An Interview On
Vanderbilt University

Background

Interview Date:January 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Indian/South Asian
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Public school in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a graduating class of about 600 students. There was a competitive culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Political Science
Minor: Business
Extracurricular Activities: I’m a first-year resident advisor, in Vanderbilt Student Government, and I have an on-campus job.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Being a first-year resident advisor has had a big impact on me because I’m more involved in the university community, on the administrative and social ends.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for Political Science?
It’s been a lot of readings. For the introduction classes, you have multiple choice and essay tests, but as you get into the upper-level classes it’s more essays and papers. I will be taking more statistic based classes because these upper-level courses are also about predictions, game theory, and things like that. When coming to college I didn’t know there are statistics involved in Political Science.

Is there anything that you feel the Political Science department does especially well or poorly?
I enjoy the Political Science department a lot. All the professors I’ve had are extremely accomplished. One difference between high school and college is the professors are more invested in your learning. In my large 200-person introduction to Political Science class, you could still have a personal relationship with the professor. The department as a whole, the grad students, and TAs are all willing to help you learn. It’s one of the smaller departments on campus, which is a reason it’s so interpersonal.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I don’t know if it’s competitive. I haven’t stepped into the job search process yet to see how competitive it is, or what jobs the political science majors try to get. I haven’t faced the competition that pre-med kids might.

Do you feel that people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes, especially being in the South. They might not be as vocal about their opinions because it’s still a very liberal school. I know there are different schools of thought that exist, but I don’t know if people are comfortable expressing their opinions. I think the professors attempt to [present new ideas in the class], but they would rather focus on what they need to teach and move on from there.

How accessible have the professors in your department been?
They have been quite accessible. They encourage going to office hours and are pretty flexible if it doesn’t work with your schedule. You just have to communicate with them so they can accommodate you.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’ve lived in three or four countries so far, so I really enjoy having an international option. I find it interesting that the Political Science department offers an international relations track, and a comparative politics track that compares the systems in different countries, and how it affects the people. I think politics as a whole at this time is so important to study an evaluate. All the students studying political science or people interested in politics will gain immensely valuable knowledge.

How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Are there systems in place that help you transition?
I think it was okay because my high school prepared me really well. There was a large stress culture in high school where people would talk about how many AP and honors classes they were in.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived over the past three years?
Freshman: Murray House on the Ingram Commons with all the freshmen. I had one roommate.

Sophomore: Gillette House on the Ingram Commons with no roommates because I’m an RA.

How was transitioning from the Bay Area, CA to Nashville, TN?
It was kind of a culture shock. My high school was extremely diverse, so coming to a school like Vanderbilt allowed me to experience geographic diversity I hadn’t experienced before. Even though the amount of racial diversity was lower for me, I was still able to meet people that came from such different places who had unique perspectives. [Vanderbilt students come from all 50 states and 9% are international students.]

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
It’s been pretty safe, but there have been incidents, such as shootings and attempted kidnappings, which have made me skeptical about walking around at night.

What is your favorite off-campus restaurant?
Thai Satay.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
The Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge about half a mile away from the freshman campus. It’s really pretty, especially at night when you get a nice view of the skyline. It’s also a nice walk.

Pros and cons of being located in Nashville, TN?
Pros:
1) You get more comfortable with the prospect of working in the South. I think people from the coast don’t think of working in the South as a viable option, but going to school here opens up that market for you.
2) Nashville is a decent sized city so you can explore a lot of it without having to spend a lot of money.
3) Tennessee is really beautiful. If you make an effort to explore the Great Smokey Mountains or Chattanooga, there are opportunities for day trips.

Cons:
1) It has horrible public transportation. You have to spend money to get around which deters people from actually getting out and exploring the city.
2) I wish there were better food options, and I wish it wasn’t that expensive. It’s not really a college town because it’s still a tourist trap.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I go to frat parties about twice a month, so it’s not super frequent but it’s accessible if people want it to be. It’s open to everyone and not restricted to only Greek members. Other than that, I chill in my room or a friend’s room and watch a movie, and if the weather is nice we’ll be outside. Most of my weekend is spent doing homework.

