What Makes for a Successful UVA Student? Veteran Professor Weighs In as Classes Begin

August 22, 2022
Students sit on the steps of the amphitheater talking, studying, and eating.

The 2022-23 academic year on Grounds begins Tuesday. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Editor's Note: As classes enter their second week, we thought we'd share this timeless advice from a professor.

After four years as a University of Virginia student and another dozen as a professor, Sherri Moore still floats to Grounds each August for the first day of classes.

“My friends were joking about me having to go back to school,” Moore said last week, “and I was like, ‘No, I can’t wait! I’m so psyched to get back.’ I love the schedule, I love the energy, I love everything.”

Moore, who in 2021 was honored with the All-University Teaching Award, joined the McIntire School of Commerce’s faculty in 2010. The former trial lawyer teaches, among other subjects, commercial and business law.

Moore’s passion for UVA stretches back to her undergraduate days in the early 1980s as she began pursuit of her government and foreign affairs degree. The 1985 graduate estimated that Tuesday marks the beginning of her 31st semester on Grounds.

UVA Today tapped into Moore’s wealth of institutional knowledge for perspective on the first day of classes.

Sherri Moore holds a paper as she gives a speech into a microphone.
Sherri Moore, a 1985 graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences, has been a member of the McIntire School of Commerce’s faculty since 2010. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Q. What’s your best advice for new students at UVA?

A. Try to focus on the actual learning – not just the grade. While I know how driven students are about achieving the best grade possible, I would remind them that there is so much more to education than just the grade. 

I say this being all too aware of the importance of a strong GPA, particularly those who are interested in graduate school. But, there is a balance between doing their very best and allowing themselves the ability to simply enjoy the material. 

This requires many students to go outside of your comfort zone, but isn’t that the goal of education? Students should remind themselves that they are here at UVA because they are bright and motivated. No one and no grade will take that away.

 Q. What makes for a successful student at UVA?

A. A successful student at UVA is one who remains open-minded – open to new and different ideas, opportunities and people. 

The University can seem large and overwhelming to many students. The best way to tackle this is to discover the many small groups and activities available. By challenging yourself with activities outside of your comfort zone (such as intramural sports, even if you aren’t a great athlete, or Student Council, even if you have no interest in politics), you will find that these activities are set up as another place for you to learn. 

Again, don’t let the fear of not belonging, or of failure, prevent you from seeking out any activity. You never know which one will bring you joy, and even lifelong friends.

I also remind my students that despite the goals and objectives they have set for themselves, life is full of detours and factors over which they have no control.

Freeing themselves of these factors that only serve to create fears and doubts allows them to then concentrate on those factors where they can make a difference. For example, the successful student learns early that receiving less than an A, or not being selected for a certain group, are minor distractions in life. They do not define a student. What defines that student is how quickly they can adjust their goals and continue to challenge themselves with other opportunities. 

Q. From your student days, what do you remember about the first day of classes?

A. We didn’t have cell phones or the internet, so we were mostly separated from our friends over the summer. This made those first few days back on Grounds an even more exciting reunion than today. 

I also remember the scramble to try and get into certain classes, and how exciting it was to get into the classes that you wanted to take.

What stands out the most is the excitement I felt about the newness of each semester. I remember feeling motivated by the chance to leave behind any of those things that didn’t work in the past semesters, and to start again. 

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Q. What have you learned about students over your years as a professor? Any noticeable changes?

A. I am always impressed with the intellectual curiosity of so many of my students. But, I am also impressed at how many appreciate their good fortune, gifts and talents and feel determined to share them with those who are less fortunate. Over the years, more and more of my students share with me their plans to seek humanitarian careers. 

Also, as a board member, and now the co-chair of the Madison House, I have been impressed by the number of students who dedicate themselves to a number of community programs, while juggling a rigorous academic load.

Q. After a period of online classes due to the pandemic, you finally got back in a UVA classroom last year. Did it make you appreciate it more?

A. Absolutely. There is no way to replace the energy I receive in the classroom from my students. So, after a year of painful Zoom classes, I was ecstatic to be back in person.

It is even more exhilarating due to what I perceive as my student’s appreciation for being back in the classroom. This appreciation is infectious.

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