by Anurika Kumar (M.S. in Commerce ’23)
To say I was nervous as I walked into Rouss & Robertson Halls on my first day as a student in the M.S. in Commerce Program is an understatement. My first impression of the program was the grad lounge, where nearly 120 of my peers and I huddled together and began our cordial introductions. We then transitioned into an orientation presentation by our program director and administrator.
During orientation, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the size and newness of everything. Since I attended UVA for my undergraduate degree, I expected to feel like a “small fish in a big pond” again. I assumed I would only form a few close connections and have a similar level of disconnection with most of my peers and faculty as I did in undergrad. However, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.
It only took me a couple of weeks to feel the effects of the positive community that quickly surrounded me and to realize how different this experience would be from undergrad. Initially, I was intimidated by the unfamiliar faces in the classroom, but I quickly formed strong bonds with my classmates. What made a huge difference and allowed these bonds to form was that we have all our classes with the same people every day, making this experience uniquely different. We soon began to not only collaborate academically but also socialize together. Another aspect that came as a pleasant surprise to me was the dynamic between the students and the faculty. Early in the first semester, I remember passing a professor in the hallway who greeted me by name. This small gesture greatly impacted me, especially since I didn’t have a personal relationship with my professors as an undergrad. Overall, these community dynamics made more of a significant difference to my learning than I had considered. The sense of belonging has helped me open up more in class. Below are more specific stories and experiences that have contributed to my sense of community as a student in the M.S. in Commerce Program.
Community in the Academic Setting
As I mentioned, you take about 19 credits in your first semester as an M.S. in Commerce student. For most of those classes, you are taking them with the same peers. Furthermore, you are put into groups before setting foot in the building. The intentionality behind these groups is to set us up with fellow students who are different from us in multiple ways, whether our major, hometown, or hobbies.
While initially nervous about meeting my group and wondering how we would get along, I had a fantastic experience. The more we got to know each other, the more we became friends. Whenever I’ve had to miss class this semester, I’ve been able to rely on my group to help me catch up, and it’s a great support system. Not only have we found our groove in all our group projects, but we also enjoy going to team lunches together! Being a part of my team and growing closer to them has played a vital role in helping me find a place in the McIntire community.
We also do a program-wide assignment called “Story Day” in our Communication class, in which each student shares their personal story in a thematic manner. Having that platform to share with my peers and professors was a very touching experience and played a big part in helping me feel like I belong. During that experience, many of us shared our journeys and how we face imposter syndrome, which made me feel like I wasn’t in it alone.
Lastly, we also participated in “Quiz Bowl,” another classroom activity that is a part of our Strategy course. It feels like a “Jeopardy-style game where we work in different teams to answer questions. It’s been a fun and competitive experience and a great learning experience. As a nonacademic extension of Quiz Bowl, we even had a trivia night at a local bar. That was a great bonding experience, where we interacted with classmates and faculty in more of a social setting. There was a competitive yet fun spirit in the air!
Community in the Social Setting
The social aspect has played the most significant part in establishing that community feel for me as an M.S. in Commerce student. Becoming friends with my classmates has been a great experience, and I’ve always appreciated the program’s prioritization of inclusivity. Our student council plans social activities; we’ve had a Halloween party at a local bar filled with food, music, and a costume competition. We also have events such as a winter formal. Aside from that, my friends and I do activities on a smaller scale, such as driving up to Carter Mountain, going to the local farmers market, or exploring different restaurants in Charlottesville. Overall, I am glad for all the other parts of my experience that have helped me feel like I belong in this community!