Posted by Raja Reddy
“Distinctly McDermott. Uniquely You.”
The McDermott Scholar experience is about being “special.” I don’t mean this in a bad way—it’s a large part of the reason why we all chose McDermott over other universities, scholarships, dual-degree admissions, and honors programs. The stipends, the additional funds, the class trips, the study abroad, the access to faculty, the ease of finding research and internship opportunities, the connections and networking, the reputation, the staff support, the food in the McD office—these are all a part of that “specialness.”
However, just because we’re Scholars does not mean that we wear the McDermott hats 24/7. I didn’t really consider this before coming to UTD, but once you step outside of the office, you’re a regular college student. McDermott is an innovative and invigorating college experience, to be sure, but it’s simply one aspect of your time here. Consider this: your four-year experience at UTD is an atom, and you are an electron floating in a cloud of electromagnetic haze. McDermott is your nucleus; you’re always drawn back to it, and you revolve around it, but while it’s an integral part of your college experience, you have a large amount of freedom and potential separation from that McDermott identity. We’re not just McDermott Scholars—we’re also UTD students.
Which means that, like a regular college student, sometimes college can be stressful or boring or annoying. A lot of the excitement and enthusiasm of the college experience is derived from the cool things you do—the things that McDermott provides in droves—but you can’t only do cool things all the time. You still have to remember that about 30 hours of your week involve doing what you’ve been doing for the 14 years prior to UTD—going to class, doing assignments, and taking tests.
That’s not unexpected, of course, but for some reason, high school graduation gave me the idea that we were done with school forever! From then on, we could take the classes that we wanted to take whenever we wanted to take them, and the model of education would be new in ways we had never imagined. Not exactly true. College is school but with the added complexities of GPA (“What? We get the same grade if we get a 94 or a 100?”), degree plans (“Why doesn’t this course count too? Why can’t I use AP credit?”), larger classes (“I can’t see the board!”), busy professors (“I guess I’ll just go see the TA…”), and waking up on time (“I’m late for my first class!”).
But college is also fun. The independence of living alone, the movie-nights-turned-sleepovers, the wonders of Whataburger at 2AM—those are all part of the experience too. And not the distinctly McDermott experience but the conventionally college one.
The staff advises us to avoid obnoxiously flaunting our Scholar status outside of McDermott activities, which most of us wouldn’t do anyway, I hope. But I didn’t realize how ingrained my McDermott identity was until I started classes, joined clubs, and began making friends. Some of my activities, such as Student Government and Model UN, were influenced by my McDermott connections with faculty and other students. But others were completely separate from McDermott. When I decided to try out for the TaRaas Indian Dance Team, no one knew that I was a McDermott. The expectations and the prestige didn’t hang over me—I was just part of a team and a new circle of people whom I could depend on outside of the program. It was normal, in a weirdly liberating way. When so much of my reputation, education, and professional development depended on McDermott, it was nice to have a network of people outside of the program who didn’t see all of those factors. They just saw me.
Now as a sophomore, I realize that my experience over the past year and a half has been more varied than I expected. McDermott has become a bigger part of my everyday responsibilities, but so have other groups, people, and activities, where I don’t necessarily wear my Scholar hat all the time. At the beginning of my first year, I was just a McDermott Scholar and a freshman biology major. But in the past year, I have been a Senator on Student Government, an officer for the Model UN team, a dancer for TaRaas, an intern for a development NGO, a research assistant in global health policy—roles that mean so much more to me because they combine the resources that I have received from McDermott with the opportunity to make the most of my time at UTD. My identity isn’t defined by being a McDermott Scholar or a UTD student, but the integrative experiences that come from being both.
McDermott is awesome. College is similarly awesome (and a whole lot of other things). Both have their benefits and challenges, both definitely overlap and crossover in just about every aspect of your life, but one is not the same as the other, and one does not encompass the other. They’re both just part of what makes you uniquely you.