The Optimists: Mihir Mathur

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

My experience at UCLA has been invaluable. Despite being born and brought up in a different cultural environment in a place diametrically across the world (New Delhi, India), I have adapted really well at UCLA. Since my first week here, I tried to be as involved as possible in different clubs and organizations. By getting involved in student organizations and by going to as many campus events as possible, I connected with many great people pretty early on. A lot of those people are now my close friends.

UCLA has more than 1,000 diverse student organizations. This vibrant student body was a major reason I chose UCLA. Before even coming here, one of the things I was looking forward to was the Enormous Activities Fair. The Enormous Activities Fair occurs during Zero week of Fall quarter where hundreds of our student organizations table in Royce Quad so new students can explore and find organizations they might be interested in joining. At the fair this year, I was handed hundreds of flyers, and it was very challenging to pick which clubs I should be involved with because they all sounded very tempting!

Mihir_2As a Computer Science major, I’m very interested in tech-startups. So one of the first clubs I joined was Bruin Entrepreneurs, where I met many people interested in startups and entrepreneurship. I also worked on a short film as a visual effects editor with the Film and Photography Society. I later joined the Daily Bruin as a Web Development intern to gain technical skills. The skills I learned by going to different workshops helped me prepare for the career fairs. At the Engineering career fair in winter quarter of my freshman year, I met lots of recruiters and interviewed with about seven companies. Each interview prepared me for the next and ultimately I was fortunate to secure an internship at Thomson Reuters for the summer. My internship was extremely enriching and I had a wonderful experience working as a UX and Frontend Engineering intern. I’ve written more about my internship here.

A great perk of being a Computer Science major is the opportunity of going to different hackathons around the US. In the past two years I’ve been to hackathons at schools like Stanford, UC Berkeley, Cornell and University of Pennsylvania. At these hackathons, one can meet people, create products, network with companies and have fun–all in 36 hours! Plus, the trip is usually paid for! After going to hackathons, I started loving the idea of organizing events that promote innovation and collaboration. So I joined the organizing team for LA Hacks, one of the best hackathons in the country, hosted at UCLA. I had an amazing time working with some talented people to organize LA Hacks 2016 and 2017. My passion for collaboration, innovation and creating things also lead me to start a new club with some Bruin Entrepreneurs members. This club – Creative Labs – encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration, learning and creativity. I am very proud of the fact that I contributed in connecting many people from different majors for creating digital products.

UCLA’s student organizations have had a huge impact on me. I’ve met friends, learned skills and most importantly had a very fulfilling time. I recently got elected as the President of UCLA Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and I hope I can contribute in fostering a vibrant, inclusive and collaborative tech community at UCLA.

Stay tuned with more of my projects and writing at: www.mihirmathur.com 

MIHIR IS A SECOND YEAR COMPUTER SCIENCE MAJOR FROM NEW DELHI, INDIA.

The Optimists: Jamie Baron

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

UCLA has an endless list of amazing qualities and opportunities for students. We have all heard the list a million times: prestigious academics, competitive athletics, a beautiful campus, ground-breaking research, an incredible location. While I am grateful for all of these things, my favorite thing about UCLA isn’t something that is easy to see from the outside. When you sign your intent to register at UCLA you aren’t just agreeing to receive an education from a school, you are joining a family.Jamie Baron Composite Photo

I don’t believe that you can find another place on earth that is filled with more talented, passionate, incredible people. People who walk miles and camp out at Drake stadium to raise money for cancer research. People who plan and perform an entire play in just 24 hours and leave the audience doubled over in laughter. People who raise thousands of dollars and stay on their feet for 26.2 hours to eliminate pediatric aids. People who win more NCAA championships than anyone else in the nation. People who protest social injustices. Most importantly, people who are there for each other.

When you go to college you face so many challenges. Some are foreseen: being away from your parents for the first time, taking more challenges classes, making new friends, and the all time favorite having to do your own laundry. Other challenges are unexpected: overcoming self doubt and feelings of inadequacy, finding your own identity, and trying to figure out where you fit in to this enormous Bruin family. Though challenge can be difficult, it more importantly results in growth.

Being a Bruin is a beautiful journey of self discovery, and the best part about the journey is that you are never alone. In fact, it is all of your Bruin family members who make the journey possible. When you first start your time at UCLA you meet a lot of incredible people, which though amazing and enriching, can also be intimidating. You think to yourself, how could I possibly be smart and talented enough to be a member of such an impressive group of people? You might even consider running into Murphy Hall and making sure the admission officers didn’t make a mistake letting you in. Then UCLA works its magic and everything changes.

