Editor's Note: At the beginning of the school year, UVA Today polled Lawn residents about their experiences at the University of Virginia. Go back in time to learn about their favorite study spots, insider tips and what they would have told their first-year selves.
As the University of Virginia’s Class of 2022 arrives on Grounds this weekend, UVA Today turned to the experts to offer new students some words of advice as they embark on their Cavalier journeys. Ahead of the first-years are four years of study and experiences at a University known for its physical beauty, the quality of its residential experience and a chance to earn a degree from the only U.S. higher education institution designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nineteen residents of the Lawn – which houses students who have made great contributions to the University community – responded. Here’s what they had to say.
Joan Lee - East Lawn - Head Lawn Resident
Hometown: Princeton, New Jersey
Major: Global Security and Justice
Favorite hobby: I love hiking. I’ve been to Humpback Rock and a couple of different trails in the Shenandoah Valley. Growing up, every summer my parents made it a mission to visit a national park. We went to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone as well.
What do you hope to accomplish this year as the head Lawn resident? I am still trying to formulate that. We are working to establish a sense of community among the Academical Village. We are also working to establish commitments to service, be it within the UVA community or in greater Charlottesville.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? When you doubt yourself, prove yourself wrong. I think the way to get there is to be kind to others, despite varying backgrounds and varying opinions, be kind to others and more importantly, be kind to yourself.
Ashwanth Samuel - West Lawn
Hometown: Olathe, Kansas
Major: M.S. in Data Science (earned an undergraduate degree in Statistics in May)
Best discovery made at UVA: I played violin in high school, but I didn’t come to UVA to play in the orchestra, so for me, it’s been about finding creative outlets. I joined a group called Radio Music Society. We write covers to pop songs in a string quartet fashion. One of my favorite things about UVA is being able to pursue things like that.
UVA insider tip: You have to understand how much stuff you have in your dorm room, because at the end of the year, you’re going to have to pack it all up. Each of my family members brought a suitcase filled with my stuff, but when they left, they took the bags with them. So at the end of the year, all I had was the suitcase I came with. So I bought a bunch of trash bags, stuffed them and started calling upperclassmen to ask if I could leave my trash bags full of stuff in their apartments. I think I’m still missing a bag.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I was hesitant about a lot of things and unsure of myself. In high school you are at the top of your class and you get to UVA and you’re surrounded by brilliant people. I remember I was taking “Intro to Computer Science” because I wanted to major in computer science and economics. But I was so intimidated that I dropped the class. If I’d not done that, I could have very well become a computer science major. Luckily, I found what I wanted to do.
Meg Hua - East Lawn
Major: Architecture Design Thinking
UVA insider tip: Take advantage of all the free food going to all the events. You meet a lot of people. Living on a college budget, it’s convenient. I would also say the Architecture School has awesome printing, so you can print huge posters. So, instead of making it yourself, you can make it all digital.
Favorite UVA tradition: Lighting of the Lawn is my favorite. The whole community comes together and it’s a very special event. Whether it’s the poems or just sitting in a Lawn room, that’s why I got excited about being a Lawnie.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? It’s OK not to study every night. You are going to remember the nights that you went out more than the ones when you stayed in. If you need to stay in for something, that’s one thing. But definitely go out and make new friends. Do something with your friends, whether it’s watching a movie or a girl’s night in.
Truman Brody-Boyd - West Lawn
Major: Middle Eastern Studies and Genocide Studies
Best pizza in town: I love the Mod Pizza business model. I’m obsessed with Mod Pizza right now. I have one in my fridge right now. It’s make-your-own, small, fast-fire pizzas with as many toppings as you want for one price. It’s like the Chipotle of pizzas. My pizza order at Mod is pesto and red sauce, mozzarella and parmesan, then Italian sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, bacon, basil, spinach, oregano, sea salt, pepper with pesto drizzle on top.
Must-do activity for students: I think it’s really important to go to all sorts of events. There are hundreds of clubs here on Grounds. Some are cultural, or based on a specific art form, dance or music, and there is something going on every day and most every weekend. There is usually free food, too. College is a super-unique time when you can see so many different things and be a part of so many different things and meet people you probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Be very intentional with the friendships you make. It’s one thing to hang out in the lounge of your dorm and watch Netflix with everybody. But I think it’s super-meaningful when you do something with them. Like go to the farmer’s market. Make memories together, other than just hanging out in your dorm. I only have two or three friends from my first dorm and it’s probably on me that I wasn’t more intentional.
