An Interview On
University of Virginia

Background

Interview Date:Winter 2018

Gender: Female
Race/Ethnicity: South Asian/Indian
Graduation Year: 2019
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Public school in Fairfax County, VA with a graduating class of about 1,500 students. A big part of my class decided to go to college, but there was also a significant portion who did other things.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Cognitive Science with a concentration in Neuroscience
Minor: Architecture
Extracurricular Activities: Muslim Students’ Association, Minority Rights Coalition, I’m a Resident Advisor and am part of a dance team.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Joining the Muslim Students’ Association was where I made quite a few good friends and was able to find my community. I learned about important and relevant issues within that community, whether that’s nationally or just here at UVA. Being in the Minority Rights Coalition allows me to continue to be close to my community and learn more about it in the sense that I’m a minority student and can learn about other minority students as well. That’s enhanced my experience at UVA because that’s not a situation I’d otherwise be in. I wouldn’t have known about those things otherwise unless it was in my classes. I joined the dance team even though I didn’t dance before in high school because I wanted to do something new. I really like my dance team. They’re very chill, and it’s a nice break from other things. In general, my involvements at UVA have been a positive experience.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
The Cognitive Science major is what you make of it because it’s pretty open and versatile. You can concentrate on five different topics, so your coursework depends on what you end up choosing. For example, if you pick Computer Science, your classes are going to be heavier than in the engineering school. For my concentration, I have taken a lot of Computer Science and Psychology courses because they were relevant to my interests. You mostly take your concentration classes in your third and fourth year because they can be hard to get into, the prerequisites, and the rigor of the classes. They’re really dense in terms of scientific material, but you learn a lot from it.

For neuroscience, in my experience so far, I’ve had sit-down exams, and the classes are lecture style. One of my classes called Functional Neuroanatomy, the professor would give lectures and on some days the students would give presentations, and the tests were based on 4-5 lectures of material because that’s how dense the information was. Other classes have a typical exam-lecture ratio.

Is there anything that you feel your major’s departments does especially well or especially poorly?
Other departments do this too, but they’ll often email us with opportunities related to our major or things people in cognitive science might be interested in. They also send us research opportunities because people who do cognitive science often overlap with pre-med, Computer Science, and Psychology, so that’s nice to see. In general, I like the majors at UVA because it’s so flexible. Even though a lot of the people in the major are going into Cognitive Science after graduation, you don’t necessarily have to. I don’t want to say it’s an easy major, but it’s a doable major that complements a lot of things well. I’ve also had a really good experience with the major advisors.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
In my major, it’s hard to say because it’s such a diverse major in terms of what people will do with it after school. I don’t feel competitiveness within the major, maybe because it’s not a particularly hard major to get into. In general, at UVA there is a competitive atmosphere, and I think for the most part the students themselves are aware of that competitive atmosphere. It’s something I have to remind myself about at times to keep myself in check, so I don’t fall into that. It can be draining sometimes, but, at the end of the day, I still had a pretty positive experience here. We try to have honest conversations about that culture with our peers or in other organizations. So, yes, there is a competitive culture, but there are ways around it and it’s something we talk about and acknowledge.

How accessible have the professors in your department been?
Resources are accessible in general. When I first came to UVA, it’s wasn’t that the resources weren’t accessible, I just didn’t know how to access them, and I didn’t know that they were there or that I needed them. That may also be because I’m a first-generation student. It also depends on the department and the situation. For example, one department may have more T.A.’s than another. We have other really good resources, like there was a push for free female hygiene products to be in bathrooms on campus.

How was transitioning to UVA academically as a first-generation student?
I don’t think about myself that way, and there’s nothing wrong with anybody who does, it just doesn’t come to the forefront of my identity. I did go through some transitions because of my adverse background growing up. My high school was a pretty academically rigorous program and prepared me well for college because I did the IB program and had to do a lot of writing. At the same time, I think everybody goes through a big transition going to college. Scheduling my time was tough because everything wasn’t the same every day and that threw me off, but over time it got better.

On and Around Campus

How welcome have you felt in Charlottesville as a Muslim student?
I personally feel pretty welcome in the Charlottesville community and have had a pretty positive experience with that. I also know that members of the communities that I am a part of don’t feel as welcome. For example, I know people who have had direct experiences of bias or being attacked in some way. [See article about anti-Muslim happening on UVA’s campus in April 2018.]

Pros and cons of being located in Charlottesville, VA?
Pros:
1) A lot of people who come to UVA are from Northern Virginia, so in terms of the commute for those people, it’s convenient. [In 2017, of the 2,537 in-state students, 1,057 came from Loudon County (252), Fairfax County (676), or Prince William County (129), all of which are suburbs of Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia.]
2) I really like the Charlottesville community and area. Very close to our campus there is an area called The Corner where there are little restaurants, shops, and bars. I really like going to that area with my friends at night. There’s an area farther than that called the Downtown Mall where you can go to the farmers’ market and go shopping with your friends.
3) Charlottesville is really pretty and the nature around it is really nice. You can go hiking in Carter Mountain Orchards or go just for the apple cider and apple cider donuts.
4) It’s a very historic area if you’re into that. It can be dark and intense because the city tries to acknowledge the history of slavery there.