Each time you meet another Bruin they teach you something new and amazing about yourself. When I walk into a challenging physics class on the first day of the quarter rather than entering a hostile competitive environment, I am surrounded by peers who immediately sit down next to me, shake my hand, and exchange phone numbers with me in order to study together and help each other work through the class.  As a campus tour guide, after a rough day when I am feeling down about myself, I go to the tours office and am comforted and reassured of my strengths by each and every one of my fellow guides. As a member of the Greek community, I have created close relationships with incredible women who remind me everyday how strong and capable I am. Over your four years at UCLA with the support of your peers you go from wondering how you got into such an amazing institution to knowing that it wouldn’t be nearly as amazing without you in it. UCLA is nothing without the people who make up the Bruin family, each and every person is an integral member and that is what makes UCLA so special.

In the end, one’s time as a Bruin extends far beyond the four years it takes to complete your undergraduate degree. When you meet another Bruin in any random corner of the globe it doesn’t matter if they graduated the same year as you or 60 years before you, that person is instantly part of your family. The Bruin family is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each student is a uniquely shaped piece, and if a single piece is missing the whole picture just isn’t complete. Sure, it’s great to graduate being an expert in Biochemistry or Economics, but the most valuable thing that you learn here is that you matter, and your Bruin family will always be around to remind you that.

JAMIE IS A FOURTH YEAR BIOCHEMISTRY MAJOR
FROM THE BAY AREA IN CALIFORNIA.

The Optimists: Kevin Brown

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Kevin Brown.jpgAs a first-generation nontraditional college student, going to a four-year university was a pretty big deal for me and my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the drive to pursue a bachelor’s degree, I just did not know how to navigate college and develop the best path to pursue one. I am the oldest of five children, which means I had a lot of responsibility growing up. I started working a full time job at the age of seventeen to support myself and to help out my mother. Growing up, I witnessed my mother get certified as Certified Nursing Assistant, an electrocardiogram technician, and as a pharmacy technician. She made education an important part of her life while raising five children, so I found no reason why I should not be doing the same at some point in my own life.

Given these details, my priorities at 19 when I graduated high school were to make money and enjoy being a young person and not to attend college right out of high school. I had a well-paying job, a social life, and a loving family–why would college be my priority when that meant me having to figure out how to stop making the money I was making? Pursuing a bachelor’s also meant that I would stop being able to help my mother out and stop living as freely as I was. So instead, I sought out biotechnology and fashion design vocational programs at City College of San Francisco.

I pursued these programs as two separate semesters–a couple years apart from one another–because the class schedules fit around my work schedule at the time. They were both interesting fields to study and I gained useful skills from both programs, but I didn’t see myself working in a lab all day nor did I see myself as a fashion designer. I then reconsidered what I wanted out of an educational experience, I chose to pursue my bachelor’s degree.

After I made the decision to pursue my bachelor’s degree, I put all of my energy into researching, talking to friends, family, and a college counselor to outline my educational goals. That semester in a statistics class, my peers were the extra help I needed to fully navigate the college process. They showed me how to apply for scholarships and which universities I should consider applying to. Fast forward to April, 2015 and I receive the notice that I had been admitted to UCLA. That’s when I knew all of the intentional steps I had been taking were all worth it. I came down to Westwood for the Black Bruin Success Extravaganza (which I am now a part of) and fell in love with the UCLA campus. I started at UCLA the summer of 2015 as a student in the Transfer Summer Program (TSP) hosted by the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). I was part of a group that took four courses and got to live together and build a community before the school year started. That experience was invaluable as I met some of my closest friends that summer.

Being at UCLA as a transfer student was sort of shocking at first. There were A LOT of people on this campus compared to my community college. But over time, you get used to it. My favorite thing about UCLA is that there are so many different, highly-motivated and intelligent people on this campus to collaborate with, challenge, and learn from. I love that there are people who hail from all over the country and the world here who bring something different to every class and social space on this campus. That makes my experience here that much more special.

