While visiting Japantown, Michaela Chen, ’19, and her roommate get ice cream from a local store named Bae. (Photo courtesy of Chen)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Michaela Chen, ’19, explores interest in civil engineering at LMU

Michaela Chen, ’19, is majoring in civil engineering at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you choose your major?

A: Both my parents are civil engineers, and they’re always talking about their work. Since my strong suits were always math and science, I decided to see if I liked it or not.

I’m still not completely sure about civil engineering because I really enjoy my calc and mechanics classes this semester but not so much my algorithms class, all of which are required for my major. 

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: (For the first) semester, I took General Chemistry for Engineers, Calculus I, Intro to Engineering Analysis, a general chemistry lab and a first-year seminar called The Art and Science of Teaching.

Now I’m taking Calc II, Intro to Mechanics, Applications & Algorithms, Biology for Engineers and Rhetorical Arts.

Q: What’s your favorite class?

A: My first-year seminar. I liked it because my professor was really great. The professor taught me a lot and helped me realize the value of education.

Q: Least favorite?
A: I have a few classes I don’t like, but calculus is probably the worst. 

I’ve taken calculus before, so it was really just (an) overview. I felt like my teacher dragged on and went at a really, really slow pace, and the homework was actually quite hard, which was pretty annoying.

Q: How big are your classes?

A: My classes are pretty small. Both my calculus and engineering classes have about 20 to 30 people.

For my lecture (General Chemistry for Engineers), it’s a little bigger, but it’s still not humongous — probably around 40 or 50 people.

Q: How has the switch to online classes been?

A: The switch to online was definitely a big change for me. The thing that affected me the most when it came to online learning was not being able to have in-person study groups anymore. I really enjoyed being able to collaborate with my peers and also having each other as moral support to get through an assignment or project. 

Q: How was LMU’s response to COVID-19? 

A: LMU was pretty on top of their response to COVID-19. My school started issuing notices about staying at home during our spring break, the second week of March. Initially, it was supposed to be two weeks, but they decided in the first week to extend the rest of the semester to (be) online. And LMU emails us like every day about any potential updates on the school’s situation. 

Q: Are you participating in any clubs?
I’m in Han Tao, which is like Chinese Club on campus. They organize different events, such as retreats and activities that we can participate in. We’d also go out to get dim sum, which is pretty fun. 

I’m also part of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). SWE has been really great for helping me learn how to network, build my resume, use LinkedIn and stuff like that. 

Q: Why did you join those clubs?

A: I learned about Han Tao when I visited LMU on their preview day. They had an Asian Pacific Islander overnighter, which piqued my interest in the club. In general, I also wanted to stay connected to my parents’ culture because it’s important to me. 

And then for Society of Women Engineers, I just wanted to try out some of the clubs on campus, and I ended up sticking with this one.

Michaela Chen, ’19, (far right) spends time with her Han Tao “family.” (Photo courtesy of Chen)

Q: What do you think about the campus?

A: I love the campus — it’s really pretty. The location is good because we’re near the airport but not too close — which is really nice — and, while we’re not in the center of the city, there’s good food around us. 

Q: What was your living situation?

A: I was in a double with someone; it’s not suite style but the traditional long hallways with a bunch of (dorm rooms).

My dorm, Doheny, was literally the worst out of all the dorms. We’re probably the oldest dorm, and we were next to construction. 

It’s just not ideal because sometimes on Saturdays or Sundays, I’d wake up to construction, which kind of sucks.

Q: How did you get your roommate?

A: I didn’t do random pairing; there’s this app on their website that we could download to match with roommates. 

It’s kind of like Tinder for roommates: You swipe depending on whether or not you want to message them and see if you’re compatible with each other.

Q: How was it living with your roommate?

A: We hadn’t had a huge fight or anything — I get along with her really well, actually. Our house cultures are really similar, so it was pretty easy to live with her.

We actually hung out a lot. We’d study together and sometimes work out together. 

We didn’t really fight because we communicated. If there was something that we didn’t like, we’d just talk about it. 

Michaela Chen, ’19, (third row, far right) attends an engineering conference in Anaheim for one of her clubs, Society of Women Engineers. (Photo courtesy of Chen)

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: Yeah, definitely. Toward the end of the (first) semester, I locked myself out (of my room). I was in a rush because I was late to something, and as I was walking out, I realized my key was inside as I heard the door shut. 

It kind of surprised me because I thought I would do it earlier.

Q: How was the transition from Country Day?

A: It was pretty good — I feel that Country Day really prepared us for college. 

And honestly, LMU feels like Country Day but on a bigger scale. It’s nice because at Country Day you’re around the same people all the time. But at LMU, you are around the same people in some classes, but you don’t have to always see them, and there are always opportunities to meet more people.

Q: When you were on campus, what was your favorite thing about college?

A: My class schedule was really good for sleeping. My earliest class started at like 9:40, and (for my latest morning classes), I had to get up before 11:30.

Being able to access the library whenever I want — it’s open 24/7 — was really nice.

 And, if I ever got hungry during the middle of the night, I could literally just go to the convenience store to get something.

Q: Least favorite?

A: We have two cafeterias, but there’s one main one that’s close to the freshmen area. The food’s just not that great — it’s just mediocre, and there aren’t that many options. 

I ended up getting the same things every time because I don’t like most of the food, so it got kind of repetitive. 

Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2020?

A: Try on your AP (exams) — really study for them and actually try because it can really help you out. You can either get some credit, early registration or priority for classes.

Five-star or subpar?

Quality of classes: ★★★★☆

Student-teacher interaction:  ★★★★☆

Location: ★★★★☆

Food: ★★★☆☆

Housing: ★★★☆☆

Social scene: ★★★☆☆

Clubs: ★★★★★

Spirit: ★★★☆☆

—By David Situ

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