After some six weeks at home, first-year student Kate Sifferlen couldn’t wait to get home to Washington University in St. Louis for the spring semester.
“That’s how I think of WashU — my home,” Sifferlen said. “I’m really excited to be back on campus with my friends.”
Same for first-year student Trey Sharp.
“Before break, I was getting homesick for my friends and family,” said Sharp, of Kansas City. “But as the weeks went by, I became sort of homesick for here.”
Last fall, the Record profiled Sifferlen and Sharp, as well as Class of 2025 classmates Jenna Nguyen, Will Smith and Johnny Yeldham, after the five first-year students happened to sit near one another at a men’s soccer game. Five months later, the Record checks in with the students about their classes, clubs and new friends.
All’s well that ends well. But, wow, that first round of midterms took a toll on Jenna Nguyen.
“There was one week where I had four midterms in one week and I straight up failed the last physics one on that Friday. And I didn’t even get to see what I did wrong until well after the results had come out,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen cycled through the standard emotions — denial, grief, anger — before accepting she needed help. She found a tutor through a free McKelvey School of Engineering tutoring program and ended the semester with an A-.
“The curriculum is no joke,” said Nguyen, an Enterprise Holdings Scholar. “I’ll admit I have been slightly stressed. But I still love it here. I’m still having fun.”
Nguyen said the best part of college is her big and diverse circle of friends, many of whom she has met through the Deneb STARS program, the McKelvey School and the Washington University STEM Education Association, which stages an annual high school chemistry tournament. Nguyen and Yeldham, who first met online over the summer, have grown closer, and Smith, whom she met after classes started, is now a good friend and study partner.
“WashU is pretty much everything I hoped college would be,” Nguyen said. “I think that clicked for me on this one day when I posted this picture of me in chemistry with, like, 200 other students. My friend from back home was like, ‘Wow, you’re in college, college.’ That’s exactly how I feel.”
Like a lot of students, Kate Sifferlen arrived at Olin Business School with a lot of questions. Could she manage the work? Was she academically prepared? Would she make friends with her new classmates? The answers: Yes, yes and definitely yes.
“I came here thinking that I would be behind people who already had studied business when, in actuality, a lot of this material is new to everyone, and we’re figuring it out together,” Sifferlen said. “I think my other misconception was that school would be really cutthroat, and that’s not been the case at all.”
Sifferlen said she likes Olin’s emphasis on group work and remembers a particularly productive session of goofing off early in the semester.
“We told funny stories about our high schools and joked about our professors,” Sifferlen said. “Finally we were like, ‘We need to get to work.’ But, at the same time, it’s nice that we could just talk about everyday stuff. We became very comfortable with one another and that made it easier to share ideas and work together.”
So far Sifferlen also has enjoyed her Arts & Sciences electives — “Intro to Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies,” which she took in the fall, and her current class, “Feminist Philosophy.”
“The discussions can be long and nuanced,” Sifferlen said. “I like how I get to hear a lot of different opinions and there’s not necessarily a right answer.”
Trey Sharp’s schedule of classics, political theory and cognitive science classes is less random than it seems.
“Whether I’m in a poli sci or a PNP (Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology) class, the common thread that I like is philosophy,” Sharp said. “Philosophy is the one place where you can have these critical conversations and ask these ethical questions and do in-depth analysis.”
Sharp has joined the campus philosophy club, which meets weekly to discuss readings and, this semester, is helping a local high school start its own club.
“A year ago, I would not have known how to describe philosophy, so the idea of creating a place where high school students can have these discussions sounds really cool,” Sharp said.
Sharp and his friends also have made a point of exploring St. Louis, attending Blues and Cardinals games and checking out attractions like the Zoo. Sometimes, Sharp uses his Metro pass, but often he just walks.
“I’ve walked around the Central West End and to Shaw Park. We actually walked almost seven miles to a Serbian restaurant,” Sharp said. “Sometimes I wish there was more of a social scene here, but if I were doing keg stands on campus, I wouldn’t have the energy to walk seven miles to eat Serbian food.”
Will Smith picked up running in the early days of COVID, but what started as a lockdown diversion has now led to community and adventure.
As a member of the WashU Running Club, Smith traveled to Indiana for the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association’s national championships and is now training for the GO! St. Louis half marathon.
“It was great going to nationals because I got to know the older runners,” said Smith, who joins the co-ed team at the Clocktower for runs through Forest Park. “And over break, when we couldn’t be together, we followed each other on Strava (an app that connects runners). I’m always trying to get faster but, really, the best part for me has been all of the fun I’ve had.”
This semester, Smith hopes to return to the Athletic Complex to watch the Bears with his roommate, Student Life sports writer Hussein Amuri. Smith had attended games early in the fall but gave up his trips to the Athletic Complex as homework mounted.
“There’s never enough time to do all of the things you want to do and something has to give,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s your social life and sometimes it’s sleep.”
The hard work has paid off. Smith got great grades and is especially excited to take biology this semester. He said his scholarship sponsors, Rhonda and Nicolaas Ballintyn, have played a big role in his success.
“They were so helpful,” Smith said. “They told me to go to office hours and to sit in the front row of every class. Jenna, as it turns out, does too! All of these tips have made a big difference.”
When no one ran for eco representative in his residential college, Shanedling, Dauten and Rutledge Residential College, Johnny Yeldham waged a write-in campaign and won. Next month he will lead his college in the Green Cup Challenge, an annual competition on the South 40 to reduce energy and waste.
“I figured someone had to do it,” Yeldham said.
Yeldham’s emerging interest in the environment extends to the classroom. This semester, Yeldham enrolled in “Introduction to Environmental Policy” after taking “Earth’s Future: Causes and Consequences of Global Climate Change.”
“I took the seminar because my brother (junior Charlie Yeldham) told me it was good, not necessarily because I had a strong interest in the environment,” Yeldham said. “But I see now the overlap between the environment and my interests in international studies and political science. Climate change is the ultimate global issue.”
Yeldham has continued his commitment to WashU Mock Trial and performed well at last month’s virtual Mid-Missouri Mock Trial Invitational. In his first trial, he acted as an attorney and got top marks for his cross examination. In the next trial, Yeldham was an expert witness, a forensic psychologist who directed his teammate, first-year student Charlie Morrison, in an unusual but persuasive demonstration.
“I had him walk around his room, turn off the lights and put on different outfits to demonstrate different factors that can affect an eyewitness’ recollection,” Yeldham said. “This was our first time doing this demonstration, and it went over really well with the judges. And we had fun doing it.”