As a transfer you do have to hit the ground running as soon as you get here. I was lucky to have had an intense summer session that focused on social justice before I started the regular school year. The tools I received during the summer helped me excel during the academic school year. Because I knew I had to hit the ground running, I made sure to research different opportunities available to me at UCLA and outside of UCLA. I applied to the Sharpe Fellows program through the UCLA Career Center, got in, and learned so much about networking and pursuing top internships. I also applied for the national Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Undergraduate Fellowship and was admitted to Princeton University to study public policy over the summer of 2016. This school year I have been the recipient of the AAP Academic Advancement Scholarship as well as the John Densmore Scholarship through the African American Studies Department. I am also a UCLA Law Fellow, I work in the USAC Office of the Transfer Student Representative as the Chief-of-Staff, and I work with Black Bruin Transfer Success as a coordinator, and with STOMP. I will also be graduating with College Honors, Departmental Honors, and Latin Honors. There are many more things I could write about how UCLA has been amazing to me, but I want you to know that with perseverance, determination, and an idea of what you want for yourself, almost anything is possible.

The Optimists: Dreama Rhodes

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Joe Bruin Bball Game 2I am from Merced, CA. It’s a relatively small town where cows and dairy farms are more common than skyscrapers and business suits. While in high school I joined my school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) club, which definitely changed my life for the better. Through AVID, a college preparatory class, I was able to learn all the details about what it takes to apply to college and how someone like me could get there. I was always told education is the gateway to a better life, but it can be difficult to envision yourself as a college student if no one in your family was able to attend college before you. I think it is easy for students to automatically rule out top-tier institutions because they assume they will not be able to afford it. I originally fell victim to this flawed ideology as well. Finances was one of the major factors I considered when searching for colleges. But after applying for financial aid and scholarships, I realized college was an attainable goal. Granted, I did not think I would ever attend a school as prestigious as UCLA, but I’m glad I had the courage to apply after all.

Fast-forward to my first quarter at UCLA; unfortunately I continued to stress about money, and I felt like I needed to find a job. Luckily, getting a job came easier than I thought it would! First, UCLA does a great job in helping students find jobs by posting them online through the ASUCLA jobs board (for on-campus jobs). The daily student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, also publishes both on-campus and off-campus jobs! In college, I realized there are regular jobs and work-study jobs. Federal work-study jobs are great for students because wages do not fall below the current federal minimum wage, and most times are even higher. The amount of hours you are able to work under the work-study program depends on an individual student’s financial need, when you apply, and the amount of school funding at your institution. UCLA is really helpful in providing resources for students to find jobs. The main portal every student uses, MyUCLA, has a section devoted to finances and jobs. Within this section I was able to search for work-study jobs offered both on- and off-campus. After refining my resume, I was able to land an administrative assistant position in an office directly next to my on-campus residence hall. The great thing about on-campus jobs is that sometimes the positions you hold are so convenient you can almost roll right out of bed to get to work.

Although there are great opportunities to work on-campus, I also spent two years as a tutor at a local Santa Monica middle school. I initially did not consider working off-campus; however, it definitely has its perks. At first I was hesitant because I did not have a car and although Santa Monica isn’t too far from campus, it was definitely not in walking range. However, my future career goal is to be an educator, so I felt that this experience would be beneficial in the long run. So of course I took the job as an AVID tutor when it was offered to me. Commuting to Santa Monica actually wasn’t too bad, considering I could get directly to the school for only $0.50 each way on the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.

The last job I received was actually the first one I wanted when I came to UCLA. During summer orientation, my New Student Advisor (NSA), was honestly the coolest person I had ever met. She was so helpful, so knowledgeable, and she seemed to be having fun. Advisors counsel incoming students and make sure they start off their UCLA experience in classes perfectly suited to their needs. When incoming freshmen and transfers come to their own student orientation, parents and siblings are welcomed too. I was able to work with the New Bruins who came to the sessions, as well as reassure parents that their child would be safe on-campus and would definitely make friends (possibly the top 2 concerns parents have for their kids). Initially I didn’t know being an NSA had so many dimensions to it, but once I joined, I loved how inviting everyone was. It didn’t feel like a job, which was a bonus. Over summer, although we worked hard, we also acted in skits for the incoming freshman, had impromptu photo shoots, and even held our own “Club Jamba” party session in Jamba Juice every week.

Jumping NSTP
As a New Student Advisor, I am able to help incoming first-years get acclimated to UCLA

Overall, I didn’t think having an on-campus job could be enjoyable. I initially just wanted a job to pay for extra expenses. It turns out UCLA offers a wide range of jobs for almost anything students are interested in. Looking back, I stressed over not being able to afford college. Students who think college isn’t worth pursuing because of financial reasons should abandon that thinking as quickly as possible. Between financial aid, scholarships, grants, loans, and jobs on- and off-campus, UCLA offers more than enough resources for students who may be worried about financially staying afloat. So many people are here to help, which creates an atmosphere that is unlike any other college I’ve visited. Whether I am at work, in class, or cheering at a sports game, I am always experiencing new things at UCLA and learning what it means to be a True Bruin.

