First-years carve out their identities

Jens Krogstad

KEditor’s note: Today’s story represents the second installment of a monthly series chronicling the lives of University first-year students.

K.C. Burke put on a knit cap and gloves as she and her visiting 16-year-old high school friend Kim set out to wander campus on a chilly, overcast Halloween afternoon.

Before they left her Centennial Hall room, a guy popped his head in and asked, “Hey physics girl, have you seen a girl named Amanda?” The name card on the door has Burke’s name scribbled out. In its place are the words “physics girl.”

As Burke and her friend make their way to Washington Avenue, another “physics girl” salutation is shouted from across the street.

Apparently, Burke has made a name for herself. She said the nickname stems from the first week of school, when fear of failing led her to study physics for hours on end.

That was back when tough classes and being away from home made life miserable. Two months after school began, Burke said, she is happy with college and her friends. Many weekends, she even gets a visit from someone back home.

This weekend, her boyfriend – a high school senior – is visiting for the first time.

She said the anticipation has been a nerve-wracking experience for both of them. She is anxious to see his reaction to her new life and friends, though she said she knows in her heart that he won’t have a problem. For him, she said, going to visit her at college is probably an intimidating experience. Despite the fears, she said, she is looking forward to his visit.

“He’ll finally be able to put names with the faces from the stories I’ve been telling him,” she said.

Continuing their walk through campus, Burke took Kim through a series of tunnels to stay out of the cold. As they wound their way underground, the two Wisconsin natives exchanged stories about roadkill that one might expect to hear in their small rural hometowns.

“I couldn’t avoid it. The raccoon ran at an angle straight into my car,” Kim said somberly.

“Did you cry?” Burke asked.

“Almost – it was so sad,” Kim said.

Above ground and out in the cold, the two decided to stop at Starbucks in Dinkytown to continue catching up on each other’s lives.

On University Avenue Southeast, cars honked as they passed striking clerical workers, which reminded Burke of a calculus test she took recently.

It was in Fraser Hall, and a loud strike rally was going on at the same time, she said.

“They were playing music, so I was I was sitting there, kind of jamming – moving back and forth,” she said, laughing.

Despite taking time out of the test to bust a move, Burke said she thinks she did well.

She said tests were one of the most difficult academic adjustments she had to make. The calculus test was the first one she felt confident about all year.

For Halloween that day, Burke dressed up as Pebbles from “The Flintstones.” In fact, she wore the outfit to her physics class that day – and was the only person other than her teaching assistant to wear a costume. She said it was worth the effort: Striking workers she passed on the way to class gave her candy because of the outfit.

On Halloween night, Burke said, her roommate knew a guy who could take them to a party, but only if he had a costume. So her roommate got on a bus to the Mall of America to find him one.

The plan fell through, though, and they decided to watch “Finding Nemo” with friends at Coffman Union.

Burke, once again, was the only one in costume, and proud of it.

Chris Dudzinski

Chris Dudzinski sat on a couch in Brent Price and Adam Kuhn’s room Sunday night, recalling his Madison, Wis., Halloween adventure while waiting for the Vikings game to start.

“I didn’t sleep all night,” he said, sniffling because of a cold. “I just partied, got a cab to my car and went home.”

His cold was getting better until he stayed up all night, but it was worth it, he said.

For Dudzinski, juggling homework and his social life has become his primary concern now that he has gotten used to school.

The Halloween party on State Street in Madison is a famous one that attracts about 75,000 people every year, he said.

As they passed Halloween candy around, Price and Kuhn said they dressed in drag because they went without any costumes.

“We were staying with three girls,” Dudzinski said. “(Price) had a miniskirt on – it was awesome.”

Within 10 minutes of being in the room, three girls stopped by to see what the guys were doing that night. Dudzinski said the room is the hangout hotspot.

“The girls all make their way here eventually,” he said.

Dudzinski said he was looking into giving plasma to make money last month, but was turned down because of the dragon tattoo that runs up his right arm to his shoulder and chest.

Despite being unemployed, Dudzinski made it to Madison because his parents loaned him a car.

His parents have been more generous the last few weeks than ever before – possibly a result of him being away from home, he said.

But life for Dudzinski is not all play and no work.

He said he is doing better in his architecture classes now that he has a few assignments under his belt, but classes like Russian history are still a challenge.

“I just have no interest in that class at all,” he said. “So it’s pretty tough – but I did study all night for the test.”

Dudzinski said Price is a good influence on his study habits because Price usually has a lot to do. But as Price started complaining about his assignments, Dudzinski was the one with homework advice:

“Don’t worry Brent – it’s as easy as you want it to be.”