciplinary. The field is relatively new which makes you feel like you can make an impact on a growing field where a lot of the academic papers we discuss don’t solve all the answers. As a person who is a problem solver, I thought Neuroscience was a really comfortable fit and I absolutely think it’s the perfect major for me.
What is the impact of the trimester system?
I think the impact is extremely positive. A lot of people, including professors and administrators, say they wish we had the semester system, but I disagree. I see way too many positives in it with being able to study abroad for just ten weeks rather than half the year. There is also a lot of flexibility in the academic schedule. You can mold together the three courses you’re going to take together. As a science or engineering major, you’re not going to take more than one lab each trimester, or you won’t have to take three heavy-writing courses in one trimester.
I also think it’s great because you get to be at Union for the summer and also before the fall. Winter Term can also be beautiful in some ways and it’s really popular for students to get involved in skiing or snowboarding on the weekends. During the warmer months hammocking is huge so you’ll see students out on the quad all the time hanging out.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Richmond House with one roommate.
Sophomore: West College, which is also a freshman hall, and I was in a single because I was an R.A. that year.
Junior: I was abroad for a trimester and then came back to live in College Park Hall with one roommate. The third trimester I lived in Messa house, which is one of the seven Minerva Houses, in a single.
Senior: I live in an apartment on campus with two other people and all of us have a single room.
What was your favorite living situation?
Definitely this year in the apartment because you have your own room, you have a big bathroom that you can share, a big living room and kitchen, so it’s really awesome and feels like an apartment.
How is going to school close to your hometown?
I live about an hour away from Union, which is closer than most people here at Union. I never had the pull of wanting to go home because I got so involved with activities here on campus, and with friendships and the social life as well. I always felt within that Union College bubble and the environment here that I really love.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Personally, I don’t know if everybody would agree with this, but I think Union College makes great efforts to be an extremely safe campus that also has open gates and encourages our community to be part of the greater community in Schenectady. In my four years, I’ve seen our community involvement increase so much and more students wanting to get off campus and explore. There was a casino built that students like to go down to, and there is a movie theater and bowling. In all the times I’ve been off campus, I’ve always felt safe. But, it’s the same with every city or town, you have to have a buddy with you and be aware of your surroundings.
Pros and cons of being located in Schenectady, NY?
1) There are niche areas that have so much to offer Union students. There are also areas where students can get very involved with the community and make an impact.
2) The location is 3-hours from Boston and New York City. The Albany region is only 25-minutes away and students will frequently have internships there. I did that at Albany Medical Center.
1) Weather is extremely temperamental. In the winter trimester you’ll see 18 inches of snow and the next day you’ll have a 50-degree day.
2) A couple of niche areas in the surrounding area are not the best.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I like to go out on the weekends with my friends whether it be an on-campus fraternity party, an off-campus house party, or going out to one of the local bars and hanging out with a lot of other Union students there. I mostly go out Friday and Saturday nights, but Wednesday and Thursday nights are also pretty popular.
Other than going out, I do a lot of other stuff during the day. I do homework almost every day and also like to go support the athletic teams here on campus. I go to games once or twice a week with friends. My friends and I will also go out to restaurants in Schenectady and go out to the Greenmarket as well.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Greek life kind of dominates the alcohol culture here at Union, which there is a lot of. If you want to go to an on-campus party or an off-campus party, it’s most likely affiliated with a Greek organization. If it’s an off-campus party, there are probably guys who are in Greek life living in the house that’s hosting it.
For all freshmen, it’s pretty tough for guys to get in because nobody is allowed to join a Greek organization until their sophomore year. Sophomore year it gets easier because you know more people on campus and the guys at the doors are usually sophomores. If that’s the thing you want to do, it’s all about knowing people on campus.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Union? If you could change anything, what would you change?
