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Hit The Books

College brings with it many new academic challenges and opportunities. Stay sharp these next four years with these tips! 



Alexander Plevka,  ’17, School of Engineering  

An engineering student operates under the assumption of limitations. We are constrained by cost, time, materials, dimensions, force, weight, shear moduli – you get the point. We are taught in classes that technical problems are just that – technical. They are presented and solved in a nicely wrapped package at standard temperature and pressure, with a highly specific solution, and they rarely involve people.

After carefully planning my tight engineering schedule to accommodate a semester abroad, I was suddenly stripped of the comfort provided by Vanderbilt and dropped into a Spanish University of strangers. The problems were no longer just technical; they were lingual and cultural. I was embarrassed that the English abilities of my new classmates far exceeded my own Spanish abilities and I was paralyzed by my novel sense of powerlessness.

Toward the end of the semester, the time arrived to break into groups for one of my course’s final projects. Three months of intimidated anti-social behavior left me alone, and I was forced to confront my apprehensions and join a group. I expected coldness from a group of strangers whom I’d ignored until that point. But they weren’t cold. And they were hardly strangers. I quickly realized that the technical problems presented by engineering could serve as solutions for my other doubts. Though I lacked Spanish fluency, fluency in engineering proved to be an effective substitute. Effortless conversation about our project topic quickly blossomed into one about which of Madrid’s famous discotecas I needed to visit before leaving.

My engineering education has provided me with many tools, tools that I can use to solve technical problems. But it has also provided me with a rather unexpected tool: an icebreaker, a base of knowledge and interests linking engineering students across the globe. It transformed what could have been an alien experience into one that revealed the wide social and professional scope of my education as it fosters compatibility and teamwork and pushes the limits of culture and language. My interests and my education have given me the tools to tackle the strangeness of a new situation and to transform strangers into friends. 



Angel Rajendran, ’18 , Peabody College

I don’t know who first planted that seed in my head. The seed that whispered to me that success was a two-syllable title in front of my last name that made me a doctor, but I never really questioned it. My whole life, I heard my parents, teachers and friends tell me a career in the medical field was the best, if not the only, way to make an impact in the world. So naturally, by the time I started my first year of college, I thought I had my future all planned out for me: I was going to major in neuroscience, go to medical school, and eventually become a doctor. I was going to make an impact. I was going to change lives. At least, that was the plan.

A few months into the school year, I realized I was not as passionate about the medical field as other students around me. I felt drained by my science classes. I found no joy in what I was studying. As my first semester came to an end, I felt very little motivation to continue pursuing a career in medicine.

Still, I felt torn between two worlds. In one world, I continued on that seemingly perfect path for my life. I went to med school and became the first and only “Dr. Rajendran” in my family. I made my friends and family proud. In the other world, a world that seemed unattainable to me at the time, I pursued the things I was passionate about with little care for what others thought. Maybe I didn’t earn the most money, maybe I didn’t fulfill my parents’ dreams for me, but I was happy. I was doing what I loved.

After much back-and-forth, I finally made a decision and took a risk: Over Thanksgiving break, I told my parents that I no longer wanted to be on the pre-med track.  And although I experienced mild teasing from my friends and definite pushback from my parents, for the first time in years, I felt like I was free to figure out who I was and where my true passions lied.

Angel RajendranThat being said, “following my passions” wasn’t as easy as it first seemed. For starters, I wasn’t even sure what I was passionate about. After dropping pre-med, I was in a completely new world. I no longer had that perfect plan for my life. In fact, I had no plan at all. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to work with kids. After volunteering at Children’s Medical Center Dallas all four summers of high school and working with children with disabilities in therapeutic recreation programs in my community, my passion for children was one thing I felt certain about amidst the confusion that was the rest of my life. And so, after months of exploring different classes and talking to several of my friends who were child studies and education majors, I decided to major in Special Education and minor in Child Development. At the end of my freshman year, I officially switched into Peabody.

I’m not sure who first planted that seed in my head, the seed that whispered that success came only from following a single path, but I’m happy to say that now I know that success is something much different. Success is the energy and motivation I feel when I go to a Special Education class. It’s when people ask me what my plans are for the future, and my eyes light up as I tell them I am going to be a teacher. Success is indeed a two-syllable word, because the greatest success is passion. Now, I feel confident that my decision to drop pre-med and pursue a career in my greatest passion was the best decision of my life.



Hannah Laskey,  ’17, Peabody College, Student VUceptor  

Hannah Laskey

I first wanted to go abroad for the places; I never wanted to leave because of the people.

Yes, our weekend trip to Barcelona was awesome. Hitting up Rome, Athens, and Warsaw during reading week was once in a lifetime. And nothing could beat the scenic Irish countryside. While studying abroad, I experienced beauty and history—and got some killer Instagram pics—at some of the most incredible cities in Europe. But it was the people: my roommates Evie and Elda from Detroit, Rosa from China; Maria from Spain and Kristine from Norway, both members of my Marketing group project; David, Laura, Ruairí, and the rest of my Irish posse... They are what made my study abroad a transformative experience.

I owe those relationships to door stops and duffle bags.

As he walked past our first-floor apartment window, we serendipitously made eye contact again. Evie, Elda, Rosa and I glanced up from our game of Bananagrams (one of our favorite word games and another great tool for making friends at home and abroad). “Hey, isn’t that David, from the bus stop?” Evie asked. Indeed, it was none other than David McLaughlin, the charming, Irish-as-can-be first-year student from the 39A stop a few days earlier. After a stiff wave and a few awkward seconds, Elda yelled out our front door (which was conveniently propped open by a makeshift door stop), inviting him in to play the next round. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the vulnerability of that propped open apartment door would lead us to the friendships that taught us much about Ireland, broadened our understanding of the world and ultimately defined our study abroad experiences. 

Through David, I met Laura Kelly, another University College Dublin first-year student. One rainy Thursday evening in October, Laura invited me to venture home to Co. Donegal with her. I packed up my duffle bag and headed off for a bona fide Irish homestay weekend, complete with an Irish mum and a full Irish breakfast. Up until that point, Laura and I had only hung out a few times; tea and biscuits, a few study sessions in the library. However, because I was brave enough to pack up my duffle bag and step outside of my comfort zone, our friendship became nearly a sisterhood as we, together, waded through a heartbreaking family emergency that unfolded that very weekend. Laura’s openness and my willingness to engage brought us to a level of friendship that we nevercould have otherwise achieved.

Just like my University College Dublin apartment complex, The Ingram Commons is filled with remarkable people. Prop your door open. Invite your neighbors into your story, or pack up your duffle bag and enter into theirs.

Your Davids and Lauras are out there waiting for you.