‘Tis The Season (of Spring-Semester Schedules)

As one of my college’s head Peer Academic Advisors, there is little that I think about more at this time of year than academic planning. For this is the point in the semester when Rice students register for classes. It’s the first time that “Spring 2018” doesn’t seem like a far-distant future anymore, but a tangible time of possibility that is just around the corner. Opinions on campus vary as to whether these early days of November are exciting or just nerve-wracking. My job as a Peer Academic Advisor is to help with the process of registering for class by meeting with my peers at my residential college in any way I can. As such, I’m pretty easily someone who falls into the “excited” camp of people.

 

First of all, there’s the excitement of the course offerings when they are revealed. I love looking through the incredible variety of courses Rice has on offer. In some departments, classes are offered so often that there’s a lot of available information on what to expect. Others are taught only once every few years, and some are thought up by professors for the first time. Either way, it’s exciting to decode the mystery and start thinking about scheduling. Plus, the courses offered at Rice are wide-reaching and varied. Here are just some examples, pulled from four departments around campus:

 

  • The Biochemistry department is offering courses like Evolution, Cell and Molecular Animal Physiology, and my personal favorite, Monster,  an interdisciplinary course on the science and art of monsters in history and pop culture.
  • The Computer Science department has its normal distribution of electives that range from machine learning to cyber security
  • My home department, English, is offering courses on Hollywood films, Chicana feminist literature, renaissance dramas, and podcast-writing.
  • The Sociology department is offering courses on immigration, the family, gender, Muslims in American society, and disaster

As you can probably guess, with so many options, some people find it daunting to even try to pick out classes. Every semester, I personally start with a long list of the fifteen-or-twenty classes that at first glance sound neat to me. Whittling it down to the four-or-five classes I end up taking can be a challenge. And that’s just one paradigm. Due to my majors (English/Political Science), I have relatively few courses required, and even those requirements offer me choices. Some degree programs fit this paradigm, where schedule planning is both free as flying in an open sky and directionless as swimming in the open ocean. Other degree programs will have more stringent requirements and less flexibility – for better or worse, depending on the type of person you are. This is part of the reason people are so divided in how they feel about schedule planning.

Either way, students at Rice have a lot of chances to ask for help and get advice, which is my second-favorite part of the academic planning time of year. I love being a Peer Academic Advisor (PAA) because I get to help people make those large decisions in a casual, but ultimately personal way. While Rice’s Office of Academic Advising is an amazing group of people, it’s unrealistic to expect them to field the sheer number of student inquiries. That’s where we, the merry band of PAAs come in. With training, we are equipped to answer the basic questions our peers have and give advice on important basics of balancing classes and choosing between majors and programs. I think this is a revolutionary and integral part of Rice’s support network. When an answer to a large, pivotal question (how do I drop a class, when am I supposed to drop a class, which of these majors should I pursue?) is just a text message or a conversation with a friend away, academic planning becomes a lot less stressful at all ends. Doing my part for my college is one of the best, most rewarding parts of schedule planning season: not only do I get the excitement of completing my own upcoming semester plan, but I also get the satisfaction of helping others find what they’re happy with.

A Day in My life as a Rice Freshman

No single Rice student’s day looks the same, which is one of the best things about this university. Each person has unique interests and passions which they pursue here at Rice. Students pursue a wide range of majors, from Biological sciences to classics and everything in between. Students are involved in advocacy, research, medical humanities, policy, volunteering, and much much more. One of the best parts of being a Rice student is having the opportunity to interact with peers who have interests that are different from your own, but equally interesting to learn about. The first couple months of my freshman year at Rice have been all about exploring what I want to do with my time here and getting involved in things that seem interesting to me.  With that being said, here is a day I have recently had as a freshman at Rice.

7:15am– I heard my alarm. I groaned. I hit snooze.

7:30am– I heard my alarm again, this time I decided I should probably get up. I proceeded to get out of bed and get dressed for the day.

8:30am– I headed down for breakfast at West Servery and grabbed a plate of scrambled eggs and fruit. I sat at a table outside the servery and read an article for class. This particular one was called “Millennial Women are Worried About the Future of Their Reproductive Care.” After I finishing my reading, I grabbed a cup of servery coffee – which I must say is not bad at all – and headed back up to my room.

9:30– While I would like to say I was productive with the hour I had before class, alas, I was not. I laid in bed watching Stranger Things.

10:30– I packed my backpack and met up with my friend to walk to Econ class. I walked into class and waved at the professor, who I must say, is amazing! Econ 100 is a 120 person, lecture based introductory class, which the professor makes extremely interesting and manageable. He also knows who I am and talks to me whenever he sees me outside of class. But I’ve learned, that’s just how Rice professors are.

