One Year After Ellis: Esty HENTELEFF ’23

When Esty HENTELEFF ’23 graduated from Ellis last year and headed to North Carolina State University, she was a bit nervous about leaving home but excited for her newfound independence. She declared an Environmental Science major and intends to focus on environmental design; she’s considering landscape design among other careers. Her Ellis experience prepared her well for the demanding study schedule of her freshman year, and also gave her the confidence to think about a nontraditional path through her next few years of education. With her first year of college in the books and a world of opportunity ahead of her, Esty reflected on her time at Ellis and her first year of college—and, she shared advice for Ellis’ Class of 2024 ahead of their upcoming graduation.
When you graduated from Ellis last year, what were you most looking forward to about college?

I knew I was going to be going far away from Pittsburgh, and so I was really looking forward to being independent. I was also very excited to meet new people and just explore a new environment. I hadn’t been to North Carolina very many times so it was a lot of new space to explore both on campus and the greater state in general.

What were you most nervous about?

Definitely being far away from home and only knowing a few people. I went to orientation and met some people there, and we stayed in touch—which really helped me out in the long run. I actually ended up becoming really close friends with them later, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into because there are just so many unknowns. I was just very nervous for all of the new aspects that came with leaving home.

What turned out to be the most challenging thing about your freshman year?

I’m kind of a shy person in general so being thrown into an environment where you have to socialize with people all the time so that you can meet new people was challenging. You’re going to new classes, and it’s a new campus, and of course I’m attending a public school so the campus is really big. In the first few weeks, I was putting myself out there and being a lot more extroverted than I was before. It was very challenging but also very rewarding because I met a lot of new people and I found my groove. [What did you experience on campus that helped you do that?] On my campus, within the first week there were a lot of activities so I just went to almost everything that I could. There was something called RecFest that spotlighted different clubs and all kinds of different activities that students could get involved with. I ended up finding rugby through that and I played rugby my first semester. That was a very good way to get to know new people.

What were your favorite experiences from the past year?

Rugby is definitely one of them. I had never played a sport before so that was new, and it was good because it was club rugby so they accepted everyone who wanted to play and there wasn’t a lot of hard core training. I always wanted to play sports but I never got around to it so I found that it was a good starting point. I also enjoyed an end-of-the-year activity my college has which they call Wolfstock—a play on Woodstock. There was live music and a bunch of activities and food. I went with my friends and it was outdoors on one of the campus fields. It was very summer vibes, and fun to just walk around and have some relaxing time after doing a lot of academics.

What are some other clubs or activities you joined?

Second semester I joined a horticulture club, so I learned a lot about plants and met new people through that. They had a lot of guest speakers so it was really cool to hear from people actively in horticulture careers. I also joined a village community called WISE, which stands for Women In STEM and Engineering. I lived on the floor with other members of that village in my dorm building so everyone in my suite was also majoring in STEM or Engineering. I had a mentor for that and there were a lot of activities, like fun arts and crafts stuff. I also joined University Singers both semesters because I did choir throughout high school and I wanted to stick with that. I really enjoy singing and it was familiar since I had done it in the past.

What was your experience with your classes?

It was honestly pretty smooth. I didn’t have a lot of trouble keeping up with my classes. Ellis definitely prepared me for that because it’s hard to balance all your classes and then also your social life, and clubs and activities. I had so much practice doing that it was easy to stay on top of my classes. Most of my classes were big lectures which were very different from Ellis, but my English 101 class was split into small sections. I got to know my professor really well and could talk with her on a more personal level. I participated a lot more in that class because it was a smaller environment and felt more like Ellis. I also had an advisor for freshman environmental science majors. I had a lot of meetings with her and could ask her any questions, so I connected with her a lot, too.

How did your Ellis experience help you prepare for college?

Definitely my patterns of studying in high school helped me. I would say if you’re in a class with people you know, study with them. Speaking it out loud is helpful. I did that in high school and I think a lot of people at Ellis do that. For some classes, there’s just a lot of memorization and flash cards helped me with that. A lot of times it’s just assessing what different classes need. Lean on the Ellis experience but be open minded to new ways of studying.

What do you miss about Ellis?

I missed the tight-knit, close community. Ellis is a pretty small environment so I got to know the teachers really well. I also missed being in an all-girls environment. That was definitely a big change, being in class with men all of a sudden. I think that because I’m a woman I connect to women better. There’s a basic commonality there already because of life experiences, and women tend to think and act similarly which makes it easier to connect over experiences.

What are your summer plans?

I’m actually going to cosmetology school. I’m taking a gap year from college to go to Bella Capelli Academy, and then planning on going back to North Carolina. I’ve always wanted to go to cosmetology school, and I thought about it in high school. I was going through college and I wanted to get a job that would be able to sustain me a little bit more, and that would allow me to have a career while I go to school. I thought a trade school would be a good way to do that and I really love doing beauty stuff. I think I’ll very much enjoy doing this and I’ll get some helpful experience. I’m just trying to keep an open mind, honestly, and keep in mind that academics is not always a straight path but everything will figure itself out in the end.

Is there advice you want to share with Ellis seniors?

I know how nervous they are. It’s a really new experience. I was really nervous, and didn’t know what the future held at all. I would say, keep an open mind, be open to meeting new people, open to new experiences, and to trying new things. At Ellis, I had a nice groove. I had my friends, I knew what I was doing, and then suddenly I was in this new environment. Sometimes it’s easy to do the same things you’ve always done, but I pushed myself to go outside of my comfort zone. I joined rugby and learned how to be more extroverted and I think that really, really helped me. Even if you’re nervous about that, it always works out and there will be something that you find that you’ll really enjoy.

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