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Reaching for the Stars at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Maya Vira, who is pursuing a double major in Computer Science and Astronomy at UIUC, shares her perspectives on campus life and academics.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   20-04-2020

 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, better known as UIUC, has contributed significantly towards putting the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign, 140 miles south of the city of Chicago, on the map. Founded in 1867, the sizeable campus of 1,783 acres is the hotbed of academia for the undergraduate population which exceeds 33,500 currently.

Ranked at #53 in the country by Forbes in 2020, this institution is the flagship campus for the University of Illinois System and serves as a research and technology powerhouse. Here, undergraduate research students are given the opportunity to pioneer and shape the future of subject matters as diverse as agricultural practices or if they choose —government policies.

Maya Vira, who is pursuing a double major in Computer Science and Astronomy at UIUC, shares her unique perspectives on her education and campus life with Braingain Magazine through the lens of a freshman.   

Why did you choose the University Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?

Choosing a college can be stressful and a little intimidating and to compound the confusion I was torn between the fields of Art and Science. At first, I was more inclined towards an education and career in Art and with a little encouragement from my Dad, found myself applying to Parsons School of Design in New York, to which I was accepted with a scholarship. After the initial euphoria passed, good sense prevailed, and I found myself declining it by rationalizing that I would potentially jeopardize the joy that art brings me if I took it on as work. I applied to Brown and the University of Waterloo, Canada as I toyed with the idea of studying Computer Science. I knew that I had a strong grasp of Math and Physics, but it was my Mum who first planted the idea of going to Urbana in my head. I applied, and the rest is history.

Why did you choose Computer Science and Astronomy?

 Maya Vira
Maya Vira

My sister encouraged me to major in Computer Science based on my High School track record and I agreed that it would contribute greatly to my long-term career goals. When I saw that there were options to take CS+ Philosophy, CS+ Astronomy or CS+ Linguistics, my first instinct was to opt for Philosophy as I had written my extended essay (4,000-word final paper for the IB program) about philosophers and their take on human nature, but it wasn’t until after I had started college that I decided that I want to work towards the Computer Science and Astronomy major. I have always found space very intriguing and when I looked up the classes that I would have to take for that major, I was convinced and decided that I would do everything in my power to make it happen.

Tell us a little about your college experience as a freshman.

The first semester at UIUC was very tough and I had to struggle to maintain good grades. Being thrown into a college setting with challenging course material was stressful and seemed like a constant juggling act. However, at the end of the semester, it was fulfilling to see my hard work pay off. I think that the first year is very hard for everyone because one is away from the comfort of home and in the midst of strangers. In time when I found myself a part of a small group of friends, everything changed. I was able to get help with my homework, and being part of several study groups allowed us to help each other a lot. We also find ways to have fun on campus and often spend time in each other's dorms!

As far as my classes go, the faculty has been very supportive in my experience, even though the large class sizes make it difficult to develop a bond with the professors or instructors.  

What is campus life like, considering it is in a relatively rural setting?

Apart from classes there are over 1,800 clubs as well as several sororities and fraternities at UIUC, so there’s something for everyone and one can engage in various activities without leaving the campus. I chose to be part of a French club because I enjoy the culture and language. The campus is massive but is relatively easy to get around with a reliable network of buses. It is definitely a bonus that there are a lot of dining halls to pick from, but some residential halls do not have their own dining hall and since my dorm is one of them, I find myself taking a bus to get to the closest dining hall at every meal. We rarely go off campus except to take the train into Chicago as everything one needs is available on campus. There are a variety of shops and restaurants and it is like a town in itself. 

What are your future goals?

A Computer Science and Astronomy double major is only available at UIUC and is ranked well, so I consider myself privileged to have this opportunity as it opens up many possibilities in the future. I aspire to work alongside other astrophysicists and astronomers on supercomputers that have the ability to decipher and analyze data from satellites and telescopes that involves complicated coding. With the right skillset it is possible that I along with a team will one day discover parts of our solar system and even our galaxy. Although my primary interest is in Astronomy, it is important for me to have the computer science/ programming background that allows me to achieve these goals.



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