Students’ Stories: 2nd Year Engineer at University of Virginia

This second in a series shares the story of what my students are doing in college. Sebastian is a 2nd Year (other colleges know them as sophomores) Engineering student at UVA … I hope his story sparks imagining possibilities for yourself.

Sebastian’s application to UVA specifically addressed his dearth of engineering experience and preponderance of musical success in his high school career—he was accepted as a UVA engineering student.  In mid-March of his 1st year he applied to the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department and was accepted there as well.  He described the application as a straightforward Survey Monkey listing of name, email, 1st semester GPA, and order of preference among the 12 departments in engineering.  Popular departments may require essays, and Biomedical is one that did.  Other currently popular departments requiring essays include Aerospace, Computer Science and Systems Engineering (Data Engineering). 

Sebastian also landed a position in an oncology research lab. The most common approach is, as a 2nd year, to “cast a wide net of applications” (half a dozen). The 2–page application asks for grades, related courses, lab experience if any, prior contact with anyone in the lab, and an essay. Persistence is key as Sebastian was turned down for two pathology labs before landing the oncology opportunity where he knew a fellow student in the lab.  He thinks that was the key to getting a call for an interview about a week after he submitted his application. 

In Sebastian’s words he is still “walking a fine line” between whether to do clinical research or practice medicine when he leaves UVA.  Either way, he will study oncology.  This summer will be filled with a BME elective during UVA’s 1st summer session called Idea Lab.  Then he will attend the Medical Summer Institute at Georgetown where he will take anatomy courses.  BME students do not have anatomy courses and Sebastian feels this is knowledge that he personally wants to have under his belt before getting too far down the road in his education. 

Engineering societies have been a big part of Sebastian’s UVA experience. He found a group of friends soon after arriving on campus through them and in the Spring of 1st year he rushed, joined, and is now on the Executive Committee of a professional engineering fraternity which he describes as four-pronged: social, service, professional, and brotherhood of engineers.  He also joined (and is on the Executive Board) of the Biomedical Engineering Society. It is through these organizations that Sebastian got to know people in the oncology lab and learned about the Georgetown summer program.

Sebastian believes that “work hard / play hard” is a generally accurate description of UVA’s environment… and admits that there are a minority of individuals at either end of the spectrum.  He found the Health Sciences Library after his 1st semester as “his place” to study; it took longer than he would have liked to find his spot (he called that “a mistake”). Sebastian’s routine is to study as soon as he can after class when it is still fresh in his mind, to review his class notes, and to watch a YouTube video of the class lecture.  [Unbeknownst to Sebastian, studies show that immediate reinforcement greatly enhances retention.  He’s doing it right!]

Music remains integral to Sebastian’s life. After initially joining the University-run Symphony Orchestra as a 1st year, he has opted instead for the 100% student-run Cavaliers Symphony Orchestra during 2nd year.  Though only thirty students when he joined it has grown to a hundred and twenty this year and gives a couple of concerts a semester. 

Sebastian’s one of the most outgoing and gregarious students I have enjoyed consulting, so I was pleased to hear that he’s joined the Virginia Ambassadors to interact with prospective students and answers their and their parents’ questions.