Q: Can you introduce yourself and your role in the Allen School?
A: My name is Samek Mulepati, I’m a second year attending the Allen School. I’m majoring in Computer Science with the Data Science specialization and I’m pretty active in clubs. I’m in ACM, ACM-W, and other clubs. I’m mostly busy with school though, because I’ve been taking 3 CS classes which have been taking up most of my time. But that’s about it.
Q: What were some of your adversities like coming to the Allen School, specifically with also being an immigrant to the United States as well?
A: During the entire application process for colleges, because I was an immigrant, I had as much knowledge about the process as my parents. The way I got all my education on the college application process was through the internet and through my research I felt like I was more educated than my parents on the application process. It was only driven by me, I didn’t have any help because my parents were busy with work and they also didn’t experience the college application experience here. For them it was just taking exams and if you did well on exams then you were good. Focus on school, that’s what they tell you to do and that’s what I did. That’s probably not the only way to do it but because I did well in school and I did the best I could I was able to get into the Allen School. I went to community college before this as a part of Running Start in high school, I feel like that also helped to prepare me for the college environment more. I feel like if I had just come in directly from high school I would be a lot less prepared for everything that’s going on in the Allen School. Community college, because it’s so small, I knew every single one of my teachers and I feel like they knew me by name as well. Here I think maybe one or two of my teachers know me by name, but I don’t think most of them do. Getting situated here was a lot easier because I had that background of being in a community college. I was able to talk to professors, and they helped guide me through my career. For my career and going into Computer Science, I didn’t fully know that I was going to do this until in community college I got really close with my computer science professor. I helped open the computer science tutoring center at Shoreline Community College. She really pushed me towards Computer Science and I always went to her office hours, and that really helped me get into this field. If I was here when I first came into the UW, I don’t think any of that would have happened and I would've been so lost finding my major. Like most freshmen who are pre-majors, they’re always stressing about what they’re going to major in and I feel like I would have been in that same position because I don’t have that overall guidance from my parents. It’s also a lot harder to get closer with your professors at UW.
Q: How did being a first-gen student affect your journey during undergrad?
A: You don’t have the same expectations about colleges like your other classmates. My mom actually, she went to college in Nepal, so when she came here she was applying to jobs that required a college education but the thing is they wouldn’t accept her because she didn’t have a degree from the US. So as I was applying to colleges, she was also applying to colleges. So we had that parallel experience. Her experience with colleges was all online because she was also working and she can’t really go to college since she was already a nurse and had a nursing certificate. So she was going to college as an undergraduate at the same time I was applying to colleges. That experience made my expectation for college seem like it was all about studying because that was all I saw my mom do. Go to work, come back, and study for re-getting her degree in the US. So when I was coming into college I had the movie experience where it was like ‘Oh there’s gonna be a lot of parties but my parents’ expectations of never going out and partying, focusing on school, finishing assignments as fast as I can’.
Q: What do you think is not talked about enough in the first gen community?
A: The reason this question kind of stumped me is because the way I make friends with people is I sit by them and then I become friends with them so I’m not really close with people who I know are first-generation. And the people who I do know, they seem to be doing very well and I don’t know if they are very outspoken about the issues first-generation immigrants face in getting into the education space and being at UW. From what I know, what’s talked about is usually like the opportunities that are available because most first generation immigrants going to school, based on my experience, don’t know the opportunities that are available to them. Like exposing the opportunities that are there isn’t talked about enough for most of us.
Q: How have you navigated learning English as a second language?
A: I feel like it impacted me a lot, throughout my education. When I first came here, my English was really bad. It didn’t really show because when I first came here I was really young, as in I was eight, and I moved to Texas with my cousins and they didn’t know how to speak Nepalese so I could only speak English with them. So even if my writing skills were nothing, for that month or two that I was in Texas with my cousins, my English got to the level where it seemed like I was fluent. When I moved to Hawaii, I wasn’t discriminated against because of my accent, unlike my parents who faced a lot of discrimination because of their tongue. There were so many people who were racist where having this tongue or this accent here really prevents us from doing so much. In school I was like “I’m good, I can fit in, I’m fine” and then I went into English class and I was like “Oh no I can’t do anything” and then they put me in ESL (English as a second language). Being in ESL was super embarrassing for me because I don’t know how it was for other schools but people would associate you with being really dumb if you were in ESL at my school. I didn’t wanna be there. I didn’t want to be friends with other people in the ESL pool, I just tried studying really hard to get out. I was so mad in fifth grade that I took the state-mandated ESL exam in Hawaii and I was maybe 10 points away, so I had two questions wrong that could have helped me get out of ESL. I was really mad, then in sixth grade I was in also in ESL, which was also sad because I thought I was okay because I moved schools, I was in middle school now, so I signed up for Japanese class because my mom knew how to speak Japanese fluently and I thought that was cool and I wanted to speak Japanese too. I took the Japanese class, I was there for the first two days, then the third day they came in the Japanese class and said “Samek, you’re not supposed to be taking this class, you’re supposed to be in ESL for the whole year”. And I said okay, and they took me back to ESL. Then in sixth grade going into seventh, I passed the exam. But because I had to take ESL, I couldn’t take Japanese or any other language class. Then going into high school, I didn’t realize there was a language requirement. So when I was going into high school, they talked about AVID, which is like a program that you take all four years of your high school to help you get into college. And they really focus on first-gen and people who really want to get into college, but don't believe they would have otherwise. Right. So I was in AVID andI also took Band because I really wanted to play an instrument. But because I was in AVID and in Band, I was done with electives. I was also behind in my other classes going into them. The following year, I didn't have a language I needed, and all these other credits, and I was behind from all my other friends. And I was just like, “Oh, no, if I only didn't do ESL, and only if I only knew English” because like, I feel like it held me back. And then when you're applying to college, it's really impressive if you're ahead of people, but I was behind starting off in high school. So I felt like that held me back. But because of that, it really pushed me to try to get ahead, no matter what. So I always took summer classes if I had the opportunity. And then coming into the Allen school, I feel like I pushed through the adversities in getting here. And now I can enjoy it, without being an immigrant holding me back.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self, the first year you came into the Allen School?
