FRESHMAN FOCUS: Serajh Esmail, ’16, has love-hate relationship with his Cal chemistry course, BARTS to San Francisco on weekends

(Photo used by permission of Esmail)
Serajh Esmail, ’16, celebrates Cal’s victory over the Texas Longhorns with his friend Dexter at California Memorial Stadium.

Find out what the members of the class of 2016 are up to in their first year of college. A college freshman is featured in the Freshman Focus every week.

Serajh Esmail, ‘16, attends UC Berkeley. He is majoring in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neurobiology.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: I chose to take a relatively easy load this semester to get acclimated to the academic rigor and college lifestyle. That’s why I’m only taking major requirements this semester.

I’m taking Chemistry 1A and 1AL (Lab), Math 10A (Calculus and Statistics for the Life Sciences) and an English Reading and Composition class. Next semester, I plan on increasing my load and taking more interesting courses. I’m also thinking about possibly minoring in Spanish (shout-out to Dra. Portillo).

Q: What’s your favorite class?

A: My favorite and least favorite class this semester is chemistry. I love the demonstrations, labs and enthusiasm my professors have towards the subject. However, it’s regarded as one of the hardest intro classes the university has to offer. High-school AP (Advanced Placement) chemistry is a joke compared to the class.

Two professors teach the class, and they are married. They are theoretical chemists, so they study the type of chemistry that even Nobel Prize-winning chemists don’t fully understand.

Also, the class compacts a year’s worth of chemistry into one semester, so (it) covers a lot of difficult material at a fast pace.

Q: How big are your classes?

A: I have large classes as expected (from) a large university. However, not all of them are large. My chemistry and math lectures are taught by my professors in large lecture halls that can (fit) 300-400 students, but I have discussion sections attached to these main classes. My discussion sections are taught by graduate student instructors (GSIs) who go over course material. It’s nice because each section is only 15-20 students. My English class has about 14 students.

(Photo used by permission of Esmail)
Esmail, second from right, sits in Memorial Stadium with his roommates, floor mates and other friends.

Q: Do you live in a dorm?

A: I am living on campus in residence hall number five, which is known as Clark Kerr Campus. Many people, including myself, regard it as the best residence hall because it has huge rooms, a plethora of amenities and mission-style architecture.

It’s the furthest residence hall from campus, but I’m in love with it. We sit on several acres of land, and we have our own dining hall (which is regarded as the best on campus), outdoor basketball and tennis courts, a track and soccer field overlooking San Francisco and all of the bay, a large outdoor swimming pool, beach volleyball courts where the team plays, a skate park, a gymnastics center and beautiful scenery, all of which (are) open to us.

At UC Berkeley, only freshmen live in residence halls. Once you become a sophomore, you usually move into an apartment. There are very nice apartments that are owned by the school, but they’re not officially known as residence halls.

Q: What are your roommates like?

A: I live in a triple, and my roommates are awesome. (One) roommate, Basil, is from Chicago, and my other roommate, Kobe, is from Southern California.

Basil is a trip; he’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met. One time, some of my guy friends on my floor and I dared him to stand up on a chair in the middle of the dining hall and give a shout-out to all of the girls. Without question, he stood up and yelled, “Hey, ladies, my name is Basil, and I’m single.” He then proceeded to jump off the chair, give our room number, and say, “All right, boys, let’s roll out.”

Kobe is great too; however, Basil and (I) don’t really understand him. At 8 p.m. every night, he consistently gains about 1000 milligrams of caffeine worth of energy from thin air. God knows when he goes to sleep and when he comes home from his friends’ place! But I love my boys.

(Photo by Serajh Esmail)
Sather Tower, more commonly known as The Campanile, is one of Cal’s most famous symbols.

Q: What do you miss from home?

A: Ha ha, this is a good one. I know I’m not the only one who misses this, and I’m not afraid to say it. I miss waking up on a Saturday morning and having my laundry washed and folded by my mom.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: There are so many great food spots to check out in Berkeley and the surrounding towns. On the weekends, when I allot myself free time, my friends and I will BART to the city or just hang out around campus and explore the local hiking trails that overlook San Francisco.

In addition, I love attending the Cal football home games and going to on-campus concerts that feature big-name artists (such as Kehlani, D.R.A.M., The Lumineers, Chance The Rapper).

Q: Do you do any extracurriculars?

A: I am a member of the Student Advisory Committee to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSAC), which provides counsel to (the) vice chancellor concerning the quality of student life and the co-curricular experience. We provide direct advice and feedback to the Student Affairs division of the administration and help influence decisions concerning student life and services at Cal.

(I am also) currently training for the track and field team.

Q: What do you love most about Cal?

A: The people who attend this university are diverse in the sense that everyone has their own views and opinions. Even though students bring and voice their own ideas, everyone here is accepting of (the) next person’s views. And, in my opinion, students always have smiles on their faces unless they have a midterm or are bogged down with work.

There’s always something going on at Cal, whether (it’s) on campus or in the city. People exercise their right of freedom of speech (by) having demonstrations in front of the famous Sproul Hall by protesting literally anything you can imagine: male circumcision, Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, some kind of anti-meat movement. It’s sometimes strange, but you gotta love it.

(Photo used by permission of Esmail)
Esmail meets Jaylen Brown, a Boston Celtics player and former Cal basketball player, with his floor mate, Sim.

Q: What makes Cal special?

A: It’s ranked the #1 public university in the world, duh! (You have no idea how many times the faculty repeated that during the first week of school, but it’s true).

Also, for anyone taking chemistry or AP chemistry, an interesting fact about UC Berkeley’s chemistry department is that Gilbert N. Lewis, the man who discovered covalent bonds and created what we now call Lewis dot structures, was a professor and did his research here at Cal.

Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2017?

A: This goes out to anyone who narrows their college decision down to a few or, specifically, two polar opposite schools (West Coast vs. East Coast, small liberal arts vs. large public/private, etc). When it comes to choosing the school you plan to spend the next four or more years of your academic career and life at, sit down and think hard to yourself: What are you really looking (for) in your college experience? Throw out the notions of “better” academics, supposed grade inflation or deflation, or “this particular school will supposedly be better for getting into a specific graduate school program” because either school will provide you with incredible academics, people and opportunities for success in your future life.

Instead, take into account what you truly want to get out of college and what attributes of the school you most look forward to. Choose the school that has the Div. I sports atmosphere that you can’t see yourself not having. You’ll really have to figure what you want to get out of college besides the academics, because (they are) always there. Once you discover this, you’ll be on your way to committing to a school.

By Anna Frankel

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