College Connections: Sara Gibson at Carnegie Mellon University

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Which university has produced 52 Tony Award winners and 20 Nobel Laureates? Carnegie Mellon University has the oldest degree-granting School of Drama in the country, and the university is also known internationally for its innovative research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Carnegie Mellon is a private research university located on 157 acres in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The urban campus is just five miles from downtown Pittsburgh. 

According to Niche, Carnegie Mellon is ranked #1 for Best Colleges for Information Technology in America. The school is highly selective with an acceptance rate of 17%. U.S. News & World Report ranks Carnegie Mellon #1 for Undergraduate Computer Science and #1 for Undergraduate Information and Technology Management. The First-Year Class of 2021 at Carnegie Mellon consists of 1,902 undergraduates, including Sara Gibson (’21) who graciously shares her reflections upon her freshman experience.

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

Sara: I am double majoring in Material Science and Biomedical Engineering. Since I haven’t been in college that long, it’s difficult for me to say what exactly I want to do after completing my education at CMU. However, there are numerous kinds of research I am interested in that goes along with my majors, mostly surrounding disease modeling, artificial tissue, and cell engineering. I will most likely do a 5 year Masters degree program here at CMU though.

What is your favorite Casady memory?

Sara: While there’s too many memories from Casady that I hold close to my heart for me to pick one favorite, the most recent memory that I will probably never forget was walking around the [Casady] lake and saying goodbye to all the teachers and staff during graduation. The teachers at Casady not only prepared me for college academically, but I built strong emotional connections with a couple of them throughout the years that I believe better prepared me for college mentally. Saying goodbye to the people who, in a lot of ways, raised me throughout high school is a very sad, but nonetheless favorite memory of mine.

Please describe Carnegie Mellon’s personality and what made it your top choice?

Sara: CMU has a wide range of people who attend, from talented performers in the School of Drama to the extremely intelligent students in the School of Computer Science. For me, CMU’s personality is inclusive, exciting, unique, and intimidating. I feel very integrated into the community, even with all the chaos of the ongoing pandemic. There are so many different kinds of people who go to CMU, and it allows me to learn a lot about other majors and cultures. The workload at CMU can be overwhelming, but as a Casady student it’s nothing I can’t handle. The community, programs, and opportunities are the reason I chose CMU. There’s a lot of ongoing research at CMU that I was interested in when applying for colleges that will provide me with a lot of options going forward. There are big lecture halls, but CMU is on the smaller side, so there are also a lot of small, intimate classes. Also, I have to acknowledge how much I love Pittsburgh; it’s a great place to be if you’re wanting a city vibe without the high prices of Boston and flashy aspects of New York. 

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

Sara: I’m part of a couple clubs, one for LGBTQ+ students and allies, a couple clubs which advocate for women’s rights, and a buggy club. “Buggy” is a tradition at CMU. Students at Carnegie Mellon, often mechanical engineers, build small, torpedo-shaped cars just big enough to fit a small person in them. Other students, referred to as “pushers,” will shove these buggy cars along a course. At the end of the year the buggy teams race; it’s a very interesting and unique activity at CMU. Being a fairly short and small person, I am what’s known as a “driver.” I go inside the buggy, and drive it around the course downhill until the pushers push me uphill. I have also recently been looking into an organization called Socialist Alternative that I have actively seen around campus these past couple weeks that I plan to involve myself in. 

What tips do you have for managing your time and staying organized at college?

Sara: Honestly, I am still figuring out how to manage my time. I want to give the advice to get plenty of sleep every night, but that would be very hypocritical of me — I’ve pulled more all-nighters this year than I would like to admit. This is fine to do now and then, but over time, it really drains you. There comes a point where even if you’re attending lectures, you aren’t going to be able to learn anything when you are so sleep deprived. The reality is you have to sacrifice some aspects of your life to manage the others. I switch back and forth between what areas I prioritize, but this can definitely be tricky. Don’t be afraid to put off homework for a night, or take a self-care day, but at the same time, don’t let all the work pile up too much.

