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Friday, February 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Senior Spotlight: Cynthia Chen talks making the most of an unexpected college experience

Zeisha Bennett / Thresher

By Eliza Jasani     1/25/22 11:24pm

Martel College senior Cynthia Chen grew up envisioning the quintessential college life portrayed in movies and books. Having taken a semester off during her sophomore year and having spent so much time learning from home due to the pandemic, Chen said she almost felt robbed of this experience. But she has learned to accept that her college experience is turning out differently from what she originally expected.

“I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have had the chance to do, all the memories I’ve gotten to make here and all the people that I’ve met,” Chen said.

Chen’s Rice experience is a little unorthodox in that she has spent almost 75 percent of her time living off campus. Even after returning from remote learning, she chose not to live on campus. She said a big factor in this decision was being able to make her own food.

“One of my best friends lives in the building right next to mine, and so I found my own community outside of campus,” Chen said. “I think that’s a good balance, too: being around people and living a more college student-oriented life here, then getting to go home and be an adult.”

Chen said living off-campus has also allowed her to explore Rice beyond the hedges and has helped her develop a greater appreciation for the city.

“One thing that I have learned about Houston is that it’s a really cool city. It has a lot of really interesting neighborhoods ... like Chinatown,” Chen said. “One thing my friend and I would do last year is we would go to a new restaurant every single Friday ... I’ve learned to appreciate the authenticity of the people and the food.”

According to Chen, her expectations regarding her major also changed during her time in college. She entered Rice as a bioengineering major, but soon switched to computational & applied mathematics.

“I had to take CAAM 210 for bioengineering and ended up liking the class a lot,” she said.

Chen said a linear regression class she took last spring has been her favorite course.

“I have become more interested in machine learning and data science, and I think that class gave me a lot of the foundations that I needed to explore that a little bit more,” Chen said.

The summer after freshman year, Chen had an internship at an oil and gas company. She said this internship inspired her to pursue a minor in energy and water sustainability, which she learned about from her internship advisor, a Rice alum who also did the minor.

“That was when I started to explore more topics related to energy from a lot of different perspectives whether it was from a renewable or sustainability perspective or doing research, or working in the private industry. I really like energy, and I think being in Houston gives me a lot of exposure to that.”

Chen said her favorite moments throughout her time at Rice are the times spent studying with her friends. 

“A lot of my positive memories are associated with bonding with people by doing work together ... just staying up in the commons on Sundays. We have Martel Mentors [the college’s academic fellows program], where everyone works together,” Chen said. “I get a lot … of satisfaction from working on these assignments or problem sets or projects with people. When we finish, it just feels so good.”

Although Chen has mixed feelings about leaving Rice, she said she is happy with the memories made on the winding path that has led her to her last semester here.

“I am not ready to graduate because I want to have more time on campus and be a student at Rice, and it’s hard to move on from that and accept that it’s not going to be the way that I had expected it to be,” Chen said. “I’ve still had an amazing time exploring the city and meeting new people, and those memories are something I will cherish.”

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