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Meet the Winter Class of 2019

Here are just two of the many multicultural students set to take the next steps at the end of the semester.

Fatoumata Ceesay x’19
November 26, 2019

As it does every semester, UW–Madison will send thousands of students out into the workforce or for further study. In so doing, the UW often helps to diversify fields that need more representation. We spoke with just two of those students — one in architecture and one in neurobiology —- about their journey through the UW and what they’re hoping comes next.

Hayley Pendergast

Hometown: Racine, Wisconsin

Major: Interior Design (School of Human Ecology)

Hayley Pendergast x’19 didn’t know what she wanted to study in college, but since her freshman year of high school, she knew she wanted to go to UW–Madison. As a Wisconsinite, she knew about the UW, but it wasn’t until after she entered the Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) that she knew the UW was the school for her.

“When I applied and got in [to PEOPLE], I visited the UW campus, and it was really cool,” she said. “I got to spend my high school summers [on campus], and I really enjoyed it. Eventually, I was set on going here.”

During her freshman year, Pendergast looked into the various majors before stumbling into an introductory level design course … and loving it. However, she didn’t know what area of design she would go for, and randomly chose interior design.

“I just made the decision to be an interior design major,” she said. “I didn't really have a particular reason even doing it. I just thought it would be amazing. And it has been.”

Four years later, Pendergast remains passionate about her major and has made strong friendships with the people in her courses.

“Me and my friends are all a part of the same major. We have a really small major. There's literally about 30 of us in one cohort,” she says. “Toward the end of the semester, we always end up pulling multiple all-nighters in a row. Weirdly, it’s both the most awful thing, yet most fun thing I’ve done in college.”

Through the strong relationships she’s built at the UW, Pendergast has also been able to find internship opportunities off campus.

“I’m currently working at an internship with a company called SmithGroup,” she says. “I learned about it from a previous interior designer teacher here. She works at SmithGroup, and I connected with her. When I was looking for internships, she encouraged me to apply there, and when they needed interior design help, they hit me up. It’s really nice working there.”

As Pendergast prepares to graduate, she’s sad to leave those connections and friendships. She’s also nervous to enter an industry that may not be as diverse as her campus cohort was.

“The industry I’m going into is very white, and I’m going to miss the diversity in my program. I don’t think I’m going to be around many people of color in my job, which makes me sad. There’s going to be way less people of color I see on a daily basis,” she says.

After graduating, Pendergast hopes to continue working for SmithGroup in their Chicago office. She’s excited to work in a career that she has worked so hard to join.

“I’m so passionate about my major and what I can do for others with the skills I’ve acquired through the UW and the coursework I’ve had,” she says. “Thank you to PEOPLE for offering me the opportunity to grow and thrive, allowing me to find who I am without financial burden.”

Tenzin Kunsel

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Major: Neurobiology (College of Letters & Science)

Tenzin Kunsel ’19 always wanted to be a doctor and knew that whatever school he chose, he’d be on a pre-med track. As a Madison native, he was always aware of the UW, but didn’t realize how impactful the university would be for him.

Kunsel took part in a precollege technology training program called the Information Technology Academy, hosted by the UW’s Division of Information Technology. The program brought him to campus twice a month for four years, and his interest in the UW grew with each interaction.

“I knew the campus, and home was really close, which was something that was very important to me. It made sense to go here,” he says.

After trying out different majors, Kunsel found neurobiology to be a perfect fit.

“I originally came to the UW as a biochem major,” he says. “I thought I would enjoy it, but I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. So, I started working in a research lab in the Department of Neurological Surgery, and I found that I learned a lot in the lab. I started taking neuro courses, switched my major, and I haven’t regretted it since.”

Through his major, Kunsel has made great gains in his field, including internships and attending different conferences. He even attended a conference with Nick Ewoldt, assistant dean of the College of Letters & Sciences (L&S).

“Nick told me about an organization on campus called the Academy,” he says. The Academy, an initiative through L&S’s Center for Academic Excellence, serves underrepresented students interested in attending graduate, law, or medical school. “I attended their meetings and found out about the summer medical and dental education program through through this organization. Nick helped me with the process of applying, and I even went to a research conference with him in Asheville, North Carolina. While we were there, I got an internship offer from Case Western Reserve Hospital shadowing and learning more about hospitals work. It was great learning and networking with everyone there.”

In his time here, Kunsel made many memories with friends who also came to the UW. As he prepares to graduate, he is sad that he won’t be able to see them regularly.

“One of my favorite memories of the UW would have to be going on a road trip to Denver, Colorado, with my friends,” he said. “We went to Mount Zion, and it was my first time going camping. It was a lot of firsts for me, and there was a lot of bonding that happened.”

Kunsel is also sad to leave his fraternity, Chi Sigma Tau, an organization that has been a significant part of his college experience.

“I think that it was a safe place for me, my fraternity. It was a multicultural, Asian interest organization. I was around a bunch of guys who all shared similar interests. I grew, and I learned a lot in this org.”

After graduating, Kunsel hopes to learn more about his Tibetan heritage and prepare for med school. “I’d like to go to India for half a year and learn the Tibetan language, culture, and religion,” he says. “I also want to apply to medical school, so that’s what I would be doing in my gap year.”

As for current students, Kunsel encourages them to get involved so they can have their own UW experience. “Be involved, find a community that you identify with, and try to make lasting friendships,” he says.

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