Why I Chose Rice

Today after my economics class, I checked in at the admissions office to grab a lunch host card and round up a few prospective students and their parents. As a volunteer for the Student Admission Council, this has been a semi-regular occurrence since I first came to Rice. (If you come to Rice for a tour, I’d strongly suggest you stay for lunch—you’ll learn a lot and you might even get to talk to me!)

I lunch-host for several reasons. One of them is to push myself out of my comfort zone (I’m introverted by nature); another is that it’s a way to remind myself about the great things that happen at Rice. Most importantly though, I do it because I enjoy talking to prospective students and hearing their questions, stories, interests, aspirations. Over time, I’ve heard a lot of questions, and today I want to talk about one of the most common ones I get asked: “Why did you choose Rice?”

My answer when I first committed and now, a year later, is still the same—because of the people. Rice is an institution of learning, just like other colleges and universities across the nation and around the world. However, each school is truly defined by the people within it—the professors, the staff, the students; without the people, a university is simply a collection of buildings and spaces.

I remember visiting Rice during Owl Days (which is coming up again soon!) and meeting people that I eagerly wanted to become friends with (and later on, did befriend). I met so many students who were down-to-earth and actively interested in reaching out. I met professors who were excited about not only the material they taught, but also the students they were teaching.

A year from now I can say these things are true with more certainty; I see it every day. I continue to meet cool people and make friends as the year progresses. Rice students take an active interest in helping their community, whether it be at their residential college, the entirety of Rice, or outside the hedges in Houston. Professors are excited to be here and teach, and mine have always been happy to answer my questions in order to give me a deeper understanding of the material.

These are just some of the more obvious things I see because of the people. Small things, like making magic through music with the Nocturnal a cappella team, or big things, like getting to attend a talk by Joe Biden (and more recently, an Apollo 13 astronaut) also happen because of the people here.

Incredible things happen every day because of the people. That’s why I chose Rice.

I’m thankful to be at Rice 🙂

The Importance of Organization

The other day, an acquaintance told me that I should use a Google calendar. He had good intentions, but I already have an excellent system. I keep a 2.5 ft x 3.5 ft wall calendar for events outside of class and a planner for coursework and assignments. When I am not in class or participating in something on my calendar, I look to my planner so I can do assignments in between. (Note: the assignments take a fairly long time – Rice is a challenging university)

My calendar is color-coded: black is labs, class cancellations, and office hours; dark blue is dance team; light brown is non-dance team exercise; light blue is interviews/job stuff; light green is vacation days, dark pink is social events; red is exams, and orange is impending deadlines (with the intention of being erased upon completion, preceded by a checkbox).

A benefit to using a non-technological calendar is privacy. I like knowing that I have full control of my time to allocate as I see fit. There are gaps in my schedule, but those are necessary breaks to eat, sleep, and be human. These intentional gaps prevent burnout and keep me motivated to continue pursuing whatever I am doing. Many people over-schedule and over-commit themselves to extracurricular activities, which causes them to become more stressed.

You may use a Google calendar or electronic alternative, and that is great if it works for you. You may think my system is old-fashioned or outdated, but then again, I still talk to people on the phone, instead of DM’ing or tweeting on Twitter, so it’s really personal preference. (Note: many people still prefer phone calls!)

The main reason I haven’t gone electronic? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My calendar system is a well-oiled machine, and I don’t see things changing any time in the near future.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the last week, campus has been in good spirits, even though many of us are going through a second round of midterms. Why, you might ask? Two words: Willy Week!

Willy Week is the week leading up to Beer Bike, an annual Rice tradition where a day of festivities culminates with a bike race between teams from the residential colleges. There’s a men’s team, a women’s team, and a team for alumni from each college; so if you like biking, you can join your college’s bike team once you get to campus! Throughout Willy Week, the residential colleges host activities for students to enjoy themselves and forget about the stress of classwork and exams. It’s a week full of special events, fun and games, and water balloons (more on the water balloons later).

My residential college, Sid Rich, put on its own share of activities. This year, these included the annual Mr. Sid pageant, where 5 male Sidizens competed for the top prize. We also had a private dinner service one evening where we got to dress up and bond over fancy food. My favorite Sid Willy Week tradition, however, was the annual Orc Raid.