Joy Alexis Collins - East Lawn
Major: Global Public Health and Environmental Science (French minor)
Favorite place on Grounds: The Special Collections Library, because it’s really quiet; no one really knows about it and you can study in there during finals and it’s really beautiful.
Favorite hobby: My favorite hobby is learning languages. I know six languages. I learned Russian, German and Portuguese this summer.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I would say go out for anything, even if you think you won’t make the cut, because more often than not everyone is going to be thinking that and you’re probably underselling yourself. I waited until the night before the deadline to apply to live on the Lawn because I didn’t think I would make it. I was underselling myself and I’m really glad I ended up applying.
Tim Dodson - East Lawn
Major: Media Studies and Government
Fondest UVA memory: Probably the activities fair my first year. I always think of it as this hot, sweltering day where everyone is running around. There was a choice I made at the activities fair that changed my trajectory at UVA: that was taking a pamphlet from the Cav Daily stand. I don’t think I would have joined the paper if someone hadn’t given me a piece of paper. (Dodson is editor-in-chief of UVA’s student newspaper the Cavalier Daily.)
UVA insider tip: It is really easy to get around downtown if you take the trolley. A lot of people don’t realize there is a free trolley that goes all over the place and it is so convenient. I think a lot of people don’t venture outside of this bubble, and that’s a mistake.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I would say don’t get too caught up trying to compete with people or feel like you’re not doing enough because it seems like everyone around you is doing a lot. My first year, at times, you could feel like there were a lot of folks who were achieving a lot in a lot of different arenas, taking on a ton of different clubs, a ton of different commitments. All I was really doing was going to class and writing articles for the Cav Daily and sometimes I felt like that wasn’t enough. Ultimately, I found that by doing one group, I feel really happy.
Jocelyn Willoughby - West Lawn
Hometown: East Orange, New Jersey
Major: Global Development in Global Studies
What class would you recommend to new students? This summer I took a class called “Race and Ethnic Relations.” After Aug. 11, it brought in a lot of UVA context to the class and looked at major theories and asked, “How does this apply to UVA? How can you see this in everyday life?” It was definitely a timely class.
Best UVA discovery: This summer, I also did the Meriwether Lewis Leadership Institute and that was just phenomenal because, generally, as an athlete [Willoughby is on UVA’s women’s basketball team], I don’t get to branch out and meet other students. Just to be able to meet people from nursing, the Curry School, from all schools, and to see the beauty of interdisciplinary studies and collaboration between departments was just incredible.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Make sure that you have balance. I came in first semester and everything was just school and basketball, so I didn’t have much time for a social life. Get that balance so you can enjoy a little bit of everything.
Ethan Zell - East Lawn
Favorite weekend activity: I had a lot of fun at Carter’s Mountain this summer. It’s a beautiful view. You get to see all of Charlottesville. The Fourth of July is a really good time, because you get all of the lights, but none of the pop and crackling that some people don’t really like.
Favorite UVA tradition: Watching the Purple Shadows secret society place a wreath at the statue of Thomas Jefferson on April 13, his birthday. It was weirdly open and secretive at the same time. It’s really, really early in the morning, so you have to get up to go watch. It’s really cool.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Do what you love and don’t worry about trying to fit into a mold. All of the things that you are passionate about, someone else is passionate about. If you follow those things, you will have a fantastic college experience.
Irena Huang – East Lawn
Hometown: Greensboro, North Carolina
Major: Commerce, Political Philosophy and Law
Favorite place on Grounds: I would say the music library in Old Cabell. I like it because not too many people know about it. You can hear the music from upstairs and you don’t have to use your own earphones. You can just listen to the classical or jazz music they are playing. I find that Alderman and Clemons libraries are pretty crowded when everyone needs to study, so that was my favorite.
What professor would you recommend to new students? I would really recommend taking a course with Professor Trey Maxim in the Commerce School because he really cares about his students. He has an open-door policy. I’ve had lunch with him multiple times. He’s one of those professors who, if you have a problem at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, he will get back to you immediately. He won’t solve your problem, but will make sure you know how to do it yourself. He’s a very down-to-earth, caring guy.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Don’t be afraid to be lonely. When I came here first year, I didn’t really feel like I belonged here. I felt kind of out of place because I’m from out of state. A lot of people are from Virginia, so they knew a lot of people. I guess my biggest piece of advice is to hang in there. It will get better. You will make friends. Know that you will find your people.
