The Value of UCLA

Greetings, future Bruin! My name is Anjenica Ramos (but you can call me Nikki; pronouns she/her/hers). I’m a fourth year Cognitive Science major and Digital Humanities minor. It’s nice to meet you! 

First and foremost, congratulations on your acceptance! I want to applaud you on your hard work and accomplishments thus far, especially given the circumstances of the past year. If no one’s told you yet, you definitely deserve to be here and the Bruin community is happy to have you. As a student graduating this Spring, let me just say, It’s been a wild ride, but my time at UCLA has taught me more than I could have ever imagined. For me, the value of UCLA comes in its multitude of opportunities and resources, but also its people and ideas behind them. College, as you will all come to know, is not a one size fits all situation.

When I look back, I always describe the beginning of my college experience as the best and worst of times. For context, I’m a first-generation college student, born in the Philippines and raised in the East Bay Area, who entered as a Physics major considering a switch into the school of engineering. Coming from an underserved community, I recognized that I might have been able to get into college, but could I get through it? 

My first year, I went from being a top student, class president, someone who could handle taking UC Berkeley courses in the summers, to catastrophically failing multiple classes and debating whether to withdraw my enrollment. At the same time, I was having the time of my life with my new roommates (who are still my best friends today!), exploring LA, eating at the best dining halls of the country, and enjoying what I’m learning despite my difficulties with it. Little did I know at the time, I was experiencing the symptoms of then-undiagnosed hormonal imbalance and (non-cancerous) pituitary tumor, which kept my energy, attention span, and appetite low, while keeping anxiety and imposter syndrome high. 

UCLA does well to provide options, which students can explore on their own, which became key for me here. Campus is a collection of offices, programs, labs, you name it — but the thing about a big school is that it’s onto you to make it small; it’s a trial and error process to find your niche(s) and address your needs. It’s in googling which building and website offers what, showing up to general meetings or drop-in hours, applying for that thing, and maybe pivoting when it doesn’t work out. In my case, step one was trying the Ashe Student Health Center on a whim, which, several referrals to UCLA Health specialists later, enabled me to finally address this. In the process, I’ve learned to utilize my agency and voice to actively pave my UCLA experience. 

For one, to mediate my academics, I joined the Academic Advancement Program (AAP), whose structured Peer Learning Facilitations provided me with supplemental assistance for classes. In recognition of my changing interests, I also consulted with College Academic Counseling (CAC) and the Career Center (as well as major department counselors, classmates, my RA, students on Facebook) on considering other pathways, settling on my current degree in pursuit of UX/UI or product design. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has helped address side effects on my mental health, while things like yoga from UCLA Rec kept me physically active. Over time, things began to turn. 

What initially drew me towards UCLA was its sunny, social student atmosphere which resonated with my values. I found it key to have well-rounded extracurriculars outside the classroom, now more so possible to balance once I had found my footing. Another of UCLA’s strengths is in its diverse student-involvement, whether its organizations, projects, research, etc. — all of which provided routes for personal and professional growth that can benefit you long after you’ve graduated. 

A space that has resonated with me the most is Pilipinos in Engineering and Sciences (PIES), a close-knit STEM and cultural student organization which has provided mutual support, community, and leadership development over the last four years. I’ve met some of my closest friends through PIES, and it has also led to participating in other Pilipinx spaces on campus that helped me connect with my cultural identity, whether it’s in student retention counseling, mentorship, or a cultural night performance. On the other hand, I unexpectedly learned the most through interning with the First Year Experience program (FYE) over the last two years, coming full circle in advocating and helping new students with their college transition. Initially focusing on Web/Design for several special populations and, I now also serve the the First To Go program as well.

I mentioned before how the value of UCLA partially stands with the people and ideas behind it, and that could not be more evident in my time with these organizations. There is an invigorating value in being a part of something bigger than yourself, especially alongside individuals so passionate about their communities and their crafts. I think it’s that mix of initiative and collectivity that stuck with me. It is a big place, but finding your village and defining your purpose helps make the paths clear. 

Through my time in these programs, I have had the opportunity to participate in candid, open-minded conversations that helped me develop the language, empathy, and motivation to support advocating for others’ needs. Though I generally want to go into the tech industry, it has instilled in me the importance of keeping the humanity behind technology in mind. Also, through it all, including the turbulence, I’ve learned the importance of paying it forward (which includes sharing insight like this!!). 

All that being said (if you made it this far, seriously, thanks for reading), all of this looks different for everyone, so just consider yourself at a starting point. In retrospect, yes, the years go by faster than you think, but, no, you don’t have to have it completely mapped out from the beginning. At the end of the day, UCLA is still just a place for all of this to come together. It’s up to the people — including you now as well, baby Bruin! — to make the most out of it.

From a Bruin at the end of their undergraduate journey to a Bruin beginning theirs, I wish you the best of luck!