Maria Than – Middlebury College
After graduating high school, Maria left Portland, OR to study neuroscience in the small NE town of Middlebury, VT.
Middlebury College, Class of 2021
Degree: Neuroscience, minor in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies
I am a neuroscience major, gender, sexuality, and feminist studies (GSFS) minor and also on the premed track. I chose neuroscience because I wanted to major in something that was interdisciplinary (to take advantage of a small, liberal arts college) and versatile (to maximize my marketability to a wide variety of industries after college). I picked up a minor in GSFS because I became interested in people, society, and social equity. I wanted to broaden my horizon and learn about people all across different spectrums of race, class, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientations.
What did you think about college before you attended?
I always knew I wanted to go to college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree because I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. However, I was very unaware of the process of college applications, the SATs and the ACTs, letters of recommendations, colleges out of state etc… I am a first-generation college student, so I did not have a lot of guidance, but everything worked out in the end.
How do you think being a first-generation student has affected your college experience?
Being a first-generation student has definitely affected how I have experienced college. I am sure at every college, you feel the “first gen effect” to some degree, but at a small, liberal arts college like Middlebury, it was difficult at first because I was introduced to a different culture, academia, and small town life different from what I grew accustomed with back home. I moved across the country from mid-size city of Portland, Oregon to a small rural town of Middlebury, Vermont–it was definitely a change of scenery.
What do you love about Middlebury?
What I love about Middlebury College (and also why I chose it) is that its liberal arts curriculum. I am able to take a wide variety of classes from different disciplines and talk with professors from with different academic interests. I love the academic side and the people I have met who are willing to engage in intellectual conversations with me about anything and everything in between.
How was the experience of starting somewhere new?
Starting something new is always difficult; my experience transitioning to college was difficult. As I mentioned, I am from the city in the Northwest and moved to a small town in the Northeast. The first year of college, everyone experiences bouts of loneliness, so it is important to find, or build a good support system. I found other first-generation peers and we supported each other through the difficult transition.
What is your favorite subject or class you’ve taken?
My favorite class so far has been a creative writing coursed titled, “Writing, Gender & Sexuality.” This class inspired me to minor in GSFS. I had a wonderful professor and mentor who helped me rediscover my lost love for creative and nonfiction writing.
What has been the most impactful experience during your time in college?
I think one of the most memorable experiences I have experienced thus far is the connections I have formed with my peers. My first generations friends like to get together, cook dinners and talk about our first-generation experience and have thoughtful, intellectual stimulating conversations about society and people. Because the college experience can vary by experience and influenced by your background, I appreciate my first-generation peers at Middlebury who can relate to my experience and support me.
What does it mean to you to have been chosen as a Renaissance Scholar?
I am very grateful for the Renaissance scholarship. I am able to focus on my studies and not worry about the finances too much.
Anything else you’d like to share?
An advice I would give to myself if I were to go back, or any other first-generation student who is kind of anxious about the college process is that you are going to do great wherever you end up. If you are like me, you want to research and know everything you are getting yourself, your family, and your financial future into, but don’t do too much research. Know the basics: why you want to go to college, what key experience you want from it, and a rough idea of how to get there. Don’t psych yourself out, trust your gut. You got this.