The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Ian received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2000. He is currently a tutor in San Antonio specializing in Biology tutoring, Chemistry tutoring, Microbiology tutoring, and several other subjects. See what he had to say about his experience at The University of Texas at San Antonio:
VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?
Ian: The main campus of The University of Texas at San Antonio is on the northwest edge of the city, settled along the lip of the beautiful Texas Hill Country. While not near the center of town, it is nonetheless a very urban environment with numerous cafes, shopping centers, and plenty of activities nearby. Traffic is always a pain in any large city, so if you choose to live off-campus, you can pick from the large assortment of apartments that put you within walking or biking distance. Otherwise, you will need to plan your commute accordingly. The university runs frequent shuttles between major campus areas, distant parking lots, and satellite campuses. San Antonio’s public bus system also has several lines that run to the main and downtown campuses.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Ian: Very! In my experience, professors at The University of Texas at San Antonio regularly attend their office hours and are very approachable. Teaching assistants are as well. In addition, academic advisers at The University of Texas at San Antonio have shown a real dedication to helping students plan out their desired curricula in order to maximize their time. They can help you get all the classes you want while avoiding being overloaded. However, by the time you are a senior, it is all about letting go of the hand that is holding yours and learning to do it yourself!
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Ian: In the years since I graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio, I have visited often for lectures and science conferences. I have seen a huge amount of progress in their dorm structures. There are dorms all over campus, as well as a sprawling university-run apartment complex. There are also new restaurants, cafes, and cafeterias popping up everywhere. Students get chances to grab a bite, meet up with friends, and then head to class or the library.
VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?
Ian: The University of Texas at San Antonio has a very large range of high-quality programs. Their best-represented programs are probably the College of Business and the College of Sciences. Both of these programs receive tremendous funding from federal and state agencies, as well as large grants from patrons. They are both staffed by highly ranked and prestigious faculty.
When I came to The University of Texas at San Antonio, I immediately majored in Biology, and I have never looked back. I come from a family of scientists, and I suppose it was in my blood. The faculty and staff of the College of Sciences, and the department of Biology in particular, were extremely supportive and helpful. Since my graduation, I have proudly watched as the department of Biology has reaped the benefits it worked so hard to earn. The faculty size has increased, the quality of graduates has improved, and the areas of post-graduate research have expanded significantly. There are also many diverse opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in several different research programs through work-study or independent study. These can help students see how an advanced, high-tech lab really operates.
VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?
Ian: Oh, I made friends within an hour of being on campus... and I am a bit of an introvert! In fact, some of the students I met in my first semester are still, seventeen years later, among my best friends. Maybe it is something about that traditional Texas hospitality, but making friends on campus at The University of Texas at San Antonio is rarely a problem, and you can feel welcome just about anywhere.
There is indeed a Greek presence on campus. While not as large or encompassing as on other campuses, it can nevertheless provide a source of friendship and camaraderie.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Ian: There is a great Career Center on campus that works diligently to help students find work upon graduation, and it is staffed with experienced people. That being said, you can also help yourself by attending one of the several recruitment events held throughout the school year. As a science enthusiast, I was particularly drawn to many of the biotechnology firms that attended these events, and it really gave me a chance to learn about “advertising” yourself and mastering interview skills. For those undergraduates interested in pursuing post-graduate education, there are also many events that host representatives from graduate programs at other universities, both local and distant. The representatives are usually extremely friendly, and they like to talk to undergraduates about not only the work at their universities, but also about how a student can best prepare themselves for entry. These events truly helped me to become better prepared for my own entry into graduate school.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Ian: One of the hallmarks of Texas is the wide-open spaces, and this pretty much holds true for the campus at The University of Texas at San Antonio. With a campus as large as the university’s, you will have plenty to choose from. If you like to huddle up in seclusion for an intense study session like I used to, you will not be disappointed. There is a plethora of quiet nooks and secluded desks all over campus for some good quiet time (including the occasional nap!) both indoors and out. You may have to hunt a little for a good spot during finals, but you will find one. If a raucous and talkative group study session is more your style, then you are also in luck. There is usually plenty of space at large tables all over campus and in the cafes. There are also decent group study rooms in the library. The libraries and student centers are best to find a quiet spot indoors, and, as you would expect, you can expect a little noise around the dorm lounges, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus?
Ian: San Antonio is a pretty fun town. As the seventh largest city in the United States, there is a pleasant hodge-podge of things to do and see. Off-campus, you will find the usual dining selections of any big city, from ritzy to franchise to some awesome little hole-in-the-wall joints. The food truck industry is booming too. You can find some high-quality eats from these trucks, and quite a few make stops near The University of Texas at San Antonio campus. The arts scene is also thriving, particularly on “First Fridays” in the Southtown area of the city – not to mention some pretty terrific museums and small galleries. For theme park fun, there is both SeaWorld and Six Flags. If you prefer clubs, you will find a bunch scattered throughout the city, but most are centered in or near the downtown area. Students frequently head downtown for fun and games, and there is also a beautiful downtown campus where you can take classes. And do not ever forget to take a stroll along the Riverwalk in the downtown area. I am a San Antonio native, and I still get a thrill there. Getting away from town is also great, as the surrounding area is studded with state parks, and a drive through the Hill Country is unforgettable. Austin (with its famous music scene and very different atmosphere) is only an hour and a half away, and the Texas coast can be reached in a little over two hours. But be warned: San Antonio is huge. A highway trip across the city, even with zero traffic, could still take over an hour. Also, if you plan to be in town from mid-June to mid-September, be prepared for some intense heat and humidity.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Ian: The University of Texas at San Antonio has a student body of about 30,000, so it is pretty big. While a big university offers students a wide range of experiences and a huge selection of courses, freshmen can often expect their entry-level courses to be pretty big too. Some can be up to 200-250 students. This is not always the case, however, and many “core” or entry-level courses are much smaller. Generally, exams for the very large classes are multiple-choice and electronically scanned. While this may not be the best measure of a student’s knowledge, it is an unfortunate consequence of a large class size. But rest assured that as you progress through your field of study, class size shrinks dramatically. When that time comes, expect exams and assignments to be more in-depth and to really force you to stretch your brain a little. Do not worry, though – this is a good thing. In addition, a professor will occasionally choose a teaching assistant to give one or two lectures, but this is mainly as an aid to help graduate students learn to teach, and the faculty member is frequently present. As a former teaching assistant, I found this to be extremely helpful.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Ian: Without a second thought it would be my mentor, Dr. Heidner. I took my first class with him pretty late in my undergraduate career, but he certainly had the biggest impact. As a wannabe microbiologist at the time, I took his class on viruses and immunity, and I visited him during his office hours with questions. These visits were illuminating, and they turned into regular visits simply for the sake of talking science. He then offered me a chance to study in his lab my senior year. As a mentor, he took the time to offer counseling and advice, he gave me opportunities to meet other scientists in the field, and he helped prepare me for my own entry into advanced academia. While I remember him most positively of all, he is one of a large number of talented and dedicated professors at The University of Texas at San Antonio who go the extra mile to help students.
Check out Ian’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.