For Orc Raid, me and a bunch of other Sidizens assembled outside. Wearing all black, we covered ourselves in black and red paint, Sid’s college colors. Then, as a mob, we ran all over campus, infiltrating the commons of other colleges. By shouting cheers and jumping on tables, we asserted our dominance as the best residential college (in our eyes at least). Along the way, we got a few weird looks from people doing homework and even joined a group of people in the Will Rice commons singing karaoke (because, let’s be real, Adele never fails to bring everyone together).

Sid infiltrates Duncan commons!

There is a friendly rivalry between all the colleges about which one truly is the best. While there really is no answer to this question, Rice students are pretty partial to the one they call home. This rivalry is especially magnified during Willy Week, and reaches its peak come Beer Bike morning.

Here’s where the water balloons come into play. Throughout Willy Week, students spend time between classes filling up water balloons. Then, as the final activity before the bike races on the morning of Beer Bike, thousands of students take their positions around the perimeter of a big field for (unofficially) the world’s largest water balloon fight. It’s a Hunger-Games-esque battle where everyone gets soaking wet (but it’s so much fun getting to throw balloons at your friends!).

Tens of thousands of balloons are thrown in a matter of minutes!

Throughout the week, I was able to make lasting memories with my friends and fall even more in love with Rice and its unique traditions. Getting to experience Willy Week and Beer Bike for myself made me understand why it’s nicknamed Christmas. There’s definitely a reason why something so special only comes once each year.

Narrowing Your Interests in College

I came into Rice with a certain mindset and I know for sure I am leaving with a different mindset, both academically and personally. I came in wanting to major in Biochemistry, make a career out of science and medicine, and conduct biological research. Now as a junior in college, my intended pathway in life is different. I am majoring in Cognitive Sciences with a minor in Neuroscience and Medical Humanities, conducting qualitative bioethics research, and starting a 4+1 MPH program during my senior year into the next year after I graduate from Rice.

How did I change pathways over these past couple of years? I think the key is to be open-minded. I’ve talked about this before in one of my blog posts, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to explore your options. There is no better time than college to do that, and I guarantee you that it will be worthwhile.

I ended up choosing to major in Cognitive Sciences because it better reflected my love for Neuroscience. My transition began when I started taking more social science classes for my major. I became super interested in all of the interdisciplinary subjects. I remember thinking how intriguing the experiments my professors mentioned in class were and how worthwhile it would be if I conducted that kind of research (Rice certainly offered me those kinds of opportunities). Studying the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences all at once led me to apply for a qualitative research program at Rice during my sophomore year.

At the same time, I became super interested in public health and policy studies after participating in an education policy Alternative Spring Break and looking at the new medical humanities classes being offered at Rice. By then I had realized that studying STEM in college was not for me. I didn’t want to take classes with so many numbers and facts, but rather those where I could discuss ideas with my peers and do more direct work with advocacy.

The summer before my junior year I spent 2 months in Cape Town conducting a public health project. That experience led me to apply for and get into the 4+1 Rice-UT Houston Public Health Scholars Program, where you get your Masters in Public Health from Rice by taking graduate classes during your senior year and the year after you graduate.

I should also note that throughout college I had been grappling with whether or not I wanted to pursue medicine. Junior year, I started taking those medical humanities classes, including Medical Professionalism and Intro to Medical Humanities. Those classes covered some of the most interesting and thought-provoking topics in my college career. Now, I can safely say that I want to become a physician after I get my MPH.

I know that my transition isn’t necessarily the most life-changing. But my pathway wasn’t straightforward, and yours shouldn’t be either. I came in thinking that college is just a linear trail you take, pushing requirements out of the way and planning what you have to get done every year. Deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life takes time and effort, and you have to be willing to put in that time and effort to get the most out of college. During my time at Rice and the wonderful opportunities I’ve been offered along the way, I narrowed my interests into what I truly want to do. And who knows— maybe by my senior year of college I’ll discover more passions in my life.

Looking Through A Different Lens

“You know you are more than welcome to come back and shadow anytime. You could even work here over the summer,” Dr. Hopping told me as I walked into the optometry office one Thursday morning.

It was spring break, and I had chosen to spend my time doing an externship in Houston. Through the Owl Edge Externship program pioneered by the Center for Career Development at Rice, I was assigned to a 4-day shadowing externship with optometrist Dr. Desiree Hopping (Rice class of 1976) at her private practice Hopping Eye Associates. I knew nothing about optometry nor had the specialization held any particular interest to me, but I wanted to explore my options.

