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Virginia Hawkins

Virginia Hawkins

Year: 2013
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Major: Business and Culture of China (Interdisciplinary Major)

What was your first impression upon arriving at U.Va.?

My honest first impression was just amazement that a place could be so much fun. Starting first year felt like I was launching into overdrive; so many people to meet, so many cool classes to take, and so many opportunities to have a blast. Two years later, that impression and that pace of life have not changed. 

What are some of your intellectual interests?

In academics, I’ve focused heavily on US-China relations and studying Mandarin Chinese. Since coming to school, I have developed a strong interest in the study of ethics. My interest in China led me to spend my past two summers exploring China. A U.Va. professor who had never even had me in class found an awesome home-stay family for me in Shanghai. This past summer, I was able to get an internship at a consulting firm in Beijing. Different professors at U.Va. helped me push my intellectual interests in China and business ethics outside the classroom and into the real world—in my case, in China!

What is the most surprising thing you've learned about/experienced at U.Va.?

I’ve been surprised at the variety of experiences I’ve been able to have at U.Va. I’ve found that the culture at U.Va. encourages you to be particularly adventuresome. If you are willing to take the initiative, U.Va. provides unbelievable resources for research, travel, and adventure. The professors and administration also cultivate an environment where the possibility of failure is not a reason not to try something. I declared a history major, switched to East Asian studies, then decided to apply to the Commerce school. Yet finishing the application left me unsettled about it, so I got together with two professors in the East Asian Studies department and the Commerce school to create my own major about business in China. I have been very surprised at how U.Va. encouraged my winding road and allows students the opportunity to create their own path.

Describe one of your favorite learning moments while at U.Va.

My second semester, I enrolled in a class called Religious Ethics and Moral Problems. In the first lecture, Professor Mathewes promised to make us think—think about what it means to be human, what it means to be ethical, and what it means to live purposefully. We wrestled with issue such as dropping the atomic bomb, just war theory, abortion, and the death penalty.  It was my first classroom experience that extended far beyond the classroom, where the readings posed questions that literally kept me awake at night.

How would you describe the students who attend U.Va.?

U.Va. students are people you want to work with in class, and people you want to go out to dinner with afterwards. My classmates are generally intelligent, driven and outgoing people. While the majority of U.Va. students are really high caliber, there isn’t a negative presence of competition. Where there is strong competition, you’re really competing against yourself or your own standards for yourself. That was one disparity I noticed between U.Va. and other schools I considered; U.Va. is a competitive place with really talented people, but at the end of the day, it is not a cutthroat academic environment. With few exceptions, U.Va. students genuinely want each other to succeed and will push each other to be better.

What is your favorite memory of U.Va.?

A friend from high school and I independently made the decision to come to U.Va. and move far away from home. Initially, we were both trying to get our feet under us while we watched high school friends seem to transition into college more easily. But I will never forget answering a call from her in October of our first year where all she said was, “Stop where you’re walking. Look at the trees changing colors. Look at the gorgeous red brick buildings on Grounds. Can you believe we are lucky enough to go here?” Since then, I’ve gotten (and made) many such phone calls with that same friend. It can be anything—watching Charlottesville’s kids come to trick-or-treat on the Lawn during Halloween, when a friend delivers me Diet Dr. Pepper in the library, or laughing with friends in a fourth year’s Lawn room—but those small moments come together to make my favorite memories at U.Va.

What kind of independent projects or individualized learning have you partaken in at U.Va.?

This past semester I was able to work with the international admissions dean to create a for-credit class that I will teach in the fall. Student Council has a program called Cavalier Education, where students can apply to teach courses for other students to take. My class will outline the differences in education in the United States and China. Creating the syllabus, choosing the readings, and designing discussion questions led me to a much deeper understanding of my topic. I’ll teach the class this upcoming fall, and I can already tell that out of everyone in that classroom, I am going to learn the most!

Who is your favorite professor, and why?

