FRESHMAN FOCUS: Sydney Michel falls in love with sorority life, sports culture, support from Duck alumni at University of Oregon

(Photo used by permission of Michel)
Sydney Michel, ’16, (second from right) and her friends Emily, Dani and Aubrey celebrate Founder’s Day, the day Bettie Locke founded Theta, the first sorority in the U.S.

Sydney Michel, ‘16, attends the University of Oregon in Eugene. She is majoring in human physiology.

Q: Why did you choose the University of Oregon?

A: I wanted to have that big school feel. Growing up in a nurturing environment like Country Day was amazing, but I was ready for a change.

Also, you can’t beat the type of spirit that’s at the school. Every alum I’ve ever met loves this school, and the amount of energy at all the games is crazy. Once a duck, always a duck!

Q: What’s it like going from a small high school to a large university?

A: There are definitely some ups and downs to a large school. I miss having that interaction between students and professors, but if I really wanted to get to know a professor, I could just show up to their office hours and talk with them. And on the days when I’m really just not ready to pay attention to an hour of chemistry lecture, I can sit in the back of the room and space out, and no one will care! Don’t follow my example, kids!

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: I’m currently in Military Science, chemistry, biology and chemistry lab. I had a pretty overwhelming schedule last term, so I’m taking fewer credits this term. My major is human physiology, so a lot of the classes I have to take are sequenced classes like chem, bio, physics and all the labs that go with them.

At the University of Oregon, we’re on the quarter system, so that means that we have to take three quarters of chemistry, three  quarters of biology, and three quarters of physics. And the way sequence classes work, if you don’t pass the first one in the fall, then you won’t be allowed to continue on to the next class in the winter and then the last one in the spring. You’ll have to wait a whole year again before you can take the one you failed. Luckily that hasn’t happened to me!

It’s a pain, but it’s just something I have to do to get to the interesting human physiology classes!

Q: How many students are in a typical class?

A: It depends on what classes you take. If it’s a class like writing, math or a smaller elective/workout class, the cap is 25. But for most of the general education classes, it’s around 250-300.

Q: What do you do in the workout class?

A: We have classes at the recreation center, where we can take rock climbing, self defense, cycling, etc.

Q: Do you have a favorite class?

A: My favorite right now is Military Science, and my all-time favorite was Animal Behavior my first term.

Military Science is awesome because it teaches you survival skills like how to navigate a map with just a protractor and nothing else and all the training the Army guys go through. They also teach you how to tie knots and read hand signals, but I haven’t taken the class before, so I still have about two months left of new material to cover!

Plus, there are tons of ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) guys in my class,so it’s nice knowing that if there was ever an apocalypse, I could go to them and they’d know what to do.

Q: How does your homework load compare to high school?

A: It’s different but still challenging. I have friends that have hardly any homework, and then I have loads of it and midterms almost every week. It really depends on the major and how rigorous it is.

You won’t have assignments due every day at the beginning of class. They’re more spaced out between the weeks, but sometimes you haven’t learned the subject of the homework that’s given to you yet, so it’s up to you to self-teach. And then there are some teachers that don’t assign any homework, so your grade is just relying on test scores, and that’s a lot more pressure.

(Photo used by permission of Michel)
Sydney Michel, ’16, puts her arms around her mother, Traci, and stepfather, Dave, outside of Autzen Stadium at a Ducks game against Arizona State University.

 The hardest part is that the teachers aren’t constantly reminding you of what’s due, unlike Country Day. Country Day really cares that you get assignments in on time and that you understand them, but in college you’re on your own to make sure you know when your stuff is due and what’s expected of you. Definitely invest in a planner!

Q: How do you get around on campus?

A: I walk absolutely everywhere on campus, but when I go off campus, I make my older friends drive me around everywhere. I would say just from walking around on campus every day, I walk around five to eight miles since I walk back and forth so much.

But we also have a great public transport system that’s free to all University of Oregon students that will basically get you anywhere you need to go in town. It’s a pretty small town, so it’s not hard to get anywhere. Although I will say that we don’t have Uber or Lyft or anything like that, so that gets pretty tiresome, having to rely on taxis if you absolutely can’t get another ride.

Q: Are you participating in any clubs?

A: Not right now. I’m in a sorority, so that takes up a lot of my time. I’m interested in trying out for club volleyball next fall because I missed it this year, and sometimes I go to the craft center with friends. But over the spring my sorority might do a grass volleyball club, so I’d also like to get involved in that!

Q: What sorority are you in?

A: I’m in Kappa Alpha Theta! I love it so much. My mom was a Theta as well, so it’s awesome that we can wear the same clothes and go to all the same events together! I feel as if I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s an amazing way to build connections with other freshmen and even older girls.  Because the University of Oregon is such a large school, it can seem like you’re just another number to everyone. But the Greek system really brings everyone together. I recognize and know so many people on campus, and I wouldn’t be able to say that if I wasn’t in a sorority.

We facilitate so many fun activities that aren’t even Greek-related too! We create intramural and club teams that compete with the rest of the school

But the most important aspect is the sense of family it gave me while I’m away from home. I was lucky and got to experience nearly all my relatives living in Sacramento, so leaving them all was really hard. With Theta, I can’t say that I’m an only child anymore because I have over 200 sisters that will always be there for me no matter what.

