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Friday, April 10, 2020

Meet Eleni, a Human Biology Major on the Pre-Med Track!

I'm so glad to hand the blog over to Eleni today. This post is full of advice and will hopefully put anyone a little nervous about leaving home at ease. 
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Howdy everyone!

My name is Eleni Fafoutis and I am currently a second year (Class of 2022!!!) in the College of Arts and Sciences. I am a Human Biology major on the pre-med track, so that means I take a lot of STEM courses. I am from Virginia Beach, Virginia, but did the first half of high school in Santa Margarita, California (If you went to SMCHS please hit me up!), so I have gotten the best of both worlds. I’m a huge country music fan (actually saw Luke Combs live at JPJ, or John Paul Jones Arena), I love SpongeBob, and most importantly, love corny jokes. I am currently a resident advisor for first years in Dillard Houses, do work with the Honor Committee as a Support Officer, am secretary for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), partake in research, LA for Calculus, and volunteer with Madison House.

My first brush with UVA was as a freshman in high school, in California, at the college fair. I remember seeing a table for UVA and it was crowded (and I found out later for a good reason!). My mom told me to stop and talk to them, but I refused. I said, “I’ll never go to school that far away.” I ate those words. We moved to Virginia, and there I was, a sophomore in high school, sullen at my sudden uprooting from home and unhappy that my parents were forcing me to go on a college tour. I’m glad they did. I had an amazing tour guide. Can’t remember her name now, but she was bubbly and British, and it was hard to not catch her enthusiasm. Everyone at UVA seemed to have that same energy. People were really friendly, and everyone was smiling. Folks were full of energy, and everyone seemed to be doing something- going somewhere, talking to someone, listening to music, looking over notes, or just enjoying the day. I loved that vibe. I loved being in a place where everyone was so passionate and enthusiastic about what they were doing, and from that day in early 2016, I had my heart set on UVA. When my acceptance came in my senior year of high school, it was an easy ‘yes!’ (Special thanks to DeanJ and CavPup, whose blogs got me through the admission process!)

When I finally made my way to summer orientation, however, I was challenged. I am an only child. When I left for UVA, it was the first time I had ever really, truly, been away from home. I’d travelled for speech and debate in high school but nothing compares to the sudden level of independence that was thrust upon me at college. I moved into Dillard suite 335, nervous at what was to come. What came was much of what I expected. I felt lonely and scared. Very few people came from my high school to UVA, so I was essentially starting at a clean slate. I did not meet my first true friend until mid-October, at the Gooch-Dillard marshmallow roast and bonfire pit event. From there, the rest of my semester finished quickly. One course in particular that stood out from first year was EDHS 4810, or ‘The Science of Happiness.’ Recommended to me by an summer orientation leader who could see how panicked I was, it was one of the best and most impactful classes I have taken here. First-years, take note. Highly recommend. I look back at first-year with fondness. Although I suffered my fair share of disappointments, the highs outnumber the lows. I joined Honor, was hired to be an RA, established a solid friend group, met some amazing professors, enjoyed UVA winning the National Championship, and finished a good chunk of my pre-med classes. More importantly, I had found my place. By the time I closed the door for the last time on Dillard 335, I didn’t look back. I was ready to tackle the challenges of my second year.

When I returned for second-year, I was back a few weeks earlier than the rest for my training as an RA, which was an amazing experience. I made so many new friends among my staff and it was awesome to see what the gears and cogs of running a university looks like (Shout out to Dean Petters! He does a great job!). I was so nervous welcoming my residents into Dillard on that first day, but it turns out I didn’t need to be. I will say that being an RA was one of the best things to ever happen to me at UVA. I love all my residents and became friends with so many. It was incredible being a role model and a sort of big sister to these girls who were navigating the same things I had learned from (if you girlies are reading this, you’re amazing!). Second year was a big turning point for me in the sense that I got a true taste of what being a STEM major was like. I tripled up in my fall semester, taking Neurobiology (BIOL 3050 - tough class but very interesting!), Biology 1 (love, love, love Prof. Kittlesen), and Organic Chem 1 all at the same time. It was tough, but I pulled through. By the way - for you pre-meds out there, I have seriously enjoyed every part of my ‘core’ premed classes so far. All the professors have been amazing and have cared so much about me and my success in those classes. I also finally got into the swing of research. Having come out of my ‘training semester,’ I was now a full-fledged research assistant. I got to learn so much from my PI and the students I was working with. It was nice to actually be doing real science with a meaningful end goal.