12:00– I walked to the English department lounge for a presentation on what careers are available to English majors. As a potential English major, this was right up my alley. Representatives from the Center for Career Development and the Jones Graduate School of Business spoke about various job opportunities. Free lunch was also provided at the event, so I dug into a delicious burrito as I listened to the speakers.

1:15– I hurried to Brochstein Pavilion, which is both a cafe and central spot on campus. I was meeting my English professor at Brochstein to discuss my ideas for my close analysis essay on Egyptian poetry.  

2:00– I went to my second and final class of the day. Today, there were two guest lecturers in class: one was from Planned Parenthood and the other was a doctor at Rice. We spoke about gender, reproductive care, health insurance and legislation.

4:00– I settled down in a comfortable chair at Fondren Library, with a view of the quad and Sallyport on my right, and my calculus textbook in front of me. With a midterm coming up soon, I had a lot of work to get done.

8:00– I suddenly realized that I forgot to leave the library and eat dinner- I know, it’s crazy! I walked back to my room and warmed up some readymade Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese (it’s honestly really good). My friends came over and we all sat on the floor talking, eating and watching Stranger Things.

10:00– I changed into pajamas and worked on my essay in my room. I occasionally got distracted and watched Youtube videos, but on the whole I was productive enough.

12:15– I got into bed and went on Instagram for a few minutes and then promptly dozed off afterwards.

A Community During Harvey

You could say that this year’s incoming class had a very “unconventional” welcome to Rice. After an eventful O-Week, classes were finally starting, and with that came the hustle and bustle of buying supplies, finding classrooms, reading syllabi, and joining clubs. However, by Thursday, we learned that then-tropical-storm Harvey was on its way to Houston and that the campus would be closing at 3 p.m. on Friday. Most of us believed that the storm watch would last only a few days, but clearly, that wouldn’t be the case.

As many may know, Hurricane Harvey was a devastating and unprecedented storm. Luckily, Rice didn’t experience as much damage as the rest of Houston did. There was hardly any flooding on campus. We were safe and well-fed, thanks to our amazing Housing and Dining staff, and we had access to hot water, electricity, and wi-fi. Sometimes, our only concern was what to do for the entire day.

So, what did we do during our extra week off?

Movie nights, karaoke, Zumba, Mario Kart tournaments, dodgeball, Sporcle quizzes, anything to keep ourselves entertained. Towards the end of the week, Rice professors offered lyceum lectures on topics from “The Physics of Music and Sound” to “The Debate Over Confederate Monuments.” Even though Harvey trapped us indoors, I was able to meet and bond with other students, many of whom are now my best friends here.

But the best thing that came from Harvey was seeing the number of students who got involved in the Houston community. There were many opportunities to help hurricane victims, and Rice students were always there to take them. Students were volunteering at disaster relief centers, donating supplies, and helping families clean and rebuild their homes. It was amazing to see the compassion that was in Rice and in Houston throughout the week.

Since then, Houston has still been recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but it’s nice knowing that Rice will always emerge above any disaster as a community.

OWLways Learning, OWLways Exploring

One of the things that I love about Rice is the academic freedom that we possess as students. Even though I am majoring in math and economics, I am still able to take classes in a wide array of subjects I’m curious about.

This semester, I decided to take a leap of faith and enrolled in an architecture course. The Rice School of Architecture is one of the highest-ranked programs in the country, so naturally, I was curious to get a glimpse of what being an “archi” was all about. The only time that I had ever been in the architecture building during my freshman year was for Architectronica (a party put on within the architecture school where they play electronic music that’s in sync with a light show – it’s really cool!). I wanted to take advantage of the fact that, as a Rice student, I had the opportunity to take a class from such a well-respected program.

Architectronica is the only party thrown by a major/school on campus! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLz5h8cNoC0

From Le Corbusier to Frank Lloyd Wright, and from classicism to postmodernism, we have looked at a wide array of architects, their works, and their varied approaches to design. Our most recent assignment was to build an architectural model out of cardstock. This was a great creative outlet that allowed me to “think like an architect”, something I had never done before!

Most importantly, this class has made me think about the built world in a completely different way. A prime example of this occurred last week, when my class took advantage of some nice weather to explore the architecture on campus. We stopped to examine Herring Hall, one of the humanities and social sciences buildings. I had been in this building many times for class and walked by it on my daily treks from my dorm to Fondren Library. Never giving it much thought, I always considered it to be “just another building on campus.” However, as we walked around its exterior, I began to take note of certain features of the building that I had never noticed before. The patterns in the colored bricks, the strange placement of certain windows, and the half-finished columns, all things I had never given much thought to, suddenly stood out to me as we related elements of Herring Hall’s design to the theories and styles that we discussed in lecture.

