Heidi Johnson, ’19, (right) attends LA Sanitation and Environment's Engineer Day with other members of the American Society of Civil Engineers. (Photo courtesy of Johnson)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Heidi Johnson, ’19, works as a research assistant at LMU

Heidi Johnson, ’19, plans to major in civil engineering and minor in computer science at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. 

Q: Why did you want to pursue civil engineering and computer science? 

A: In high school, I liked all of the courses related to engineering and computer science. 

Also, I want to be able to do something innovative that can help our world someday. Engineering and computer science are prevalent and needed majors. 

The opportunities within these fields are very exciting and flexible. In engineering, I want to focus on something related to the environment or energy.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: I’m taking Calculus 3, Introduction to Engineering Analysis, Chemistry Lab, Programming Lab, Introduction to Honors, First-Year Seminar and Introduction to Yoga.

Programming Lab is the only computer science course that I’m taking.

My First-Year Seminar is called Thinking, Feeling and Being. We just learned and wrote about psychology. 

Q: What is your favorite class?

A: I like my calculus class a lot. Math has always been super interesting and challenging, and it’s my only class related to my major that I like. In my engineering class, we aren’t doing any actual engineering. Instead, we’re learning a broad overview of several aspects of engineering. I’m not that engaged in that class because I’d rather get into courses where we’re learning actual material.

I also really like my Introduction to Honors class, which is a class that I only take once a week for one unit. It doesn’t take a lot of my time, and it’s on happiness. We learn how to be happy and read a book called “The Happiness Hypothesis.” We have a discussion for an hour to analyze the book. This class is required for all students in the honors program.

Q: What is the honors program?

A: When you apply to LMU, you can apply to be in the honors program. In the program, you have to maintain a 3.5 GPA in any major and take specific required courses, such as the Introduction to Honors class. 

In addition, you have access to different events and opportunities. For example, during registration, honors students get priority. We also have access to funds for a research project, which I will be using. 

Heidi Johnson, ’19, (second from right) visits the Griffith Observatory with friends from the LMU honors program. (Photo courtesy of Johnson)

Q: What is your least favorite class?

A: I would say that it’s my Introduction to Engineering Analysis class. Because there are multiple sections of the class, there are multiple teachers. The curriculum is so broad that there isn’t something specific we need to learn, so each teacher can take it in their own direction. In other classes, some students are doing more hands-on activities involving solar-powered cars, engineering drawings and building. Our class is a lot less hands-on and less interesting, especially because I prefer to do more hands-on stuff.

Q: What’s the workload like?

A: For my one-unit classes, I only spend a couple of hours doing homework every week. But for four-unit classes, I spend a few hours every other day. 

I only have exams in my math and engineering classes. I study for my tests by reviewing practice problems, just like how I did it in high school. In computer science, we get assessed by doing programming projects, and the majority of my chemistry grade comes from the labs we do.

Q: How large are your classes?

A: Most of my classes are about 20 students, but my biggest class is chemistry. This class is broken down into two parts: an hour lecture and a three-hour lab. For the lecture, all 60 students are in the same room. For the lab, we are split into three groups of 20. 

My computer science class has 12 students, which is my smallest class. 

Q: Are you in any clubs?

A: I’m part of the Society of Women Engineers, Eco Students — an environmental club on campus that works on projects like keeping our campus clean — and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), an electrical engineering and computer science club. I’m also a freshman representative for the American Society of Civil Engineers, and my job is to get freshmen involved and interested in the club. During the season, I was part of an intramural volleyball team. Each of these commitments takes about one hour every week.

In addition, I’m also going to be working as a research assistant for a computer science professor. I’m looking at life cycle assessments for wind turbines and other forms of wind energy. So far, I’ve only been researching resources that different companies use.

Q: What’s your living situation like?

A: The freshman honors students usually live together in a freshman building. However, it’s under construction, so I’m living in an upperclassman building, which is a huge upgrade. It’s suite-style, which is two big rooms connected by a bathroom, so I don’t have to use a communal bathroom. There’s also air conditioning, which is an added bonus.

I chose to randomly select my roommates, which was fine because I get along really well with all (four) of them. We all have different friend groups, but we all like each other, and they’re super nice.

Heidi Johnson, ’19, (lower left) attends the LMU Honor’s Fall Formal. (Photo courtesy of Johnson)

Q: Do you like the semester system?

A: I really like it. First, I like that (school) starts in mid-August and ends in early May. Most of my friends who are in the quarter system get out of school in the middle of June.

With the quarter system, you do get to take more classes, but it also moves very quickly. Personally, I like to slow down a bit. This past semester has already gone by so quickly, so I can’t imagine speeding up more.

Q: What is the hardest part about college?

A: It was definitely a huge adjustment. The class schedule is different every day, and my free time is all over the place. I had to figure out how to make the best use of my time during the day so I could sleep early.

Also, I miss my family a lot, but I’m a short flight away from Sacramento. 

Q: What is your favorite part about college?

A: There are so many opportunities consolidated in one space. In one day, I can take classes and participate in events, sports and work opportunities. 

Q: What is your least favorite part about LMU?

A: I like the location, but it’s also hard to get around in LA. There is so much traffic, so it takes a long time to go short distances.

Q: Did anything surprise you about LMU or college in general?

A: Surprisingly, no. But I would say that making friends was a lot easier than I thought.

Q: Do you participate in any traditions?

A: At midnight on your birthday, you get thrown into a fountain on campus. I got thrown in, and I’ve thrown a lot of my friends in as well.

Q: Have you or your friends made any freshman mistakes?

A: My friends signed up for 8 AM classes, even though they have trouble waking up. But they didn’t have a lot of choice with their schedule.

Q: How is the food?

A: The food is really good, but it’s just really tiring eating the same things over and over again. In the dining hall, there is a restaurant similar to Chipotle, a stir-fry place, a grill, a sandwich spot, a pasta place and Greek food. 

Q: How was the transition to LMU?

A: It’s been good so far. I think Country Day has done a really good job of preparing (me). Obviously, college-level courses will be more difficult, but it’s manageable because of the work we had to do at Country Day. The main adjustment was managing (my) time differently and spending more time doing work outside of class.

I’m really happy with my college decision. Financially, this university made sense, but it also gave me a lot of opportunities I thought I would never get, which is why it’s really similar to Country Day. The faculty really care about the students by helping them stay on top of their work, and you can have closer relationships with them. It’s also really easy to get involved in research or other activities. Also, their connections are helpful for job opportunities and resume recommendations.

Q: Any advice for the class of 2020?

A: I recommend that you consider colleges that benefit you both financially and educationally. 

It’s important that you pick a school (in a city) you want to live in because that’s where you will be spending the next four years of your life. If you can visit, that’s really helpful because the feeling you get from a campus really tells you whether you will be happy there.

Also, you don’t have to do this right away, but try to be proactive about getting involved in opportunities that interest you. A lot of these interesting activities aren’t advertised, and the only way you would know about them is by asking questions. For example, I had to email many STEM professors about research opportunities before I became a research assistant.

Five-star or subpar?

Food: ★★★★

School spirit: ★★★★

Location: ★★★★★

Clubs: ★★★★

Student-teacher interaction: ★★★★★

—By Sanjana Anand

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