As the Class of 2026 joins the University of Chicago community, six college freshmen share stories about their diverse upbringings, myriad interests and aspirations for their time in Hyde Park.
Reece Baker finished second in the Kansas high school pole vault competition last spring and is targeting a national collegiate-level finish.
Top of his class at Lansing, Kan., Baker brings more than athletic ability to campus and looks forward to all the academic challenges the college has to offer.
“UChicago is one of the most respected schools not only in the United States but in the world, and it was a true honor to be privileged to be accepted,” she said.
Baker overcame significant adversity to get where she is today. She was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma on July 11, 2019 at the age of 15.
Her tumor had spread the full length of her right lung, wrapped around her esophagus, and started to travel down her left lung. To treat a tumor that had rapidly spread across her lungs, she began the first of what would eventually end up being 50 rounds of chemotherapy along with a variety of steroids and drugs.
After three months of treatment and two years of monitoring, Baker’s cancer is now in complete remission.
“Coming from a strong military family made me extremely resilient, focused and disciplined,” she said. “I feel like those qualities have contributed to who I am and what I stand for.”
Outside of her sporting activities, Baker says she enjoys reading books by UChicago graduate Kurt Vonnegut and challenging herself with online French courses. She also hopes to continue research in pharmaceutical oncology.
“Surviving cancer made me live life to the fullest and never miss an opportunity,” she said. “I am blessed to be a part of UChicago and I appreciate all of the generous donors who have made this opportunity possible.”
For as long as he can remember, Rishi Basu has been fascinated by cars. Influenced by his father, also a car enthusiast, he grew up reading Top Gear UK and Car&Driver magazines and even learned to drive on the horsepower and torque figures of his favorite models.
Basu’s childhood interests have evolved into a large part of his identity – one that has led him to discover his deep passion for technology.
During his gap year after high school, Basu worked for a year as a software engineering intern for Nobias Therapeutics, a Bay Area pharmaceutical startup, where he helped develop a machine learning platform for drug discovery. Before starting the internship, he worked in the sales floor of a car dealership, where he sold 28 vehicles in two months and sat in the top half of the dealership’s sales board.
Spending a lot of time away from home helped Basu learn the skills he needed to lead an independent life. Those skills came in handy when he started working on his first car: a 2004 Volvo C70 HPT Convertible that he bought in Santa Cruz, California and used to commute to work at Nobias.
With the help of a local independent Volvo shop in Sunnyvale, California and some friends in Stanford, Basu learned all he could about the vehicle as he spotted problems and made performance upgrades.
“Learning and performing home repairs was often frustrating, but over time I became more confident,” he said. “I realized that by owning a car and taking care of it (and maybe some tasteful modifications) you can bond with it, much like anything else we put our effort into – relationships, work, our homes and projects of all kinds .”
Basu said his gap year was transformative. Over a calendar year, he lived in four different places, had roommates ranging in age from 27 to 72, made friends in “the most random of ways”, fell in love with San Francisco, and discovered a little bit about what makes him truly happy in “this big adventure.” that is life.”
“I really think more students should take a gap year before college. Giving yourself the freedom to fill a chunk of unstructured time however you want can open up so many potential opportunities,” he said. “My last fifteen months have been a gift and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
For the past four years, Alexander Bilochenko has been based in Yokosuka, Japan as part of his service with the US Navy. It was an experience that taught him the importance of teamwork and helping others.
“Despite political, religious, economic, ethnic, gender and other differences, we have learned how to come together and fulfill our mission,” Bilochenko said.
Bilochenko has traveled the world his entire life – he was born in Ukraine, immigrated to Arizona at the age of 10 and began serving in the US Navy in 2016. Later he visited several Southeast Asian countries with his fellow sailors. He looks forward to spending the next four years in Chicago.
During his assignment, Bilochenko read books by current and former UChicago professors Steven Levitt, Richard Thaler, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He said he particularly enjoys listening to Freakonomics Radio, a spin-off of the book of the same name that Levitt co-authored.
“As my military commitment neared the end, I did a lot of thinking and decided it was time to join the intellectual giants who had already taught me so much,” he said.
With his Navy contract due to expire in October, Bilochenko applied to UChicago, which was attracted by the nation’s top-ranked Veteran Scholars Program, as well as the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics and the Booth School of Business. He became even more steadfast in his decision after seeing UChicago’s support for the Ukrainian community after the Russian invasion.