Herring Hall’s outdoor courtyard.

This class, like most others I have taken, has shown me that Rice can help you see the world in brand new ways. Students are encouraged to be intellectually curious, and this is one of the things that makes the Rice experience truly one-of-a-kind. Regardless of where your interests lie, you’re free to be the “architect” of your own future here!

Sid and Me? We Go Wayyy Back

I’ve been a tour guide for almost three years and have had the honor of having many Rice alumni on my tours, accompanying their children on their search for the perfect university, only slightly constrained by the poorly-hidden bias emanating from their parents. I have to admit that having these parents on my tours is one of the coolest things about being a tour guide. Their enthusiasm about the university and their memories of their eventful time here is still as strong as when they graduated, and it’s inspiring to realize how much larger yet how much more close-knit Rice is than I previously thought. As a student at Rice, you are plugged into the fascinating, quirky, and unique history that has been shaped by the students themselves over the last 105 years.

I had the honor of giving the first woman to graduate from Sid and her family a tour of the campus. Here we are in the Sid Richardson lobby!

Twice, I’ve had Sid Richardson (my residential college) alumni on my tours, and both times, it was extremely cool to hear their stories (I may or may not have given them a little princess treatment after the general tour). The first alum happened to be the first woman to have graduated from Sid Richardson College after Sid became a co-ed college in 1987. She was with her whole family on the tour, and I excitedly brought them back to Sid Richardson afterwards, her first time back in the building since she graduated. Nothing had changed. She scanned the portraits on the wall of presidents and pointed out her friends to her kids. I brought them up to my suite to see a Sid room, and that, too, was exactly the same as she remembered it. It was exciting, as she shared stories of her time with her kids in the place that they happened, and how she transferred from Jones to Sid in her junior year. It was truly a blast from the past, and the fact that she was an Asian woman made it feel like she had carved the way for me to be there.

The second time was just recently, perhaps two weeks ago. Two boys on my morning tour were accompanied by their mother and father, who graduated from Sid Richardson in 1979. Later on in the day when I was walking back from class to Sid, I found them standing in front of the entrance, staring up at the building. Seeing that there was not much for them to garner just from looking at it, I brought them inside. Their father was charged with infectious energy as we made our way up to his old floor, 6th floor, and looked out from the balcony as the stacks blasting music right above us. Their father told us about the time someone drove their motorcycle into the college commons for college night (which we still have today) and another time someone fell through the ceiling tiles into the servery. Conveniently, we ran into our current Sid president at the same time, and we all engaged in a fascinating conversation merging two eras of Sid history and tradition.

We talk about the residential colleges a lot – how fun they are, which one has the best food, which one is going to win the President’s Cup for intramural sports – but sometimes we forget that the colleges are living with rich history of all the students who lived there before us. It’s crazy for me to go through old yearbooks and see things like Lyndon B. Johnson standing among the same brick walls in Sid commons in 1971. Rice is a community that spans far larger than any of us could imagine, not only in breadth but also depth. Your presence and participation in any of the residential colleges is no small matter. If anything, it makes your experience as an undergraduate student that much more meaningful.

Coincidental Connections at Rice

One of my motivations in attending college has been finding my life’s work and passions. Looking back on my time here, I’ve found that new interests have mostly sprung from minor interactions with people I’ve only met by coincidence.

This is true with my journey into singing with the Apollos, Rice’s all-male acapella group. Before Rice, I never sang outside the shower, so singing on campus never crossed my mind. During Orientation Week, however; one of my advisors had me recite the beginning of “Your Man” by Josh Turner because of my deep voice.

After classes started, I happened to be reading in my residential college’s commons. Out of the blue, two strangers appeared behind me. Having scared the book out of my hands, one said, “One of your advisors told us you have a really low voice. Come audition for the Apollos!” Despite the incredibly awkward situation, I trekked across campus and nervously sang in front of several strangers. This wasn’t how I pictured college starting.

Having joined the group, I’ve learned to blend vocally, project my sound and perform with confidence. More importantly, I’ve found something I’ll enjoy long after graduation. However, none of this would be possible if my advisor had not suggested me to the group. Where would I be if I had not left my comfort zone?

My journey into the Apollos has opened me up to exploring opportunities, no matter who introduces them. Fortunately, Rice perfectly serves this mindset with its small undergraduate population and large variety of life-changing opportunities!

The Apollos after Acapellooza