By Sarah Manhardt | Photos by Jean Lachat
For many first-year students, the University’s academic community was the source of their interest in the College. The Class of 2020 represents a diverse group of students—among them star athletes, founders of nonprofits seeking to improve the world, chess champions, and artists, among others. Below are a few of their stories:
Greer Baxter: Finding inspiration in the everyday
Greer Baxter was drawn to the University when she visited in high school.
“I could tell that the school was full of active, creative minds, whether in STEM or the humanities, and the idea of the campus as an intellectual playground was really attractive to me,” she says. “There were like-minded people here but also students with completely different ways of thinking about things, and I looked forward to the experience of mutually challenging and learning from one other.”
Baxter’s poetry has won a number of New York City Scholastic Writing Awards, including two Gold Keys, three Margaret Emerson Bailey awards, and two Independent Voices awards. She was invited to a White House event celebrating Poetry Month in spring 2015, where she had the honor of meeting Michelle Obama. Baxter has also has given public readings of her poetry at Barnes & Noble and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Baxter describes her poetry as free verse, often centered on everyday objects.
“I wrote one poem called ‘Still Life,’ and it was simply about a glass of water on the table. I like to examine things that don’t normally attract much attention, and a glass of water sitting on a table is something that we all take completely for granted. I also like my poetry to underscore emotional meaning through structure, like the brilliant works of e.e. cummings.”
She is also serious about developing her prose writing skills; as a sophomore in high school she had a short story published as an original e-book.
“It’s very gratifying to get published and win awards, but also I recognize that I still have a lot of work to do to become the best writer I am capable of being. I can’t wait to get started on that here at the University, where the development of strong writing skills is considered essential to success. I couldn’t agree more.”
Vivek Ramakrishnan: Establishing health clinics on two continents
For Vivek Ramakrishnan, the UChicago community also stood out in its desire to contribute to society.
“I just feel the environment of intellectualism where people not only want to succeed, but there is also a desire to help out people, especially people in Hyde Park and the greater Chicago area,” he says.
Ramakrishnan hopes to use University resources like the University Community Service Center and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to enhance the work of his nonprofit, the Peghi Initiative. Named after his late grandmother, the Peghi Initiative runs quarterly health clinics to screen the elderly for diabetes and hypertension in both Ramakrishnan’s ancestral village in India as well as around his home in Northern Virginia.
Ramakrishnan was drawn into public health after an internship with the Malaysian health department and after the passing of his grandmother from preventable diabetes. Establishing clinics on two continents has been a surprisingly similar task.
“We identified the best way to bring a group of elderly people together in both India and northern Virginia is actually through religious activities, so in India we have these quarterly screenings at the temple and here we have it at church, so after they have all their services they can set up,” he says.
Ramakrishnan hopes to use this model to expand the work of Peghi Initiative to Chicago.
Taylor Campos: Succeeding in academics and athletics
Taylor Campos also hopes to engage with a wide variety of on campus organizations in addition to pursuing academics and athletics. Campos, a star cross country and track runner, plans to volunteer in the Comer Children’s Hospital, tutor, and wants to join the knitting club.
Campos has balanced many passions since high school, where she was recognized as the 2015 Wendy’s High School Heisman National Female winner from a pool of more than 80,000 applicants. She was also a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, and joined an elite group of students who earned a perfect 36 on the ACT.
Her cross-country experience has been a source of support in pursuing college athletics.
“I think we’re more aware that we have a lot of other things going on because we’re preparing more for our careers,” she says. “However, because we know that all of that is going on and we still chose to play a varsity sport we’re more invested in it, where in high school it could be a social thing.”
Campos hopes to take part in campus traditions like the annual Scavenger Hunt and Kuvia with her house, Snell. She says meeting students in her house was one of the highlights of her Orientation week.
“Meeting my housemates has been awesome because they’re from all over the world, I have friends from like three different countries already, and it’s been really cool talking to them and getting to know them.”
The first-years say meeting their new housemates was one of the best parts of their O-Weeks.
“It’s such a cool and well-versed mix of people,” Ramakrishnan says. “Interacting with these people, the crazy stories that they have, they experiences they have are so eye opening to me.”
Originally published on October 11, 2016.