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Meet the Class of 2021

The newest Rams are here. Get to know a few of the 4,000-plus freshmen who are ready to grab their VCU experience by the horns.

Story by VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY August 31st, 2017

With roughly 4,200 new freshmen joining the Virginia Commonwealth University student body, there are a lot of new faces around campus. The majority of them (about 90 percent) are from Virginia, but there are 96 international students as well as students from 33 states. Thirty-three percent are first-generation college students. The College of Humanities and Sciences is enrolling the most freshmen (2,500), while the School of the Arts is enrolling the second-most (650). Minority students make up 53 percent of the freshman class.

But numbers never tell the whole story. Here’s your chance to meet seven of VCU’s newest Rams and learn what makes them tick.

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Erin Nakyung Lee

Hometown: Yongin-si, South Korea

School: College of Humanities and Sciences

Lee is an international student, but she already has years of experience in the United States. In sixth grade, she moved to California to live with a host family and attend an American school.

“It was such a dream that I had,” Lee said. “I asked my mom, ‘Can I go to school? Can I try it?’ And I ended up loving it. And my mom loved it because she saw me happy.”

After three years in California, Lee transferred to Lake Forest Academy in suburban Chicago, a boarding school where she could dive further into extracurricular activities.

After attending a high school with less than 500 students, Lee, an Honors College student, is looking forward to stretching out among VCU’s 31,000 students.

“I met a lot of people from Honors, Art Foundation and other majors. That’s a big goal for me for going to a big school, to meet [people from] other majors and other cultures,” Lee said.

Many members of her family, including her father, are dentists. Lee was inspired to attend VCU after meeting with dentistry faculty members and exploring community service and other opportunities. She hopes to enter the dental school after completing a degree in biology or chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“They made me want to go to this school, no matter what. They were saying that a lot of opportunities were available,” Lee said. “And I really like the city of Richmond.”

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Gregory Ashburn

Hometown: Windsor, Virginia

School: College of Humanities and Sciences

Ashburn likes VCU’s diversity and proximity to home — “it’s not too close, but also not too far,” he said. He is passionate about sports and wants to pursue a career in the industry, which is what led him to the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

“I'd like to go into physical therapy or maybe work for a sports team,” Ashburn said.

Ashburn has done a little exploring during his first week on campus. He has been to Cary Street Gym a few times and attended student convocation. He also saw the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

“We saw some people on the street who had the glasses and they let us use them,” Ashburn said. “It was really cool.”

He said he is enjoying meeting his professors. One, Zachary Hilpert, an assistant professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry, is a familiar face.

“I came here for Summer Scholars and he taught the class, so I already have a connection with him,” Ashburn said. “He has open discussion and the class is smaller than my other classes. I really like it so far.”

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Nico Felsenheld

Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

School: School of the Arts

Felsenheld chose VCU because it’s in-state, close to home and has a strong arts curriculum. They will study Art Foundation, a studio-based program that focuses on the fundamental issues of art and design.

“I really wanted to go to a school that had a good art foundation program,” Felsenheld said. “I’m mostly interested in illustration and making comics but I’m not completely sure how I want to pursue that.”

Felsenheld, an Honors College student, is excited to meet fellow aspiring artists and learn about their artistic styles.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what other people are doing with their art and how I can draw from them,” Felsenheld said.

They also are ready to take full advantage of living in Richmond.

“I’m definitely looking forward to living in a city, because there are a lot of opportunities outside of campus, like going to museums, concerts, things like that,” Felsenheld said. “I like what I’ve seen of Richmond so far.”

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Bryant SteggalL

Hometown: Short Pump, Virginia

School: School of Business

Steggall, who grew up in nearby Henrico County, was already familiar with VCU when he applied to college. What he learned as a prospective student only increased his interest in the university.

“I just like the environment of VCU and I like what it has to offer,” he said. “VCU has the best business school, the best extracurricular activities — more than any other college I applied to.”

Steggall will study information systems, following in the footsteps of his parents, who both work in the field. As for those extracurricular activities, he already has a few he is looking into. The Outdoor Adventure Program is at the top of his list.

“That’s definitely one of my top organizations at the university,” Steggall said. “When I was applying I looked into it a little bit. I’m looking forward to doing activities with them — white-water rafting, kayaking, just anything having to do with water activities.”


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Basima Zafar

Hometown: Woodbridge, Virginia

School: School of Engineering

For Zafar, coming to VCU is a family affair. She’s the third of her siblings to attend the university.

“I’ve been here for so long because my siblings both go here, so I’m always visiting,” Zafar said. “It always felt like a second home for me because I would stay with my brother or sister for any break possible because I loved it here.”

A graduate of Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, she plans to study computer science in the School of Engineering — just like her siblings. She is armed with advanced high school classes and looks forward to learning more.

“I took every class available because I just loved my teacher so much,” Zafar said. “I want to be an imagineer. They work for Disney. They are like engineers, but they design roller coasters and fun stuff.”

Coming to campus early for RamCamp gave her a deeper dive into Richmond.

“It was fun meeting people and knowing the city before anyone else,” Zafar said. “They [student leaders] have been here three years, so they took us around everywhere possible. I felt like I was home, knowing shortcuts and knowing restaurants around here.”

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Cabria Perry

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

School: undecided

A visit to VCU in early 2017 had a big impact on Perry’s decision to apply. She had an informal conversation with a professor and a group of students that piqued her interest in the many opportunities VCU has to offer.

“It wasn’t an official admissions tour, so it was raw and uncut. Everything they said about VCU was good,” she said.

Though she hasn’t decided on a major, Perry is considering mass communications and journalism because they fit her strengths in writing, expressing herself and advocating for other people.

“I feel as though I want to help people, and the way I can help is through what I’m good at,” she said.

During her freshman year of high school, Perry joined the Black Awareness Club, which at the time was seen as a party club. She helped shift the club’s focus to be more educational, and the club won several awards her senior year. She’s considering joining a similar organization at VCU, but first she wants to settle in and work on her time management.

As she adjusts to college life, she’s eager to meet new people and learn about other cultures.

“Because of how diverse VCU is, it’s kind of like being a kid in a chocolate factory,” Perry said. “It’s exciting.”

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Karl Katlaps

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

School: College of Humanities and Sciences

Katlaps has known for a long time that he wants to be a doctor. While he was a student at Maggie Walker High School, he worked on two summer medical research projects at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and participated in a mentorship research project in cardiothoracic surgery with Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., professor in the VCU School of Medicine and chair of the Department of Surgery.

“I want to investigate how life works — I want to understand how things work together and how they affect each other,” Katlaps said. “And I also want to help people out any way that I can.”

Katlaps, an Honors College student, plans to major in biology with the goal of attending the VCU School of Medicine after graduation. He chose VCU because of the programs available for students who hope to pursue medical school. VCU also offered him the chance to fulfill another long-time dream — a spot on a Division I tennis team.

“I’m interested to see how I stack up,” said Katlaps. “The practices have been intense. I’m in shock that I have this opportunity.”

Although Katlaps enters college with a sharp focus on his short-term and long-term goals, he also said he does not want to limit himself to the notions and aspirations he has brought to campus. He is ready for new experiences.

“The future is awaiting for me here and I can’t wait to see what happens,” he said.

Footnote: Photos by Allen Jones, University Marketing. Interviews by University Public Affairs staff.
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