Leaving Las Vegas: Out-of-state student Addy Lai finds a world of opportunity at UMSL

Addy Lai, psychology student

“Every advisor, every teacher, just everybody here at UMSL has been like, ‘go for it,’” says senior Addy Lai, who will graduate in May with three certificates in addition to her bachelor’s degree in psychology. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Every time Major League Baseball season came around, Addy Lai’s high school teachers in Las Vegas, Nevada, made a big fuss over St. Louis.

“They were all Cardinals fans because they’d all gone to college at different schools out here,” Lai explains. “They were the ones who initially encouraged me to consider the city for my own college experience.”

As it turns out, it was actually a happy accident that led Lai specifically to the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she is now in her senior year as a psychology major with a pre-med track.

Lai’s mother was booking summer tours at colleges across the Midwest for Lai, who says she was seeking a whole new experience after spending her childhood in Nevada. Her mother accidentally confused UMSL with Washington University. Lai caught the mistake, but she convinced her mom that they should take a look at UMSL anyway.

“The tour went so well that I applied and got accepted immediately,” Lai says. “I tell people that it wasn’t planned. My mom pressed the wrong button, and I’m here.”

Nearly four years later, Lai has no doubts about whether the universe led her in the right direction. The city, she says, is full of opportunity and entrepreneurship and is far more diverse than she ever expected. And UMSL in particular, which she calls “the hidden gem of St. Louis,” has been especially good to her.

“I love the environment here,” Lai says. “It’s such a beautiful campus. And I love the faculty and staff. There’s just so much more here that I think people don’t notice sometimes.”

For every way that UMSL has embraced Lai, however, she’s embraced the school right back. Simply put – Lai is everywhere, doing a little bit – or a lot – of everything.

Lai is a Pierre Laclede Honors College student, who, in addition to fulfilling all of the requirements for her psychology major and taking the necessary pre-med courses to be positioned to apply to medical school, will also graduate in May with a professional writing certificate, a certificate in behavioral neuroscience and a minor in philosophy of science and technology. And those are just her official academic accomplishments.

During her time at UMSL, Lai has secured two coveted undergraduate research positions, first in George Taylor‘s rat lab, then with the Missouri Institute of Mental Health. She’s a peer mentor, academic and personal tutor through Residential Life and Housing and a Weeks of Welcome crew leader. She is also a building manager and climbing wall attendant at the Recreation and Wellness Center. Recently, she was put in charge of managing Family Nights at the RWC as well.

Despite her science-leaning career ambitions, Lai has also been active in UMSL’s theater community. She had a role in Jackie Thompson‘s production of “9 Parts of Desire” last November.

Off campus – thanks entirely, she says, to UMSL Alumni connections – Lai has been involved behind the scenes with the television improv and comedy show STL Up Late, and she’s also been a production assistant for HEC-TV.

All of this and yet, when Lai has a rare free moment on campus, she tries to learn and experience even more.

“If I have a break and I’m bored, I sit in classes,” Lai says. “I don’t disturb the smaller classes, of course, but huge lecture halls? Yeah. I’ll go in in the back, even if I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I did that with a managerial accounting class. It was fascinating. I like learning. I believe in the liberal arts education approach – soak everything up like a sponge because there’s just so much.”

In short, Lai might be one of the most involved students UMSL has had. And it’s her passion for involvement that she consistently tries to pass on to her peers.

“There’s a community at UMSL. We have all these opportunities that are accessible,” Lai says. “The first day of Weeks of Welcome, I told my freshmen the worst thing you can do is ask yourself later, ‘What would have happened if I had taken that chance and not ignored it just because it didn’t fit the mold?’ College is not something you cookie cut.”

Lai believes, too – perhaps because it’s something she used to do – that students often sell themselves short.

“They come up with reasons why they can’t do things, like, ‘I’m only a freshman’ or ‘I’m already a junior. It’s too late,’” she says. “I say, ‘Nope. Just go for it.’”

“Going for it” is something Lai says she likely learned from the other women in her family – adventure seekers like her mother and grandmother who have never taken no for an answer. But she’s also quick to point out that even those adventure seekers and high achievers need positive support and encouragement, and she believes that UMSL has offered her both in spades.

“There are so many great people here, so many faculty and staff who truly care,” Lai says. “If you are willing to learn, willing to adapt and be professional about it, I find it very hard to believe that anyone at UMSL would ever go, ‘No I don’t want to waste my time on you. I don’t want to help you.’ I just don’t see that happening here.”

The UMSL Experience


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