We go to concerts together, movies, have Mario Kart competitions, watch “The Bachelor,” and this weekend for Easter we’re all going to the coast since our spring break fell so early this year and no one can go home.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Theta! It’s so easy to get involved and find a family of your own.

Q: How do you like living in the dormitories?

A: It’s a love-hate relationship. I love being on campus and in the center of all the fun things going on. But sometimes I just need some space to do homework and relax, and you can’t really do that in the dorms. I live in the worst dorm complex on campus, so everyone is really social because no one wants to be in their rooms. It’s really nice to have that social group around when you want it, but when finals week comes along, I’m just like, “Don’t you guys ever study?!”

Q: Do you get along well with your roommate?

A: For the most part, yes. It’s really hard sharing your space with someone when you’re used to having a room just by yourself. Especially since I’m an only child, I was a bit spoiled in the sharing department before. But at the end of the day, it’s awesome to be able to talk to someone whenever you want, and I’ve gotten really used to always having someone in the room with me. So when I go home to an empty room on breaks, it’s actually pretty lonely and quiet compared to dorm life!

(Photo used by permission of Michel)
Sydney Michel, ’16, (bottom left) sits with her sorority family on Big Little Reveal Night. On this night Theta assigns each girl a more experienced “big sister,” who acts as a guide and watches out for her “little sister.”

Q: What are your classmates like?

A: I don’t have “classmates.” My classes are changing every term, and because I’m on the quarter system, everything goes by so fast, and I’m meeting new people in classes all the time. With that being said, there are a select few that are in all the same classes as me because we’re in the same majors. We just all band together and complain about all the stuff we have to do for our classes. We bond over our constant science class pain.

Q: What makes Oregon different from other colleges?

A: The sense of community. It has a small school feel on a huge campus. On my way to class, I could probably walk past at least five people that I would recognize and know by name. Greek life makes that circle even smaller.

The alums here are crazy! They’re so spirited and love the school so much. They’re at all the football games, and I’m involved in this organization called Student Alumni Association, where alums come and talk to you and can offer you internships and jobs. Our motto is “Once a duck, always a duck,” and I think that rings true. We always have each other’s backs no matter what. The sense of school spirit is something I look forward to every day, and I always run into a student sporting their duck gear all over the country!

Q: What do you do for fun on the weekends?

A: I’m always hanging with my friends on the weekend and just giving myself some time to relax from the week before.

When there are huge game days, everyone’s weekend is pretty much dedicated to game-day festivities, which is a good and bad thing. They’re really fun, but sometimes I’ll have tests the next week, so the combination isn’t the best!

I love going to the movies with friends and getting off campus because as a freshman with no car, sometimes it feels like I’m stuck all the time.

On Saturdays we have this huge farmer’s market with amazing music, food, etc.

During spring term I’m planning lots of fun weekend trips with friends like going to hot springs nearby, taking a day trip to Portland or Seattle and maybe even flying down to Disneyland for a bit!

Q: What are Ducks games like?

A: I go to almost every one. I loved the football season, even though we were pretty terrible, but the basketball season was amazing! (The Ducks reached the Final Four in the NCAA national tournament this year.) We have all these unique cheers for each player when they make a point.

It’s so cool, and it wouldn’t be the same without the marching band. They’re absolutely amazing! They play a different song for each player and have to memorize them all. And at halftime, because “Animal House” was filmed on the University of Oregon campus, the whole stadium dances and sings to the song “Shout.” There is so much spirit, and the whole arena gets so crazy. We have blackouts in the middle of the game, and we all wave around giant green glow sticks that they give us.

During the spring I’m going to go to some baseball games. Spring season for football starts up soon, and I can’t wait for that!

The best part is that the tickets are free to all of the students. As long as you get online and get them at the designated time, you should be able to get some. I don’t think I would have gotten this kind of spirit anywhere else!

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: I would say trying to rush through things is my worst habit. I’m trying to finish all of these hard classes at the same time, and I need to remember that there’s no rush. I have four years to get these required classes done, and I’m not even finished with my first year yet.

Q: What college advice would you give to the class of 2017?

A: Don’t be afraid of change. Change is inevitable when you go away for college, and when you come back to Sacramento on breaks, it’s going to feel weird. Not a good or bad weird, it’s just different. Things won’t be the same as you left them, and you’ll feel a bit out of the loop.

A: You’re stuck in this in-between phase, where you consider your new school your home. As you spend time there, Sacramento becomes your second home instead of your first. Although it’s scary at first, and you’ll most definitely get homesick from time to time, it’s amazing to create a new home for yourself!

Also, fully immerse yourself wherever you are, because you only get one true college experience. And, believe me, time here flies much faster than high school ever did, so be sure to soak it all in. It seems like just yesterday I was in (biology teacher) Dr. (Kellie) Whited’s classroom for a solid four hours a day.

And be sure to thank your Country Day teachers while you can – they really care about you.

By Garrett Shonkwiler

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