Former WHS grad reflects on high school to college transition

June 3, 2019

Kristina Marquardt is a chemical and biomolecular engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She currently works with Cummins, a diesel engine company. Marquardt graduated from Wakefield High School in 2015 and will graduate from Tech in May of 2020. Before she takes the next step in her engineering endeavors, I thought we could shuffle backwards a bit: what was her freshman year of college like? How was it different from high school? In her own words, “college is a sea of possibilities.” Before they embark on their voyage, prospective college students are invited to read below the perspective of this former Wolverine who found great success after high school.

Chapter One: Freshman Year

Q: What did you learn in high school that you felt was beneficial for college?

A: I would say that all of my study habits from high school are changed. The way you study and work in high school is so much different than college. In high school, you do all your homework and that’s pretty good preparation for tests. In college, you need to do way more and outside of the box things.

I was in the habit of working hard and I carried that to college. Time management, however, is something you learn more in college. You do have some decisions that you make while in high school, but not nearly as many.

Q: How did you prepare yourself for your freshman year of college?

A: Academically, I did not. We do this thing called FASET at Georgia Tech, which is like orientation. I did that and started school a couple of weeks later. I bought maybe paper, pencils and highlighters. I didn’t log onto [teachers’ websites] or anything and I walk into my first class:

“So maybe you saw on the class website..”

I was like, “we have a class website?” I had no idea.

Scholastically, I did not think. It was a little stressful at first because I thought I was going to be super behind, but it ended up being fine.

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have tried to reach out more for academics?

A: For sure. Even though it didn’t end up hurting me at all, I felt super nervous on the first day when I didn’t know anything. I would have liked to have been aware of all this stuff because I felt kind of stressed the first week. I had to get these textbooks, a lab coat and lab notebook. I had time to do it, but I like to be prepared and to realize that I was so unprepared was stressful.

Q: What were you expecting leading up to your freshman year?

A: I wanted it to be fun, free and liberating and it definitely was, so I was very grateful for that.

I was expecting Georgia Tech to be super hard. It was challenging, different and a new type of learning, but it’s so manageable once you learn how to learn in college. I thought I was going to have to get two hours of sleep every night, study all the time and not have that much time to do fun things. You have to learn what works and then you get really efficient in that process.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your freshman year and how did you cope?

A: I would say the classes being hard. I directly benefited from working hard in high school. I saw the results. I knew I wasn’t going to get all A’s anymore in college, but I wasn’t expecting my first round of tests to be as low as they were. Taking in that different outcome was challenging. You get used to it, though, and the tests are usually curved if scores end up that low. It’s never as bad as it seems. That was important to learn. If everybody is there with you, the cutoff for an A is not going to be a ninety. They want to make sure everybody’s being challenged, so that’s why averages can be that low, but they account for it.

Q: What was your favorite experience or aspect of your freshman year?

A: My freshman roommate. We’re still best friends. I don’t know if all schools do this, but students make posts on the Georgia Tech Facebook page and it’s like an online dating profile, but for roommates. It was getting close to the deadline and I hadn’t found somebody I thought I was going to like and my roommate hadn’t either. One of us reached out to the other one and we were immediately inseparable. I’m going to go see her in New York this summer. She made the whole process of getting accustomed to college so much better.

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Chapter Two: Wonders of College Life

Q: What kinds of opportunities have you taken advantage of in college?

A: I would say organizations and career fairs. My second year, I joined Students Organizing for Sustainability, which I loved. Within that organization, I became a project leader and got funding from Georgia Tech to do a sustainable K-Cup project. K-Cups generate so much plastic waste. We bought about a hundred reusable ones and we got a little coffee shop called Blue Donkey to donate two big bags of coffee for us to brew. We had this table out on one strip of campus and I had my sorority help me brew this huge container of coffee. It was really successful; we gave away all of our samples. That was really amazing. It also gave me experience in managing a project.

Now I’m in Engineers Without Borders. I’m going to Uganda at the end of this summer for two weeks. I’m really excited. We’re implementing a water system to get water for close to 3,000 people. I got to work on the technical team, which is more of the engineering side. I was helping build the system on a program and making sure that it would work in real life. I’ve been doing that for almost four years. I’m really excited to finally get to go this summer and meet the community.

Career fairs. Big opportunities that I’ve gotten from there are my internships. My first one was the second semester of my sophomore year. I was not expecting to get an internship because I had only taken one engineering class and it was the intro engineering class. I hadn’t even finished it when I went to the career fair. I got my job for that spring in a big processing plant.

Q: Looking back, is there anything you wish you knew going into college?

A: My biggest advice I would give to myself would be not to stress so much about school. If it’s not working out, then that’s just not what you’re good at. You have to find what you like that you’re also good at. That’s not gonna come from your freshman year of classes, I can almost guarantee that for every major at every school. You’re not going to be like:

“Oh my gosh, I love General Chemistry!”

I remember when I first got into my engineering classes I was kind of overdramatic, but it wasn’t my fault. You get in there and nothing is what you were expecting, and it threw me at least. I wish I had not been so stressed out all the time. It always works out. It’s never as big of a deal as it seems. That doesn’t mean goof around, don’t ever work and expect things to work out, but it’s never as stressful as you’re making it. If you’re doing everything you can then it’s good enough.

One really good piece of advice: as soon as you get there, find a junior or senior in your major and sit down and talk to them about what your major is. What kind of job is it preparing you for? What are the classes like? Also, don’t be afraid to change your major. I don’t know why, but I feel like it has such a bad stigma. If you know your first week of college that you’re going to hate your major, why would you stay with it?

There are going to be ups and downs, but that’s where you learn everything. College is a sea of endless possibilities. I think the free time and the ability to do whatever it is that makes you tick is one of the best parts of college. For sure.

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