Dreama is a third year Psychology major
and Education Studies minor from Merced, CA.

The Optimists: Aryonia White

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Gazing out the wiAryonia Whitendow of a 45-minute bus ride across town to Westchester, a lost little girl yearned for nothing more than to attend college. Raised in a low income household in Torrance, CA with three sisters in a hard-working family, my mother wanted better opportunities for her daughters. She had my sisters and me transported to magnet schools for the promise of a better education; a brand new high school with little resources and few opportunities to help me excel. Despite the setbacks I faced, I was given an opportunity to participate in a two-week writer’s camp in North Carolina at Duke University early in my high school career. Following this eye-opening college experience, I was motivated to return home and do everything I could to pursue a college degree.

Fast forward to a high school senior and I am a part of the second graduating class at Ramon C. Cortines in downtown Los Angeles. I am a first generation college student, so when I was applying to colleges, I had little assistance from both my family and my school. Remembering how great my time at the writer’s camp at Duke University was, I focused on reliving that experience and decided to not apply to any in-state colleges or universities. Since my family trusted that I understood the complicated college application process, they let me lead the way independently. I wound up admitted out of state, which was great. Then I looked at an out of state price tag of over $60,000 with no significant scholarships. I quickly realized I made a mistake. I tried to sign up for student loans to chase a dream, but my mother had a tough decision to make: to co-sign my future or help my oldest sister with her new born child. Family came first and before I knew it my dream of attaining a higher education looked like just that: a dream.

Honor student. Dance captain. Poet. Writer of spoken word. High school senior. Lost. I blamed my family for insufficient funds to provide me a better education and myself for not attaining scholarships. Without the ability to pay for the schools I had been accepted to, I enrolled at El Camino College, a community college in Torrance. Embarrassed and confused my first semester, I was determined to defy the odds. Students at junior colleges are stigmatized to not have a clear objective towards transferring but I did not accept that. As a full-time student, I worked in Financial Aid, Counseling, and I became a Campus Ambassador. My three years in community college allowed me to find my voice and purpose towards higher education.

Not only was I very active at my community college, I also saw it as my second chance and utilized the resources available at my community college. One resource I utilized is the Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP) through the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). On Saturday’s they would hold seminar sessions to guide us on the application. I was given a student mentor from UCLA. My mentor would visit me at El Camino, assist mewith my UCLA application, and check up on my grades and everything (shout-out Jeremy Solorzano, Class of 2016)!  UCLA is very transfer-friendly because they have honors programs like the Transfer Alliance Program (TAP) and STOMP Conference that give community college students access to UC schools. From recruiters, programs, peer mentors, counselors, and partnerships there are an abundance of resources and people who want to see students succeed! I am grateful for CCCP to guide me here. When I found out I was accepted to UCLA, I was so proud of what I had accomplished. I changed the trajectory of my life by becoming a competitive applicant who applied to 12 in-state colleges and accepted to every institution with financial aid offers to cover my tuition as a transfer student. I bring up this backstory to motivate prospective students that you have the power to change your life and chase your dreams. Your background and lack of resources does not define you; your ambition does and as an optimist, UCLA is looking for tenacious leaders who are breaking barriers to keep moving forward!!

Fast forward today, I am a senior at UCLA majoring in African-American Studies and receive the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which pays my tuition and fees. I wanted to take advantage of being a full-time UCLA student, so I lived on campus my first year in Acacia Residence Hall, which is a plaza dorm with private bathroom. Luckily at UCLA, housing is guaranteed for three years for freshman and one year for transfers, so I didn’t have to worry about commuting! I had become so accustomed to commuting, that I quickly realized what a privilege it is to live on campus. I highly advise prospective students to get at least one year living on campus to get the full college experience. Academically, I am in a contract course through the Center of Community Learning. I also have an internship course, 195CE English, where I receive academic credit to intern off campus. My internship is at Live Nation where I am chasing my next dream of working in the business of tech and music for live music festivals. I have also had the opportunity to work in the music industry where I found myself on a yacht with P. Diddy, Drake, and others. When I am not surrounded by talented musicians, or being a full-time student, I can be spotted navigating the Los Angeles freeways as a Bruin Ambassador! Through this on-campus student job, I drive to local high schools conducting presentations, attending college fairs, and motivating students to pursue their higher education goals at UCLA!

