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Jennifer F WaldenHi, everyone! As you may or may not know, I am a sophomore in the Thematic Option program at USC. Thematic Option is  an alternative general education program. You must apply before your freshman year to be admitted to the program, but it is open to all majors. This interdisciplinary program is very reading- and writing-intensive, but I have not once regretted my decision to be a part of it. (Prospective freshman- if you love to learn and you’re considering applying, DO IT!)

My most recent mind-blowing TO experience was embarking on a field trip with my CORE 104 class to the Huntington Library. Each class is interdisciplinary, so it’s hard for me to label this class as just “history,” “literature,” or “philosophy.” This particular course, entitled “Americans and Nature” satisfies my “Change and the Future” requirement and examines the shifting relationship between the American people and the natural landscape throughout our national history. The professor, William Deverell, is absolutely brilliant. I was never a huge fan of U.S. history until this class. This man is so knowledgeable about every aspect of American history that sometimes I think he must own a time machine.

In any case, we headed to the Huntington knowing only that 1) we would be entering the “vaults” of the library and 2) that Professor Deverell would “blow our minds.”

He did exactly that. After arriving at the grounds and receiving special stickers granting us access to the general grounds of the library as well as the exclusive back rooms, we entered the Munger Research Institute. Since Professor Deverell directs the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, he arranged for us to view several priceless items directly tied to our class. Over the course of about 45 minutes, we viewed original drafts of Thoreau’s Walden, two first edition prints of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, 19th century dagerotype photographs, and an original print of the book detailing Lewis and Clark’s voyage, among several other incredible artifacts. Professor Deverell also arranged for us to view the knife used by one of John Wilkes Booth’s fellow conspirators to wound the Secretary of State. Being the liberal arts nerd that I am, I completely nerded out.

After this, some of my classmates and I embarked on a cursory tour of the grounds in the half an hour or so left before closing. Despite not having enough time to explore all of the gardens and examine all of the priceless art and artifacts on display, I left the Huntington feeling incredibly inspired. I definitely hope I can return to see the rest of the library grounds!


Leona Weekender 1One of my favorite USC traditions is the Weekender. Once a year, Trojan fans young and old migrate to NorCal to watch a football game versus either UC Berkeley or Stanford. This year was Stanford’s turn, and after last year’s nail-biter of a home game, I was pumped.
My friend Isabella and I decided to spend most of the weekend in San Francisco and only go to Palo Alto for the game so we could site-see. We checked out the murals in Clarion Alley, took a bike ride from Fisherman’s Warf to the Golden Gate Bridge, and stopped by Sushirrito (a sushi burrito).
There were hundreds of Trojans staying in our hotel. We completely took over the city. On our bike ride, we kept spotting college students, families, even grandparents in USC gear. The Trojan spirit is strong in the Coliseum on game days, but it was even more powerful feeling it out of context in a strange city.
Game day was boiling hot, but the USC student section was packed anyway. USC travels in style to away games, so the marching band and song girls were doing the familiar routines. I was surprised by how similar it felt to game day on campus back in LA. It was a great day of BBQs, running into alumni working in the Bay Area, and, of course, beating our rivals two years in a row didn’t hurt.
That night, Isabella and I met up with a group of other Trojans for Ghiradeli sundaes. The next day, we continued eating our way through San Francisco with brunch and the famous Bri-Rite ice cream. An hour and a half flight later, I was back in my bedroom finishing homework for Monday.
Leona Weekender 2

Halle - Griffith ObservatoryLast weekend, I got the chance to explore LA for an assignment for a Thematic Option class that I am taking this semester. Each student has to create what we call an STP, a Sacred Text Project, that engages in issues of equality, justice, and civic prophecy. My classmate Nirali and I needed video footage of a few different spots in Los Angeles for our project… so we got to do homework and explore LA at the same time!

On Saturday morning, we hopped on the Metro and explored Hollywood before taking an Uber up to Griffith Observatory. We got some awesome videos and pictures of the LA skyline and the Hollywood sign.

When we finally decided it was time to return home, we tried to contact an Uber. Uh oh. No cellular service. For the next 20 minutes, we wandered around Griffith Observatory waving our phones in the air trying to pick up a signal. Oops. Both of our phones are about to die. We finally made contact with a driver, but he couldn’t find us and left.

