UCLA: A Year in Review

My year at UCLA started off rocky and progressively became better. One of the best things about UCLA is the range of opportunities it offers recreationally and academically. The biggest turn off for me was the large lecture classes. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m thrilled to have completed my Bachelor’s English.

1. Martial Arts Classes
Aside from my English classes, I took martial arts classes that were some of my best experiences at UCLA. The martial arts instructors are incredibly knowledgable about their field and concerned about student learning, often taking time after class to answer questions and demonstrate another technique. The classes are usually less than 20 people. The smaller the class, the better, because you receive more personalized instruction. The classes are about $30-50, an amazing deal compared to $100+ from a studio. UCLA has a free Bruin Self Defense class that I recommend to all UCLA students to improve awareness of your surroundings and personal safety.

2. Clubs
UCLA has a lot of clubs based on academic subjects and outside interests. All of the clubs I participated in were student run. I like how we can be more involved with managing club events and activities. However, the success of the club is very dependent on the student leader. At my community college, each club had a professor supervisor who gave structure and assistance to the club. The clubs were still student run, but I found the support of a professor to be valuable with sharing experience and insight that I wish UCLA had.

3. Professors, Classes, and Teaching Assistants
At any school you will have some good and some bad professors and UCLA is no different. There are some truly amazing professors at UCLA and I found them in my small, seminar-like classes. The biggest downside to UCLA is the 100-150 student lecture classes. I find lecture classes boring. With the vast amount of information available on the internet, I think the best use of class time is the exploration of ideas rather than an information dump. As with professors, there are some good and some bad TAs. Most TAs are only a few years further down the education road than you and so you can miss out on the wealth of knowledge and experience that a professor has. Some TAs are trying to prove themselves as knowledgable and capable to a group of people who are very close to being the TA’s peers and this ego interferes with learning. Often my TA sections would repeat information from the lectures. UCLA tries to make up for huge classes by breaking them down into smaller discussion sections with TAs, which is cheap with TAs cost less than professors. UCLA sacrifices the quality of education for the quantity of students it can enroll. A good rule of thumb is if a class has TAs, it is a big class of 40+ students. If possible, I highly recommend taking classes that do not have TAs. My best classes were small classes that did not have TAs and I found them much more personal and enriching.

4. Parking
The horrendous parking at UCLA has become a modern legend. And I can confirm this legend is true. UCLA is not a commuter-friendly school. If you do receive a parking permit, (yes, you have to submit an application by the deadline) and I’ve heard of commuters being denied, you will spend about $1,000 for the academic year. If you don’t live on campus, I suggest taking the bus, which is what I did. I took the Big Blue Bus that is convenient and cheap. You receive a discount on bus fare with your UCLA student ID card. You can also buy student passes for about $30 per quarter and ride the bus an unlimited number of times.

5. Quarter System
The quarter system is great if you like going through material at the speed of sound. A quarter is ten weeks and a summer session is six or eight weeks, depending on which session you do. Ten weeks is not long enough (never mind six weeks) to sufficiently delve into topics, especially for English. The benefit of the quarter system for me was that I was able to finish my Bachelor’s in a year and two summer sessions instead of two years.

UCLA is a huge school, but I found my niche in clubs and small classes. The weather is amazing year round. It is Los Angeles. It’s a city with a lot of people and opportunities. Whichever school you choose and wherever you are, I believe you can follow Dead Poets Society’s wisdom of carpe diem and find more great possibilities for you.

A Student’s Prespective on Knowledge

This winter quarter at UCLA, I’ve been surprised by some of the little things my fellow classmates don’t know, such as that you can’t see Venus at night or that you can be a lawyer even with a criminal record. Maybe these sort of things aren’t common knowledge. But I’d think if you were going to bring up these topics, you’d at least know what you’re talking about.

The truth is we don’t need to know anything. We have smart phones in the palms of our hands and with a few taps we can find out anything. With the workings of a Google search interface for the mind, soon we may not even have to tap a touchscreen. Even a few professors at UCLA are saying, it’s not about what you know, but what you know how to do. Education should be about learning how to critically think and the application of skills rather than memorizing information. However, you need to have some foundational knowledge before you can apply it. Such as knowing basic math (like addition and multiplication) in order to use derivatives for a real world application, like finding the volume of a pool.

Patrick Deneen is heading for a similar distinction in his article “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture.” Instead of math, Deneen is interested in history and culture. From reading Paradise Lost to knowing about Guy Fawkes, while these are easily googled, Deneen is concerned with students’ ignorance on these topics. How can you google these works and people if you haven’t heard of them?

There are two issues. One, we do not have the knowledge or what knowledge we do have is inaccurate yet we hold it to be true. Two, what knowledge we are applying is for practical purposes (knowing how much water is in the pool to apply the correct amount of chlorine), instead of greater implications (whether or not a pool should be built there, what the impact of the pool will be on the environment, how much water is being diverted from ecosystems for the maintenance of a pool).

For the second issue, one reason why people do not ask about the greater implications is that they simply don’t care. They’re building a pool in their back yard simply for their own enjoyment. Why should they care about anything else? While the specific practice may not be harmful in itself, the principle of being indifferent to others is.

It seems like a minor clarification that you can only see Venus in the few hours of morning and evening, but understanding this fact and why it is true gives you a spatial awareness of yourself on the planet you live on in relation to the greater universe.