BackgroundInterview Date:January 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Graduation Year: 2020
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
High School Experience: IB school that was attached to a public high school in Birmingham, Alabama with a graduating class of 69 students, but there were 300 students in the graduating class including the high school. There was a strong culture of going to college in the IB program.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double major Biomedical Engineering and Spanish. I’m on the pre-med track.
Extracurricular Activities: Spirit of Gold Marching Band, organized the Vanderbilt Marching Invitational for high school students, Pan-Hellenic Fraternity, Juggling and Physical Arts Club, Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science where we teach middle school students science lessons, and a leader for Alternative Winter Break.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Alternative Winter Break, which is a week-long service trip, has more so than I thought it would. It showed me was service truly means and the different forms and different shapes that it can have. It helped me learn the kind of person that I want to be. You also go with eleven other members of the Vanderbilt community who you don’t know, and you form bonds with them during the trip. A big part of the trip is seeing what you have in common with the people you’re serving and also the people you’re serving with.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
Because I’m on the pre-med track, I take more classes at one time than people in either of those majors. The course load for the Spanish major is not as big for me because I’m in the school of engineering. I don’t have to do the liberal arts requirements that the school of arts and sciences students have to do. Spanish classes have been a good break from the engineering and pre-med requirements. They’re a lot more essay-based.
As far as Bioengineering goes, the coursework really depends on the class. I’ll take more electrical engineering classes one semester, more chemical engineering the next semester, and more mechanical engineering classes another semester. They’re not typically any labs attached to the engineering classes. Most of them have both problem sets and exams, and the introduction classes are very heavily exam-based. For example, the Introduction to Biology has four exams that are worth 25% each, and that is worth all of your grade.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think Vanderbilt is collaborative. There isn’t a competitive atmosphere where people are trying to do anything they can do to get ahead and push other people down if necessary. I know people complain about grade deflation because a lot of the classes are curved to having a B- average. The pre-med classes are especially difficult because everybody’s trying to make really good grades to get into medical school, but the average is a B- and you’re competing with the rest of the class to beat the curve. Even though there is a curve, people still work together. Everyone has goals and everyone’s willing to help each other out to get there.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I know I want to be a physician, but I’m not really sure what type. I chose Biomedical Engineering because I really like the problem-solving aspect and you get a different view into the medical profession by being a biomedical engineer because you see the body as a system and how you can do things to improve it. We model the cell membrane as circuits and we model the different organ systems as engineering systems where there are inputs and outputs and different mathematical operations. For example, I know a lot of the physics and chemistry behind why a lot of body processes happen and how they intimately affect each other. I chose Chemistry as my minor because as a pre-med student you take the general chemistry track, the organic chemistry track, and biochemistry, so you only need one more class to finish the Chemistry minor.
I chose Spanish because I’ve always been interested in linguistics. Also, being immersed in Spanish culture is really important for me – I’m actually going to study abroad in Spain next semester – so being able to communicate with people who are different from me is important to me. All the Spanish professors are amazing and I do well in the classes, so that is helping bolster up my GPA, especially when paired with Bioengineering and pre-med.
On and Around Campus
How was transitioning from Birmingham, AL to Nashville, TN?
Nashville for me was a much bigger city. The music scene in Nashville is really big, so, especially because I’m in the marching band, being able to experience the music scene has been able huge for me. I was able to go to concerts for the first time in my life, and that’s been something I’ve really enjoyed.
Pros and cons of being located in Nashville, TN?
1) The music scene. That’s something that’s really big.
2) The weather, but that’s relative to where you come from. It’s much warmer for people who come from Chicago or New York.
1) It rains a lot in Nashville. [Tennessee has the 6th most rainfall of states in the United States.]
2) The interstate highway and general transportation in Nashville are not very good. The traffic and the streets are a downside. There are not many students at Vanderbilt who have cars and not may students who get off campus a lot because it’s kind of a bubble, so that doesn’t affect most students.
What is your favorite place to see live music in Nashville?
I really enjoy Exit/In, which is a little bar-music venue that is right off campus. I like it because they bring a lot of smaller artists to the venue and give them a lot of exposure.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I’m personally not a huge nightlife-type person. My freshman year I was in Vanderbilt Gamecraft, which is the board game club, so on Friday nights I would play board games until 1AM. I would say most students go to the fraternity houses on campus because Greek life is really big. Personally, I just enjoy kicking back with most of my friends and having a more chill night.
Did your nightlife activities change when you joined the fraternity?
No, but that’s mainly because I joined a Black fraternity. It’s a lot smaller. For example, the Black fraternities have less than five members in each chapter and the sororities have around 10-15. Black Greek life on Vanderbilt’s campus is very small and very tight-knit, so there aren’t as many opportunities to do things with Black Greek life.