After accepting that a ride wasn’t in our near future, we talked to a friendly park ranger that assured us that the walk down to the bottom “wasn’t too bad.” For those of you who don’t know, Griffith Observatory is basically a petite mountain. Nirali and I spent the next 35 minutes hiking down to the bottom (in flip flops, on a winding road without a sidewalk, mind you). After a few close run-ins with cars and lizards, we finally made it to civilization and cellphone service. With only 1% of battery life left, my trusty iPhone allowed me to contact David, the saintly man who picked us up in his white Prius and delivered us safely back to Hollywood.

Not exactly what we had imagined for our Saturday afternoon…

After an eventful day of pranking yesterday, it finally sunk in that it indeed is April, and you know what that means… one more month of classes, finals, and then the beginning of summer — or what we students call sweet, sweet freedom.

For graduating high school seniors, this also means making decisions. After praying/meditating/wearing lucky socks for weeks on end (and just a little voodoo), acceptance letters have been sent, and now the ball is in your court.

As a soon-to-be college senior, that whole scenario brings back some nostalgia but mostly that eager confusion about what the future holds. It’s not just about rankings and scholarships — you want to have an amazing college experience, and, depending on how you define that, you start to wonder — where is the right place for me?

After really thinking about it, I decided that what would have been most helpful for me at that point would have simply been to get a real glimpse into a college schedule. I wanted to picture not just the weekends or football games but also the daily reality of being a student at a university. It is in those hopes that I write this post.

Ladies and gents, I now present:

Average Joe(sephine): A Short Memoir of My Wednesday

8:00 AM – Woken up by Rusted Root’s “On My Way” because I really liked Matilda, and it’s better than the jarring sound of a real alarm clock.Esmy Day in the Life

8:17 AM – Actually awake. Make self socially presentable. Read a few chapters of a David Owens book for PPD 461 (Sustainable City Planning). Bike to campus because I’m a sustainable soul.

10:00 AM – Writing 340 with Prof. Feuer. Our class shares ideas on what we want our A4 papers to be. I hear topics like musical algorithms and what makes a song catchy (as opposed to an enduring classic) and the psychology of gaming culture. I propose either the legality of dumpster diving and how it could (potentially) alleviate hunger in the U.S. or the economics of hipsters by examining sales of kale and coconut water as well as gentrification in Brooklyn and parts of Los Angeles. Someone asks if I’ve ever dumpster dived, and I reply with, “Well it’s not really diving…”

11:00 AM – Playing in the pool or as my schedule decrees: PHED 110. Getting a regular workout is a lot easier when it’s an actual course. It’s also nice that any day in Southern California is the right one for swimming.

12:12 PM – Biked over to where I work (Ground Zero Performance Cafe) for my daily caffeine allocation and was pleasantly surprised to see we had an event. Part of a series titled “What Matters to Me and Why” - the guest speaker went over cognitive barriers and the tipping point where human limitations are breached leading to revolutionary advances. I eat my sandwich pensively.

1:07 PM – Having a little under an hour before my next class, I find a cozy corner in the bookstacks of Doheny Library and catnap.

2:02 PM – Only a couple minutes late to ENST 387: Econ for Natural Resources. This rarely happens (I swear) and as I settle down, we dive into fisheries management and replacement rates. It’s actually pretty interesting. Only yawn once.

3:30 PM – Stare at the vending machine for a good six minutes. Remind myself that I have food at home and should just bike back.

3:45 PM – Park my bike outside the co-op and head up to my room. I pretend to clean up by shuffling things around and building small piles of books and clothes. Head downstairs and a couple housemates are listening to some rad music. Someone must be cooking because it smells wonderful. I sit down and read some material for my environmental law class. My phone buzzes at one point, and I see an email confirming an interview with the American Geoscience Institute. I get excited/nervous all over again.

4:50 PM – Grab the trusty ol’ bike and head back to campus for the Dornsife Ambassadors meeting!

5:50 PM – Head to LiteraTea and see that it’s about to close. Quickly grab some tea and head back to Doheny to start a couple rough drafts.

6:00-8:00 PM – Conglomeration of email, Spotify music digging, researching potential topics and scholarly articles to support hypothetical thesis with a sprinkling of Facebook, Tumblr, and other various black holes of the internet.

~9:00 PM – This article. At this point no one else is in the library, and I myself need to either A) Get more coffee, B) Nap again, or C) Both.

