16 May

Embarking on a new educational journey in college is a prominent milestone in my life. I have been given the opportunity to venture out into the world with a foundation of curiosity built from high school and a rejuvenated ambition for my dreams. 

In the summer following high school graduation, I would apply and enroll into Berea College to continue my path toward the medical profession of a physician-scientist. As a rising first-year undergraduate, I intended to matriculate into the Chemistry major (concentrated in biochemistry) on the pre-medical track.

While I was very excited to set foot into this new chapter of my life, I was also nervous to see what was in store for me down the road, but I soon discovered that the journey will unfold into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Over the course of my first academic year, I would meet many new people from all over the world aspiring to become the great individuals of their destined career field. I learned from some of the most experienced, talented professors and mentors who have shared their knowledge to fulfill young, passionate curiosities. Furthermore, I learned that each resource, every opportunity, and all possibilities are given to any student eager to explore their endless potentials.

Ultimately, at Berea College, I have found a personalized education geared toward the shaping of my future for success in the medical profession, and I am thrilled to share my first-year journey with you!

Arriving at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky

As the summer of 2021 trickled into early August, I was preparing to leave my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia for the first time as a resident student for two semesters in another state (this in itself is perhaps the largest transition for incoming college students to adapt to, regardless of distance or metro size). 

The car travel to Berea, Kentucky is a brief three and a half hours from Charleston, and so I eagerly awaited my arrival, thinking about all the new opportunities I would be exposed to. 

Once I arrived on campus, I was overcome by a new feeling of inspiration, understanding that, if I were to ever become anything great, it was all going to begin here. 

As I checked into my freshman dorm, Blueridge residence hall, I prepared to set up my living area for the semester. The dorm room consisted of a bed, a dresser drawer, a desk, a window, and a closet. My roommate’s side paralleled mine. The additional room entities were a shared fridge and an AC unit. All the essentials were here. While the dorm is certainly small, as advertised by many of those who’ve been to college before, it is definitely manageable. 

After my dorm was set up for me to live in, I had taken a brief moment to absorb everything all in. For some, the feeling of arriving on a college campus for the first time may be quite exciting. For others, however, the initial thought of being away from home is overwhelming. For still others, the idea of being in a new class with other great students may appear intimidating. For me, I honestly felt an intermixing of all these thoughts, feelings, and emotions, but after a while, I began to feel truly welcomed on campus and I accepted Berea as a second home. 

The college does a particularly great job at making incoming students feel welcomed and at home, considering the vast diversity of the student body and the available student communities that were presented to us at orientation. 

During those orientation meetings, moreover, we were introduced to the college’s curriculum, the labor program, all the different student organizations, who our academic advisors are, and many, many new introductory information to get our undergraduate careers started. Much of the information that will be discussed at Berea College orientation can be previewed on the college catalog.

In the beginning week, I was exposed to a lot of new information, opportunities, and resources. It is certainly a lot to take in, and it definitely may seem overwhelming at first, but colleges will always provide accommodations to aid students transitioning onto this new journey in their life.

The college had also held a grand welcome party on the first day of arrival for incoming first-years to meet new people. I remember meeting many new classmates who have remained with me for the entire course of the academic year. These welcome events will certainly allow you to experience the college student-life environment before classes begin.

Altogether, I believe arriving on campus, orientation, and welcome events deserves a blogpost of its own, but unfortunately this site was not created till the beginning of 2022. Though, in retrospect, I honestly think the first week of college is unique and should be for everyone to discover themselves, as every student, institution, and individual story is different. 

The only thing to keep in mind is that you should never be overwhelmed or discourage because arriving on a college campus for the first time should be a celebration of the accomplishments that have led you to that moment in you life. That is it. All the rest will unfold for you.

Settling in at Berea College for the First Semester

As mid-August turned into an early September, I had learned a lot about the campus, the student culture, and I had gotten an overall feel for the college setting. Within the first weeks, I had taken time to explore the campus and to really get to know Berea. I was able to grasp a new sense of where I was going, and from there I was set on my new journey.