Cons:
1) There are a lot of people from Northern Virginia, but there are a lot of students from everywhere here so I don’t feel it too much.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities do you like to participate in?
A lot of people here like to go out on the weekends. I don’t like that as much personally, but that’s a common thing here. I do go out occasionally, but when I don’t do that I go to events at the University Programs Council. They have events every weekend if you don’t want to go out. For example, a couple of weekends ago they did a paint night event where you get to take home the painting you make. I also like hanging out with my friends and going out to the Downtown Mall. I also go to events with clubs, like the Muslim Student Association will sometimes do a girls’ night or a guys’ night on the weekends.

If you were to go to a party, what nights would you do that?
In terms of general going out, people often go out on Thursday and Friday nights, and people also go out on Saturday nights but less so. I personally go out more on Friday nights because I have classes on Friday, but occasionally I’ve gone out on Thursday.

How happy were you with the weekend options at UVA? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I’m pretty satisfied with the options that I have. At first, it took me a while to figure out what there is to do, especially when I was a first and second year. It also helps that I’m involved in different organizations so if I’m not satisfied with a general event that’s going on I can do things with that organization.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
A mix of things, but it’s definitely been through being involved in organizations. I’ve met a couple of my closest friends through the Muslim Students’ Association. Also, I met people through classes because you meet people and end up working with them. Everybody’s first-year experience is different because the freshman dorms are different. I was in one of the Old Dorms and the way the hall was designed it was really easy to get to know the people, so I got really close with the people in my hall and in my buildings. To this day we still all talk and hang out.

How would you describe the social scene?
The first thing that comes to mind is that people go to a lot of bars and frat parties and things like that. People do other things throughout the week as well. For example, basketball is a big deal here so when there’s the first basketball home game a lot of people will go and it’s really hype. That’s a social thing people will do together.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
They mix a decent a decent amount here. From my impressions and experiences here, I’ve seen a pretty good mix of different people hanging out. That being said, UVA is a predominantly White school. [In 2017, about 56% of students were White.] But, with the population that we have, there is still a lot of mixing and people talking with different people from different backgrounds.

Is your group of friends mostly South Asian people or is it more diverse?
The group of people I hang out with is pretty diverse because the people I hang out with are either from my organizations, being an R.A., or through my classes.

How would you describe the student body?
In general, the student body is mixed in terms of the things they like to do. If you are into hiking every weekend and going out and being in nature, there is a space for that. If you’re really passionate about minority rights and global studies, there’s a space for you here too. There’s a space for different kinds of students. Students here are also really hard working and do a lot. At first, that can be kind of intimidating because there is a competitive atmosphere and you feel the need to be at the level that everyone is at around you, but the truth is everyone around you is probably struggling as much as you are. Students are really involved in the things they do, and I’ve met people with lots of different interests.

How do you like the size of UVA in terms of undergraduate enrollment?
For me personally, I think it’s perfect because UVA is a medium sized school. [There are about 16,000 undergraduate students on grounds.]

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I think the alumni network is pretty good at UVA. We use Handshake where there are a lot of internship opportunities from alumni. The professors are good resources as well.

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
The career center is nice because they have drop-in hours, you can do mock interviews with them, or just ask them questions in general. I have personally gone to them for a resume review and asking them questions about my career goals. There are a lot of resources here for finding those things, but at first I didn’t know about them.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful to you professionally?
Because I did Computer Science classes on my own, I’ve learned a lot of coding. Students who take the intro level of Computer Science will learn Python, and if they go on more they will learn Java. I personally have learned Python, Java, and C++ and I’m not a Computer Science major. Next semester I think I’m going to take a class where I learn R.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

Something you wish you knew about UVA before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew more about the resources that are available and I think that would have made my life a lot easier now. I know that experience is not uncommon for students like me. Also, everyone has a common experience that the transition to college is challenging and that it’s okay if your grades aren’t all A’s your first semester.

Something a prospective Indian or South Asian student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
For students who come here who are part of a minority group, it might be very obvious that it’s a predominantly White school at first, and that might be overwhelming and make you wonder if there’s a space for you, but it’s important for you to know that there is a space for you. For some people it’s harder, and for some people it’s not. For me, it took a while to be a part of that community, but when I did it was a good experience for me. A lot of Muslims here are part of the Muslim Students’ Association, but some are not and they’ve found their space elsewhere.

Something a prospective student may miss on a visit that is worth checking out?
Go to Carter Mountain Orchards, that’s something a lot of people do. They have apple cider donuts and apple cider. There is also a Carter Mountain Orchards sunset series that is really pretty. Monticello is a really historic place where Thomas Jefferson lived, and you can learn a lot of history there too. There is the Fralin Museum of art that has good exhibitions.

Reasons to attend UVA:
1) The classes here are rigorous and challenging, which I think is worth it in terms of your educational benefit. You’ll learn a lot here.
2) Getting to know the Charlottesville community and the UVA student community. I love the Charlottesville community.

Reasons to not attend UVA:
1) If you want to get away from the Northern Virginia people, then maybe don’t come here. [In 2017, of the 2,537 in-state students, 1,057 came from Loudon County (252), Fairfax County (676), or Prince William County (129), all of which are suburbs of Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia.]
2) There’s a majority White population, but you can find your space here if you give yourself time to explore different organizations. [In 2017, about 56% of students were White.]
3) The competitive atmosphere can sometimes be a lot for students. I’ve managed to find my way around it and have good conversations with my peers about it and acknowledge it. I know some people find it overwhelming, but don’t let that be the sole reason to deter you from going to UVA.

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