As a first-generation, transfer student I never forget my journey or the people from my community who believed in me! From their support, I am resilient and aware that I need to give back and help those who do not see their potential yet. This past summer I went back to Duke University as a student counselor from UCLA and did just that! As I look back at the lost girl who felt like doors were closing, I am opening new doors as an Optimist ready to face the world as a Bruin! Will you be next!?

Aryonia White is a second year transfer student who will be graduating in June with a major in African American Studies with a minor in Music Industry.

To Our Applicants

I’ve been in college admission for nearly 20 years, which is likely longer than most incoming freshman have been alive. Yet each year, I look forward to the opportunity to meet with newly admitted students and their families as they consider which campus community they’ll call home this fall. With all of the stress that can sometimes accompany the college search process, it’s nice to take a breath and focus on the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

The fact that we received over 102,000 apps, more than any other university in the country, is often what attracts attention and questions. Each of these applications are read multiple times (every app is read at least twice…many more often than that), so we feel as though we’ve come to know our potential new Bruins quite well. Our larger challenge, however, lies in the amazing quality of applicants in our pool. UCLA attracts the best and brightest students from throughout the state of California, around the U.S., and throughout the world. And now it’s that time of year again – we’re finally set to release admission decisions.

But this is also a very emotional time of year for the students and families that won’t receive good news. I can speak on behalf of my admission colleagues here at UCLA and say that this is both an exhilarating and excruciating process for us. Nothing in our work in college admission is more challenging than saying no to good students. Ultimately, we are able to admit fewer than one in six of our applicants. This is a profound responsibility and one we take very seriously. For those students that did not receive the decision they were hoping for, know that these were very tough decisions for us.  It is, however, unavoidable in highly selective admission processes. I’m also reminded of the pendulum that is the college admission process. Each fall, as admission deadlines approach, colleges and universities wait in anticipation of who will choose to apply for admission. The pendulum then swings to students and parents/families as they eagerly await news of the admission decisions. Now, it’s our turn, once again, to wait and see where you will enroll.

Regardless of which colleges and universities you’re considering this fall, enjoy being back in the driver’s seat. Visit college campuses, ask financial aid questions, meet current students, and get to know our universities beyond the brochures and websites that make us all look so good. You will grow, both in and outside of the classroom. You will learn from incredible faculty and engage in groundbreaking research. You will study abroad. You will make lifelong friends. You will continue on your own journey of becoming the amazing individual your family, friends, counselors, and community know you will be. And you will make whatever university you attend better. Take the time to celebrate and to be proud of what you have accomplished and look forward to the college experience. It’s a big deal.

Remember that there are two names on every diploma…the university’s name and your own. At UCLA, our faculty, current students and alumni will ensure that every opportunity is made available to you. But you have to walk through that door and take advantage of those opportunities. The experience we offer at UCLA is second to none, but it can’t be amazing unless you come here and continue to MAKE it amazing!

To our applicants, thank you for allowing us a brief glimpse into your life. We wish each and every one of you the very best, wherever you choose to enroll this fall. And for those of you who choose to make the halls of Westwood your home, we say…

Go Bruins!

Gary Clark

Gary Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at UCLA.

The Optimists: Alyson Kim

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Alyson Kim.jpgBefore applying to UCLA I had never been to the campus or really thought of it as where I wanted to attend college. The academic prestige and athletic excellence excited me. However, having lived in Southern California for nine years, I had planned the next four years to be in the east coast. I wanted to attend a small school, where I could have the opportunity to know everyone, have smaller classes, and easily get involved. I definitely had no plans to attend a big university, let alone the most applied to school in the nation. Now I am writing to you as a rising senior at UCLA, so obviously the east coast small school plan didn’t happen. However, my journey at UCLA has been everything I could have ever wanted.

Upon admission to UCLA, I decided to attend an Admitted Student Day on campus, about 40 minutes north from my home in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. The minute I stepped onto this campus, something felt right. I hopped on a tour and listened to students and faculty as they gave their testimonies of their experiences here. The day ended with a video highlighting the work of students and faculty, finishing with a video of 8-claps all around the world. This short video moved me. It moved me because it was a testament to how powerful this campus is and how this campus community could empower me and help me pursue my passions.

