My Unexpected Journey Through the Freshman Cluster Program at UCLA

When I first chose to enroll in a Cluster during my freshman orientation, I did so primarily because it fulfilled a majority of my general education requirements needed for graduation which I otherwise would not have completed in my major. I had no idea what to expect, and truthfully, just thought of it as a regular GE class. This idea was quickly shut down, as my freshman year was filled with challenges, real-life experiences, and thought-provoking discussions which have prompted me to grow both intellectually and personally. My name is Fayez Kanj, and I am currently a sophomore studying computational and systems biology at UCLA. Enrolling in a Cluster my freshman year was one of the best decisions I have made at this school, and I’m here to tell you why.

The Cluster class I took last year was GE 80: Frontiers in Human Aging. The class explored the concept of aging through an interdisciplinary approach and combined the fields of biology, psychology, and sociology for a deep dive into the seemingly simple idea of human aging. My Cluster was totally different from my other STEM classes I took at the time to fulfill my pre-med requirements. The class incorporated a multitude of different assignments, such as film reviews, debates, policy memos, and presentations, that enabled its students to truly understand the class material. The paper I wrote on ageism (the systematic stereotyping and discrimination based on a person’s age) made me realize my own ageist attitudes, the film reviews empowered me to make my own connection between class content and real-world media, and the debates gave me the opportunity to create my own arguments about controversial age-related topics. 

The most valuable experience in my opinion was our service learning throughout the second quarter. As a part of winter quarter, students had the opportunity to visit a variety of senior assisted-living centers, and were given the chance to interact with seniors suffering from dementia over the course of a month. In that time, we were able to make connections between what we learned in class and what we observed during our service learning experience. After spending roughly 20 hours there over the period of five weeks, I have seen myself develop as a person. I am more patient and confident in my public speaking and conversational skills, and I also have gained a newfound respect for caregivers.

All Clusters break into seminars during spring quarter, and students get to choose which one they would like to join and study based on their interests. These seminars are taught by the professors and TAs, and allow for a more in-depth study into a particular subject matter.

UCLA offers numerous Clusters for its freshman class, ranging from American history to biotechnology to politics. The program caters to students with all interests and passions, each with their unique experiences throughout the course of a year. In addition to the engaging coursework, finishing a year-long Cluster grants students Writing II credit (if they already have taken a Writing I class), as well as a variety of other general education courses. In addition, many Clusters also offer Diversity credit, another GE requirement from the college. So, not only will you have experiences unlike any other class, but you will also fulfill a number of GEs—and in only your first year at UCLA! Taking a Cluster can free up space in your future to pursue other elective courses or minors.

When signing up for a Cluster, I truthfully did not think that I would enjoy it as much as I did. I never would have expected to learn and grow as a person as much as I have. With a variety of learning opportunities, I was challenged in all aspects, which in the end was incredibly rewarding. I know for a fact that if I had the chance to take a Cluster again in the future, I definitely would, and I think you should really consider enrolling too!

Undergraduate Education Initiatives | UCLA Cluster Program