Join ACES in celebrating the Class of 2021! Through a challenging year, these students have persevered and shown what it means to be part of the ACES family. Here, a few of our graduating seniors share the challenges and successes of their time in ACES, as well as advice for their classmates.
Winston Wong – Crop Science with a concentration in Plant Biotechnology
What’s a piece of advice you would give incoming freshman or next year’s seniors? Participate in undergraduate research and conferences! The AgTech Summit in March is a cool experience because you hear about current developments in industry!
What have you learned this past year during the pandemic? How to be flexible/accepting of circumstances that are out of my control. Also, learning how to search for experiences to make the most of my time while in quarantine.
Aishwarya Mehra – Agricultural Consumer Economics with a concentration in Consumer Economics and Finance
What are you doing after graduation? After graduating, I will join JP Morgan as a risk analyst.
From friends and classmates to professors and advisors, people I met at and through UIUC have expanded my perspective. The prospect of living alone 2,000 miles from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area was daunting, but the people around me turned UIUC into the home away from home I am already sad to leave behind. The pandemic was an unexpected challenge, so much so that in early 2020 I doubted if we’d ever return to campus in person. Fortunately, UIUC's strong testing system ensured a safe return to campus for my senior year.
As I transition to the next stage of my career, one piece of advice I can offer is that there are many paths to a destination. I began college undeclared and had no idea what field of study I wanted to pursue. Initially, I felt a distinct separation from my peers who had come into college with their majors pre-decided. I experimented with math, CS, and economics coursework, searching honestly and diligently for the best match to my strengths. With each course, grade, and project, my confidence in my abilities grew. During this journey, I often leaned on my advisors for support (shoutout to Caroline Helton!). They gave great suggestions for classes to take, which quickly led to declaring ACE as my major. Although many of my ACE peers started as ACE majors, my path in no way set me back or limited me from achieving my goals. I landed three internships and participated in a faculty-led research project in my department.
Looking ahead, I plan to stay active in the UIUC alumni network to share in our collective accomplishments. I am deeply grateful to UIUC, the College of ACES, and the ACE department for helping mold me into a prouder, stronger version of the somewhat apprehensive high school grad who embarked on this journey of discovery four years ago.
Ying Yang – Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in food science/minor in psychology
What are you doing after graduation? I will be going to graduate school to continue my interest in food science and research.
What’s a piece of advice you would give incoming freshman or next year’s seniors? Try to go out and try different things you have never done before. I challenged myself to do many things I have never thought about before, like participating in different RSO, taking classes out of my major, studying abroad and communicating with people from different backgrounds, etc. I learned so much from these unique experiences and I would encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone to try something different.
What has been the most challenging part of your college experience? I think it’s finding what I really want to do. I’m still exploring until today and I have participated in different activities and reached out to various resources. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was a freshman. I was confused and concerned for a long time. Through talking to professors, taking different courses, and doing internships, I gradually found my interests. When I look back, I think the process is challenging but also the most valuable part.
What has been the best part of your college experience, especially in the College of ACES? I believe it is doing research with graduate students and professors. College of ACES provides many research opportunities for students to practice and experience in a lab environment. The research experiences opened a new door for me and led me through an experience I have never had before. By working in the lab, I’m able to get a better idea of how research projects are designed, run, and analyzed. I’m also able to build connections with experts in academia. This experience accumulated my research skills and made me decide to continue research through graduate school.
What have you learned this past year during the pandemic? I would say it's 'Live in the moment.' It has been a hard and difficult year for everyone. Everyone’s plan has gotten interrupted and everything that seems common and usual has become unusual. I personally also took some time to get used to the life changes. There is little I can do about the past or future, but I can take the present moment and do what I can do. This mindset helps me to focus on present things.
Ava Traverso – Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (Human Dimensions) with a minor in Political Science
What are you doing after graduation? Currently, I have an internship in environmental consulting this summer. I'm hoping to get my Masters in Public Affairs soon and then work in Washington doing environmental policy afterward!
What has been the most challenging part of your college experience? The most challenging part has to have been so much of the self-teaching with the pandemic. Having to hold myself so accountable for learning and doing work has been really hard, but I got through! I'm really grateful to have had this experience, even if it came with bad circumstances.
What has been the best part of your college experience, especially in the College of ACES? NRES has been a program with everything I could dream for and more. I've found professors that I can look up to, advisors that have helped me more than I could articulate, and best friends that will last a lifetime. I will always look back on this period with a smile, even if it ended at a weird time.
What have you learned this past year during the pandemic? Give yourself some grace. We're living through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. I gave myself so much grief and pressure at the beginning of the pandemic, but by stepping back and being kinder to myself, I ended up doing better in all aspects.
Lauren Moy – Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in Human Nutrition/minor in Business
What are you doing after graduation? This upcoming fall of 2021, I will be attending UIC College of Pharmacy pursuing my PharmD.
What’s a piece of advice you would give incoming freshman or next year’s seniors? One piece of advice I would give to incoming freshmen would be to go out of your comfort zone to try new things. Your college years happen once in a lifetime and they are the prime time to do silly things while also doing well in your studies. To next year's seniors, enjoy the moment! Your last year should be a memorable one as this chapter is coming to a close, but also to look forward to the next stage in your life!
What has been the most challenging part of your college experience? The most challenging part of my college experience was definitely navigating what I had wanted to do with my future that I had forgotten how important it was to be in the moment. I was very studious and spent a lot of time working on research or schoolwork, but college provided me many joyous moments that I will never forget even after undergrad. It took me a long time to find that balance of doing well in school for my future and the need to enjoy and take care of myself through the fun moments that made me laugh my heart out.
What has been the best part of your college experience, especially in the College of ACES? The best part of my college experience, especially in the College of ACES was taking advantage of all of the opportunities that have been provided. I was able to partake in internships and research opportunities especially in ACES. The faculty are so well renowned and so dedicated to what they do and I was so honored to be a part of all of that.
What have you learned this past year during the pandemic? One thing I learned this past year during the pandemic was how important it was to not lose hope and to persevere. Through this past year being fully online and having very limited interactions with other people, I was able to accomplish so many things - applying to graduate school (and getting in!), taking time to relax, and even study well. There were many moments where I wanted to give up or lose motivation, but I didn't want to leave my chapter here at U of I with just getting by. I pushed myself to be out there and to put all of my effort in knowing that I wanted to create some lasting memories at a place where I call home.