Dani Zhao took a moment to reflect on their first year as an undergraduate student in Queen’s Engineering. The Winter term had ended, and the city had just experienced its first 20-degree day.

Having arrived here from their hometown of Barrie, Dani was initially apprehensive about the move to Kingston given they didn’t know anyone from their high school who’d also selected and gained admission to Queen’s. Still, they were drawn here by the reputation of the university, and especially that of Queen’s Engineering.

“I did a fair share of online research before deciding on Queen’s,” they said. “But I think what helped the most was talking to current students. I heard it was a welcoming community, especially in engineering. And after first year, I can confirm it. I found a very tight-knit community where we all look out for each other. Living by the lake is a big bonus as well.”

Still, the transition to the university’s first in-person class sessions in 18 months was not seamless.

“Academically, I feel like I could have done better,” they concede. “It was a challenging transition, especially with mental health, but I was fortunate enough to get the help I needed from Student Wellness Services.”

Ultimately, it was the on-campus living arrangement where they found a sense of belonging and community.

“My residence was on West Campus,” they said. “And West is rather isolated from everything else. And I think that really helped knitting a tight community there, something I feel is kind of unique to it. And I didn't have trouble finding friends at all, the first two weeks was just saving contact info after contact info. You never stop meeting new and interesting people.”

“Very quickly, you find a group that just sticks with you,” they added. “I found some of my closest friends within the first few days, and they're all amazing people. Don’t be afraid to reach out, this is everybody’s first time too.”

At the close of the academic year, as summer approaches, Zhao reflects on June and the significance of Pride Month. “It's important to continuously raise awareness to LGBTQ struggles. There is still a stigma around it, and although Canada supports same-sex marriage from a legal stand point, it is important to realize it is one of only thirty countries to do so.

Looking toward second year, Zhao is excited to move into the Mechanical and Materials Engineering discipline. “For second year, I think I'm most interested in learning more about physics and hands on shop classes. I'm really looking forward to it and joining design teams related to the field I want to work in the future, which is aerospace engineering.”