Category: Student Experience

Title: What Class Changed Your Life? 3 Hoyas Answer.

When she entered Georgetown, Madeleine Ott (C’26) wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in.

She tried sociology, linguistics, French, biology. But nothing seemed to stick — until she tried Advanced German.

The course connected her with her German roots, and, in the process, she found her major, international travels and a deeper understanding of herself. 

“It allowed me to tap into … [an] identity that has become even more important to me now,” she said. 

For some students, one class changes everything. Hear from Hoyas like Ott, who found one class spun their lives in a new direction.

A white woman stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin with her hands in the air on a sunny day.
Madeleine Ott (C’26) is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences.

A Class That Spoke to Her Roots

Madeleine Ott (C’26) grew up speaking German with her mother and grandparents, who were German immigrants. German was important to her roots, but it wasn’t something she envisioned majoring in in college.

When she enrolled undeclared in the College of Arts & Sciences, she began sampling all kinds of classes: sociology, linguistics, French, classics, biology. She enjoyed many of them, but nothing felt right long-term. Panic began to set in.

Her second semester, she took Advanced German, where she studied the social and cultural history of Germany during and after the Cold War. She learned to read, analyze and write academic texts and practice speaking the language. And she enjoyed learning about herself along the way.

“I hadn’t realized until then how much I wanted that opportunity [to speak German], and I wanted to dig deeper in this part of myself,” she said. “It allowed me to tap into that part of my life and my identity, [an] identity that has become even more important to me now.”

“I’m happy that as an undergrad, you get to try stuff out and see what happens.

Madeleine Ott (C’26)

It was a turning point. Ott decided to travel to Germany that summer to visit family and practice her language skills. She felt right at home and, upon returning home, knew German would be her major. She plans to study abroad there this summer.

“I am so happy I decided to do it,” she said. “And I’m happy that as an undergrad, you get to try stuff out and see what happens. I don’t think that [major] would’ve happened without that kind of open-mindedness, willingness to just explore.”

Mastering the Hidden Curriculum

A Colombian woman stands on a patio overlooking a skyline in Spain. She wears a hat and sunglasses.
Manuela Castano (B’24) is a senior in the McDonough School of Business.

“This class helped me understand that it was my own path, and I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing.”

Manuela Castano (B’24)

Manuela Castano (B’24) remembers her first weeks on the Hilltop well. She had immigrated from Colombia three years earlier and learned English at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland while working full-time as a restaurant server. She transferred to Georgetown her sophomore year, drawn to its top-ranked business program.

Setting foot on the campus for the first time, Castano was excited but overwhelmed. 

“[In the business school] you see all these people in fancy suits. … People that seem like they’re already consulting or in finance. You hear these terms like ‘investment banking,’ ‘private equity,’ ‘venture capital,’ and you’re like, ‘what is this?’ I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know how to sell myself. I don’t even own clothes for an interview!”

Around that time, Castano began taking Georgetown’s Mastering the Hidden Curriculum, a 10-week course that invites students to reflect on the opportunities and challenges they face as first-generation college students. She found she wasn’t alone in her struggles. She also learned more about what it meant to her to be a first-generation, low-income student — and how she could carve her own path forward.

“After taking that class, your perspective on everything changes,” she said. “This class helped me understand that it was my own path, and I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing. I was obviously not a traditional student, so I didn’t have to go hard on myself.”

The class changed her mindset and reminded her she was at Georgetown to find her passion. She began pursuing finance, and has since interned at Morgan Stanley, traveled to Ghana for a class consulting project, and studied abroad in Barcelona. She also joined the board of Georgetown Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs and First Generation Investors, which equips students with investing skills.

Her senior year, she became a course assistant for Mastering Hidden Curriculum, accompanying students who were in her shoes. Looking back on her sophomore year self, Castano has one thing to say: 

“You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Just be yourself. Embrace who you are and everything will work out.”

From Chinese to Health Care Economics 

A white woman with brown hair and a patterned shirt smiles in front of a brick building outside.
Grace Cohn (H’24) is a senior in the School of Health.

“I wish I was 18 and could do it all again because I would a million times.”

Grace Cohn (H’24)

Coming into Georgetown, Grace Cohn (H’24) knew she wanted to major in Chinese. She had studied the language since middle school, had visited Beijing and hosted Chinese exchange students growing up. She was drawn to Georgetown for its Chinese program, and, once she arrived, hit the ground running, studying Chinese every day in an intensive class.

During her first semester, she also attended two health-care-related events on campus that sparked her interest in the field. She decided to enroll in a health care economics course, and found her own course upended. The class studied the intricacies of the health care system, examining how Medicare, Medicaid and insurance services function.

“That class was super eye-opening for me,” she said. “The system is so incredibly broken, and it brings a lot of opportunity to make a huge material difference in people’s lives.”

After taking the class, Cohn knew she wanted to pursue health care long-term. She switched schools from the College of Arts & Sciences to the School of Health — an easy switch, she said — and changed her major to health care management and policy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck spring her second semester, Cohn took a gap year. She tapped into Georgetown’s alumni network to land internships in healthcare, working for Atlanta’s municipal government and public health team, for a venture capital fund that invests in biotech, and for a public school assisting in contract tracing. She finished the year interning for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the hospital where her sister had had a successful heart surgery years earlier. 

When she returned to Georgetown in 2021, Cohn’s health care and economics professor connected her to a summer internship at a DC healthcare policy consulting firm. She’ll graduate this year and plans to work for the Boston Consulting Group in Nashville. Looking back on her four years, she feels “insanely jealous” of incoming students. 

“I’ve done things that I never thought I would do,” she said. “I wish I was 18 and could do it all again because I would a million times.”