Part of what made my fall semester so tough, outside of a difficult course load and the newness of the RA role, was deciding what major I wanted to be. I was so torn up. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted, and here is where I offer my first piece of advice. In a school as big as UVA, you cannot wait for an opportunity to come and lay down on your metaphorical plate. You have to seek it yourself, but when you do, the payoff is incredible. I took a course in public health, did some personal research, and met with professors, and decided that Human Biology was the major for me, and I am so glad I made that decision! The day I got my acceptance into the major, I received a list of courses that all sounded like the most fun and interesting classes I could take at UVA. UVA has a major for everyone. Whether it be as niche as Human Biology or as broad as Economics, I promise you will find the major for you. Just don’t be afraid to look, and take classes outside of your comfort zone.

I want to take a little bit of time to talk about the current situation. First and foremost, to whomever is reading this, I hope you are safe and healthy and your family and friends are as well. This is hard for everyone, especially for our fourth-years unable to graduate. However, to my current and incoming first-year friends, I want to offer you a promise: it will be okay. It might be a little scary and a little troublesome right now, but UVA has an amazing community. The united front I have seen against this virus has been so inspirational, with students and faculty joining together to do what’s best for everyone. Incoming first-years, when you do come to Grounds, whenever that may be, know that UVA is your home. It’s already your home. We’re ready and waiting with open arms to have you!

To close, I wanted to give some random thoughts and realizations that I have had throughout my time here, to maybe inspire or reassure you. 
       Every professor I have ever had here cares. I have yet to have one - ONE - be mean to me or unkind when I come with a question. Every professor, in my experience, is willing to help if you show them you care, and are always there for their students. It’s been incredible to have such amazing guidance and support from faculty.
       Speaking of professors, special shoutouts to the Chemistry department. I have personally had Professor Gunnoe, Professor Welch, and Professor Frantz as well as amazing graduate and undergraduate lecture and lab TA’s. Everyone is incredibly smart and so willing to help and I just cannot gush enough about them. Same goes for Biology. I’ve personally had Professor Kittlesen, Professor Manson, Professor Kawasaki, and Professor Provencio. All amazing and such understanding and great professors. Of course, UVA has many, many other great departments as well. Just wanted to give special love for STEM!
       Take a class out of your comfort zone. I took an Art History class this semester for my second writing requirement. It was a seminar on the Parthenon and I have learned so much. It’s definitely not something I normally take and it is an amazing experience.
       DO take biology and chemistry together in your first two semesters, if you can, pre-meds. It’s often advised not to but pairing biology and gen chem your first year is much easier than pairing biology with organic chemistry your second year. You have been warned.
       This is for people who are vegetarian (I am!). There are so many great options if you know where to look - Roots on the corner has some killer barbecue tofu. The dumpling truck is where you can use plus dollars on their tofu dumplings. Similarly, the other food trucks have falafel and beans so there are plenty of great options if the dining hall is lacking!
       The libraries here are really nice. A personal (yet sadly closed favorite) is Alderman stacks, but Clem and the Health Sciences libraries are great options as well. Don’t just study in your room - explore a bit! You can also study in the Rotuna, which is pretty cool.
       Bring a printer. Otherwise you have to pay for printing everywhere :(
       One regret I have from first year was not having the philosophy ‘never say no.’ (Okay, say no if something makes you uncomfortable or feel unsafe, or if it’s irresponsible or dangerous). The biggest thing you can do in college, especially as you are starting out, is to put yourself out there. Hang out with people you are not familiar with yet - you might find a best friend. Go to your RA’s event - even if nobody else is going, your RA might be a really cool person. Study on the Lawn - those days are far and few between. Try all the dining halls and see which is best (O’hill is, as someone who has lived by Runk the past two years). Put yourself out there and you will reap the rewards in turn. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be your RA someday. Maybe you’ll meet that professor that changes your major. Maybe you’ll meet your first friend at a Gooch-Dillard Marshmallow Bonfire.

Thanks for reading, ‘hoolets! I love talking to people and helping people out (especially first-years and transfers!), so feel free to hit me up on twitter @elenifaf or on my insta @ef6304!