A: I try to find shortcuts, don't do that. Just take the classes. Even if they look hard, just take it if you think you're going to enjoy it, that's the advice I would give. Last year, I was like, “Oh, I'm taking two CS classes, this is gonna be really hard. I'll take this one easy Greek mythology class, and I'm gonna have a good time.” No, I did not have a good time. Greek myth was a lot of work. All classes are a lot of work. You just have to pick the classes that you're interested in, don't pick the classes that look easy, because even if they are, it's going to switch. For Greek myths, I was like, “Oh, this class is really easy.” And then everything just went to, you know, went to shit like towards the end. And I was like, “Oh, wait, this is not an easy class.” And I was taking a class that I didn't really enjoy. And I only took it because I thought it was going to be easy, like I really wanted to take an Indian philosophical literature class. And I don't even know if it's ever offered again. But I switched from that, which is a five credit writing class, and it looked like a really hard class, I switched from that to a three credit, education class that was called Greek myth class, which wasn't even very fun and wasn't even something I'm interested in, just because I thought it would be easier. And just don't do that. And I did it again, the next quarter. So don't do that. Just take classes that you're interested in. Because you're getting educated by people at the top of their field, and you're never going to have this opportunity again. So don't just take classes because they look easier. Because you're being educated by the top of your field in everything you take, even if you take philosophy, you’re being educated by people at the top of philosophy. So whatever topic you really want to learn, just take it. Don't try to take a shortcut just because you think it's going to make everything easier.
Q: What made you want to study Computer Science at the Allen School?
A: My dad always pushes for STEM, like most immigrant parents. It's like STEM or being a doctor, but my dad didn't really want me to be a doctor. I didn't really care about STEM, but he made me do programming back in sixth grade, I took two classes and I quit. I was like, “This is not fun. I don't want to do this.” I didn't know what to do. Moving to high school, I was like, I'm just going to do Running Start and take as many classes as I can. And then when I took my programming class, the intro to programming class, I really connected with the professor teaching it, who was also like the head faculty for the computer science department. And the projects were really fun. And I did really well in the class. It was a Python class they offer at SCC, just like making a little robot do turns and stuff. It was like a super simple project. But, she structured it in a way where it was actually like a team project and writing like a final report. And our report was 10 pages. And then we would have to explain our code and all of that. And it was a really fun project. And I feel like the way I structured that project for that first intro to programming class was like how I've structured my projects in hackathons now. I structured it so well. I was like, “This is, this is something I could do in the future.” I was motivated to continue. And then when I took the next two programming classes, I was like, “This is really something I'm interested in”, because I never really struggled through them. And then I also saw my friend struggling. So I helped set up the tutoring center for computer science, because they only have like a math and science tutoring center. It was just like, really fun, and interesting.
Q: What was the hardest decision you ever had to make during your time at the Allen School?
A: The hardest decision would be, this past summer, I took two CS classes. And I was debating between so many things. I was like, “Should I do research? Should I do this? Should I do that?” And I think I picked the wrong decision. I don't know why I wanted to force myself to do classes because I feel like it really burned me out. And I was doing the same thing for the past four quarters. And I was like “This is so monotonous.” And also coming from a COVID quarter, like the spring quarter, going into summer quarter, was just not the move. I did something more like research, or even an unpaid internship, which I could have found pretty easily if I really looked, I feel like that would have been a lot better. But I decided to take summer classes because I wanted to graduate early. But now, coming here after that summer quarter, I'm like, wait, I don't want to graduate early because I could have graduated next quarter, or like even the following quarter. It's like, “Why do I want to do that I'm just cutting off opportunities that I might have in the future.” So I might even do part time for the next four quarters instead of graduating soon. So I really made the wrong decision there. And it was just a hard decision to make, because I didn't really know what to do over the summer.
Q: What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful today?
A: I don't think I'm as successful as I was when I was in high school and community college. I feel like the atmosphere you're around and the people who support you really make or break how much effort you put into school. And during the COVID months, my atmosphere is my home. And the people around me are...no one so I'm not doing so well. But I guess, when I was in community college, knowing all my teachers and being close to them helped me. I always sat in the front of the class asking questions, and I got really close with all my professors. And seeing how well I can do if I really put the effort in, seeing that really pushed me to succeed. And I took this amazing class at community college called “Psychology of Excellence”, that covered everything you need to do to become excellent and that class also really helped me. My community college experience was just really great, that helped me succeed as a student and then coming into UW, I wanted to carry that with me. So I tried to carry that with me as long as I could, but also like something fell because of the atmosphere that I have to create for myself due to COVID and all that.
Q: What's your favorite song?
A: Favorite song? Hmm. I have not been listening to that many songs right now. This is a hard question. Oh, yeah. I can't even think of an answer. There's so many good songs. I don't know. Oh, Buttercup! Buttercup (by Jack Stauber) was nice. Oh Peach Scones by Hobo Johnson. I haven't listened to Hobo Johnson since like last year but it was a good song. I remember vibing to it.