Student Profile

Brian Wandawa
Brian Wandawa ’16
Kampala, Uganda

Recipient of the Delta Delta Literary Society Odyssey Scholarship

What did you do this past summer?
I worked at Blackford Capital, a private equity firm based in Grand Rapids, MI with a focus on low-tech manufacturing companies. I split my time between the deal team, where I modeled and assessed new investment opportunities, and the active portfolio team, where I worked directly with the companies in Blackford’s portfolio to achieve the short- and mid-term strategic initiatives set by each company’s Board of Directors.

Please comment on the pursuit of your major and minor, as well as any other academic interests.
I’m majoring in Philosophy and Economics. I started in economics, where the mathematical and conceptual rigor involved turned the broad strokes economic intuition I learned in the in Intro: Macro and Intro: Micro classes into something more real and concrete. After a year, I decided to pick up a second major. I realized that I missed opening a book to wrestle with someone’s unique conception of the way the world works; sitting down with friends and debating interpretations of a difficult passage; and structured grappling with life’s tough questions. Essentially I missed what I had done in the Humanities core. Philosophy seemed like the perfect fit. I had already gained a basic exposure to a range of philosophers in core courses, and at the end of those courses I often left wanting more.

Both my majors have been an essential part of my college experience. Each is fascinating on its own, but together, they have enabled me to strike a balance between the quantitative and the qualitative that are both so important.

Please tell us about a significant or memorable experience you have had during your time at UChicago.
Eating at Pierce Dining Hall every day was one of most enjoyable routines my first year. I remember walking in for lunch on the first day of classes and seeing the organized chaos that was the eating area. A bunch of house tables with dozens of kids animatedly talking to each other and yelling at their friends at other house tables. That scene embodied what Pierce was for me. It was never a place you went and ate your meal in silence, even if you wanted silence. Eating a meal there was always a communal experience, whether with the people in your house or with the people at other tables. The communal dining experience is one of the ways UChicago feels like home.

What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom? Are there any that are new from last year?
I’m a captain on the University’s Mock Trial team, the Sponsorship chair for Major Activities Board, Treasurer for the UChicago chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon and member of UChicago Careers in Business and The Music Forum.

As a scholarship recipient, to what extent are you grateful for the support you received? What are your thoughts on how you might one day give back to the University of Chicago?
If my choice of college had been restricted by what my parents could afford, simply put, I would not be attending any four-year college right now. My years here have been the most amazing years of my life because of the home I’ve found here.

As a son of immigrant parents whose family moved to an insular and somewhat homogeneous Midwestern community in middle school, I quickly grew accustomed to always feeling like a bit of an outsider. I had a hard time finding partners for group work or even holding brief conversations with my classmates. On the flip-side, because I had spent the majority my life in the US, when I went to Uganda, I did not feel like I was at home for the same reasons. I would attend family gatherings, know none of the social cues, and understand little of what was said. Because of this, my relatives would point out that while my blood was Ugandan, in reality I was an American. Being an outsider both “at home” and in America was difficult.

I quickly internalized that feeling of exclusion, so I learned to become a more quiet and reserved person, and I grew comfortable in this role. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but only now have I come to realize how restricted I felt then compared to now; how much more relaxed I feel in my everyday life because I don’t have to spend time wondering whether it’s the way I dress or the way I talk or the things I like that causes others to treat me as different.

At UChicago, it quickly became clear to me that the student body was an assemblage of dissimilar people who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. For me, at least, there was no such thing as being “different,” because we were all different from each other. I didn’t have to bother trying to change my behavior to match anyone else’s or withdraw into myself for fear of being hurt by others because there was no pressure to act a certain way. “Everyone here is weird” they told us in the promotional brochures back in high school and they were right. The other first years in my house were kind of weird and so was I. We were weird and nerdy together and no one gave that a second thought. For the first time since 3rd grade, I felt like, and was, just another student.

UChicago is the first time in a very long time that I have felt at home with my community. These four years are something I will never be able to forget because I can honestly say that I have never felt less self-conscious and more comfortable in my own skin than I have here. There aren’t too many other schools where this would have been possible. There aren’t too many other schools that draw such a large percentage of kids with such unique backgrounds and there certainly are not many others where the administration, the admissions office, the housing office, even the professors openly and purposefully celebrate and embrace the little, and often big, quirks that make us all human.

I had no idea when applying that this would turn out to be the case. When I chose UChicago, I was honestly just trying to get out of my home town. But looking back, I realize that this school was exactly what I needed to shed the quiet, reserved kid I became out of necessity in high school and just become me: sometimes loud, often quiet, nerdy, snarky, friendly, loyal, opinionated, open-minded, but most importantly, self-confident, me.

For me, UChicago is way more than an education. I just checked my grades and I’m thankfully still on track to graduate on time, but even if I wasn’t, even if some unforeseen circumstance forced me to drop out a week before graduation, every single lengthy problem set, headache-inducing paper, stress-filled all-nighter, 40-out-of-100-is-the-average midterm, and all-consuming finals week would still have all been worth it, because as horribly cliché as it probably sounds, UChicago has been the one place that I’ve been able to find myself.

So, from the very bottom of my heart: Thank you.

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