For the most part, if you average out the year I’m happy. The winter trimester can get tough here because it’s colder, but having the longer spring [with classes ending in June] is a huge advantage to the weekend culture and social life because there will be a lot more events held outdoors. It becomes more of a hang-out atmosphere and there are day parties on the weekends which are fun. If I was Greek affiliated, I know I’d be happier with it but that’s not the path I chose and it wasn’t what was most important to me with my undergraduate experience.
How did you meet your closest friends?
The community here at Union is pretty small so you meet your friends pretty quickly. I think my best piece of advice is to get involved with pre-orientation. There is Outdoor Pre-Orientation, Leadership Pre-Orientation, and Community Pre-Orientation. That way you can start to get to know the people in your class. Of course, you also become friends with who you live near so I think it’s important to live in the places on campus that have more of the open-floor community, which is almost all of them.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Union?
There’s a very heavy alcohol culture, but there are a lot of alternatives to that culture on campus. There are a lot of clubs on campus and alternative programming. The Minerva Houses are also a big part of the social culture too. Overall, I think it’s a positive social scene because you get to see familiar faces walking to class every single day so it’s hard to fall between the cracks here at Union. It’s hard to fall between the cracks because you’ll be pulled out by people, so it can be hard if you’re introverted and stay in your room all the time.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientation mix socially?
I don’t think we do as great of a job as you might think here. I think the cost of tuition here plays a factor in that there will be a lot of wealthy, White individuals on campus that are, most likely, all heterosexual. I think it’s a bit harder to be somebody from an underrepresented background and immerse yourself all across the board. The smaller communities at Union is what I think makes up for those experiences for those individuals. In general, the average person here is liberal and welcome to getting to know people of diverse backgrounds, but it’s not perfect. [About 72% of students are White. Socioeconomically, 37% of students at Union come from the top 5%.]
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
Fairly well because Union is so small. There are about 2,200 students on campus and a fourth of them can’t join because they’re freshmen, so it’s hard to have a divide. You’re going to be interacting with people who are in Greek life across all organizations, so I think it mixes well because it’s so small.
Has the alumni network helps you find internships or jobs?
We are ranked [by the Princeton Review] as having the 25th best alumni network but I personally have not used that alumni network as much. It has not gotten me a job or an internship. I have gotten those through my own merit and through the career center.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
They’re pretty helpful. The career center just started using Handshake, which is a great system. Our alumni post positions there and I think it’s extremely easy to use. Union will also bus students places for recruiting consortiums and they also host a career fair every year. The career center is extremely engaged and pushes students to come through the door and have a relationship with them. It’s hard to avoid.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be especially helpful professionally?
Yes, the Neuroscience major requires you to take a Computer Science course that teaches you Python. Other than that, Psychology also makes you take a course that requires SPSS, which I’ve used for my thesis too.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful has the office been?
The generic admissions pitch is that Union meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need for students. There is pretty good communication with the office. The website is easy to navigate and if we have to call them, they remember us and it’s easy to figure it out on the fly.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Union before you entered as a freshman?
Something I knew beforehand but was something I was happy I knew before I arrived was how small the community is and how easy it is to be able to meet people all over and get involved on campus if you take the first steps to do it. That was something that prompted me to get out of the gates running and that really shaped the rest of my four years.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I’d go see a sports game because nearly a third of students are varsity athletes and there’s a really strong community around supporting your friends and going to games. It’s a really great thing to see that happens organically amongst the student body and community that you wouldn’t see on a tour or an info session.
Reasons to attend Union:
1) The relationships with professors and the small classroom environment.
2) The small community and the community in general. There are so many phenomenal people here that care about Union so much, from current students to the people working here to alumni who come back. Alumni glow when they hear that you’re a student there.
3) There are so many opportunities through the school for internships, study abroad, and things like that.
Reasons to not attend Union:
1) The heavy Greek life and alcohol culture here. If that’s not what you’re into, maybe don’t come here.
2) Union is expensive.
3) The winters can be tough.