One of the very first things I remember doing was exploring all the campus events, organizations, and resources. I had attended all the orientation meetings to learn more about each student and campus entity. There was one introductory meeting about show performances, in fact, that I attended and it was here that I committed to try out for my first performing art—Sazon Latino Dance Club.

I had never envisioned myself dancing on stage, nonetheless performing in any way apart from academia, but I was pleased to have given the new experience a chance. After trying out, receiving the acceptance email, and attending dance practices, Sazon Latino became the first club I officially joined. In reflection, this was one of the best decisions I have made, and I have been blessed to be a part of an amazing program catalyzed by great people (see The Extracurriculars I Participated In for more).

Additionally, there was an orientation day devoted to introducing students to the labor program and their individual labor positions for the academic year. Here, I had met my labor supervisor, Jedidiah Radosevich, and I was able to learn much about the Woodworking labor position. I found it quite fascinating that I was going to be able to contribute to the Berea College Student Craft initiative of designing, crafting, and selling exquisite wood pieces.

Furthermore, on orientation day of my labor position, I learned how to create beautifully crafted cutting boards designed with drilled interchanges of wood. I relished the opportunity to be a part of a unique enterprise at Berea College by creating pieces of furniture and art that will reside in the homes of the Berea community (see My Labor Position for more).

Meanwhile, the beginning of classes was approaching and I, as many incoming freshman were, was very anxious. I had questioned how difficult traditional college courses would be? Whether I would be able to manage time efficiently? And where I stood amongst my fellow peers, especially of the premed and life science majors? 

Conveniently, we had visited our academic advisors who, particularly at Berea College, are our first-year GSTR 110 Writing Seminar professors. I was assigned Dr. Daniel Huck, associate professor of law (now a full professor), and the advice he shared with his students was very insightful. 

We were informed that, certainly, Berea College is difficult and it will require some time to ease ourselves into the new environment, but that we will never be set up to fail and that students were selected into this college because a greater future of academic and career success was envisioned for each of us. This note was well stated and should be remembered amongst all students preparing to enter any college or university.

After the students met with their academic advisors, I had spent some time exploring the campus buildings, pre-envisioning how my days would unfold, and visiting my classrooms before the official start of the year. With this small self-tour, I was able to map out my first week and determine how to spend my time optimally.

Some of the first buildings and halls I explored were the Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building (MAC), the Hutchin’s Library, and Draper Hall. The former is one of the newer buildings on campus with a modern interior design, while the latter two present more of an olden, yet cozy design. Throughout the year, I would find myself spending most of my study sessions in these buildings as they are comforting and offer a soothing, mind-easing environment.

Once I was settled in for the academic year, I was ready to take on the beginning of classes. I did not know what to expect for the first day, but I had presumed we would discuss the great transition into college and the objectives for the semester in each individual course. I was very eager and nervous at the same time, but I would soon learn that the day would unfold to be rather exciting.

The First Day of Classes

My first day of classes had come and I woke up exuberantly. The freshman dorm was particularly busy on the first morning because others were eager about the first day as much as I. Preparing to leave for a brief breakfast at Alumni Hall, I walked out into the gentle late summer sun. My first thoughts for the new year were ones filled with optimism, zeal, curiosity, and courage. 

Over the summer, the administration offices had assigned me a total of 4.75 course credits (19 credit hours; 1 Berea College credit is 4 credit hours). I was enrolled in a total of six courses for the first semester, composed of Chemistry, Calculus I, Writing Seminar, Wellness I, Academic Success, and Ethnic Studies. This is a considerable course load for any first-year, but I felt prepared for the challenge.

After breakfast, I walked wondrously to the MAC building, where I entered into my first classroom. Nervously, I had retreated toward the back of the room so as to not appear too keen on the first day. I had taken a moment to assess the classroom where other students were waiting patiently, eagerly, or anxiously for the beginning of the academic year. A moment had passed and the chemistry professor had entered the room greeting the new class and introducing himself as Dr. Andrew Garrett. He had waited briefly for any students running late, then handed out a course syllabus and puzzle activity to stimulate our thinking. The period was quite relaxing, and an enjoyable seventy minutes had passed before my first course was over.