Sam Powers – West Lawn
Major: Biostatistics and Religion
Best UVA spot: The gardens off the Lawn. I love nature. I feel really restored by nature. I love to study in nature, and the gardens have been huge for me. I just go there sometimes and sit and read, walk around and do my homework. The garden behind Pavilion VII is particularly beautiful when it’s lit up at night.
How have you made your Lawn room your own? I wanted to make my own furniture. I came in at the end of last year and took measurements, ordered some pipes from an industrial supply company, found some wood and stripped it and stained it and put it together. (Powers made the coffee table and the shelf behind him.)
What advice would you give to your first-year self? First year was not that long ago for me. I am in my third year. I’m graduating early. I would tell myself to feel confident in choosing my own path and not to worry about what other people are doing. I was really nervous about wanting to graduate early and I had to go with it confidently. It turned out well, but I definitely doubted that decision along the way.
Francesca Callicotte – West Lawn
Major: Sociology and African-American Studies
How have you made your Lawn room your own? Everything in here holds some meaning to me. I tried to put elements so that when I look at it, I can tell there is a story behind it and that story has made me the person I am today. All my figurines are from my grandmother. My collage is from business cards and my blankets are things that have been gifted to me by friends or family. Everything has a purpose, and behind that purpose is love.
What professor would you recommend to new students? The No. 1 professor who has monumentally changed my experience at UVA is relatively new. Her name is Professor Rose Buckelew. She’s in the sociology department and teaches racism and deviance and social control. She made it known to me as a professor and mentor that I belong here. It doesn’t matter what my ethnicity is, my income, sexuality; what matters is that I am here now and my voice contributes something other people have not heard before.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Anything is possible and although you are taking a particular route and it may not end up the way you want it to, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still get what you want in the end. People are so much more intelligent than they give themselves credit for. Be creative. Be smart. Get what you want.
Nathan John – East Lawn
Hometown: Bakau, The Gambia
Major: English and African-American Studies
How does it feel to live on the Lawn? I’m conflicted, because the Lawn is such a conflicted space. The Lawn is such a fraught space. As a black body in that space, I do feel privileged. I feel blessed. But at the same time, I take it with a grain of salt, knowing that people who look like me built this place. It used to be so violent, so much more vicious, so much more unsafe. It’s a very complex relationship that I have with the Lawn. I think UVA has to do a better job addressing that history. I feel proud to call it my home, but I also know there is still a lot of work to do to actually make the Lawn a home for all people of all identities and backgrounds.
What is a “must-do” for students? I would say to go dance downtown at the IX Park. They have bachata dancing on Wednesdays and salsa on Sunday nights. Social dancing is a great way to get to know people outside of Grounds.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I came in with this plan. Now, I would say to embrace and expect the unexpected. Embrace uncertainty because you never know where it will lead you. I came into UVA thinking I was going to major in business or marketing, but I did a 180 and now I’m doing English and African-American studies.
Logan Brich – West Lawn
Major: Global Public Health and Distinguished Major in Middle Eastern Studies
How would you spend your last weekend in Charlottesville? Honestly, I think I would sit outside on my rocking chair and take it all in, have people come by and say their goodbyes and just sit here and reflect on everything. This place has given me a lot and it’s been a really big growth experience.
How has UVA changed you? When I first came here, I was sort of bookish and shy. Now, I’m a much more confident person. I feel like I’m on a good path and I’m confident and much more open to what’s coming my way.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Explore every opportunity, even if it isn’t a résumé-builder or isn’t something that’s going to get you an internship, but you love doing. Do it and find the time to explore and develop those creative hobbies. I’ve started getting into photography and it’s sort of a release for me.
Catherine Powell - West Lawn
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Best coffee in town? Probably Grit on The Corner. It’s a great place to study and a great place to meet people, too, and have coffee with a good friend.
Fondest UVA memory? It was last year during “College GameDay,” when ESPN came to UVA for basketball. I spent the night in a tent outside John Paul Jones Arena so I could get a seat. I got there about 10 p.m. and we got in super-early that morning. I was fun to cheer on the ’Hoos that early in the morning. It was a great time. I’m in Hoo Crew. We go to a lot of sporting events.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I think one of the biggest things would be to have a balance between your extracurriculars and your schoolwork and spending quality time with friends. It’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself and maybe doing schoolwork all the time. I think it’s important for first-years to remember that you don’t have to beat yourself up and do schoolwork constantly.
