(Middle) Smita Sikaria, '18, with friends from the University of California, Berkeley. (Photo courtesy of Sikaria)

Freshman Focus: Smita Sikaria, ’18, teaches computer science class for middle school girls at UC Berkeley

Smita Sikaria, ’18, attends the University of California, Berkeley and majors in electrical engineering and computer science.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: Right now I’m taking a computer science class, an electrical engineering class, Multivariable Calculus and Theater 39, which is a film class.

Q: Which is your favorite class?

A: I really like Theater 39. We watch a movie for homework every week and discuss scenes that we thought were cool, (the film’s) composition and lighting, or anything we felt was worth noting. It’s a really open discussion.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Probably electrical engineering. It’s a really difficult class — we have around 12 hours of homework every week. However, the class is (still) really fun because we get to do a lot of fun labs. At the moment, we’re building a voice-controlled car.

The difficulty of the class is kind of making me not like electrical engineering anymore.

Q: What is the workload like for your classes?

A: Electrical engineering probably takes 12 hours (a week), computer science takes maybe eight to 10 hours, math is around six (hours) and Theater 39 is just watching a movie, so just two hours.

Q: How large are your classes?

A: This semester, my largest class is around 1,100 students, which is computer science. However, last semester, my largest class (also computer science) was 2,200 students. My smallest class (Southeast Asian studies) is only like 40 people.

Q: How do you feel about the semester system?

A: I really like being on the semester system because students on the quarter system have to take midterms and finals all the time, and we don’t.

Q: Do you participate in any extracurriculars?

A: I’m in two clubs. The first one is called SWE++, which is a committee under the Society of Women Engineers (a nonprofit organization). Basically, we just host a computer science class for middle school girls around the Berkeley and Oakland area, and we teach them the basics of Python. (We) want to build a community of female computer scientists and try to get middle schoolers more engaged in this field.

The second club I’m in is called EthiCal Apparel. We promote sustainability by using ethically sourced materials to produce Cal merchandise.

Q: What is the food like?

A: The dining hall food isn’t that great, but there’s a lot of really good restaurants around the campus, so it’s really easy to get diverse foods.

Q: What is your living situation like?

A: Right now I live in a mini-suite double. Each floor of our building has a big hallway (with) smaller hallways, (each) branching off with a bathroom and two rooms. I only have one roommate.

I don’t really see her that much because we don’t have a common space in our suite — it’s just a hallway. But it’s a really nice setup. I think that I’m in one of the best buildings at Cal.

Q: How was the transition from high school to college?

A: I was actually pretty worried about going to a public school because it was so big, but my transition here has been very easy. Country Day really prepares you well academically to succeed in college. The social scene isn’t actually that different from Country Day. You do meet a lot more people, but once you get to know more, you start to see a lot more familiar faces around campus.

Q: What is your favorite part about college?

A: I really like being able to have fun whenever I want to. In high school you have to wait for school to be done, then to finish your homework, and only then (do) you have time to chill. But since classes at Cal are so dispersed throughout the day, you have a lot of different times of the day when you’re free to do whatever you want.

Q: What is your least favorite part about college?

A: The workload. The amount of work is actually pretty similar to County Day, but the material is definitely a lot harder. With Country Day, you really get a lot of one-on-one attention, (but) at Berkeley, you really have to seek out the resources yourself. It definitely took some time to get used to it, but now I really know how to seek out resources and use them to my advantage.

Q: What is special about Berkeley?

A: The professors at Berkeley are really open to hearing your opinion even if it directly contradicts with their own views. It makes classes a lot more collaborative and interesting when everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: In the beginning of the year, I felt pressured to take a lot of units because I thought if I took the minimum number, I would be behind everyone else. I think I should’ve taken a lighter course load so I could spend more time exploring what Berkeley has to offer.

Q: Have you participated in any traditions?

A: We have a bunch of university seals around campus. People say you should avoid stepping on the seals because you won’t get a 4.0 GPA if you do.

Every year, we have a rally the night before the big (Cal vs. Stanford football) game in the Greek Theater. We have a big bonfire where we burn Stanford apparel and trees. I went to the rally, but unfortunately, we didn’t have the bonfire this year due to the wildfires in November.

Q: Any advice for the class of 2019?

A: You shouldn’t stress if you don’t get into your top college. Each college has a lot to offer, and you will be able to find a place for yourself wherever you end up.

Five-star or subpar?

Food: ☆☆☆☆

School spirit: ☆☆☆☆☆

Location: ☆☆☆☆

Clubs: ☆☆☆☆☆

Student-teacher interaction: ☆☆

—By Miles Morrow

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