Hello new Bruins! My name is Marisa and I am a second-year pre-Human Biology and Society major from Sacramento, California. Congratulations on being accepted into UCLA! It truly is an amazing feat and we are so proud of you for all you’ve accomplished. We know that you’re going to do amazing things at UCLA and I can’t wait to see how you will all contribute to the campus community.
I remember when I decided to go to UCLA, I was ready to engage in the campus culture and immerse myself in as many extracurriculars as possible. However, I was rather hesitant about how well I would do in my classes and if I would be able to “make it” compared to my UCLA counterparts, especially since I came from a small, private high school. I remember sitting in Moore Hall with 420 other students in my introductory Biology class, called “LS7A,” during my Fall quarter of Freshman year. Right off the bat, I was concerned about the course material and if I would be able to learn it during the fast-paced quarter system. After all, I had always been on the semester system throughout high school and had absolutely no idea how college classes were run or how I would be able to adjust to them.
When the very first clicker question was posed on the screen at the front of the class, I was already very much confused. Clicker questions are multiple choice questions that the professor poses on the board, and students use a remote control clicker to send in their answers. They are essentially like a poll for the professor to determine how well his or her students understand the material so far. During every clicker question in that class, I felt slightly panicked and nervous, especially after hearing some of my peers whisper “this is so easy” and “we learned all this stuff in high school.” While some of the content might have been covered in certain classes at other high schools, most of it was content that I had not yet been exposed to during high school.
I decided to attend my professor’s office hours to see what I could do to catch up on the material, since I already felt so behind and it was only Week 1. Office hours are allotted times where students can meet with their professors or teaching assistants to ask questions and discuss essentially anything, from course material, to career interests, to hobbies. For me, it was what was being covered in class and on assignments that I was the most concerned about. I remember timidly approaching my professor and voicing to him that I felt confused and underprepared for the material being covered in class and on future exams. The professor reassured me that it would take time to learn the material and that just because a fellow classmate was “farther” in the course material at that point in time did not mean that they had a higher chance of succeeding in the course, as long as I took advantage of all the opportunities that there were to learn. So, I kept attending office hours weekly and constantly went to the professor or teaching assistant when I did not understand course material. After a few weeks, I started getting to know my professor on a first name basis, which I thought was crazy for a school so large. However, I later came to realize that it really was not that uncommon for UCLA students to get to know their professor outside of the classroom.
My professor also recommended that I attend weekly collaborative learning sessions, which were hosted by Learning Assistants (LAs). LAs are undergraduate students who have taken a class and succeeded in it, and who later return to the class to be teaching aids. They actively help answer questions throughout lecture, help TAs facilitate weekly discussion sections, and work closely with the professors to develop concrete methods that help students learn the material as best as possible. During the collaborative learning sessions, the LAs would hand out supplemental worksheets that expanded on ideas and concepts covered in class. As students taking LS7A, we would work in peer groups and try to work through the problems ourselves until we needed assistance from an LA. The LAs would come over to our table and work through problems with us, helping us not only understand why certain explanations were true but also how they could be applied to biological systems and society around us. I thought it was pretty cool that I was learning from students who were still undergraduates but who seemed to master the material so well. It was a new type of learning environment for me because I had never associated my peers with being my own academic teachers before.
All of my LAs kept seeming to push the idea of “collaborative learning” while solving problems to their weekly worksheets. I noticed that this was a concept the professor constantly promoted during class. While taking LS7A, my professor repeatedly mentioned, “Your best learning resources are your peers, so collaborate with them. There is no limit to the amount of A’s given in this class. If you work with your peers to learn and understand the material and how to apply it, then you will all do well.” This was shocking to hear, especially in an introductory Biology class with so many students in it. “Group work” was never something that I preferred throughout high school, so the idea of working with my peers when working through problems and studying for exams caught me off guard. However, I took a leap of faith and trusted that doing what the professor and LAs suggested would put me in the best possible position to be successful.
I ended up doing very well in LS7A, and I can thank all those office hours and collaborative learning sessions for aiding me in that success. After finishing the quarter, I felt like I needed to give back to that professor and that course for teaching me how to be a good student and peer during my first quarter of college. I started off by participating in a unique online, interactive video project that that same professor was making during Winter quarter. As part of the project, a video clip of me was filmed where I spoke about how developing a growth mindset throughout LS7A helped me improve as a student; instead of beating myself up and blaming the test, the professor, or the course for my performance on an exam, I would own up to my performance and think about how my study habits or techniques might have affected that score. More importantly, I would think about what I could do in the future to improve my score and maximize the amount that I was learning in an efficient and useful manner. Throughout that project, I was able to get to know the professor outside of the context of the Biology classroom.
About a year later, I applied to be a Learning Assistant. I felt that I had mastered the course material well and was ready to give back to students who were in the same place as I was a year prior. I was accepted into the position and could not believe that I, who was once extremely hesitant about my capabilities of passing or being successful in LS7A, was equipped enough to help students who were struggling in that class. It really made my experience within the LS7 series come full circle and allowed me to appreciate all of the wonderful academic resources that were given to me during my first course at UCLA.
I guess the main takeaway of this story is that there are so many useful academic resources at UCLA, and it is up to us students to take advantage of them as much as possible. If we dedicate the time and effort into doing well, there is no limit to how well we can do. Everyone has an equal opportunity to perform well and showcase their knowledge within a class. With that being said, do not be disheartened if you do not perform as well as you would like to in your college classes right away. After all, college is a huge adjustment and there are a variety of factors other than school that are changing in your life. Be patient and understanding with yourself and always try to do the best of which you are capable. That will be enough, I am sure of it!