The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Carla received her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Virginia State University. She is currently a tutor in Richmond specializing in English tutoring, geometry tutoring, Spanish tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Virginia State University:
Describe the campus setting and transportation options.
Carla: Virginia State University has a large campus that is expanding even more every year. In my first year, 2011, I saw two new dorms in the process of construction and a new cafeteria, Gateway Cafeteria, had just been inaugurated. The year I graduated, 2014, three new dorms had been added to the expansive architecture. The campus is very safe. I never had any problem walking around at night or in the day. We used to have security issues in the past due to the campus being open to the community, but yesterday when I went there to meet with one of my students, most of the campus was fenced, and I noticed the campus police monitoring activity constantly. The campus is located in Petersburg, Virginia, which is a very underdeveloped city. However, the Southpark Mall in Colonial Heights is only five minutes away from campus, and Virginia State University transportation is provided for all students. Right next to the mall, there is a Walmart which comes in handy for stocking snacks! Transportation is free with your student ID card. There is a tight schedule for the buses, but they come three or four times during the day. The buses also go to other housing facilities that Virginia State University provides for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. These facilities are studios, apartments, and even hotels where students are picked up by the buses every morning.
How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants at Virginia State University?
Carla: My favorite part about Virginia State University is the faculty. I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering with a concentration in Mathematics, and I could not have done it if it were not for the amazing support I had from all of my professors. Because Virginia State University is still relatively small compared to other institutions, our classes are closer in size to those at a community college. You still get to have one-on-one help when needed, and, most importantly, the faculty will constantly encourage you to get internships over the summer. This is the perfect environment for self-driven students, because you have absolutely all the help and tools you need to excel.
How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Carla: There are plenty of socialization opportunities that are promoted and encouraged all the time. The dorms are very nice, clean, and spacious. Rooms are offered as one room for two, suites of two rooms with a shared bathroom, or a single suite with a mini lounge room that has a microwave, a couch, and a mini fridge. As for the dining options, there are two cafeterias that operate daily, Gateway and Jones. On the weekends, Gateway is closed.
Which majors/programs are best represented and supported at Virginia State University?
Carla: Virginia State University offers many programs, some of which have grown tremendously in the last couple of years. Some of the most popular programs that Virginia State University is known for are in the agriculture and business departments. However, one of the programs that is increasingly gaining more support and reputation is engineering.
I chose Virginia State University because they have a very strong partnership with NASA and VDOT, two reputable government agencies. Virginia State University also offered me a full ride, and this was one of the definitive factors that I weighed in choosing this institution over others. I always had a passion for science and chemistry, especially in the nano-engineering aspect of it. Virginia State University did not offer this program, so I knew I needed to eventually go for biochemical engineering in graduate school. Therefore, my strategy was to have an engineering background in my undergraduate years. Now that I had a plan, my new dilemma was gravitating towards which engineering major would best fit my ultimate goals. When it was time to pick one, I had a hard time making up my mind. I liked manufacturing engineering and computer engineering a lot. My main reason for finally choosing computer engineering was the fact that computer knowledge is increasingly necessary nowadays. Having a computer background could help me understand computer software that every branch of engineering deals with. I also liked the idea of learning how to code.
The university did an amazing job in supporting me. From day one, my professors would offer office hours and help with homework, labs, and projects. On top of the faculty assistance, I had access to the computer labs even over the weekend if I needed to use MATLAB, SOLIDWORKS, or any other software program. Finally, the engineering department would provide internships led and taught by the faculty every summer for those students who were freshmen and may still have a hard time getting hands-on experience. Also, every year, four to six students were chosen to work at NASA on a current NASA project. Needless to say, the idea of doing something for NASA is amazing on its own! Unfortunately, I was not eligible to be part of this due to my international student status, but my professors offered me a research assistant position.
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?
Carla: I did not start at Virginia State University as a freshman. I transferred from Northern Virginia Community College, so my classification was sophomore. However, I was excited to make friends, and I did right away. I also joined two organizations, IEEE and NSBE, and I played a leadership role in them from the start. This gave me an opportunity to engage with campus activities and network with professionals all over the nation. Greek life does play a significant role on campus, though I never got involved. They have campus parades and work along with athletes to promote our sports and games to the community. Greek societies also have a great impact on the local community.
How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?
Carla: I never got actively involved with the Career Center, but all of my friends used their services to write their resumes and cover letters. The Career Center staff would come every spring semester and introduced themselves to all of us, offered us their help, and coordinated workshops on interviewing skills, elevator pitches, etc. Many reputable companies came to our career fairs. From the engineering point of view, we had Lockheed Martin, NASA, Boeing, the CIA, the FBI, and many others. Many of my friends got hired right away once they graduated.
How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?
Carla: The library has a basement and two floors. The basement is pretty crowded sometimes, especially when midterms and finals are just around the corner. This floor is crowded mostly because it has 24/7 access to a computer lab and printers. However, the library has many other sections where it is quiet and easy to study, especially on the second floor. Dorm lounges can be crowded, but most of the time they are not too bad. If one lounge is crowded, you can walk to the next, and it is probably not bad.
Describe the surrounding town at Virginia State University.
Carla: Like I mentioned before, there is a neighboring mall, the Southpark Mall in Colonial Heights. This mall has a Macy’s, JCPenney, Regal Cinemas, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many other great places to shop. There are also grocery stores like Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, and a few others. There are restaurants like Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, Texas Roadhouse, IHOP, and many others. Students go to these places all the time.
How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Carla: My classes in sophomore year were about 20-30 students. However, my senior classes were a lot smaller, with about 15 students in most of them. I was very pleased to have a one-on-one relationship with my professors and a closer connection with my peers.
Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Carla: My most memorable experience was in my senior year. I was determined to build a robot for our senior design project, but I had to figure out what it was going to be. My best friend and I became really close friends with some international students from Brazil. Because most of them were either in computer science or computer engineering, we were able to create a team for this project. At the time, I was chair of the IEEE chapter at Virginia State University, so I knew of their annual Southeast Conference, where up to 50 to 60 universities compete in many areas of engineering: robotics, programming, web development, ethics in engineering, etc. This was our perfect excuse to be funded by the university to participate in the robotics competition and to still work on our senior design project. It was an intense year that helped me and everyone else learn a lot. From technical things to teamwork skills and communication, it was an incredible experience. It also helped me gain more confidence in myself, and strengthened my belief that where there is a will, there is always a way.
Check out Carla’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.