What do you enjoy most about Carnegie Mellon?

Sara: Getting out of Oklahoma and coming to a progressive and lively city is something I desperately needed. The professors here genuinely seem to care about our education, and most also show particular care for our mental well-being, which I appreciate. They are very understanding when it comes to needing extensions, extra help, etc.

What, if any, modifications have you had to make for the pandemic while at Carnegie Mellon (weekly testing, remote learning, etc.)? 

Sara: [My] first semester classes were remote for a couple weeks and then slowly went in person. Some professors who have young kids or health concerns chose to stay online longer than others. After breaks, we always go online for a bit [in order] to be careful due to traveling and such. We have a thing called ‘tartan testing’ that all students can use to [see] if they have been exposed [to Covid], and the university will notify you if you have been exposed. The university provides quarantine housing, medication, and help managing work if you test positive. We have had a mask mandate all year, but it [was] removed from most areas recently. We are kept updated about the percentage of students here who tested positive, and I think overall CMU has done a good job at making everyone feel safe.

Where are your favorite places on campus and what makes them special?

Sara: One of the places I’m really fond of is a little sandwich, coffee, and pastry type place called Au Bon Pain, but everyone here just refers to it as ‘ABP.’ They stay open pretty late compared to other places to eat on campus, so I go there a lot throughout the day. In the building I live in, there is a lounge on the first floor that has a piano in it. I go there a lot to practice and just hang out by myself sometimes. A good study place I go to is the basement of the Cohon University Center; there’s never really anyone there so it’s nice and quiet. 

What advice do you have for choosing a college?

Sara: Honestly, you’re probably going to feel like you made the wrong decision at some point. I definitely did, and all I can say is that it’s going to be okay and will work out in the end. Now, I’m beyond happy that I went with CMU, but I debated my college options until the day of commitment. If you are able to, definitely visit your college options. Sometimes the overall environment of the city and campus just won’t feel right, or it will feel like [the] place you might want to be at for the next four years. The college counselors at Casady are very, very helpful if you make time to visit with them— shout out to Dr. Hubbell for being so supportive and helpful throughout my college decision process.

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

Sara: Ask questions about college, even if they feel like things you should already know. It’s okay to be overwhelmed with everything that is going on in your life right now. People are going to ask you about what you want to do, where you want to go, and why. It might seem like everyone else has everything figured out, but I promise this isn’t the case. Most people are just as stressed, tired, and confused right now as you are. Things will work out in the end though, just try and be confident in yourself and your decisions.

Founded in 1900 by philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Mellon’s Division III athletic teams are called the Tartans in honor of Carnegie’s Scottish heritage, and their mascot is Scotty the Scottie Dog. In 1908, a group of seven students formed the Kiltie Band in order to help support the football team. The Kiltie Band wears full Scottish regalia at home football games, and refers to themselves as the “Band Without Pants” since they wear kilts. Carnegie Mellon’s Pipes and Drums is a group of bagpipers that perform at the school’s formal events. In fact, Carnegie Mellon is the only university in the United States to offer a bagpipe major. 

There are approximately 6,500 undergraduates and nearly 7,100 graduate students at Carnegie Mellon. Housing is guaranteed all four years. With over 20 fraternities and sororities, nearly 20% of undergraduates participate in Greek life. There are also more than 400 student organizations to get involved with while at Carnegie Mellon. 

When students at Carnegie Mellon want to make a statement, they often paint their message between midnight and sunrise on the Fence, located in the middle of campus. The original fence was wooden and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Fence was “the world’s most painted object” until it collapsed in 1993. The original fence has since been replaced with one made of steel and concrete. 

Carnegie Mellon’s oldest tradition is the Spring Carnival, a four-day festival that includes student organizations racing “buggies” that they designed and built through a one-mile course through campus. Another annual tradition is Booth where student organizations build booths and attempt to design the best interior and exterior booths in an effort to raise money for charity. Go Tartans!