Washington University in St. Louis
BackgroundInterview Date:Summer 2018
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: I went to a public school in Mississippi with about 200 students in my graduating class. It was in Mississippi, so academics weren’t that great.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Systems Engineering
Minors: Computer Science and Economics
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of a fraternity. Outside of that, I’m a photographer and I freelance for student groups on campus.
What is your weekly coursework like for your major?
I think the workload is more or less what you make out of it. Within the major itself, there is a lot of flexibility to specialize in different paths and that kind of stuff. For me personally, I specialize more in Economics. There are one or two base Systems Engineering classes that have weekly problem sets that take 2 to 5 hours depending on the difficulty and if I work with other people or not. For my Economics classes, I usually have a weekly problem set but I don’t find myself really struggling as much with those. For Computer Science, that’s really just about whether you get the material or not. Those labs can take 2 hours or up to 10 to 15 hours depending on the topics that are being covered.
Is there anything you feel the Systems Engineering department does especially well or poorly?
I think one of the nice things about the major here is they more or less let you specialize in whatever you want. They have pre-approved engineering tracks, like electrical engineering or chemical engineering. But, if you’re interested in other things you can specialize in non-traditional things, as I have with Economics, or if you want to do Finance you can do that. I like that they want you to go outside of the material they provide in the major and learn more about something that you’re personally interested in.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it’s more collaborative. Within the engineering school as a whole, people are more focused on getting problem sets completed, and with that comes more cooperativeness because most of the time they are pretty difficult problems, so it’s easier to work with people. I know in some schools it’s more competitive, but in the engineering school it’s more collaborative.
Favorite class in your major so far?
I haven’t taken a lot of traditional Systems Engineering classes, but of the ones that I’ve taken, I think Introduction to Engineering Design was probably my favorite. The basis of the class is you’re assigned to groups, and your group creates a project that you present at the end of class. It’s a very open-ended class where if you can dream it you can create it. The class provides a lot of materials and 3D printers and stuff to make your dream happen. It was really cool designing and prototyping and making it a thing, and having the traditional engineering experience most kids think of in high school.
Least favorite class in your major so far?
Signals and Systems, it’s a core class in the major, so everyone has to take it. It’s a fundamental for other classes. With me focusing on a non-traditional specialization with Economics, classes like Signals and Systems isn’t really catered to me as much as it is to other systems engineers that want to go into electrical engineering or mechanical engineering.
How accessible have your professors been?
One of the nice things is most of the professors I’ve had so far in the engineering school have had pretty open office hours. They’ll usually have two or three different office hour sessions throughout the week which is nice if you need help with a problem set or want to learn more.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I started out as a biomedical engineering major because I knew I wanted to be some type of engineer, but I didn’t know what kind, and I enjoy the sciences. As I went through freshman year I became more focused on business, so my major wasn’t going to satisfy what I wanted out of a college education. I switched to Systems Engineering with the premise of it being more open-ended and being more applicable to traditional engineering problems and a wide spread of other problems. That was really appealing to me to have a traditional engineering experience while also being able to take that anywhere you want.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Umrath Hall in a triple. It was a pretty spacious room. One of the nice things about Umrath is the doubles and triples are pretty big.
Sophomore: South 40 House, which is one of the nicest buildings on campus. The majority of the housing in there is four people living in a suite with four separate bedrooms. Sophomore housing is more laidback, there isn’t as much of a floor community as there is freshman year.
How was transitioning from Mississippi to St. Louis?
For me, I personally felt like Missouri was pretty similar to Mississippi in the sense of that there’s still that southern hospitality. I feel like the pace of life in both places are pretty similar, it’s a relatively slow pace. There wasn’t much of an adjustment period for me. The weather was basically the same, and a lot of things were more similar than I thought.
Pros and Cons of being in the Clayton neighborhood of St. Louis, MO?
Pros: (1) It’s not all the way downtown, but it’s not in the middle of nowhere. If you go 10 minutes east, you’re downtown, and if you go 10 minutes west, you’re in a pretty spread out suburban area.
(2) There’s a lot of good food options within St. Louis and Clayton, and they’re all relatively affordable. There’s a bigger variety than you’d expect to find in the Midwest.
Cons: (1) The public transportation system is not really that robust. You need a vehicle to get around pretty easily. The metro system can get you downtown pretty easily, but that’s the only place you can really get to.
(2) Wash U is an alright part of town, but you’re not that far from where a variety of crimes and stuff like that happens. Being on campus there’s no reason to be afraid of anything, but if you were to walk three blocks away from Wash U at nighttime I would be concerned.
What kind of nightlife do you like to participate in?
Most nights are just me studying, but when it’s not that it’s a 33/33/33 split. Sometimes I like going off campus and hanging out at local restaurants or other cool places around St. Louis. Other times there are frat parties most weekends, so if you want to party there’s bound to be something happening. Other times I’ll go hiking. We have the outing club and the rock-climbing club, so if you want to get off campus in a more nontraditional way you can go camping, and I sometimes do that.
What are some of your favorite places to go hang out in St. Louis?
One of the nice things about St. Louis is there are a lot of good food places. There is in downtown called Porano Pasta which is probably the best pasta I’ve had in a while. There is another place called Mac’s Local Eats, not many Wash U students know about it, but it’s more or less a staple for the St. Louis natives. Outside of that, City Museum’s a really cool place. I feel like it’s one of those places you have to visit once a semester. It’s basically a concrete jungle gym for children and adults. It’s really expansive, it takes up an entire building. I go to the Arch a lot, there is always a lot of music happening and great people watching.
Do freshman boys have trouble getting into parties?