My favorite professor is Matthew Puffer, who is actually a Ph.D. candidate in the religious studies department. I’ve had him as a TA and teacher for three different classes. Like many other professors at U.Va., he is incredibly accessible and genuinely takes interest in each of his students—for example, he makes it a point to learn all of his students’ names in the first week. Matt is an amazing teacher in the way he made every reading assignment personally relate to each student. He really used the texts from these ethics classes to challenge our worldviews and pose questions to our frames of thinking, in a way that was thought-provoking without being threatening.

What strikes you about the classes at U.Va.?

How many I wish I could take! Registering for classes is a seriously stressful thing for me, not because I’m worried about requirements or scheduling, but because there are just too many that sound really fun to take. During course selection, I’m always getting emails about the dozen classes my friends want to recommend, and it’s always a task to try to narrow it down.

Are you involved in community service? How?

Community service is a strong component of many people’s experiences at U.Va. I don’t have a close friend who doesn’t volunteer their time in some way. My sorority has different philanthropy options, and there are always small ways to volunteer around Grounds. I was part of the team that plans Pancakes for Parkinson’s, which raises money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. My favorite service opportunity has been teaching ESL.


My first year, I noticed the large number of refugees that U.Va. employees in the dining halls and facilities management. Our housekeeper in our dorm was a refugee from Afghanistan, who did not actually speak fluent English. I forged a close friendship with Nafisa as she and I worked together to improve her English.  I have really enjoyed teaching ESL to many of the refugees who work at U.Va., so I turned it into a weekly commitment through a U.Va. program called VISAS.  Teaching ESL is one of the most fun, most engaging hours of my week. 

What are your favorite things to do in Charlottesville?

Charlottesville is an amazing city to live in for college. Every season brings different fun things to do. The fall is absolutely stunning, and I love going to Carter’s Mountain Orchard to pick apples. Snow in the winter was a new phenomenon for me (coming from Texas), so I love being able to drive just 45 minutes and go snow-tubing at Wintergreen. Spring is great too, where you can walk to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday and buy fresh produce and flowers. Charlottesville is a great place if you love the outdoors, and it’s small enough not to be an overwhelming city. Yet every semester, when I am missing a more urban environment, my friends and I take a weekend trip to D.C. Charlottesville’s proximity to the mountains, the beach, and Washington, D.C. is an incredible combination.

What is one thing about U.Va. you think many people might not know?

I was shocked at how small U.Va. seems! I was a little worried about getting lost in the sea of people, but it took very little effort to get plugged in and make the huge public school a smaller community where I feel at home. Even with so many undergraduate students at a public state school, the community seems to shrink each semester. Being from out-of-state, I came in knowing only a few people, but that network of friends seemed to multiply quickly. The first year dorm and dining experience definitely facilitate that, and I think the Lawn is a huge factor too. No matter how big U.Va. is on paper, I never walk down the Lawn without running into people I know.

Where are some of your friends at U.Va. originally from?

I have close friends from Virginia Beach VA, Long Island NY, Tampa FL, Westwood MA, Winston-Salem NC, Nashville TN, Atlanta GA, and Beijing, China.

When you're on Grounds, you can be found . . .

You can find me in the Gardens! The Lawn has ten gorgeous pavilions, which are houses that professors live in. Behind those pavilions are ten different gardens, each with a unique design and structure. They are gorgeous, quiet, and peaceful. Sometimes I will eat a picnic with a friend, sit and read a book for an hour, or call someone from home. The Gardens are great because they are incredibly convenient and close, yet they feel like a peaceful escape from the pace of everyday life.

What would you tell a high school junior or senior considering applying to U.Va.?

First, I would say that although it seems really stressful now, you are going to be happy almost anywhere you choose to go to school and wonder how you could have considered anywhere else. That being said, you should apply to U.Va. if you are prepared to move outside your comfort zone and take a lot of initiative. Academically and socially, U.Va. is not a place where things are handed to you, a trajectory is drawn for you, or you can just coast along. You will thrive at U.Va. if you come prepared to blaze your own trail, and you will have a blast doing it.

For you, what marks U.Va. as different from other institutions?

The students set it apart!

Where can you get the best food in Charlottesville?

The list is WAY too long but I will do my best to condense. Bluegrass Grill for breakfast, Bellair sandwiches for lunch, and the Local for dinner would be a perfect day. And I literally dream of Bodo’s Bagels when I am gone.