I honestly do not remember much from that particular chemistry course, because I would end up “testing out” of it after performing exceptionally on a diagnostic assessment. Hence, I was moved from CHM 101 to CHM 131, as well as other students who had performed well.

Meanwhile, also on the first day of classes, I made my way toward my next lecture session, Calculus I, which was on the fifth floor of the MAC building. Here, I had also retreated to a seat in the back of the room. While I was settling myself for the beginning of the period, the professor, Dr. Julian Viera Jr., had greeted each student individually. As he came over to me, we exchanged a few words and discussed “why I chose Berea” and “where I was from.” Brief moments as such have led me to truly believe that Berea College has become a comfortable second home. While class began, Dr. Viera had handed out his version of the syllabus and we discussed the course structure, expectations, and grading. After a pleasant class discussion, the period was over.

Shortly thereafter, noon arrived and I had decided to take a lunch period, as well as virtually more than half of the student body. At the Alumni Hall, where the campus cafeteria is located, I had gotten in the hot servings line, where burgers, hotdogs, and cheesy quesadillas were usually served, depending on the day. Other available items in the cafeteria were quick servings, vegetarian or vegan options, a pizza counter, a desert bar, a prepare-your-own sandwich station, soda machine of Coca-Cola products, a cereal dispenser, an ice cream machine, and, of course, the salad bar. There is quite an abundance at “Berea Dining”, and the food is typically good for a college or university (but not world class, however, despite the expectation of most).

Typically, I arrive at the Dining Hall (synonymous with Alumni Building in this context), swipe a card for meal plan, and hop in the shortest line possible. I am not too picky of an eater, so almost anything suffices. For me, the average meal is either a cheeseburger, pizza, or fish along with a small side like fries or vegetables and a drink of pink lemonade. Then, I often take “to-go” a dessert pastry or dispense a hefty ice cream cone and depart for my next academic obligation.

My last course of the first day, Writing Seminar I, was instructed by the revered professor of law, Dr. Daniel Huck. Hence, the “topic” for his GSTR 110 course was based on criminal law (each GSTR at Berea College has a topic distinctive of the professor who instructs the section). 

This is a subject I was very unfamiliar with, therefore, as the semester progressed, I would learn many new, relevant things about law: self defense, defense of another, classes of homicide, witness testimony, Miranda rights, Acteus Reas and Mens Rea, defense and prosecution attorney strategy, interview etiquette, and the general idea of American justice. In my opinion, Berea College GSTR courses deserve a post of their own, because they provide the multidisciplinary aspect of a student’s education (coming soon…).

At that moment, anyhow, my first class session with Dr. Huck was formatted very much the same as the previous two—a syllabus, an open discussion of expectations and the course structure, and appointment setting for one-on-one academic planning (reminder: the GSTR 110 professor is also our first-year academic advisor). 

Since, for my section of the course, we were only supposed to meet Monday and Wednesday with Friday’s off, the course period lasted roughly 110 minutes. This may seem long, but when you have professors genuinely interested in your individual advancement, the time flies quickly, as if there was never enough. 

As the period came to a conclusion, anyway, so did my first day of classes. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, so I would immediately head over to the Mueller Student Crafts Building to fulfill my weekly labor hours. I would be scheduled to work two hours that day from 3-5p, until my first day of Berea College was officially over.

Honestly, I do not recall how I spent the remainder of the day, other than probably exploring the campus further and/or studying in the library late into the evening. However, one thing was for sure, I believe I have finally found the place where I would genuinely be the happiest, experience the most growth, and become the best young professional I can be. This would truly be the beginning of something great.

Reflecting on the Academic Year

The college journey, as I wish to consider it, has officially begun for me. In reflection of the entire first academic year, I have experienced, perhaps, the most pivotal, most transformative period of my life. The drafting of a new chapter in my story has officially started, and there is no better place to begin than at Berea College.