My whole life I knew there was more to this world than my own personal needs. Therefore, I knew my passions lied in discovering societal issues and solving them. That’s why I was interested in engineering – it is all about problem solving. So, I decided I was going to apply to UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering. Two principles that I live by are: everyone deserves access to clean water, and no human should sleep cold and without shelter. Therefore, I chose Civil and Environmental Engineering, which includes the concentrations of hydrology, structural and environmental engineering, to find cost efficient, eco-friendly ways to make clean water accessible to everyone and sustainable infrastructure for anyone without shelter.

My passion to tackle problems in this field was strong, but I began to realize how exciting it would be to address my passions here. Coming in, I was competing with students who had already mastered the language of C++, who were able to disprove physical theories with my professors, and knew how to build robots at the age of sixteen. My experience was limited to the Advanced Placement math and science classes I took in high school that I somehow did well in. My first quarter in the school of Engineering, I learned how important my classmates would be in my academic success. The community here is strong and through our study groups, career fairs, and engineering projects (like building a canoe out of concrete and racing it) I have become close to many of my classmates and plan to stay close beyond my four years here. The study groups alleviated my individual approach to understanding the toughness of material in my classes, all the while making learning challening concepts tangible and interesting. My friends and I will sometimes stay up for hours discussing the dielectric and semi-conductive characteristics of materials and how those properties affect and help us understand everything in our physical world. Trust me, if you take the course Introduction to Materials Science Engineering, your mind will be blown. The campus has also given me so many opportunities to pursue my passion of sustainable infrastructure as I am doing research in LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification for existing buildings on campus. In addition, the career fairs hosted at UCLA aided in establishing my internship this summer for a construction management company as a project engineer. Lastly, I have been able to work on service projects such as the Navajo Project within our chapter of Engineers Without Borders, where we are providing a clean water system for a family on the Navajo Reservation. The initial academic challenges I faced were a struggle; however, I can say with true fervor, that I was more prepared than I realized to overcome such challenges and that has made me stronger, shaped me into who I am, and given me the ability to pursue some of my deepest passions.

I am surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds in a university filled with opportunities waiting for me to take part in. The UCLA campus is overflowing with excellence and I am so honored and blessed every day to be a part of it. Being a Bruin means you get to be surrounded and supported by a campus of people who will push you to achieve whatever you want. Trust me, we have it all at UCLA.

Alyson Kim is a third year Civil Engineering major from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.

The Optimists: Ah Lim Lee

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

IMG_3227.JPGWhen I was younger, I frequently had a hard time coming to terms with my cultural identity. I am a South Korean citizen, but I was born and raised in Indonesia due to my parents’ employment, and so I went on to attend Jakarta International School for all of my formal education. This odd mixture of being disciplined through Confucius ideologies at home but learning about Western principles at school, while immersing myself in the Indonesian culture through my everyday interactions, gave me an appreciation for my multi-faceted identity, but also created a conflict within myself. I constantly asked myself, “where do I belong?” or “with whom do I belong?”.

On the other hand, despite internal conflicts, one thing I knew for certain was that since I had grown accustomed to it, I wanted to continue my American-style education. On the other hand, coming to UCLA was a bit of an unexpected surprise. However, there was one moment when I knew that UCLA was the school for me. After receiving my acceptance offer from UCLA, I browsed through different resources on the UCLA Undergraduate Admission website to learn more about UCLA, and I came across a motto that really hit home: “WE, The Optimists”. Growing up, my parents always used to tell me that anything was possible with perseverance and hard work, that there was no barrier you could not break if you really put your heart into something. Over time, I came to take these optimistic and forward-looking words to heart as a guiding principle on how I aimed to live my everyday life. Given that, when I read those three words, I knew I wanted to be a Bruin because I had met the school that captured the spirit of who I was and who I wanted to be.

My first year at UCLA, I put aside my little identity crisis and focused mainly on integrating into UCLA campus life and culture, making new friends, and exploring Los Angeles. My first quarter I joined a Professional Pre-Law Fraternity called Kappa Alpha Pi to explore the possibility of law school. When I was in high school, I was convinced that I wanted to study international relations because of my love for Model United Nations and it made sense given the context in which I grew up. But through my involvement in Kappa Alpha Pi, where I served as the Director of Professional Activities, I was given many opportunities to connect with law students and seasoned lawyers in various fields of law which sparked my interest in a more legal than political career. To my pleasant surprise, I found not only an organization that provided me professional development opportunities in my prospective career field, but I also found a community of friends, both domestic and international, who helped me feel at welcome and at home. This made my first year a lot less daunting and lonely than it could have been for an international student 8,972 miles away from home.