What nights of the week do you regularly do things?
Typically, Friday nights, so I have Saturday and Sunday to recover and do work.

What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
It’s pretty enormous. Even though the parties are open to everyone, they have certain events like date parties and formals that aren’t open to everyone. Greek life as a whole dominates Vanderbilt’s culture so much that it’s impossible to not feels its impact even if you’re not involved in it. [42% of undergraduate students are involved in Greek life.]

What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
There are a lot of alternative programs on campus. We go to standup shows hosted by our improv groups on campus. Our programming board puts on alternatives such as games, calligraphy, and random stuff like that. A lot of the multicultural organizations on campus have events over the weekends whether it’s a study break closer to finals or just a dance show. There are definitely other things to do if you want to.

How happy were you with the nightlife at Vanderbilt? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I’m pretty content with it. It exists if you want access to it, but there are no societal expectations that you do something specific with your weekend.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
We all lived on the same floor my freshman year.

How would you describe the social scene at Vanderbilt?
Greek life dominates most of it. It’s kind of segregated, at least for me coming from a heavily Indian American area to a place which had Indians, but who were cliquish and similar to each other so I didn’t feel super connected with them. I feel that it’s segregated based on race, but I don’t want to put a blanket statement over every friend group. My friend group is pretty diverse.

How strong is the Indian community on campus?
I think it’s strong in the sense that the people who are invested in the organizations are very close to each other. It’s a double edge sword because then it deters people on the outside from joining. It feels like to be in the group, a prerequisite is to be part of an Indian dance or singing group.

How would you describe the student body?
The student body is extremely intellectual with certain pockets of shallowness. It’s also extremely privileged. 1 in 4 kids at Vanderbilt are in the top 1%, so sometimes I step back and have that realization and it’s pretty incredible. I don’t think I’d ever had the opportunity to interact with these types of people until I came to the university, but the issue is they do tend to hang out with each other and not explore. I think that happens automatically and is not on them. [The median family income of a student from Vanderbilt is $204,500, and 70% come from the top 20%.]

How do you like the size of the undergraduate population at Vanderbilt? [Vanderbilt has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,800 students.]
I think it’s perfect actually, not too big and not too small. That applies to the location, size, and rigor.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not currently, but I think there is a very willing alumni network that is capable of helping people seeking opportunities out. There is a system with our career center that helps utilize our strong alumni network.

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I’ve used it quite a bit. This past semester I had an internship during the school year. I got it without talking to the career office, but during it, I needed time management opportunities and subsidies for travel. They not only help you search for a job but once you have the job, they can show you how to market yourself and network within the job.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned Excel in my Oceanography class.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, accommodating was the office to your needs? Were they responsive to your questions?
I have used financial aid, especially being an RA it’s a huge blessing. In my personal experience with them, they have been really patient and accommodating. Vanderbilt has other things in place to help you, such as the Experience Vanderbilt program where you apply and get up to $500 toward a specific experience, whether that’s Greek life or a specific club’s dues. Sometimes bureaucracy can be hard to deal with, which is why I think they sometimes have a bad reputation.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Vanderbilt before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew how dominant and pervasive Greek life was going to be. I knew the statistic that [42% of undergraduate students are involved in Greek life], but I didn’t know what it entailed and how it affected academics. They have [older students’ work and experience], which isn’t really fair to everyone else.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that is worth checking out?
Location wise, check out the Wond’ry. It’s a cool high-tech engineering building where they do 3-D printing, and you can take free classes on software techniques. They bring in mentors from Nashville who hold office hours.

Reasons to attend Vanderbilt:
1) Attend Vanderbilt for the balance it gives you, not only as a student but an overall citizen of the world. It strives to give you an opportunity to share and shape your views through education and being with your peers.
2) The wonderful faculty members, and the robust alumni connections you get.
3) The fall semester is beautiful. It’s an arboretum campus which affects your day to day life.

Reasons to not attend Vanderbilt:
1) If you’re not comfortable with change.
2) If you’re not open to having difficult conversations that come up around campus.
3) If you want to stick to your safe space. You are going to be forced to reckon with those different opinions here.

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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