An Interview On
Vanderbilt University

Background

Interview Date:December 2018

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: African-American
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
High School Experience: Public school in a predominantly White rural town in Virginia with a graduating class of about 350 students. There was not a culture of going to college, most people were getting married early and going straight into the workforce.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double major in Math and Civil Engineering
Minor: Energy and Environmental Systems
Extracurricular Activities: Alternative Winter and Spring break, Spoken Word Poetry, National Society of Black Engineers, Black Student Association, African Student Union, and American Society of Civil Engineers

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Spoken Word Poetry has had a big impact on my public speaking. Alternative Winter Break had a big impact on my friend group, I have a very diverse friend group thanks to that. It has also helped my leadership and communication skills.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
I have yet to take more than 15 hours each semester, but there will be two semesters where I will take 18 hours at most. I have a Math class every semester and I don’t have that many labs. After freshman year the labs happen during class time. Generally, final exams only range between 25-30%, there will usually be around 3 midterms each worth 15-20%, and homework and quizzes are between 5-15% of your grade.

Is there anything that you feel your majors’ departments do especially well or especially poorly?
I think the Physics department is one of the hardest departments in the STEM field at Vandy because it’s small and the professors are hard to come by when it comes to office hours. Math is one of the best departments because, even though it is one of the hardest to get a high grade in, the professors are very open with office hours and emails, and are quick to get you back your grades.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it’s more collaborative than competitive. If you’re in the STEM field you’ll be stuck in two buildings: The Stevenson Center and Featheringill. Most likely by sophomore year you’ll be studying with the same people. The competition is self-inflicted. In your study group, you always want to have the highest grades because your classes are so hard, but also in that same way it’s collaborative because you’re all working together to get high grades.

How accessible have the professors in your department been?
If they are a standard full-time professor they have office hours. Some of them are either adjunct or clinical professionals, so it depends on their affiliation with the Northeastern.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
Because there’s no environmental engineering major for undergraduates, I chose Civil Engineering because it’s broader and allows me to have more flexibility what I want to go into when I go to graduate school for environmental engineering. If you do Civil Engineering, you are 2 classes away from a Math major, so I added it. The minor lets me learn about sustainability and that was the closest thing to a sustainability minor an engineer can pursue.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: All freshmen live in an area of Vanderbilt called Ingram Commons

Sophomore: Blakemore House

How was transitioning from a small town in Virginia to Nashville, TN?
I’m from a small town, so Nashville seemed big to me for the first semester. After that, I realized bussing is free and we actually live in a very walkable space, so I explored more second semester. I also got out of the Vanderbilt bubble by doing a lot of service trips off-campus. I got acclimated to Nashville’s culture by the end of the second semester to the point where it felt more like a town. Now I’m so used to it and accustomed to Nashville that it’s not significantly big to me anymore. The transition from a small town to Nashville was also a culture shock because I’d never been around that many people who were that racially diverse. [About 55% of the population of Nashville is White.]

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
First semester freshman year I felt very safe, second semester I felt safe but I wouldn’t say I felt as safe as the other students on campus. Being a Black person on a southern, predominantly White campus is sometimes disheartening because you experience discrepancy about crime alerts. The crime alerts are not very descriptive, they usually just say “a Black person in a hoodie,” and that is concerning as a Black student. [45% of the class of 2021 is minority groups.]

Pros and cons of being located in Nashville, TN?
Pros:
1) It’s a 4-hour bus ride away from Atlanta.
2) There’s no severe weather. All it does is rain and/or flood. It’s mostly just water you’re dealing with. The Snow here is average and we don’t have any tornadoes or earthquakes.
3) Since it’s a growing city, by the time I’m a senior there will be a lot more jobs here. There are more opportunities for students to intern and do research.

Cons:
1) It’s not a major concert place for non-country music. A lot of the bands I listen to I can’t see in concert in Nashville. I have to go to Atlanta.
2) There’s not much diversity outside of the undergraduate population. [About 55% of the population of Nashville is White. 19% of the staff and 15% of the faculty at Vanderbilt are members of minority groups.]
3) Because it’s a city that didn’t expect to grow so fast, we’re stuck in the building phase. There is no set infrastructure to support the growing population.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I go to a lot of group fitness classes at the rec center on the weekends. I also have a lot of friends who I go running with in Centennial Park right across from us. There is a gay bar called Play that people go to, I’ve been a few times. I personally like to go to the movies, especially at Belcourt Theatre because that specific movie theater has indie movies. I go to open mics at Café Coco, they have spoken word poetry, sometimes song lyricists, it depends on what day it is.

