200 Days in the Life of the College

Friday, August 27, 2010

First class: The chemistry is right

By Allison Eck ’12

On her way to her first college class, Marla Marquez ’14 is surprisingly calm. She has a sunny messenger bag slung over her shoulder and an air of confidence to match it. Fast-forward to the first minutes of Introductory Chemistry with Professor Karen Brewer, and Marquez is acutely attentive. When the first PowerPoint slideshow is up, Marquez gets out a pen and punches the clicky end against her notebook, ready to take notes. A Nalgene water bottle branded “Hamilton 2014” is hooked to a strap on her bag — it appears Marquez is as determined, prepared and self-assured as ever.

But she has reason to be somewhat apprehensive. Marquez was born in Cuba and raised in Florida, where she has been living with her mother and brother. She heard about Hamilton through the Posse Foundation program, in which she was a finalist but did not make the cut. Instead, she is attending Hamilton as a HEOP (Higher Education Opportunities Program) scholar. “My high school wasn’t even 10 percent white, which is interesting, because I’m in the minority now,” she says.

Nevertheless, Marquez is eager to immerse herself in college life and aspires to major in neuroscience and pursue a career in pediatric care. She’s been wondering about how hard college science would be, especially because she is taking two lab courses this semester. But her worries seem to dissolve as she listens. She laughs at Brewer’s truism that “science is messy,” smiles when Brewer compares heterogeneous and homogeneous substances to hamburgers and hotdogs, and looks both impressed and encouraged when Brewer says that she sometimes has late-night chats on Skype with students who have questions.

Marquez leaves the class excited and not in the least overwhelmed, despite the 12 hours a week of outside work to which she must commit. Heading for the stairs and her next class, she says, “I’m so happy to be here — you have no idea!”