I arrived at the office on my first day, and Dr. Hopping welcomed me with open arms. She introduced me to the other optometrists in the group practice: her husband, her son, and two other optometrists. As I followed her around for the day, watching eye exams and listening closely to her explanations for her actions, I took great interest in her personality and interaction with her patients. Most of her patients had been visiting Hopping Eye Associates for decades. There was never any need to go to another optometrist. Dr. Hopping was personable, curious about the well-being of each of her patients. She was also a great optometrist, skillful and smart in her diagnoses. I watched many eye exams over the next four days, learning more about eye conditions and how to detect them with eye imaging, the academic course to becoming an optometrist, and the different kinds of cases you could deal with depending on your training. But most of all, I appreciated Dr. Hopping’s hospitality towards me during the week, bringing me to her house to eat lunch, telling me about her grandkids, taking me along to pick up some cupcakes, and inviting me back to shadow and work at Hopping Eye Associates any time.

At Rice, spring break is not the only time that you can go into the field like this. Right across the street in the Texas Medical Center, you can shadow and volunteer all throughout the year. In doing so, you not only gain insight into what goes on behind the scenes, but also get a feel for the clinic environment, learn about the kinds of people you’re caring for, and gain connections amongst many medical professionals – all things that you can’t access by simply going to class and burying your nose in textbooks. Rice fosters both sides of preparing you for the future, offering a top-tier education while making experience and opportunities to get into the field more than accessible.

Dr. Desiree Hopping and her partners in crime

Hopping Eye Associates had a huge office. Besides eight private exam rooms, they had a large vision therapy clinic and their own in-house optical (pictured). I had a lot of fun trying on glasses in my down time.

A Very Rice Spring Break

The ins-and-outs of Rice life are kind of what you’d expect: on weekdays, we go to class, on weekends, we don’t go to class, and at times when we’re not in class, you can find us hanging out and studying – or hanging-out-and-studying, which is also very popular. But what do us Rice students do outside of school days? In other words, what do we do over spring break? The answer is: a ton of things. Surprise, surprise.

I personally had a grand time on a trip planned entirely on my own. I spent about half the break in Houston getting some work done on my long-term projects, and about half in Austin, not-really attending SXSW and reading a whopper of a book a fellow English major challenged me to read over break: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (if you don’t know, the book is about 1100 pages long and includes almost 400 endnotes scattered throughout the text that require a bunch of flipping back and forth). While visiting independent bookstores, jamming along to custom-made mixtapes, and completely failing to make crepes was all riveting, the past week of my life was totally different from my friends’ breaks.

My friend Jessica went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which is Rice lingo for a spring break trip that accomplishes something beyond just vacation, but builds leadership skills and provides further educational opportunities. She traveled with a group to San Francisco to learn more about stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. “We bonded over meaningful discussions and home made food,” says Jessica – tired from the week, but filled with stories to tell about visits from different speakers, experiences in San Francisco, and a better understanding of prejudice in health and poverty crises in American cities.

Photos from Jessica’s trip in San Francisco, taken at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Maitri Hospital for those affected with AIDS.

On a completely different note, my friend Matthew traveled with Rice Outdoor Programs and Education (ROPE) on a backpacking trip in Arizona. I remember being somewhat surprised but intrigued hearing about the trip, which sounds to me both a little hellish and a little bit captivating. He describes it as “40 miles of hiking through canyons and over mountains carrying everything we needed on our backs and sleeping under the stars.” That’s time for thought, getting to know the few people on the trip, and challenging yourself.

A photo of Matthew’s trip in Arizona, with his group.

A photo taken on Matthew’s trip in Arizona, backpacking their way across the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favorite question among prospective students and their parents tends to be, “Well, what does your average Rice student look like?” This little post answers that question pretty well: it completely and totally varies, but you can guarantee that people are doing something. Whether it’s exploring a new city, taking some time for inner reflection, a personal challenge, or looking hard at a problem in the world, I think we can all agree that spring break was definitely an experience that wasn’t school. Meaning, we’re all a bit bummed that today is Monday, and that we’re not still taking part in the world outside (or inside, in a new way) Rice’s hedges.