Emily Batt – Physics, Junior
April 9, 2011 Welcome Day Speech delivered to Newly Admitted Undeclared Students
Good morning! It is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on your acceptance to Northeastern and welcome you to campus today. My name is Emily Batt—I am a fourth year student pursuing a degree in physics, but when I started here in the fall of 2007, I was an undeclared student. I’m here to share with you my story in hopes that it will give you a glimpse of what it can be like to be undeclared at Northeastern.
Students start undeclared for any number of reasons: maybe you’re leaning towards a major, or have a few in mind, but I hadn’t ruled out any. To me, college was for fostering a variety of interests and discovering new passions and broadening my experiences. I wasn’t sure where that was going to take me, and while that caused me—and my parents—no end of anxiety, in retrospect I see now that starting undeclared was the perfect choice for me. I encourage you to embrace the opportunities being undeclared will present you. Someone once told me that lacking direction does not mean lacking ambition—in seizing all that Northeastern can offer, you will develop a more dynamic worldview and ultimately find a program that’s best for you.
I want everyone to think back to your very first career goal—mine was to be a secret agent. I was 11. As I grew up, the goal changed: art historian, neuroscientist, photojournalist. But the older I got, the less sure I was, and eventually when people asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I had a very definitive response: “lottery winner.” But I started to dread that question, because I didn’t have a real answer. All I knew was that when I graduated high school, I claimed with absolute certainty that I would never take a math class again. Fast forward four years, and I’m on track to graduate with an honors degree in physics and a minor in math, and I could not be happier, so I encourage you to keep an open mind.
As a freshman I found that being undeclared at Northeastern allowed me to explore the breadth of the whole university. The NU Core coursework is required of all students and it’s the perfect vehicle for exploring different programs. I enrolled in courses like the Shape of Modernity and Comparative Religions, but maybe you’ll pick The Age of Dinosaurs or The History of Rock Music or Astronomy. I even got to indulge my childhood dream—one of my favorite classes was the History of Espionage. During my first year, my largest class was 200 students, my smallest was nine: as an undeclared student I had the liberty to build my own schedule and experience the true gamut of the school.
But that’s not to say I could go it alone. Every undeclared student is assigned an advisor who can help you choose courses prudently and guide you through your major search. Beyond this advising, there is a peer mentor program of upper-class students who are excited to help you explore and who have been in your shoes. Throughout your first semester, you will get regular guidance in a weekly Connections and Decisions course, so you always have easy access to faculty and peer assistance. I found that these programs afforded me the autonomy I wanted with the support I needed. With my advisors’ help, I found a program that I believed would challenge me, open doors, and strengthen my critical thinking skills—I have not been disappointed.
Since declaring my major, I have been on two co-ops and I just accepted my final co-op position for this coming July. For my first co-op, I moved to Oregon and conducted research in physical oceanography. I learned computer programming, I went on a ten-day research cruise, and I presented my results at the National Ocean Sciences conference. For my second co-op, I applied for and was awarded a nationally competitive fellowship—each year, 12 students from prestigious universities are awarded a $12,000 grant by the Steamboat Summer Scholars program. The Northeastern scholar annually conducts clinical or bench-side research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For the summer, I joined a leading systems biology lab to research protein-protein interactions and their propensity for clarifying disease development. This application of network science used the principles of statistical physics to quantify biological phenomena. For remainder of that co-op period, I joined one of Dana-Farber’s collaborators on a research project with the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard Kennedy School to apply similar methodology towards understanding global economic development. In seeking my third co-op, I looked for a position that would allow me to explore the industrial side of science applications—in July I will be joining an engineering design and product development firm. As one of six people in the company, I will be entrusted considerable responsibility.
Though these jobs seem disparate, they have helped me discover exactly what I do and don’t enjoy. As I look towards post-graduate plans, I cannot stress how valuable these experiences have been. Just a few weeks ago, a professor said to me, “It seems like this has been the perfect place for you, you’ve really gotten to try out a lot.” And in that sense, I think it’s the perfect place for many undeclared students: Northeastern stresses interdisciplinary work, and the university encourages you to explore through its unique experiential education model. Beyond academics, NU has so many other ways in which to foster interests—I’ve been able to combine two of my favorite pastimes, writing and music, by working for the school’s student-run music magazine, Tastemakers. Serving as the interviews editor, I’ve been able to talk with some of my favorite bands and songwriters when they tour in Boston. Any student club you can imagine, we’ve probably got it—we have a Mural Club and a Slow Food chapter and a TV station and a Ski and Snowboard group…the list goes on and on, for about 200 more clubs. And having access to the greater Boston community only multiplies your options. During school, I have been able to intern with the Museum of Science and with the Boston Ballet.
It’s though these clubs, your classes, and living on campus that you’ll discover what really makes Northeastern so incredible: its students. Over the next four or five years you will develop friendships that are deep and lasting. Northeastern students are engaged, driven, and ambitious. You will meet people from entirely different backgrounds; together you’ll uncover new interests expand your perspectives, and challenge your beliefs.
But mostly, you’ll have fun.
And what better way to explore with your new friends than to join the Husky Hunt, a 600-person, 24-hr scavenger hunt across Boston? This year, the winning team members each got a spring break vacation package. It gives you a great reason to check out the galleries of the South End, the restaurants of the North End, the character of the waterfront. Maybe you’ll swing by Yawkey Way and Fenway, or perhaps meet the penguins at the Aquarium. All of this right at your doorstep, always.
There’s a line in The Great Gatsby, my favorite required reading book from high school, in which Nick Carraway says he is seeking to become “the most limited of specialists, the well-rounded man.” He goes on to say, “this isn’t just an epigram, life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.” I’ve always pictured the metaphor literally: the closer you stand to a window, the wider your field of view becomes, and the more inclusive your perspective is. In many ways, I’ve regarded my education like this single window—each class I taken, each co-op I’ve had, each person I’ve met, has brought me one step closer to that window. As an undeclared student at Northeastern, you will have the chance to walk towards your window—to broaden your perspective and to ultimately pick a program that you find fulfilling and exciting.
And if nothing I have said today appeals to you, then at least know this: the laundry machines here will text you when they finish, and what more can you really want?
I wish you the best of luck, and again, congratulations!