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GUA Alumni: Ava Duszynski

My name is Ava Duszynski and I’m from Gainesville, Virginia (about 30 mins outside of Washington D.C.). I currently am a rising third year at the University of Virginia. I am a Media Studies major planning to minor in General Business.

I’ve always been interested in the media in all of its various forms, whether that be television, literature, or music. Additionally, I always knew that I wanted to work directly with customers and help people in whatever capacity I could, so marketing and public relations seemed like the perfect intersection of these two interests

The GUA asked Ava a few questions about student life and her aspirations...

What is it like to be an undergraduate student right now? Are there any trends or challenges in academia that have particularly impacted your experience?

The impact of COVID-19 has transformed the way undergraduate students learn. Following the emergence of the disease in 2020, many schools transitioned to in-person or hybrid learning– something that is still prominent in many students’ academic experiences. While online classes certainly have its upsides including convenience and flexibility, it also has its challenges. Without face-to-face interaction, It’s easy to feel isolated from peers and difficult to connect with the material. However, these difficulties have ultimately made me a more resilient student, encouraging me to take initiative of my own learning experience.

Reflecting on your time in academia so far, what have been some of the most significant challenges you faced, and how did they contribute to your personal and academic growth?

My most challenging moments in academia thus far have been those that have forced me to look beyond my own knowledge and seek the help of others. For example, this past year, I was required to take Financial and Managerial Accounting completely online. I tend to struggle in this area, so the completely remote nature of the course added to the difficulty I was experiencing. In the past, I was accustomed to classes coming easily to me, so I was extremely discouraged when I wasn’t even able to pass my first two accounting midterms. However, by accepting that this wasn’t something I could learn on my own and seeking the help of a tutor, I was able to make enormous improvements in my scores. Overall, this process taught me to not give up when course material doesn’t come naturally to me, but rather to develop new ways of learning and ask for the help of others.

A view of the River Liffey, Dublin

Could you highlight a particular academic achievement or moment that stands out as your favourite or most memorable so far?

A memorable academic achievement of mine was when I was elected salutatorian of my graduating class. After four years of high school, it was rewarding to know that all my hard work had been recognized. Beyond just this, however, this moment particularly stood out to me because it forced me to face one of my biggest fears – public speaking. For years, I told myself I would decline the honor of Salutatorian if it was awarded to me, simply because I knew it involved giving a speech to hundreds of people at Commencement. However, when that thought finally became a reality in my senior year, I knew that I couldn’t let my own thoughts and fears prevent me from accomplishing what I wanted to.

Ultimately, I went through with it, and found that giving the speech wasn’t as frightening as I made it out to be in my head. Overall, this experience was memorable not only for the validation it provided me with, but also for challenging me beyond my comfort zone.

Many students have diverse interests. How have you managed to integrate your academic pursuits with your other passions or interests? Do you believe this is an important aspect of your future work/life self?

Growing up, while other students always seemed to know what their dream job was, I sat in awe, wondering how so many people seemed to have such a clear sense of purpose. I always possessed a plethora of interests, so the thought of choosing just one job for the rest of my life felt restricting. However, I soon realized that while it might be unrealistic to find a job that combines all my passions, I can find one that aligns with my values and goals. While it’s important to enjoy what you do, only by also learning what is most important to me was I able to determine what future career path I would like to pursue.

Howth Cliffs, Dublin

Can you share the role mentors or advisors play in your academic journey? Any specific advice from them that profoundly influenced you?

Various mentors have served as an enormous source of encouragement and inspiration in my academic career. For example, my eighth-grade English teacher and advisor was someone I knew I could always count on if I had any questions about how to navigate certain obstacles, whether that be in my academic, social, or personal life. Through her actions and the way that she carried herself, she taught me to always advocate for myself even when it might seem difficult. Overall, having a strong female mentor during such a transformative time in my life provided me with the confidence I needed.

Maintaining a balance between academics and well-being is crucial. How have you managed stress and found time for self-care throughout your studies?

While balancing academics and well-being used to be something I struggled with, particularly in high school, in recent years, I have improved substantially in this area. First and foremost, I have learned that grades don’t define you, and although easier to say than believe sometimes, only with time and experience, have I found this to be true. Additionally, by blocking out specific times in my day for self-care, I have found it easier to maintain a healthy life balance. By scheduling the same time every day to either workout or meet with friends, it has become a part of my routine to break up my studying with an act of self-care.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

What motivated you to intern abroad, and how do you hope this experience will influence your future self?

I decided to intern abroad because I wanted to grow into a more culturally aware and global citizen. Before this summer, I had never travelled abroad, but always wanted to. Although I am beyond grateful for the education I have received thus far, I also believe that some things cannot be taught in a classroom. By experiencing ways of life different from my own and engaging in hands-on work experience, I hope to grow as an individual and become more open to new experiences in the future.

For students aspiring to make the most out of their undergraduate years, what advice do you have based on your own experiences?

If I could give advice to someone about entering their undergraduate years, I would say to learn the importance of maintaining a healthy life balance. In the first year of college, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s your first time away from home and your family, and you’re essentially left to your own devices to navigate an entirely new environment. Initially, I placed a lot of pressure on myself academically, and although it’s important to maintain good grades, I often found myself prioritizing this at the expense of other important areas in my life. While it can be difficult to balance academic work with your social life, health, and own personal goals, I found that since improving my time management skills and learning to prioritize all of these, that I’ve truly been able to make the most out of my undergraduate years.

Reflecting on your academic journey so far, how has this experience influenced your perspective on your education and future career aspirations?

Though my time in Dublin has been short, interning abroad has already impacted me in ways that I did not expect. For instance, I learned that some things cannot be taught in a classroom. Instead, only by engaging in hands-on experience, have I been able to gain greater knowledge surrounding my future career goals in marketing and PR. By immersing myself in a culture different from my own, I have also discovered new ways of doing things that I never would have thought of otherwise. Finally, my experience abroad has helped me to realize that I want to prioritize travel in my future line of work.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers – perhaps a piece of wisdom or a lesson you've learned during your academic journey?

As someone who is beginning to approach the end of my academic journey, I would encourage readers to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible. Take the challenging courses, go to office hours to meet your professors, and join the clubs you’re interested in even if your friends aren’t. School is a special time in our lives, but it passes quicker than you’d expect, so make the most of your experience and try everything you can.