COVID-19 threw everyone for a loop—people lost connections, opportunities, internships, you name it. The major saving grace for me this year was being part of the Michigan Research and Discovery Scholars (MRADS) program, where I met the majority of my friends and connections and learned a lot that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
But as great as MRADS has been this semester, I wanted to branch out—to explore everything U-M had to offer and meet as many people as I could. I was nervous though, and understandably so: how could I, an under-qualified and introverted engineering student, even hope to get the positions and into organizations I wanted, not to mention socialize?
Here’s the key to getting involved: just ask! You might not necessarily get exactly what you ask for, but more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Scared to reach out? Faculty and staff want to help you, and will do their best to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction. Feel unqualified? You’d never know if that’s true until you applied. Feel intimidated? That’s your nerves talking. Feel nervous for that interview? Practice until you have nothing to worry about. A lot of professional development is just diving in headfirst and faking your confidence until that confidence becomes real.
At the beginning of my first semester, I met with M-HEAL during Festifall (where you go and meet representatives of pretty much every student org) and found it was an organization that is highly relevant to the field I want to go into, as well as a place where I could meet lots of motivated people. The application process was pretty extensive, though—there was a really long Google form and a whole interview process. The project team I wanted to join seemed to only recruit people with lots of industry experience, and I was just a freshman with no such experience to speak of aside from robotics skills I learned in high school. Nevertheless, I applied anyway, emphasizing my desire to learn and grow among people who are united in a common goal for the betterment of lives.
I remember pulling up the project team site just to refresh myself right before the interview, and as I was joining the Zoom call I was nervous to the point where my FitBit showed an accelerated heart rate. The interview went well! It was quite honestly just a pleasant conversation about my abilities, my willingness to learn, and my passions. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun in your interviews if you can—I was asked if there were certain things outside of school that I’m passionate about, and I answered “Well, I’m passionate about those silly debates, like is water wet? Do straws have one hole or two? Does pineapple belong on pizza?” I learned that especially for student orgs, recruiters aren’t necessarily looking for the most well-read, practically trained, highest achieving members—although it’s important to have these accomplishments to show your merit, it’s equally as important to show that you are someone they might enjoy working with. I made the team :)
Another important thing: make connections! I know everyone says this, but you never know who someone you know might know. I ended up getting to know a hallmate of mine really well, and she turned out to be really good friends with the lead of a project team I really wanted to join. It wasn’t as if I would’ve slacked on my application, but the small endorsement really helped me out. Now I’m on that team, learning more about prototyping and design at every meeting while building meaningful relationships with other members!
Social connections are extremely important as well—I can’t stress enough just how much better my freshman year went because I found friends to share experiences with. It’s definitely important to get involved in the career-building opportunities that Michigan has, but it’s also vital for your mental well-being to get involved socially with the people around you. One thing that surprised me the most was how eager people are to make friends here; in the first few weeks of any given semester, people will approach you out of nowhere and ask to sit with you during mealtimes or when you’re sitting with a group of friends—again, the key is to just ask and be open!
Your Resident Advisor will also facilitate events throughout the semester, and this is a great opportunity to meet new people. We did yoga in Nichols Arboretum in the fall semester as a way to destress, and it was one of my favorite things we did together!
Essentially, all you have to do to get involved is dive into things you might be interested in (Festifall and Winterfest are great ways to learn about student orgs), and go initiate those friendships with people you think might mesh well with you. It might be out of your comfort zone to be that initiator (because it definitely was for me), but it definitely pays off in the long run. You can do it!