University of Texas at Austin
BackgroundInterview Date:May 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: African American/Black
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
High School Experience: Private school in Houston, TX with a graduating class of about 170 students.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Chemical Engineering
Extracurricular Activities: I have a [leadership position] in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). I go to that conference every year, but I don’t participate in any extracurriculars other than that.
What impact has the National Society of Black Engineers had on your experience?
It definitely creates a community within UT because there are so many students and you can definitely feel like a number. There are only about 170 Black undergraduate engineers, and in some majors there is only one Black student, so it can really create a community for us.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for Chemical Engineering?
In your freshman year it’s a lot of general stuff. You take general chemistry, math, an intro to computing class, organic chemistry and the labs that go along with that. As you start taking more upper-division classes you start to actually deal with chemical engineering. I feel like I didn’t really realize what a chemical engineer actually did until my junior year. I didn’t know about the types of problems we solved until I got to my junior year coursework. The week to week course depends on the class. Sometimes the courses have weekly homework and sometimes that homework is due and if not, it’s a quiz on the homework. We then have exams.
Is there anything that you feel the Chemical Engineering department does especially well or poorly?
It’s one of the easier Engineering majors, which is good and bad. It’s good because we don’t feel the same level of stress that other majors feel. It’s also bad because it makes it difficult to get internships freshman and sophomore year because we don’t have a lot of technical knowledge. I have my first corporate internship this summer at the end of my junior year because I can now answer the technical questions they’re asking me. Also, there’s not as much teamwork happening in Chemical Engineering as other majors. We don’t have as many group projects.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It depends on what social circle you’re running in. There are a lot of different social groups in Chemical Engineering and I think some are more accepting than others. Some social groups don’t let anyone in and there’s the one really smart kid in the corner who you have to be cool with if you want to talk to them. There are some people who leech off of each other and won’t show up to anything but then beg you for everything later – I’m sure that exists in every major.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re pretty accessible. I haven’t had an issue meeting with professors. I can always go into their office hours.
Why did you choose Chemical Engineering? Are you happy with your choice?
I took chemistry in high school and really liked it but didn’t want to major in Chemistry. My dad also has a degree in Chemical Engineering and is not a chemical engineer, so I figured if I didn’t like Chemical Engineering I could figure something out with it. So far, I like it. There are definitely points where it’s really hard and wish I wasn’t doing it, but overall, I’m pretty happy with it. I know there are a lot of people who would kill to get into the Chemical Engineering major and apply and don’t get in.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on and around campus?
Freshman: Kinsolving Hall with one roommate.
Sophomore: Jester West with one roommate and we shared a bathroom with two other girls.
Junior: Kinsolving Hall with one roommate.
Senior: Off-campus with two other roommates.
How was transitioning from Houston to Austin, Texas?
Houston’s just three hours away, so freshman and sophomore year I was taking the bus back and forth to go home. The main difference is Austin is super outdoorsy compared to Houston. A lot of people like to go hiking and go to outdoor springs, which is something I was not used to.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on campus?
There are times when I’ve felt unsafe, but that’s because the community as a whole felt. My freshman year several people were stabbed and after that I definitely did not feel safe. There’s also a homeless population near campus. There are also issues with rape and sexual assault because it’s a college campus. I’ve had many friends who have been sexually assaulted, which is appalling. [In a 2017 survey at UT-Austin, 15% of women said they had been raped since enrolling.]
Pros and cons of being located in Austin, Texas?
1) It’s the live music capital of the world. There are lots of music festivals.
2) The Texas Legislature is in Austin and I like going to protests there. There are lots of protests in Austin. You can literally walk to the Capital building from UT’s campus.
3) UT runs Austin. People love it here.
1) Definitely the traffic.
2) Because UT runs Austin, we don’t have any professional teams.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in?
Back in the day, I used to love to go to 4th Street, which is the gay nightclub area in Austin. There are places you can go when you’re both under and over 21. There are also a lot of apartment parties that people throw. I tend to go out on Friday and Saturday nights.
How strong is the Queer nightlife scene on campus?
It’s definitely a pretty strong pull. It’s nice to go to a gay nightclub with a bunch of my friends and see a bunch of other people I know at the club. It’s really cool to be able to go to those.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
I’ve been to a few Greek parties. There are also the Black sororities and fraternities that have a completely different culture. I’ve been to parties at the Black and White fraternities. At the White ones, the guys typically have a house and the girls get in for free and guys have to pay and people are drinking and there is not a lot of dancing. The Black ones typically have less alcohol and everybody has to pay because they don’t have houses and have to rent a space out and then they dance all night.