When during the weekend do you regularly do things?
Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.

How has being a person who identifies as LGBT influenced your nightlife experience?
It does, it should in a way. I personally don’t engage in it too much, but I always contemplate going to Play, I’ve been a few times. It’s very lively and welcoming. It’s free for students on Wednesday nights and the whole campus goes then. Saturday night is when people from the LGBT community in Nashville goes.

How happy are you with the nightlife at Vanderbilt? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I’m pretty content with it overall. The only thing I would change is I wish Nashville had more museums. I feel like it does have them, but I have to Uber to them which is expensive. I wish things were closer, I’d much rather walk in a group of friends somewhere than Uber.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I met my closest friends through clubs and studying. I usually spend my time at the Black Cultural Center, and I met some of my friends there because I kept on seeing them and figured I should get to know them. I met my closest friend through spoken word poetry. She’s going to take me to more shows this upcoming semester.

How would you describe the social scene?
If you look for certain people, you will find them. When I first came I thought I wouldn’t find people who like what I like, but it’s quite easy because there’s probably a club for it or people who live in your house who share the same interest. You have to put yourself out there for a week because even if you just put yourself out there for a week you can find so many people. Vanderbilt is actually very diverse, you really have to look though, you can’t expect social scenes to pop out at you.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Race-wise, I would say, sadly and unfortunately, it is very separated and that’s between all the races. Vanderbilt has a strong White community and Hispanic community. Black students hang out together and will have parties with students from Fiske University and Tennessee State University. With the Asian community, they have their own community and own parties. It depends racially, but it is divided between social scenes, especially for nightlife. Within clubs and organizations, it’s not as obvious, but with partying specifically it is very obvious.

For sexual orientations, I would say that doesn’t have a big impact on where you party. I think it has an impact maybe when you get older because as you get older a lot of people room with their friends. Most people from the LGBT community room with friends who are also in the LGBT community, so they end up socializing just with that group. It’s not on purpose, it’s just how it happens.

How strong is the LGBT community at Vanderbilt?
It’s a huge, loud advocate. And I mean loud in the best way possible because they do a lot. They partner with a lot of organizations. You’d be surprised by how many events they have their name on. It’s a very supportive and very open community. They also have a lot of diversity and it is improving every year from what I’ve seen. I also think it’s a very welcoming group.

How do you like the size of the undergraduate population at Vanderbilt?
I think the undergraduate population size is great. My freshman class is the same size as my high school, and I think if Vanderbilt would be smaller it’d be too small and everyone would know your business, you’d run into people all the time, and there would be a lack of privacy. I think the size of [about 6,800] undergraduates is great because you’ll never know everyone. You’ll meet someone different every year and gives you the opportunity to meet someone new every single day.

Careers

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I have used the career center for resume updates. I make my resume and go in and have someone help me. My friend who works there helped me set up my LinkedIn account. In the future, I will use the career center for finding summer jobs, networking with alumni, and the internship search. They also help with career guidelines, so you coming in and telling them what you want and they tell you what your options are.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful to you professionally?
AutoCAD, AutoCAD Civil 3D, and MatLab I’ve learned through my coursework.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, accommodating was the office to your needs? Were they responsive to your questions?
I’m completely on financial aid. They also have a program called Experience Vanderbilt where you fill out an application and tell them you want to do a certain organization or event and how much you need for it and they help you pay. I’m going on an Alternative Spring Break to Detroit and that will be covered.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Vanderbilt before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew about the lack of diversity in the University Counseling Center. [19% of the staff and 15% of the faculty are members of minority groups.]

What is something a prospective African-American student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
It’s important to keep a good connection with your financial aid office. It’s good to keep a good connection with your professors and to always go to office hours. Also, go to the Black Cultural Center at least once and to use the University Counseling Center.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that is worth checking out?
It’s important for students to know how walkable things are.

Reasons to attend Vanderbilt:
1) There is good financial Aid. [About 70% of the class of 2021 received financial aid.]
2) Good service opportunities.
3) Great networking opportunities.

Reasons to not attend Vanderbilt:
1) The location, because it’s a southern city and it’s not very close to any other major cities.
2) The lack of diversity outside of the undergraduate population. [19% of the staff and 15% of the faculty are members of minority groups. 11% of graduate students are members of underrepresented communities.]
3) The cost of attendance. [Total cost in 2018-2019 is $70,146.]

Notice: Vanderbilt University is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Vanderbilt University.

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