Firstly, receiving the No-Tuition Promise scholarship upon enrollment at Berea College has allowed me to solely focus on attaining a renowned education, and I appreciate the opportunity greatly. This revolutionary aid award is often the first association students create when considering Berea College, and it has helped many applicants make the decision of attending college to receive the coveted education they never thought they could achieve. 

Hence, it is quite appropriate to begin my reflection in memory of the applicant cycle. While No-Tuition was the first eye-catching accolade I recognized when considering Berea College in my senior year of high school, it was not the primary focus.

The major three items I had hoped for in an educational institution were student diversity, an array of unique opportunities, and a personalized educational experience. Berea College had represented all of these amazing attributes, and after completing my first-year, I can honestly say that each is a strong characteristic of the institution, as well as many other incredible features (see Why I Chose Berea College for more).

Thereafter, I would enroll into Berea College in hopes of studying chemistry in preparation for medical college and undergraduate research. The ability to prepare fruitfully for my future and to land a research position were my two primary concerns within the first few months of the semester.

I remember venturing the MAC building from office to office asking professors “Excuse me, I was curious if you knew anything about the Vanderbilt Pipeline program?” or “Hello, do you have a moment to discuss internship opportunities for medicine or the biomedical sciences?” They would either warmly welcome me to their office or politely redirect me elsewhere to another faculty perhaps more knowledgeable on the subject.

Having these discussions within the first two weeks of school really gave me a sense of direction for what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted to prepare for, and how to plan appropriately for the next steps in my new journey. From this, I, personally, would claim that initiating these mentoring relationships with professors and asking genuine questions consistently is the greatest piece of advice that I can give to incoming students.

Furthermore, attending events, campus meetings, and simply staying involved at Berea College is the best way to build new connections with peers, faculty, and revered guest speakers. Berea College holds convocations for this, but there are many, many more unique, small opportunities to attend, such as “growing up Afro-Latina”, “funding opportunities for your internship”, or introductory meetings for certain clubs or events, for example.

With one particular opportunity, the Discovery Fund, I was able to purchase a one-year subscription for the high-impact, international scientific journal Nature, where I found inspirations for projects such as Inducing Moldable Wood for Woodcraft

In fact, there are numerous other funds that become available to students in their academic careers (explore them here), and they are all “funds”, not “loans”, but “funds”. I emphasize this because it is one of the most unique features about Berea College’s career development center. They do not just provide affordable education, but affordable futures. The value is unmatched anywhere.

Moreover, on the subject of classes, I have learned many new, interesting things. As mentioned previously, my first Writing Seminar I course, instructed by professor Dr. Huck, was focused on building skills from the concepts of criminal law. This is one example of a course that I, as a pre-med student, was able to learn an exceptional amount of relevant material applicable in the real world, both in writing and in law.

Another, the Ethnic Studies course, specifically titled Latino Masculinities and College Life, looked into the various perspectives of Latin culture, Latino and student life in college, and the identities of Hispanic and Latino. Though much different from a writing course centered around criminal law, the ethnic studies course provided me with various insights on the value of our differences as a Latino student.

My major concentrated courses, such as the chemistries and biologies, which all have three hour lab period attachments to the schedule, were also very insightful. Admittedly, I had already understood a lot of the material conceptually (hence, much of my learning came practically with the weekly lab assignments). In any case, I genuinely enjoyed these courses and made wonderful connections with professors and peers.

Though, with subsequent years ahead, I know greater challenges are to come, and I am eager encounter them. After all, my pure interest and intrigue is in the fields of STEM and biomedical sciences. 

Conclusively of college courses, I have found that classes will not only measure students’ ability to retain knowledge, but to present the ability to synthesize, infer, and apply knowledge from a foundation of course objectives. Adjusting to the new challenges of college course from that of high school can be difficult at first, but requesting additional aid, resources, and available one-on-one help can benefit you greatly.

Altogether, I have found the college experience to be very exciting, especially understanding that everything you have ever worked for has led up to this moment. Though, it is important to note that these years will just be the beginning, and that there will be much more to come. 

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