First lesson for freshman: learn new routine Let the Year Begin...

September 14, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Richard Kubista thought he wanted to be a chemical engineer. Until a professor told him what chemical engineers do.

"Now I'm not sure," says the 17-year-old freshman at JohnHopkins University. "It sounded really boring to me.

"When I get older, I want to have something interesting to do."

So it goes in the first days of college -- that giddy time when it seems an interesting career must be nailed down before lunch and lifelong friendships must be cemented before bedtime.

Richard, the 864 other members of the Hopkins class of '96 and countless freshmen across the country are going through the same terrifying and exhilarating transition.

While the goal is to get an education, college provides, for many, the last respite from the sour economy and everything else known as real life.

For Richard, it's been a breathless week. The food is great: All you can eat, chili dogs. Parties every night. Obnoxious upperclassmen, including the woman who sneered, "You're a freshman."

There was the walk exploring the nearby commercial strip on St. Paul Street, or as Richard put it, "that street past Charles Street." Even the Rotunda shopping center still sounds a little intriguing.

"You can't go to sleep at night," concludes Richard. "You feel like you're missing something."

It began Sept. 5 with the arrival of station wagons and minivans stuffed with computers and stereos, and driven by parents feeling a lot older than they felt the day before.

There were student shepherds to meet, bank accounts to open and refrigerators to rent.

"It's overwhelming," said Robin Goldman, an 18-year-old redhead from Chicago, surveying the activity in front of her new Hopkins dormitory.

Dennis Wu, a 17-year-old with wire-frame glasses and a short ponytail, is used to starting things alone. He spent the last four years at a prep school in Pennsylvania, far from his family in Taiwan.

"I'm still a little bit nervous, but not as nervous as I was this morning," he said.

Waiting for Richard in the inelegantly named Alumni Memorial Residence 2 dorm was a 10-by-12-foot room. In it were two beds, two desks, two dressers, two wardrobes, and one roommate named, alas, Richard.

Fortunately, Richard Sohn, an upbeat 17-year-old from Fullerton, Calif., goes by the nickname Lucky, after the dog in the fairy tale "The Neverending Story."

The pairing of Richard and Lucky seems to be working.

They both play video games. Lucky likes to spend time in the room. Richard prefers roaming but likes having someone waiting when he comes home.

Lucky Sohn figures to have no trouble coping at Hopkins. The son of a doctor mother and pharmacist father, he attended a super-competitive high school near Los Angeles that churned out 30 kids last year with Scholastic Aptitude Test scores higher than 1,400. Six classmates were accepted at Harvard.

"Everyone at Hopkins was at the top of their class in high school," says Lucky, a big guy with glasses and a thick pile of black hair. "But here, somebody has to fill the spots below 50 percent. That's what scares me."

Lucky wants to be a doctor, an ear, nose and throat man, to be specific.

"I consider myself focused," he says. "I know what I want to do."

Lucky thinks he might try to play football at Hopkins, or get involved in student government. He tried the Hopkins Science Fiction Club, but left quickly when the group began a little spooky role-playing. "I used to be into that," Lucky says. "Not any more."

On his side of the small beige room, Lucky has tacked up !B pictures of Brandon Lee, the actor, and Pooka, the family dog. There is no shrine to a faraway girlfriend.

"It just wasn't practical," he says. "First of all, it impedes studies."

Sitting on his son's bed, Lucky's father, Soon Ho Sohn, nods in agreement.

"He just studies, eats and sleeps," offers Mr. Sohn.

For Richard Kubista, there is a girlfriend, but she's at Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia. After dating for four years, they are separated by a two-hour stretch of I-95.

"If it was meant to be, it will be," he says. The women at Hopkins, he says wistfully, are friendly, a little too friendly.

Especially that one who keeps coming up to grab his hand and kiss him on the cheek at parties.

"I just say, go away."

*

The two Richards are part of a class of 865 students, Hopkins' largest freshman class ever. They come from 44 states, 14 countries, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam -- the most geographically diverse group ever at Hopkins. It's also the most racially diverse. About a quarter of the class is Asian-American. Another 10 percent is African-American or Hispanic.

Combined SATs reached 1,295, the highest of an entering class in five years, and 13 freshmen had perfect 800 scores on their math tests. There are about three men for every two women.

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