How happy were you with the nightlife at Vanderbilt? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I enjoy the weekend options. Because of my course load, I don’t go out very much on the weekends, but that’s also because I don’t feel the need to. There are a lot of Vanderbilt students who don’t. Also, a lot of the different student organizations are always having event on the weekends. I love going to or participating in the cultural showcases that the cultural organizations, like the African Student Union or the Asian American Students’ Association, will put on. Kids from all around campus get to sing and dance and participate in a culture different than their own for a showcase, and that’s been really cool.
What is your favorite club or student organization event?
InVUsion, which is a culmination of all the cultural showcases. They pick the two best dances from each of the cultural showcases and they compete at the end of the year for money for their organization. Some of the other and acapella groups combine and do collaboration events, and those are really cool because there is a wide array of people doing things that they’re passionate about and combining them in different ways.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I did student government my first semester of freshman year and I met them through that. Then I saw them the next semester studying for the chemistry exam and we started studying together because we are all in the medical field and have a lot in common. My best friends are all also Black, but some of them are Caribbean or West African, so we come from different places but we have some of the shared experiences. We’re all very academic and don’t really like to party, so hanging out with them for the past couple of years has been really fun.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
People say that people at Vanderbilt like to self-segregate, but I don’t really agree with that because people tend to group with people they have a lot in common with. Freshman year I hung out with a lot of people of different races mainly because I was in the marching band and I did things with the Multicultural Leadership Council on campus. The campus is very diverse in terms of race and sexuality. It’s diverse enough for people can hang out with people of different races and sexualities, they just have to try because the people are there. The Ingram Commons is where all freshmen live, and that always creates a very diverse community. Vanderbilt is very intentional about diversity and inclusion and getting people from different backgrounds to hang out and talk to each other. That was one thing that really attracted me to Vanderbilt and I’ve really enjoyed learning about different people from different perspectives. [45% of the class of 2021 is minority groups. See LGBTQI Affinity Groups.]
How strong is the Black community on campus?
I feel that the Black community has come a long way. A few years ago, I thought there was a specific way to perform Blackness or be Black and if you didn’t fit that narrative you weren’t included, but now I feel it’s much more open. That is one of the reasons why I joined my fraternity. In my fraternity, everybody gets to be their own man and there isn’t a best way to be that type of man. When things happen on campus we’re there for each other and I think it’s become increasingly more inclusive with sexuality and gender orientation.
How strong is the LGBTQ community on campus?
It’s strong. We have the KC Potter Center where the Office of LGBTQI Life is, and the Lambda Association. I think the community has made strides because my freshman year it felt like the LGBT community was really White and I didn’t see myself as part of it, but it’s become a lot more inclusive. There are so many non-straight non-cisgender people on campus, so it doesn’t feel like the Queer kids can only hang out with the other Queer kids. There is enough inclusivity on campus that everybody can hang out with each other.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Vanderbilt before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew about how the academics would work. At Vandy, pre-med classes are focused on doing well relative to the average and students are more focused on getting the grade so they can go to the graduate school they want to go to, rather than learning for the sake of learning. People don’t learn for the sake of learning because we don’t have the time to. I also wish I knew how to take care of myself and how much more important that is in college, especially at Vandy where there’s a work hard play hard culture. In that culture you can forget to take care of yourself. If I focused on self-care my burnout wouldn’t be as much of a thing.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that is worth checking out?
Catch an event that happens at night. In my opinion, Vanderbilt is an over-programmed campus. There’s a great event that happens almost every night, so try to catch one of those. If you can, especially try to see a cultural showcase or one of the performing arts groups. Those are great because they show the diversity and passion of the community.
Reasons to attend Vanderbilt:
1) Vanderbilt presents lots of opportunities to meet different people and expose yourself to other cultures. The administration truly tries to make Vanderbilt a diverse and inclusive place. They don’t always get there, but they do try.
2) There are lots of opportunities to get ahead in your academic career by doing things like research or trying something new. [50% of undergraduates conduct research, and 1/3 of undergraduates conduct research with a professor.]
3) The people. Everybody is passionate about something on campus.
Reasons to not attend Vanderbilt:
1) The work hard play hard atmosphere. It doesn’t leave a lot of room to take care of yourself and take a step back. It’s not competitive, but it can get intense at times.
2) Everyone is overcommitted and the campus is over-programmed, so there is a lot happening at one time and it can get exhausting, even though the things happening on campus are really great. Because there’s so much opportunity, people tend to stretch themselves really thin.