College Connections: Tina Nguyen at Rice University

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At which university did President John F. Kennedy declare the United States would send a man to the moon? On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered one of the most famous speeches to a crowd of approximately 40,000 at Rice University’s football stadium. Shortly thereafter, NASA’s Johnson Space Center was created half-an-hour away from Rice. The Rice Space Institute provides students with unique opportunities in space technology. Rice was the first university in the world to establish a Space Department and continues to conduct innovative research.

Rice is a private research university on a 300-acre campus in the nation’s 4th largest city, Houston. Rice is located next to the Texas Medical Center and the Houston Museum District. Each student at Rice is randomly assigned to one of 11 residential colleges and is a member of that college throughout their time as an undergraduate, even if the student moves off campus. Each residential college is a small community where approximately 220 students live, eat, form intramural teams, and have their own faculty advisers, budget, and student government. Rice does not have Greek life. In fact, Rice does not have any exclusionary social clubs. All students are welcome to participate in over 200 student organizations.

Rice is one of the most internationally diverse universities in the world, with nearly one in four admits being international students. The Princeton Review ranked Rice No. 1 for the best “Quality of Life” of any college in the nation. Rice students are known for being collaborative rather than competitive, a factor that contributes to students’ happiness. The acceptance rate for Rice in 2021 was 9.3%, including Tina Nguyen (’21) who shares her experience as a freshman at Rice University.

What is your major and minor and what do you want to do after completing your education at Rice?

Tina: My major is Civil Engineering, and I also plan on getting a Spanish Language Certificate. I am not too sure what my plans for after Rice are yet, but as of right now I want to work in construction/transportation engineering.

Many seniors are currently waiting to hear the results of their college applications. What advice do you have for seniors during their last semester at Casady?

Tina: My biggest piece of advice is to enjoy your last semester at Casady. Take in the little moments of every day while you are still able to see all of your teachers and friends. Take one extra lake loop while walking to lunch, or sit in the butterfly garden during study hall. Doing so will help you take your mind off of the future and relieve any stress you may have about college decisions.

What advice do you have for Upper Division students preparing to make final decisions about their college choice?

Tina: For Upper Division students preparing to decide where they want to spend the next four years, I would recommend making a list of priorities that they want in a college. They probably already have a general idea after researching and applying to colleges, but maybe they can assign points to each aspect that they want (and they could even assign greater point values to things that are higher on their priority list). From there, they can go through their colleges, give them points for each pro, and just add up the points to come up with a compatibility score. For example, I wanted a small/medium college with a tight-knit community that was not too far from Oklahoma. Most importantly, I think they should keep in mind that there is not just a single college that is a good fit for them. They will be able to thrive and end up loving wherever they attend!

Please describe Rice’s personality, and how you knew Rice was where you wanted to attend college. 

Tina: We have a really tight-knit community and what we like to call a “culture of care.” In my experience, everyone looks out for each other to create an inclusive and non-toxic environment where we can all thrive. A lot of this is due to our residential college system. We have no Greek life, and the already small undergrad population of about 4,000 is split even further into 11 different residential colleges that serve as our families throughout our years of college. One of the main things I looked for in a college was a strong sense of community where I would not feel lost among a large sea of people, so when I found out about their residential college system, I knew that I had to apply. I feel like Rice is great because I get the small community aspect, but it is also located in one of the largest cities in the U.S., so you get the best of both worlds.

What are some fun traditions at Rice?

Tina: Rice has so many fun traditions. We have […] a bike race between all of the residential colleges. The bike teams spend all year preparing for the race in April and students from all the [residential] colleges come out to support. My college (Jones), in particular, is known for their many […] wins. We also have college-specific traditions. For example at Jones, we have floor olympics. Through various activities throughout the year like volleyball, dodgeball, trivia, or the freshmen Hunger Games, each of the floors compete against each other for the title of the best floor. 

What extracurricular clubs and activities are you involved in, and which one has had the biggest impact on you? 

