Scorpion Spotlight: Zoa Katok ('19)

  • Alumni News
Aryan Shukla (‘20)
Woman posing in a tree

Zoa Katok (‘19) poses in a University of Chicago sweatshirt.

Editor’s note: This was written about life before the COVID-19 pandemic caused universities to implement health precautions.

Zoa Katok (‘19) is a busy computer science major at the University of Chicago. She provides a very interesting (and humorous) take on life as a college student. She recently finished her freshman year at the university. Although it was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused all students to be sent home to continue classes online, Zoa still had the opportunity to experience (and take full advantage of) life on campus for her first two quarters.

UChicago is on the quarter system instead of the semester system. During the typical school year, students switch classes three times a year instead of two (like at Sage Ridge), with an option to take classes over the summer. 

Join us as we follow Zoa through one of her Wednesdays on campus. 

9:10 AM | Wake up and prepare for class

Zoa noted that she usually begins her morning in a rush, expecting to wake up at 9:00 AM but instead choosing to hit the snooze button for a much-needed extra 10 minutes of sleep. She often has to rush through a morning routine, then grabs some cereal from her dorm room to eat on the walk to her first class. 

Tip: Save takeout cups from restaurants or the dining hall. If you wash them out, they become perfect containers for a small snack to eat while you’re walking. Plus, you get to be environmentally conscious!

Zoa lives in the Max Palevsky Residential Commons. These dorms are organized as suites, so two rooms (with two roommates assigned to each room) would share a small general area and bathroom. 

Max Palevsky, designed with quirky, colorful 1970s architecture, is within sight of Regenstein Library, which is themed after 1950s brutalism, and Bartlett Dining Commons, which has Gothic-themed architecture (although it was not actually constructed during the Gothic era). All three buildings can be seen from one place, and, as Zoa points out, very much represents the diverse architecture of campus. 

9:30 - 10:50 AM | Introduction to Computer Science 2

Although it is a computer science class, Zoa’s first class of the day takes place at the Kersten Physics Center. This class is in a lecture format, although the lectures are similar to ones at Sage Ridge with the professor continuously engaging with students.

This is one of the classes Zoa is taking to be on track for her computer science major, which was a relatively large change from her initial plans of being a mathematics major. Zoa points out that college is the perfect time to explore, and that changing major plans is certainly an option!

Tip: College is a time of discovery, especially in your first year.

“I went into college planning on being a math major. But after taking one honors calculus class, which introduced math in a way I definitely wasn’t expecting, I decided that major really wasn’t for me. I wanted to look into other options, so I took a CS class, liked it, and now I’m on track to finish a CS major within a correct amount of time,” she said.

After class, Zoa meets with a friend, John, and walks to their humanities discussion, which begins in 10 minutes.

11:00 AM - 12:20 PM | Humanities: Language and the Human

Today, the discussion section for this class meets in Cobb Hall. Much like the class name suggests, the students study the interactions and evolution between human society and language.

This class meets twice a week and features both lectures and seminar discussions. During the first meeting of the week, one from a pool of eight linguistics professors gives a lecture to the approximately 100 students from all sections. During the second meeting, each section goes to a different room with their assigned professor, who facilitates a discussion between the students about a reading. The discussion would be led by a group of two or three students chosen for the week.

After class, Zoa meets with a couple of friends to go to lunch. 

12:30 - 1:30 PM | Lunch

Zoa is now done with classes for the day. She eats lunch with a group of friends at the Bartlett Dining Commons. The food she eats varies day-to-day, but she often eats a burger from the build-your-own-burger bar or some of the “super greasy pizza.” After finishing a meal, Zoa often treats herself to dessert. Being a cereal aficionado, the cereal rice bars were often a prime attraction. She describes these bars as “sort of Rice Krispies, but made of different types of cereals.”

1:30 PM - 2:00 PM | Wind down, work, and more

Since it’s so close to the dining commons, Zoa returns to the Max Palevsky dorms to wind down for a few minutes. This is about when she would crack open her planner, figure out what work she needs to do, and relax. 

Then, Zoa puts on a coat and boots before again venturing out into the cold weather, and leaves the dorm. 

2:00 - 4:00 PM | Work

While Zoa often does work in her dorm, she occasionally enjoys switching up the setting and chooses to head over the Hallowed Grounds Cafe to get some homework done. Hallowed Grounds is a student-run coffee shop located on the second floor of the Reynolds Club student center and is themed as a homey, relaxing cafe with billiards tables and board games. Zoa has a productive work session at the coffee shop. 

4:00 - 5:00 PM | Social Hour

Zoa calls up a friend to meet her at the Reynolds Club, then goes downstairs to get a milkshake. Every Wednesday, one of the restaurants on the bottom floor of the Reynolds Club offers $1 milkshakes to students. Zoa and Gwen get a milkshake, then go back up to Hallowed Grounds to play a board game and hang out. 

5:00 PM | Laundry

After making the walk back to her dorm, Zoa prepares her clothes, grabs study materials, and goes down to the basement to do her laundry. There are study rooms in the basement near the laundry room, so Zoa then moves to a nearby study room to get some work done while being close to her laundry. After about 40 minutes, the washers are done and Zoa transfers her clothes to the dryer. 

Tip: Always do laundry at night on a weekday because that is when the machines are the most empty. Wednesday is the best day. If you must do your laundry on a weekend, go at odd hours, like midnight. 

6:30 - 7:30 PM | Dinner

While her clothes dry, Zoa is able to go to dinner. All students at UChicago are organized into houses, so they always have a small, welcoming community. She sits at her house table for dinner, often talking to random people or even conversing with the residence heads (and their dogs). 

7:30 - 9:00 PM | Chores

This time is often flexible for Zoa. Today, because it’s a laundry day, she retrieves her laundry, folds it, puts it away, and then showers. If there is any cleaning or other random tasks that need to be done, this is about when she would do it. There’s usually some time left, so if she feels it’s necessary, this is also a good time to relax. Today, though, she does a little bit more work. 

9:00 - 10:00 PM | Fourth Meal

Many days of the week, the dining commons will offer a fourth meal from 9:00 to midnight. Zoa goes over to get some food (often ice cream or a Coca-Cola ice cream float) with her suitemates. They often go at a slightly later time. 

10:00 PM - 12:00 AM | Relax and wind down

If there’s any other work, this is usually the time to do it. However, today, Zoa got most of the work she needed to get done earlier, and this is the best time for her to watch videos or TV, relax, talk to her suitemates and roommates, and prepare for bed. Zoa tries to go to sleep by midnight most nights, but that doesn’t happen very often.

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