Opinion | Campus involvement enriches education

By Rayna Wuh, Assistant Opinions Editor

I started at the University in the fall of 2020 —  a time when classes and activities were almost exclusively online. After years of continuously moving between school, sports, music and other activities, it was strange to find myself firmly planted at my desk in my dorm room doing work for my classes and not much more.

I felt stuck. Week after week, I was on a perpetual rotation between coding, game theory, linear algebra problem sets, basics of microeconomics and international relations essays. I needed a change.

So, I took my passion for social justice and my affinity for discussing contentious issues to The Daily Illini. The student-run newspaper on campus became my first involvement outside of the classroom.

Joining the opinions section brought new excitement to my semester. Weekly section meetings, despite being virtual, were filled with lively conversations. My biweekly columns and discussions with my editor empowered me to use my voice to express my opinions on topics I cared about.

Between the improvement in my writing, my increased ability to appreciate various perspectives and the friends I made, my first involvement outside of the classroom brought newfound enrichment in several forms. Soon, I was hungry for more.

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In the following semesters, I continued to expand my participation in campus activities — the more I did, the richer my experience became.

In my second semester, I became an assistant for the course that sparked a new interest in computer science, the major I have now transferred into. The honors section of the introductory computer science course is a unique one. Aside from the fact that it is run by undergraduate students, it introduces practical experience that is usually not afforded in the classroom through a semester-long group project.

Combining my technical interests with my nontechnical ones, my group built a web application that displayed reliable, feel-good news to supplement regular news consumption. While imperfect in its implementation, it was exciting to build something that addressed a specific problem and develop features based on those intentions.

Joining the staff enabled me to mentor students like myself and expand their interests in ways they could use beyond the confines of a classroom.

My growing interest in computer science has continued to branch off in several directions, driving me to join organizations like Women in Computer Science, Reflections Projections (a student-run technology conference) and Associated Computing Machinery.

In two of these organizations, my main role now as an officer and committee lead is mentorship. This summer, I am helping run programs that get incoming students acquainted with computer science at the University and college in general. I started at the University entirely clueless in both areas.

During my freshman year, I scrambled through my classes with little focus and direction. Although I am still filled with uncertainties, I found ground in the organizations I joined and it fills me with joy to help others do the same.

In each of my involvements, I forged lasting bonds with the people I worked with and engaged in my interests more deeply. I first found through my classes. As time has gone on, I have also begun to move from merely participating in organizations to actively contributing and giving back through leadership positions.

While a large component of the college experience is academic, activities outside of the classroom bolster personal and professional development. Reflecting on my own experience, I am shocked at how much my position has changed based solely on my continued pursuit and expansion of my interests.

As I prepare to enter my junior year, I am looking forward to growing both inside and outside of the classroom. I encourage anyone attending the University to maintain an open mind, never holding back in exploring what this campus has to offer.

Rayna is a junior in LAS.

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