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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Meet Matt O, a #UVA Graduate in Economics from Virginia

Today's guest blogger is Matt O, who graduated from UVA last year. Matt was part of the Days on the Lawn team for years while he was a student and I'm so happy he's still willing to provide advice to our incoming students.
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Matt O. '19
Vienna, VA
Economics major; Statistics minor
Darden School of Business Future Year Scholar
Job after graduation: Rotational Business Analyst at Northrop Grumman
Interests: Weather, business/economics, Days on the Lawn, Arizona/Utah hikes


From the minute you step into Professor Ken Elzinga’s “Principles of Microeconomics” course, you know you’re in for an interesting time. I’m not sure if it was the 80s-style projector he used, his personal invitation to out-of-state and international students to join him for Thanksgiving dinner at his house in Charlottesville, his Hyundai Genesis parked outside Monroe Hall with the license plate “NT-Trust,” or the fact that he’s been teaching at UVA since 1967, but something about him seemed legit.

Overall, it’s hard to describe the UVA academic experience in ways other than intense and challenging, yet passionate and rewarding. At UVA, virtually all lectures are taught by full-fledged professors who are often at the top of their respective fields. As an economics major in the College of Arts & Sciences, I had the opportunity to take courses with esteemed professors in a multitude of other areas as well, including religious studies, history, public health, environmental science, and more. What you’ll find at UVA, regardless of discipline, is an unwavering dedication to teaching and learning. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a professor not willing to meet with students outside of class via office hours or appointment, either to reinforce material or just to chat about life. 

In recent years there has been a big push for interdisciplinary courses meant to tie together two or more generally separated subjects in a meaningful, real-world way. One such example is “AI and the Future of Work” taught by Professor Anton Korinek. The course explores the economic and social implications of a future driven by artificial intelligence. You’ll find both economics and computer science majors in the case-based course to provide their own unique perspectives, which put the course among the best I had taken in my time as an undergraduate.

It’s sometimes difficult to not feel like a number at a large state university, but my experience at UVA was much more personal. Put forth the effort and the professors will help you strive to a product and experience you had never thought possible before. As Gene Wilder sung in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, at UVA “you’ll be in a world of pure imagination... anything you want to do, do it.” And, speaking of Charlottesville, “if you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it....”

Planning for Life at UVA

While there’s a lot to look forward to in the college experience, there’s just as much to look forward to once you graduate. The general goal of students (who don’t have plans for graduate school) is to be gainfully employed, after all. The various career centers at UVA are your go-to resource to secure a fantastic job.

Essentially, here’s how the system is structured. The “UVA Career Center” is a centralized career services office located in Bryant Hall within Scott Stadium, where our football team plays (pretty cool). The UVA Career Center is split into multiple communities, including business & technology, education, creative arts & media, science & sustainability, and public service & government. Each community features knowledgeable career counselors that will help you find your passions and set you up for success based on your goals. Events are hosted almost nightly during peak recruiting season to get you in front of employers and learn about their firms or organizations. Case competitions are often held to give students the visibility and experience required to get in the door with some of the top firms in their respective industries. You’d be hard pressed to find an opportunity on which the career center won’t have insight.

Arguably one of the greatest benefits of the UVA Career Center is the On-Grounds Interviewing (OGI) system. For most of the academic year, tons of top-tier companies including Bain & Company, Microsoft, IBM, Anheuser-Busch, (my very own) Northrop Grumman, and so many more flock to Charlottesville to interview UVA students on-Grounds. There is no greater comfort than being able to walk over to Scott Stadium and interview in one of the stylish football suites. No long distance traveling for just one interview. I remember doing 6 interviews in the span of a few days, all under OGI, without missing a single class or activity. OGI also offers students protection from “exploding offers” and unreasonably quick turnarounds. Now that’s hard to beat!

But wait, there’s more! Some academic departments have their own career services. The Center for Engineering Career Development, Commerce Career Services (CCS), and Economics Career Office (ECO) are all examples. For students who fall under the respective disciplines, the specialized career services centers provide additional subject-specific advice and access to alumni from those majors. 

Last year, I was fortunate enough to help organize the Economics Undergraduate Career Forum with Jen Jones, director of the ECO. We brought in incredibly accomplished and fantastically humble economics alumni from Tesla, Uber, Electronic Arts, Boston Consulting Group, and Goldman Sachs, among others. Our alums love to share their insights with and contribute to the success of other fellow Hoos. I haven’t yet found an exception to that rule.

There’s a lot to look forward to when you become a Hoo, and career services will be by your side while you’re a student and beyond.

Student Life

When people think of the stereotypical “college town,” they might think of Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor, State College, or College Station. All great places. But, as you may expect, I’m here to make the case for Charlottesville. A medium-sized city of about 40,000, Charlottesville is home to a tremendous history and culture. Around every corner there seems to be a reference to a famous battle, gathering place, historical building, etc. The citizens of Charlottesville bleed orange and blue and are incredibly supportive of the university as are students of the city. Many popular student excursions like vineyards, Monticello, and Humpback Rock are all just a short drive away. 

For all that Charlottesville adds to the student experience at UVA, many students choose to give back to the community in a show of support, honor, and gratitude. Madison House, the largest organization of student volunteers at the University, coordinates a number of programs that fit all volunteering interests. One such program, CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope), is dedicated to providing tax services free of charge to Charlottesville community members. In addition, Madison House holds the “BIG Event” once every year, coordinating hundreds of student volunteers to complete a multitude of community projects all on one Saturday.

I personally had the opportunity to work with the UVA Women’s Center as a Big Brother in the Men’s Leadership Project (MLP), a year-long program with a mission to foster leadership and development in at-risk middle school boys in Charlottesville. In terms of learning experiences, MLP taught me just as much or more than my most fulfilling courses. 

Such opportunities are available for every student at the University. If you have the drive, you can get involved. As much as Charlottesville is our beloved college town, it’s also our community and every Wahoo’s second home, student and alum, regardless of where they live. Giving back is paramount to the experience and you will become a better person from it. I truly believe the UVA community, which includes all of Charlottesville, is second to none. When you enroll here, you join a family of many hundreds of thousands and growing, always at your side. 

As University founder and third president Thomas Jefferson exclaimed, “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” His spirit lives on.