How happy are you with the weekend activities or nightlife at UT? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m pretty happy with my weekends. I feel like I have everything I want. It’s really nice to have 4th Street where there is a line of clubs and bars. It’s nice having everything right there.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Two of them I met through the National Society of Black Engineers. I met my other friends because they lived near me during freshman year. We ended up researching at different labs at the University of Houston over the summer, so that was really fun. I then have another friend who lived next to me during sophomore year in Jester West. I am also still pretty close with my First-Year Interest Group. We had pretty much all of our classes together first and second semester of college, so we became pretty close.
How would you describe the overall social scene at UT?
I feel like it’s a mishmash of people. There are a lot of different groups, but I think the vast majority of them are welcoming. My freshman year I would go up to random groups in the cafeteria because I didn’t like to eat alone and nobody told me I couldn’t sit with them. Even though I’m not part of Greek life, I have plenty of friends in Greek life. I don’t run across unfriendly people, but that also might just be my vibe.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
For starters, in Chemical Engineering we have to mix with other people because there are only three Black people in my grade in my major, so I can’t depend on them for everything. I think the same could be said for people of different sexual orientations. Outside of school, I think we do tend to hang out within our own identifiers. Like, on weekends I’m usually hanging out with my Black friends or my gay friends.
How would you describe the Black community at UT? How strong is it?
You also have the people whose parents are born in Africa and then you have people who are born in the United States. For me, it can be difficult to connect with the people who are more connected to Africa because they’ll ask me questions like, where in Nigeria I am from, and I don’t know. A lot of the Black community are pre-med or in business, so I sometimes think the engineers can be left out.
How would you describe the LGBT community? How strong is it?
I think it’s pretty scattered. There are supposed to be clubs that are doing things and hosting events, but it’s not as established as it could be. There are a lot of LGBT friend groups that you stumble upon that aren’t part of a club or anything.
How do you like the size of the University of Texas? How has it influenced your experience? [UT has 40,804 undergraduate students.]
I personally really like it. I like that there are so many people here I can do whatever and be whatever I want. If one set of friends doesn’t work out, you can find another set and be fine. There are also so many resources here.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not really. In some ways it has but it hasn’t cumulated yet. There are Black chemical engineering alumni who are [receptive to me], but I haven’t gotten an internship or anything out of it. It’s nice to know that I have people in my corner though.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I used the career office to clean up my resume, prepare for interviews, and write different emails. This year I had to choose between a few job offers and it was stressful but they were helpful with that. They also host information sessions and put on career fairs that I go to.
Have you learned any computer programs or computer languages that will be helpful professionally?
I have learned MATLAB. I’ve learned to use Excel sort of through my coursework. I took a class where they never formally taught us how to use Excel but told us we should be using it, so I had to go to the tutors and TAs to learn how to use Excel for the particular class.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Texas before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I would have known the program was doing more so in terms of the coursework. I feel like they explained it in a very mish-moshed way. They pretty much tell the students to take 17 hours of classes a semester in order to graduate in four years, and I wish I knew how stupid that was. Freshman year I came in and I believed the myth that I had to graduate in four years but now I’m taking five years to complete my degree to make it more manageable. I also wish I took more summer classes because it would have made my life a lot easier and I would have progressed further.
What is something a prospective LGBT student or student of color may want to know that we haven’t touched on yet?
If you look for the community, the community will find you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. The beauty of it being so big is you will find a community here. Just get out of your comfort zone, be yourself, and live your best life. You will find something or someone.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go check out a research-specific building and talk to the people in that office. Also, reach out to major-specific organizations like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and National Society of Black Engineers to get a better sense of the student culture.
Reasons to attend University of Texas:
1) It’s a world-class university. We’re highly ranked in a lot of areas. Everyone knows it and if you have a job in Texas one of your coworkers will probably be a UT graduate.
2) It’s in Austin, TX. You’re by the capital if you want to get into politics or law. Austin is also the most liberal part of Texas, which is a good thing if you’re liberal.
3) If you take advantage of your opportunities, you can make it anything and everything you want it to be.
Reasons to not attend University of Texas:
1) You can very easily get lost in the numbers if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities. I’ve been in classes with 500 students and made it a point to make sure the professors knew my name so that I wouldn’t be just one of five hundred students.
2) University of Texas doesn’t nurture its students like other colleges do. They expect you to come in already nurtured. If you need some extra help, it might not be the place for you. There are people who have to drop out because of that. [In 2018, the four-year graduation rate was about 70%.]