Motivation Monday: Christian

Christian West
University of Virginia | 2009
Political and Social Thought /
Comparative Religious Studies

Hometown: Washington, DC
Currently: Ph.D. student in Higher Education. I study the culture and climate of universities that inform student success.
Self-described: Educator. Scholar. Activist.
Enjoys: As a native of DC, I love binge watching old episodes of Scandal. When I have time for leisure reading, I revisit the Harry Potter series to remind myself of the hope and magic that life brings.
Being able to say “I’m the first to go to college” was rooted in hoping that I would not be the last.

Tell us about yourself!

I am originally from Washington, DC and grew up with a single parent who did not have the opportunity to go to college. As both a first-generation and limited-income college student, I chose to attend the University of Virginia because of its AccessUVA financial aid program which meets 100% of demonstrated financial need. The community also had awesome #HoosFirst programming for first-generation college students.


Greatest source of inspiration in college

My family. I have a younger sister, and I knew I would be a role model for her. Once I enrolled in school, my mother was inspired to go back to school, too. Being able to say “I’m the first to go to college” was rooted in hoping that I would not be the last.


How did other people help you get to where you are today?

In a way, my mentors are one of the very reasons I have succeeded. There are people I work with professionally who have watched me grow from the 17 year-old that first arrived on UVA’s Grounds. They gave me my first jobs on campus, challenged me to grow personally, and now mentor me professionally.

Coffee or tea?
Definitely coffee, preferably Starbucks’ Pike Place roast

Dog or cat?
Dogs. I long for the day I can have a Husky named Gatsby.

PC or Mac?
Team Apple all day!

Early bird or night owl?
Early bird.

Cake or pie?
I honestly can’t choose between these two.
Christian on Campus

Christian on Campus


Major / Minor
B.A. Political and Social Thought
M.Ed. Higher Education
Ph.D. Higher Education

Years Attended

Grad Year


Favorite thing

The people! I met such wonderful friends in college from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. It is awesome to see how we have managed to keep in touch almost 10 years later despite where our lives have taken us.


Least favorite thing

The stress! Taking a full course load, trying to perform well, getting involved, working to put myself through college. It was a lot!


Tell us about a challenge you faced. How did you overcome it?

Adjusting to the academic rigor of the University was challenging. In high school, I was used to going to class, paying attention, doing my work on time, and performing well without studying much. This strategy did not work in college. I had to learn how to plan ahead to accommodate all the reading, go to professors’ office hours when I had questions, utilize the tutoring services available, and study habitually to master the material. It wasn’t until my third year that I really found my rhythm.


How did you decide what to major in?

I changed my major five times! As an intellectually curious person, almost every course I took inspired new questions and a new area of study. I wanted to learn everything! I eventually landed in an interdisciplinary major that allowed me to detail the curriculum to my area of study and write an honors thesis. In this way, I had a bit more freedom to follow my academic interests than typical.


What advice would you give to your freshman-year self?

Collect mentors and advisors. Professors and administrators are there to support you and value relationships with students. Find professors whose interests align with yours. Do more than just pay attention in class - go to their office or ask them to go to coffee to really build a relationship with them. These will be the same folks who write you recommendations for jobs or graduate school.


Best advice you received?

In college, I was very hesitant to apply for jobs or leadership positions out of fear that I would get rejected. My mother would always say

“What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll say no and you will still have other opportunities.”

This is my mantra whenever I am going after something I know will be competitive - jobs, graduate school, research grants, etc. It has enabled me to reach higher for opportunities I would not have initially.


What's your secret for time management and productivity?

A hard-copy agenda and discipline. While in college, I adopted this strategy of writing everything down in a weekly agenda. This allowed me to plan out time to take care of my academic and leadership responsibilities in between my class and work schedules. I held myself accountable to this, too; when I planned to complete the reading for a class that week, I did it. It’s a strategy I still use professionally.


How do you de-stress?

My first year of college, I gained a lot of weight because of the all-you-can-eat dining hall. Some do the Freshman 15, but I did the Freshman 30. I quickly adopted a doctor-recommended exercise routine and learned that it was a great way for me to de-stress while in college. I took full advantage of the university’s gym and intramural activities; I was already paying for them through student fees!


Book recommendation

“Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

The book really changed my perspective on how students learn in college and how current college students can set themselves up for success against a distracting campus culture. It also addresses areas of college access that would be of interest to first-generation and limited-income college students.


Can students contact you directly?

I am a college access and college admission professional
so students should feel free to contact me with
questions about applying, selecting, and affording their choice schools.

Connect with Christian

Follow me at @christianplwest for thoughts on college access, affordability, and all things UVA!