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My W&L

"I am where I am because of W&L."

Samantha O'Dell '15

Nearly four years ago, I came to W&L having marked my prospective major as Psychology. I can't remember ever planning to major in Psychology, but that's what I wrote down. Luckily, the first-year advisor I was assigned was Professor Wheeler, one of our wonderful English department's professors. From the very beginning, my time at W&L has been filled with happy accidents.

Early on, I settled into an English major. I had loved reading and writing and had always excelled in English classes; no major was a more natural fit for me. I knew that I wanted some other area of focus, but I wasn't sure what my second major might be. I'd spent a lot of time between the ages of 8 and 14 building websites and teaching myself HTML and CSS, and I'd taken a coding class in high school, but for whatever reason I considered my affinity for computers "just a hobby." That's when I had another happy accident: I decided to take a Computer Science course to satisfy my mathematics FDR. After that class, I made the decision to major in both Computer Science and English. Many of my peers thought CS and English were an odd combination. Certainly there weren't any overlapping classes between the two!

At another school, I might have run into problems trying to major in two incredibly different subjects. Not at W&L. I received nothing but support from my English major advisor, Professor Wheeler, and my Computer Science advisor, Professor Sprenkle. I was able to easily combine both majors, even finding the time to take elective courses along the way. I was given great advice by both of my advisors, but no piece of advice I've gotten has been more impactful than Professor Sprenkle's suggestion that I attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Thanks to the University's support, I've been able to attend for the past three years, and the University has provided the majority of the funds I've needed for the past two years. W&L is nothing if not committed to making these types of opportunities available to students.

Each year at Grace Hopper, I found myself realizing how badly I wanted to become a part of the technology industry. I also found that my major combination wasn't so strange, after all. My junior year, my name was pulled out of the Grace Hopper resume database by Salesforce, largely because of my double major. Before attending the conference, I received an e-mail that said I would be a great fit for a technical writing internship, and I was encouraged to apply. At that time, I hadn't heard of Salesforce or technical writing, and I wasn't sure it was an area I wanted to pursue. I applied for the position, and after a phone interview and subsequent research, I realized that technical writing could be the intersection of my two majors that I had been searching for. I was offered the internship after interviewing for the position at Grace Hopper, and I took it. I spent this past summer in San Francisco discovering an amazing company and field that I hadn't known existed. After my internship, I was positive that I wanted to go into technical writing, and I accepted an offer to return to Salesforce after I graduate. Without the university's support to attend Grace Hopper, I don't know if I would have ever found what I consider to be the perfect combination of my two majors.

Happy accidents, along with a lot of hard work and determination, have gotten me to where I am now. I don't know exactly to whom or what I can attribute my slightly unconventional path, but I do know one thing for certain: I am where I am because of W&L. Every factor, from the support I've gotten from my advisors to the incomparable quality of the education I've received, has led me to where I am today. I chose W&L because of the school's reputation as an excellent academic institution, but I couldn't have imagined how the school's generosity and caring faculty would help point me in the direction I find myself heading today.

Samantha O'Dell '15

Hometown: Independence, MO

Majors: Computer Science and English

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • W&L Independent Women
  • Cantatrici (Women's Choir)
  • ITS Help Desk

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Shakespeare in Performance, London, Spring 2014
  • Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Phoenix, October 2012, 2013, and 2014
  • 12-week internship with Salesforce, San Francisco, CA, Summer 2014

Post-Graduation Plans: Technical Writer for Salesforce

Favorite W&L Memory: Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and playing Cordelia in a student production of King Lear my first year here. I'd only acted once before.

Favorite Class: Definitely my Write 100 class with Professor (now Dean) Keen, Schools of Magic. Dean Keen is an amazing professor, and I'm lucky that I got to take a few classes with her. Plus the reading list was amazing: we read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Magicians, and Ender's Game, to name a few.

Favorite W&L Event: Independent Big/Little week! Cory Walker and I have organized this week of gift-giving from upperclassmen girls to the new Independent first-year students for the past two years. It's so much fun to shower a new first year girl with gifts every year, especially since I have such fond memories of what my own Big did for me.

Favorite Campus Landmark: The Colonnade. I love the walk from the Colonnade toward Hillel once the leaves have turned in the fall.

What's something people wouldn't guess about you? Probably my love for most genres of music, including but not limited to hard rock, pop, country, Disney songs, songs from musicals, and every piece of choral music I've ever sang for choir.

Why did you choose W&L? I knew that I wanted to go to a school with great academics where I would be surrounded by students who were as excited as I was about learning. I chose W&L because I knew I'd get an education I could be proud of. I also loved the idea of the Honor System, and it's just as wonderful in practice as it is in theory. I love having the freedom to schedule my own exams on the best day of the week for me.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Base your choices on your knowledge of yourself. What is right for someone else may not be right for you, so making decisions based on what everyone else is doing or based on what others want you to do is unlikely to make you happy.

What do you wish you'd known before you came to campus? You can join choir even if you can't sight-read music very well! I put off trying out for choir until my junior year because I hadn't sung in a choir since 7th grade and thought I wasn't qualified. I was wrong, and I could have enjoyed four full years in Cantatrici if I had tried out sooner.

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Washington and Lee fosters an atmosphere of self-discovery and an environment where anything is possible. From research theses to fully student-led theater productions, the University makes it easy for students to follow their dreams. Every year, students present research proposals to faculty and pursue hypotheses in both the sciences and the arts. Student research can occur both on campus and off, with research grants specifically designated for both areas.

With an average class size of 16, it's easy to find faculty advisors for both major projects and new clubs. Many students propose self-guided majors or pursue a double-or even triple-major, given the inclusive nature of a liberal arts education. This provides students with the opportunity to discover their passions, and also with the support to pursue them.

The University's four-week Spring Term is designed to be transformative. The courses offered during the term are set up with the dream-class concept in mind, remarkable examples of creative and expansive teaching: studying painting in Italy; the Freedom Rides throughout the South; the physics of music; code-breaking in mathematics and history; aerial dance; and many, many more. Rigorous internships and co-curricular programs like Mock Convention, the Venture Club and the Williams Investment Society immerse students in real-world learning situations that bring the concepts they've studied in the classroom to life.

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At a Glance Facts and Figures

At W&L, 22% of classes have 2-9 students, 49% have 10-19 students, 27% have 20-29 students and just 1% has 30-39 students.
44 Johnson Scholarships are awarded annually.
114 Johnson Opportunity Grants have been awarded since 2009 to support student summer experiences.
The W&L course catalog includes 1200+ courses in 37 majors and 21 minors.
190 new courses were created by W&L faculty for the new four-week Spring Term.

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Washington and Lee University provides a liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.