Ana Neferu

University of Richmond, class of 2012

Ana Neferu, University of Richmond, VA, class of 2012
Student highlight as featured in the Undergraduate Newsletter, Summer-Fall 2011 issue. Want to learn more about University of Richmond? Read the university highlight available here.

There is this common misconception in Romania that participating in national and international Olympiads is necessary and sufficient for getting admission to U.S. schools. Still, many Romanian students went to great schools without any sorts of Olympiads, proving that they are not necessary. I am here to prove that they are not even sufficient.

In high school, I was subscribed to National Chemistry Olympiads. Every year I came back with some prize, and at the end of my sophomore year, I even got a bronze medal in the Yakutsk International Olympiad. I first became interested in U.S. study after hanging out at Olympiad-related events with older students who were applying. I picked up concepts such as liberal arts, top-notch science facilities, or learning outside class, which made me decide to apply.

What I didn't pick up was the application process. Once Olympiads were over, I went back home, to Drăgăşani, Vȃlcea County, where nobody was familiar with the U.S. school system. I didn't think much of the importance of extracurricular activities, because I had a VIP ticket to U.S. colleges: an international medal! I learned about the process by myself, with Internet as the only source, but often did not distinguish reliable from unreliable information. Distance did not make it possible for me to come to Fulbright for advice during the week, when they were open. Looking back, I totally don't blame the 12 huge-name schools I applied to for rejecting me.

Then I enrolled at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Chemistry. Taking advantage of a special relationship I had developed with a professor back in my Olympiad days, I started research with her. At the same time, I realized that everything I eventually learned about applying to U.S. colleges was going to be wasted forever. So I plucked up the courage and decided to apply again. This time I had not only first-hand experience with the application process, but also a great support system I could use anytime, now that I was living in Bucharest: the Fulbright Advising Center.

My new list of colleges didn't only include super-famous schools. UR was one of the first on the list, because I knew two Romanian then-freshmen there, who told me about this scholarship program called Richmond Scholars which in the final stage invited you to an all-expense paid interview on campus. So I jumped at this opportunity to set foot in the U.S. at least for a visit, in case I still didn't get in. Having passed the first stage, I wrote a kick-ass additional essay about my research experience which eventually brought me the biggest scholarship available. My plan of visiting the U.S. worked: in mid-March I was crossing the Atlantic for the first time, on UR's money.

But they also had a plan: they wanted to show off their extremely beautiful campus, amazing science facilities, and very welcoming community, to make it irresistible in my mind. Their plan worked too. I did not say yes on the spot, but after getting an acceptance email from a much higher ranked school, Northwestern, I found myself looking for reasons to reject the offer so I could go back to UR.

Three years later, I am still pleased with my decision. UR has given me everything I wanted for in a school and a lot more. First of all, it has helped me find and refine the interests that define me: scientific research, environmental issues, and giving back to Romania. Then it helped me pursue and even combine them. And finally, it has exposed me to a world of opportunities, from friends from all over the world with more different opinions than I ever imagined the planet has room for, to introducing the President of the United States to me.

I was able to take my passion for chemistry to an entirely new level by doing high-quality scientific research. I have worked in two different labs, the first of which I basically joined in orientation. I was awarded two summer fellowships for full-time research, and most likely will have a paper published in a top scientific journal by the end of my junior year. I am currently helping organizing the Southeastern Conference of the American Chemical Society, where I will also present the results of my research.

I had a vague interest in environmental issues even before developing an interest in chemistry, but could not find many opportunities to get involved in Romania. Now I am minoring in Environmental Studies and am very actively involved in the main environmental club on campus. It was an Environmental Studies class that urged me to change research labs. At first, I was researching measuring techniques for water pollution levels, but after studying about how America has no room for any more waste, I decided to stop measuring and joined a project that synthesizes drug precursors without generating waste. For an Environmental Economics class, I wrote a complex research paper about Roşia Montană, and now I am trying to figure out ways to publish it in Romania. More recently, for the President's visit, I participated in a non-violent rally to urge him to stop the Tar Sands Pipeline, in solidarity with thousands of people, including UR students, who got arrested across the U.S. forprotesting.

As early as my first year, UR already taught me a lot about teamwork, leadership and management skills. With those in hand, I finally found an effective way of giving back to Romania. I became the Director of Study Abroad Projects in the League of Romanian Students Abroad. I and other volunteers have been able to help students like me, who live too far from the Fulbright Commission to be able to access verified high-quality information about study abroad.
My huge merit scholarship and extra financial aid make attending school almost for free, but I still work for extra money. My first 2 years, I used to write a blog about my campus activities for prospective students, to convince them to apply to UR. Now I replaced that with working as a Phonathon Caller, where I update alumni about campus life and raise donations for the University. I am also a teaching assistant for organic chemistry labs, and peer tutor for courses in chemistry, math, economics and environmental studies.

One thing I did not take advantage of has been the fashionable study abroad. And not because the school does not offer many incredible programs my friends constantly brag about on Facebook. But there are only 8 semesters I can spend here, and I don't really want to lose one of them. I am already in my second part of college, but I am sometimes still in awe thinking of how lucky I am to be here.


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