Brendan Nigro – East Lawn
Hometown: Cumberland, Rhode Island
Major: History and Statistics
Favorite hobby: I am really interested in history. I work at Monticello. I love giving tours and interpreting history, particularly Jefferson and slavery. Those are probably the most genuine and fun interactions that I have on a daily basis. I give tours of the house at Monticello. I am also the former head of the University Guides.
How have you made your Lawn room your own? I am not at all talented with interior design, so I asked my friend who is in the Architecture School to help with the space. We are going to go out to get some paintings and mirrors to try to make the space a little bit more homey. I think the way I will make it my own is by having all the different clubs, having my residents from last year (Nigro was a resident assistant last year in Courtenay House), having my friends from Monticello here, having the University Guides here, having the board members here. I’m trying to make this a space where a lot of people feel welcome.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Failure should be celebrated, because it’s through those experiences that I have found real fulfillment. My second year, I wanted desperately to be a Meriwether Lewis Fellow and I got rejected from that program. Because of that, one of my friends who worked at Monticello suggested I apply. This is my favorite thing I’ve done in college.
Golda Houndoh - West Lawn
Hometown: Born in Togo, raised in Leesburg
Major: Global Development and Women, Gender and Sexuality
What professor would you recommend to new students? Definitely Richard Handler [director of the Global Development Studies Program]. I have only taken my [Global Development Studies] classes with him, but I have like random friends who take econ, and they’ll take like “Race and Class” with him and say, “It was sooooo uncomfortable,” because he’s so frank. But I think that’s something Charlottesville has been pushing, having those productive, uncomfortable conversations. The only way you can broaden your horizons is by being uncomfortable.
What is a “must-do” for students? Study abroad. I have a friend who did a global internship in Germany. There is a way to pay for it. It’s all about talking to your professors. You’ll find a way if you want to do it.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Don’t be afraid to change course. I was sure I would be a doctor. Then I came to UVA and I saw all these different majors. There are so many options, and you’re not exposed to them in high school. Being flexible is the most beneficial thing you can be at the University of Virginia.
Zachary Schauffler - West Lawn
Major: Political and Social Thought
What is a “must-do” for students? I would say learn the history of the school. I think it’s really important to understand how this place came to be. Understanding how it started as an all-male school based on slavery, and how we should address that and challenge that now. I’m in the University Guide Service. I like to think I challenge the tourists to rethink the school, take back the heroic Jefferson narrative and focus more on a realistic, truthful explanation of how this place was built and who built it.
Best coffee in town? I’m not so much a coffee drinker, but I do like a nice Chai-tea latté from everyone’s go-to classic, Grit.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? I would tell myself this is a time to focus on who I am, my personality; to think critically about what privileges I might have and think critically about parts of myself that I haven’t explored yet; and to put myself or any first-year in situations and places that are going to encourage that critical thinking.
Betsy Brandon – East Lawn
Hometown: Littleton, Colorado
Major: Speech Therapy and Spanish
Favorite UVA tradition: Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn. I’m really looking forward to it this year. Lighting of the Lawn is really cool, because it brings all the students together. But Trick or Treating on the Lawn is cool because it brings together all of the Charlottesville community together.
How would you spend your last weekend in Charlottesville? I would definitely go to Carter’s Mountain one last time. I would go for a hike and hang out in the gardens along the Lawn.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? First and foremost, I would say to unapologetically be yourself. That is one thing that is very difficult when you enter new situations. I was overwhelmed with the transition. It can make you hide in a shell or maybe not be yourself. You may act a different way to try to fit in, but you’ll never regret being fully yourself.
Rohan Ahluwalia – West Lawn
Hometown: New Delhi
Major: Economics and History
Why did you apply to live on the Lawn? I used to live in the International Residential College and I organized events for the residents. I applied to live on the Lawn because of the mystique, but also because I wanted to bring that international feel to the Lawn.
What are you looking forward to this year as a Lawnie? I just look forward to opening my door every day and having the sunshine on my face. I’m just looking forward to the everyday interactions with people.
What advice would you give to your first-year self? Don’t be afraid to take risks. A lot of the good things that happened to me happened because I took a risk and I failed. At first, I really wanted to go to the Comm School, and I tried, and it didn’t pan out for me. But on the other hand, I took a few classes that I really enjoyed, like “U.S. Foreign Relations History.” Don’t be afraid of the course number – just take whatever class you want.