I feel like most opportunities to go to a frat party as a freshman are pretty limited. One of the things that happens pretty often during freshman year is that there are usually giant hordes of freshmen that want to go into a frat party, but none of them are in a frat so there are giant lines outside of each frat that’s hosting a party. More often than not, most freshmen usually don’t get into them whether it’s a closed party or an open party.
Now that you’re older do you have problems getting into parties?
Now that I’m older and in a frat, I’m pretty content just going to my own frat’s parties and stuff like that. If I want to go to another frat’s party, I can just text somebody in that frat and get in if I want to.
How happy were you with the nightlife? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m content with it. I’d give it a 5 or 6 out of 10. It gets kind of monotonous in terms of frat parties. Those get pretty old. As most college students mature, I don’t think they find them as appealing. It’s the same thing with the restaurants, you can only go to a food place so many times before it gets kind of old. There isn’t a whole lot of variety when it comes to nightlife at Wash U. If I had to change anything about it, I’d introduce some more on-campus opportunities to socialize with people not in frats and that kind of stuff.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Most of my closest friends came from being on the same floor freshman year. From then we joined similar groups, found similar interests, and went on from there. I think, for the majority of people, their closest friends are from their freshman year floor and that kind of stuff.
How would you describe the social scene?
I think it’s pretty small. Even though there are thousands of undergraduate students, I feel that it’s not uncommon to see the same people over and over. Depending on what kind of person you are, that’s either a great thing or not a good thing. For me, I enjoy talking to people and that kind of stuff so seeing those same faces is pretty nice. It’s pretty easy to keep in touch even if you’re not in the same classes or major.
To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think in terms of race, I think a majority of races stick together. There are usually groups of African-Americans and that kind of stuff. There isn’t that much intermingling, especially of different religions. There are usually groups of people of the Jewish faith and people of the Christian faith that don’t really intermingle that much. I would say most ethnicities find groups and don’t really intermingle as much as you’d expect.
In terms of sexual orientation, I don’t think there’s any kind of discrimination. It’s pretty open and there isn’t much grouping.
How would you describe the student body?
I think it’s pretty homogenous and kind of monotonous in a sense. It’s really lacking in diversity. The majority of individuals are extremely wealthy and White individuals, and there’s very little in terms of minority representation which is evident in that there are a [9.55%] African-American population and a [7.4%] Latino population [see Wash U diversity statistics]. They need to create a more diverse atmosphere for students because it’s definitely not representative of the United States as a whole, or any other place really.
Do you think people are happy with their choice of Wash U by the time they graduate?
I’d say for the majority of people, like 98%, are pretty happy with Wash U. I do feel that there are people that transfer to different universities, but that’s a very small number each year.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Personally, not really. All in all, there hasn’t been much development in terms of Wash U wanting to help students reach their alumni.
I think the career center could use a lot of help in that aspect. I personally have used LinkedIn a lot for finding alumni, but I don’t really use the career center for networking or finding job opportunities. I find that they’re a step behind with that kind of stuff. Granted, for me personally, I think I’m ahead of most individuals in terms of looking for professional opportunities so that might be why it’s not as helpful for me as it is for other people.
What have you used the career office for?
I got my resume checked out and that kind of stuff. They’re pretty helpful for individuals who don’t really have an idea of how to approach interviews and professional development like how to build a resume and network and things like that. They do a decent job of presenting the basics, but they’re lacking in helping students reach out to alumni and connecting individuals.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
Something you wish you knew about Wash U before entering as a freshman?
I wish I were more aware of the lack of diversity. One of the nice things they did is right after I got accepted is they flew me and a whole other group of minority students in for a multi-cultural celebration weekend. They more or less had a culture fair for all the ethnic groups at Wash U. At that moment, Wash U did cater to the minorities, but after being at Wash U, they have really failed in terms of following up with that minority representation and making sure their minority students felt like they were at home.
The second thing would be the resources they present to students. Being at a university like this is pretty rigorous for most people. With that in mind, there’s always stress and anxiety over schoolwork. I wish Wash U prepared us with more resources from the get-go, as opposed to slowing rolling things out throughout our college experience.
Something that a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I wish I were able to talk to more realistic students. When it comes to prospective students being on campus, most students give [off the idea that this place is perfect]. I wish I were able to talk to someone with a more realistic perspective of the school and being more upfront about [how challenging the school is].
Reasons to attend Wash U:
1) It’s an all around great school. A common thing is that people go in wanting to be pre-med, and then they realize they don’t want to continue with that. It’s really easy for individuals to stop being a pre-med student and switch to any major. It’s nice they can fall back on something.
2) I think the people here are pretty great. I think the atmosphere is pretty nice in the fact that it’s not very competitive. The most competitive majors are within the business school, but every other school has been very collaborative and nice.
3) I feel like the professional opportunities are pretty great. As I’m starting my applications for internships as a junior, I realize that Wash U prepared me for this more than I thought. For example, I was taking a technical test and a few things came up from one of my classes, and I remembered doing the exact same thing in class. While Wash U is rigorous, you’ll be able to see that return in the future.
Reasons to not attend Wash U:
1) In terms of location, while there are a lot of cool restaurants, there isn’t much else. [St. Louis is not New York City in terms of things available to do off campus].
2) If somebody is looking for diversity. Wash U has been pretty disappointing in the fact that they don’t really support minority communities.
3) If you’re expecting to walk into this university as a minority student hoping to be on a level playing field, but in reality, it’s still pretty uneven. For example, the wealthier students can afford tutors and that kind of stuff. While the people are great, the administration is not doing enough to equalize the learning experience for all students, as opposed to the majority of students.