Although Kappa Alpha Pi exposed me to the idea of practicing domestic law, it did not fully satisfy the side of me that still wanted to learn more about international relations. It came to my surprise when I discovered that the Political Science department offered a class in International Law (PS 123A) for undergraduate students. For those interested in international law and international relations, this class is the perfect merge between the two because the course material and readings include cases from a variety of international courts and institutions and scholarly articles by political scientists about principles and theories explaining the variation between international courts. Not only that, this class is unlike the traditional university class, which compose of large lectures and minimal participation. Professor Leslie Johns actively encourages students to participate and ask questions, which I love! In fact, usually one lecture each week is dedicated to discussing a case or an article and the whole lecture will be based on Professor Johns asking questions and students responding to the questions. This class has probably been one of the most engaging and interesting class that I have taken and it has prompted me to look for more law related classes that may be relevant to my interests and career plans.

Towards the end of my first year as a UCLA student, I stumbled upon a job opening at the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars (DCISS), which beckoned at me and appealed to my desire to connect my present to my past as an international, third culture kid. I have been working at the Dashew Center for over seven months now and to this day, I am so grateful that I came upon this opportunity because it has given me a space to share and express my identity as an international student. Just last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a panel speaker for a Colleague Training that the Dashew Center organizes every year for staff, faculty and administrators at UCLA. There, I was able to speak about my experience at UCLA as an international student and it empowered me to learn that I could use my unique story to advocate for and emphasize the value of international students in fostering global awareness and education here on campus.

I will say that it is not a walk in the park to be a student in a foreign country. Many days I miss home and my family. It is difficult only being able to see my parents once, maybe twice a year if I’m lucky, and I crave my mom’s home cooked meals, especially when I get sick. But I think what keeps me going every day is the gratitude and happiness I feel being at UCLA. I am grateful for the many and diverse people I have met and connected with, the tremendous and generous opportunities through which I was able to grow as a person, and the fact that I get to learn about the things that spark my curiosity and inspire me to work towards something. There is obviously no replacement for home, but for now, I am proud UCLA is my home away from home.

Ah Lim Lee is a Second Year originally from South Korea, but grew up and went to school in Indonesia.
She plans to graduate in three years.

The Optimists: Brad Fingard

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

Brad Fingard.jpgUCLA is frequently rated one of the best public higher education institutions in the country and there are many factors contributing to this success. Yes, we do have some of the most innovative and intelligent professors in the country. Yes, we do have an ample supply of funding for research allowing faculty and students to make breakthroughs in virtually every field. Yes, we have a rich history of athletic excellence with the most NCAA Championships in the country (113, if you’re wondering). Yes, our alumni are leaders in every field imaginable and continue to support their alma mater. And yes, we do have THE BEST dining halls in the country. While all of these factors contribute to the eminence of UCLA, I personally do not believe that any of these markers are what makes us one of the best schools in the country.

I believe that what separates UCLA from other schools in the United States is our unmatched diversity. UCLA is arguably the most diverse elite institution in the country with about 29% of our undergraduate population coming from low income backgrounds. Almost a third of our students are the first in their families to go to college. In addition, UCLA is home to people of varying racial and ethnic communities, religions, sexual orientations, and gender expressions. The increasing diversity on our campus hasn’t just happened. In addition to efforts by the University of California system, the success we have achieved is due in part to student initiated, student run access and yield projects for underrepresented student populations to provide opportunity to all high school graduates. There are also dozens of student groups and organizations where you are able to discover, connect to, and explore your identities further, such as Hillel, Afrikan Student Union, Muslim Student Association, First to Go, or one of the organizations within the Queer Alliance – just to name a few!

Fortunately, UCLA administrators are also proactive in addressing the varied needs of our diverse undergraduate community. In 2015, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), led by Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, was created to implement changes within our institution and I have had the honor of serving on the inaugural Student Advisory Board. As members of the board we have been tasked to serve as advisors to EDI, liaisons to the campus community, and problem solvers for the any number of issues facing undergraduate and graduate students. In my role, I have had the opportunity to help write a funding application for diversity related programming, which seeks to bring attention to a multitude of marginalized identities as well as encourage sustainability and collaboration. I have also been developing a training program for men aiming to critically engage male undergraduate students in sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention. Another ongoing project I have been involved in seeks to create a standardized EDI training module for all students as well as frequent follow-up trainings as allyship is an ongoing process. The work I have been able to do seems to really make a difference and it is encouraging that our administration and leadership take the student voice so seriously.