Tina: I’m involved in Engineering without Borders, Fun with Chemistry, Science Olympiad Alumni Association, and Vietnamese Student Association. Fun with Chemistry has had the biggest impact on me because it allows me to share my love for chemistry with younger students and does not require me to actually major/minor in it.

What tips do you have for freshmen year of college?

Tina: It’s important to stay on top of your school work and extracurricular activities, but I have learned that in order to do so you have to take care of yourself first. Make sure to schedule study breaks and various times throughout the week where you can just focus on yourself. It can be as simple as waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual to do yoga or listening to a podcast on the walk to lab. This will allow you to work more efficiently and prevent burnout.

Describe a typical week for you.

Tina: My weekdays mostly consist of classes, school work, and club meetings. There are so many things to do in Houston, so my friends and I try to do at least one fun thing on the weekends, like go to a museum or something. Even during weeks that are busy, we like to study at new coffee shops just so that we are not on campus all the time.

What has been the biggest surprise about college life? 

Tina: The biggest surprise for me was how difficult it would be to manage my time. Even though you spend less time in classes, there is still additional learning and work to be done outside of classes and extracurriculars on top of that. There are so many resources at Rice, like office hours with the professor, TA office hours, and even academic fellows within each residential college, that it initially took me a while to figure out which resources worked best for me and my schedule. Eventually I got used to everything and now I have a weekly schedule that works for me.

What do you enjoy most about Rice?

Tina: I love how small Rice is. It makes it very easy to get help or get involved in anything. I also love our campus, specifically the live oaks. My room is on the third floor and looks out to a bunch of trees, so it makes me feel like I live in a treehouse. 

How have you had to make modifications for the pandemic while at Rice (weekly testing, remote learning, etc.)? 

Tina: We have mandatory weekly testing, and everyone is required to wear a mask indoors. Other than that, I think my college experience so far has been pretty normal. We did have to start our first two weeks of classes online, but we went back to in-person classes after that. 

If you were giving a tour of the Rice campus, where would you take high school students to visit?

Tina: I would definitely start in the academic quad at Sallyport. Matriculating students walk through Sallyport before beginning their journey at Rice and walk back out after graduation. There’s a superstition that if current students walk through Sallyport prior to graduation, they will not graduate, so many students choose to walk around the building instead of through Sallyport. I would then continue to one of Rice’s engineering buildings, Duncan Hall. There’s a mural on the ceiling and everything is painted in beautiful teal, orange, and navy [hues]. Finally, I would end at the Turrell Skyspace, an amazing piece of art that produces light sequences every day during sunrise and sunset.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Casady community?

Tina: I would just like to say thank you to all the amazing faculty at Casady that have prepared me for life at Rice and good luck to all the seniors as they hear from colleges and make their decisions!

Rice students have a long tradition of elaborate pranks known as “jacks,” which students play on other residential colleges. One of Rice’s most famous traditions is the student-enforced Honor Code that was established when the college was founded in 1912. The university’s Honor Code is strictly enforced, which allows for students to take exams without a proctor.

The MOB, or the Marching Owl Band, is not your typical college marching band. In fact, the MOB, like all other campus organizations at Rice, is open to all students despite their ability to play a musical instrument. The MOB’s unique football halftime shows never involve marching, but rather they scatter to different formations and play nontraditional marching band instruments ranging from the violin to the kazoo. The MOB’s mission is to have fun while performing. The MOB even has a tradition to gather on Fridays at noon to clap, cheer and celebrate that it’s Friday. Clearly, Rice students value the importance of balancing hard-work with fun. 

The Rice Owls consist of 14 varsity NCAA Division I athletic teams and are known for theirstrong baseball program. In 1917, Rice’s football rival Texas A&M stole the owl mascot and students hired a private detective to find their mascot. The detective sent a coded message to Rice students that “Sammy” had been located, and the nickname for the owl mascot stuck. Go Owls!