L.O.V.E College Survival Guide Series: Meet Vanessa Oguamanam

As we wrap up this series I want to introduce a young lady who I’ve known forever (literally 3rd grade). She just finished up an internship at Google and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Maryland, College Park. Vanessa Oguamanam is definitely representing for us ladies in STEM fields,but it isn’t easy! If you think excelling in college is all about getting good grades you should pay attention!

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As an incoming freshman we all have these expectations of what college life should be, how we are going to reinvent ourselves…etc. What were your initial college expectations and how did your actual experiences compare? 

Coming into college, I expected to have it all together. I was convinced that my high school (Hey Poly!) equipped me with all the tools necessary to succeed in college. Moreover, I also received my share of tips and tricks to navigate through college from my older siblings…or at least I thought I did.

I was so sure that I would be able to balance getting straight A’s, taking on leaderships positions, getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, and having an amazing social life. It was cool and all that I had this confidence going in, but girl I was quickly humbled by the fourth week into my first computer science class.

Because assignments weren’t due the following day like in high school, I would put off doing them to the last minute. In fact, it was easy to get caught up in all the events taking place the first few weeks into the semester and to neglect your work because the professors were typically lenient with assignments due to the add/drop period. By mid-semester, I realized that I was falling behind and struggling to grasps the concepts in my CS course. I was on the verge of failing and that scared me. For the remaining of the semester, I ended up pulling constant all-nighters and spending less time with my friends just so that I could get a C.

My first semester of college taught me that I needed to change my whole approach to learning all together. The transition however, was a process.

What was your hardest transition from highschool to college?

Hmm, I would say the hardest transition for me was learning how to succeed with all the freedom I was given. Your parents aren’t there to tell you to do your homework or to tell you not to be out partying every weekend. You won’t be sent to detention or get a phone call from the professor if you skip class or if you are frequently late to class, you know? There are also many distractions that come with being a student in college if having a social life or being actively involved are important to you.

Self-discipline is the major key to success in college.

What advice/tips would you give your freshman self? 

Haha, I love this question. Here is a list of some of the things that I would tell my freshman self:

  • First, I love you and everything is going to be ok.
  • You will vibe well with a lot of people during orientation however, not everyone you click with in the beginning will end up being your friend
  • Learn the importance of budgeting and saving. You do not need to go shopping for every other function.

    Most guys in college aren’t serious about dating LOL, so girl, don’t trip over ole boy. I promise you, it’s not even worth your energy

  • Stop pulling all-nighters. They are not necessary if you learn to manage your time well. Work smart, not hard!
  • Get to know your professors! Go to office hours as much as you can especially if you are struggling in a class
  • Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. A number of things you learn in college will be self-taught!
  • Learn to say NO!

For a lot of kids college is their first time having 100% freedom which can be a good or bad thing. How did you adjust to being on your own, did you have any downfalls? 

I answered some of this question in my previous responses. Just to add to it to though, I kept a big calendar, a planner, and to-do lists handy with intentions of keeping myself organized, managing my time, and staying on top of my work. I also set goals for myself every semester that kept me focused and motivated me to succeed.

Of course, I had downfalls. For example, it was hard for me to break my bad habit of putting things off until the last minute, particularly studying for exams and completing projects. This resulted in me pulling all-nighters just to get satisfactory or poor scores in exchange. Some of the techniques I learned to cope with this were to start assignments immediately or to tell myself that an assignment was due a few days prior to the actual deadline. It’s all about having your priorities in order. My education was and will always be important for me so passing my classes was a MUST!

In your opinion, besides classes what was an obstacle you had to face in college and how did you overcome it?

One obstacle I faced in college was maintaining friendships and learning when to let go of those toxic friendships that were no longer serving me. I am not sure if I have an answer to how I overcame it other than going through the experience itself. College is inevitably going to teach you a lot about yourself and other people. You will learn to distinguish between genuine and phony friendships. It is ok if you feel yourself growing distant to some of the people you called your best friends before entering college. It is also normal if you end up becoming great friends with someone from your high school that you weren’t even that cool with back in the day. Just remember that you’re not alone. I guarantee you that some of your peers will be going through similar experiences.

How did you deal with pressure from family/friends?  

The CS program at Maryland was so rigorous that it often consumed my life. My family and my friends didn’t understand why I always had a project due or an exam I was studying for. It would take me hours (50+) to complete one project and it was hard to explain that to people who weren’t in my major. I didn’t have time for a social life or myself at one point because I was focused on passing my classes. As a result, I would communicate less frequently with my family and friends. One day I had a wake up call. I realized that having my family and friends there for me actually kept me sane. The little things that they did such as checking up on me or staying up with me to listen to me vent, revealed to me that I have people rooting for me succeed. My family and friends believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my support system.

Can you describe why you chose your major and career path? Has it ever changed throughout college if so why? 

As a little girl, I was always intrigued by technology especially the graphics and animations in games. However, I had absolutely no intention of pursuing Computer Science in college. For the longest time, I aspired to be a fashion designer and to have my own clothing line. I remember doodling and sketching up drawings of outfits that I wanted to make one day and thinking I would major in Fashion Design. It wasn’t until the summer of my junior year of high school when that all changed. That summer, I participated in Microsoft’s Digigurlz camp. Digigurlz was a program geared towards getting more girls interested in technology and pursuing the field of computing. I had the opportunity to network with many professional women working in the hi-tech industry sharing stories about the cool projects they’ve worked on! I also learned about the history of CS and how it started with women pioneering the field to now being a male-dominated field. After attending the Digigurlz camp, I knew I wanted to major in Computer Science.

I learned that with technology I would be able to use my creativity to build things and make my visions become reality. I was empowered that I could use technology to help give back to my community and make a social impact.

It was a long and difficult road, but my major remained the same throughout college.

I was determined to accomplish my goals and prove to myself that I can succeed in this field despite all odds against me.

What is the one thing you regret about your college experience? 

I regret passing up on many opportunities that scared me in college. There were many things outside of my comfort zone that I wanted to take advantage of but chose not to because of my fear of not being good enough or the time commitment. This is the wrong way to go about navigating through college. College is about new experiences and as some would say, “finding yourself”. If you’ve been thinking about trying out for that new dance team or giving a TED talk or even joining a Greek organization, DO IT!

Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way especially the ones that make you feel uncomfortable. I promise you it will be fulfilling and you will grow and learn from that experience no matter the outcome.

Besides the degree of course, what is the most important thing you believe a person should take away from their college experience?

I think people should get experience in their field early on. It will do more harm than good to wait until your senior year of college to start applying for jobs without any experience under your belt. Many people will tell freshmen that they are too young to get internships but nothing could be further from the truth. Seek out volunteering opportunities with professionals or professors in your field, work in the lab as a research assistant, consider doing an unpaid internship, or find a person in your field that you can shadow at work. These experiences will help you figure out if your selected major is in fact the right field of study for you. Additionally by gaining experience in your field outside of the classroom throughout your college career, you will also increase your chances of securing a job upon graduation.

Check out Vanessa’s blog on general tips to follow for securing the internship of your dreams.  I would like to thank you all for the positive responses to our series. I know college is difficult, but I hope you all took advice from all the women featured!