Equity is something to be pursued as too many people have been denied access to opportunities, too many people have been dealt with unjustly by society, and too many people continue to experience these hardships on a daily basis. Diversity is something to be celebrated as each of us comes from a unique background. We have all had our own experiences informed by our identities. The expression of these varied experiences may challenge others’ worldviews, but it is only through challenge that we are able to grow. My own worldview has been challenged through my experiences in the classroom and through my activities around campus.

Here at UCLA, the students, faculty, and staff community members are among the most diverse and the best and brightest, but we are all human. We constantly push ourselves to be better than we were the day before. We can always learn more, do more, and love more and that’s what we as Bruins – The Optimists – try to do on a daily basis.

Brad Fingard is a 3rd Year from Chicago, IL
majoring in Political Science with minors in Public Policy and Education.

The Optimists: Jimmy Aguilar

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

img_3385-2As I stare through the arches of Royce Hall, I am cognizant of what it means to be a first-generation Latino college student from Southeast LA at UCLA. There have been few members from my community that pursue higher education, due to the lack of access and resources available to them. I grew up in a predominantly Latino immigrant community in the city of Huntington Park, CA located 30 minutes south of UCLA’s campus. Like several other individuals in my community, my parents immigrated to this country – specifically from Zacatecas, Mexico – before I was born in search for a better life. From a very early age, they stressed the importance of attaining a higher education.

Although my parents attempted to provide my older sisters and I with as many resources as possible in order to thrive, they were limited since they were not fluent in English and were not informed of the steps required to attend a prestigious university. We struggled in our large public high school to navigate the college application process – along with many of our peers. My path to UCLA was not a clear one. I did not have a reliable college counselor until I was a senior. I relied solely on federal TRIO programs like TELACU Talent Search that helped me navigate the college application process and develop skills in high school that I could take with me to my post-secondary education. My sisters, college counselor, and advisors from TELACU guided me through the process and opened up many doors that I believed once would always be shut. 

In 2010, when one of my eldest sisters was admitted, I made my way to UCLA for only the second time in my life. It was the first time I realized that attending an institution like this was not only a dream, but it could be a reality! My visit to UCLA from that point to my early years of high school made it clear that UCLA was the place for me. I worked hard throughout high school and finally senior year came – the time to apply to colleges. When I was beginning to hear back from schools, I anxiously waited for my screen to read those three short words: “Congratulations, You’re #UCLABound.” When it did, I had no doubt in my mind where I wanted to spend my next four years. I submitted my statement of intent to register (SIR) right then.

Once I got to UCLA I thought my path toward graduation would be clear. I came in with the mindset that I would go to law school and become a lawyer. I tried to convince myself that I would make my parents proud in this way. I knew that if I wanted to go into this field I would have to look for opportunities and internships that would help me discover my true passion, which fortunately at UCLA, there are seemingly endless opportunities that will support you in your career goals. I took English Composition 3SL with Professor Tara Prescott my first quarter at UCLA where I volunteered at 826LA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students with their creative and expository writing. I worked with high school students on college applications, study skills, and navigating financial aid once they leave high school. It was through this volunteer opportunity I begin thinking that law school may not be the path I want to take.

I continued to apply to several legal internships during the summer of my freshman year to see if law was the profession I was destined to pursue. I was fortunate enough to have been selected for an exciting eight-week internship at Columbia University in New York City. It was an opportunity of a lifetime – the internship allowed me to work with one of the best attorney’s in New York and to also work alongside three other amazing undergraduate students as teaching assistants (TAs) for her Trial Advocacy course at Columbia. While I appreciated my internship and learned a lot, this opportunity made me realize where my life path was leading me, and it was not what I initially presumed. I discovered that working in higher education and education policy was where my true passions were. I wanted to provide forms of access to high school students seeking a higher education regardless of their unclear paths – I want to help students who came from backgrounds like me. Today, as Bruin Ambassador for Undergraduate Admission, I am able to do just that! I am doing the work I love and visiting schools in and around Los Angeles County to not only promote this amazing school but also be a resource to students like myself who felt lost navigating high school and struggled with the college application process.

UCLA at one point seemed like an unobtainable goal. Today, I am proud to say I am a first-generation, Latino student from an immigrant family. I am from Huntington Park, CA. I am proudly living my dream of being a Bruin. I hope you and students from all walks of life will join me.

Jimmy Aguilar is a second year undergraduate student at UCLA
majoring in Political Science with a minor in Education.