*Always go with C) when in doubt*


10:00 PM – Start a short paper for Environmental Law and edit a report for Sustainable City Planning.

11:30 PM – Head home. Attempt to keep working; instead watch an episode of a TV show that will remain unnamed. Eventually fall asleep on books. Walk like a zombie to the bathroom to brush teeth. Check email one more time then succumb to sleep ready for yet another day in the life of a your average college student.

Melissa B Lab

Last semester, I was enrolled in Molecular Biology, a biology upper-division class for my major. Three professors taught the course: 2 veterans and one brand-new professor. Having a new professor is an exciting and scary experience for an undergraduate student. On one hand, the new professor provides a unique teaching style and can be a great lecturer. On the other hand, since their teaching style is unknown, you cannot rely on upperclassmen’s tips and advice. Thankfully, Dr. Irene Chiolo was a great professor. She taught the unit about double strand breaks in DNA while incorporating her research into it, all the while challenging us to think critically. Her research especially interested me because it can be applied to understanding and treating cancer, my ultimate career goal.

After taking Dr. Chiolo’s examination, and doing fairly well, I mustered up the courage to ask her if her labs had any openings. I distinctly remember my heart skipping a beat when she enthusiastically replied that she not only remembered me but also would be more than happy to have me in her lab. After filling out a formal application and having a mini-interview in December, I was finally able to begin working in her lab in January. I was paired up with an ex-Molecular Biology TA named Tae who taught me the ropes. Thank God she is patient because I was very rusty on my lab technique.

As a young child, I remember seeing people working in laboratories on television shows and movies and thinking “Wow! Those people must be REAL scientists.” Seeing all the beakers, multitudes of cabinets, and tools seemed so scary yet incredible when I was a young child. Now, I am in one of those labs that I could have only dreamed of being in. Working alongside fellow undergraduate students, graduate students, and your ex-professors is such a surreal experience.

My job is to clone cells; this means I remove DNA from a bacterial cell, add additional information to the DNA, and place the new recombined DNA in a new cell to be multiplied. This procedure is not as simple as it seems and involves approximately 20 different steps. Because of Tae and the other fellow graduate students, I have improved from an undergrad who had never picked up a pipette before to someone who is now (sort of) able to clone cells. I have worked in this lab for almost six weeks and am about to send my DNA to another lab for sequencing to see if my first cloning was successful.

Although learning all of these lab procedures was daunting at first, I love every minute of it. Working in the Chiolo lab continues to be an exciting, challenging, informative, and rewarding experience because even if I am just creating tiny cells to be used for testing, I feel as if I am making an impact on the science community and working towards my ultimate dream.

My first week in Paris is coming to a close, and it’s been a whirlwind adventure to get to this point. My flight for Paris left around 2 pm on Wednesday, so naturally I began packing four James G Eifell Tower Groupmonths worth of my things at 8 pm on Tuesday. Needless to say, it was a little bit of a race to the finish, but like my parents say — there’s never a dull moment when I’m around.

It was difficult deciding what to take because there was only so much I could fit. Somehow, I managed to bring clothes for summer and winter, power adapters, school supplies, and toiletries to last me the duration of my trip. Waking up on Wednesday morning and realizing that I only had a few hours remaining in my childhood home made me a little nostalgic. It was like leaving for college all over again because everything I was about to experience would be something new and different.

The first leg of my trip took me from Denver to Chicago, and from there I went on to France. It was the first time I had traveled internationally, and I was concerned about the long flight. Luckily, I had an entire row to myself and was able to stretch out and get some sleep. I arrived at 9:30 in the morning at Charles De Gaulle Airport and went to meet the other USC students who had arrived or would be arriving soon. At noon, Mirek, who works for the ACCENT Center, greeted us and took us to a bus to drive into Paris. Those first few nights we stayed in a Hotel in Paris’ 11th Arrondisement so we could acclimate ourselves to the city and the time zone change, which was far more difficult than I thought it would be. Over the course of the first week, we were given intensive French lessons at the ACCENT Center by a retired professor from La Sorbonne, went on a bus tour of Paris, had a guided tour of L’Opera Garnier, and attended orientations to help us learn about Parisian culture. The ACCENT Center even provided us with metro passes, as well as information about where to eat, how to set up our cellphones, and which banks offered the best exchange rates. We even had several meals and a big welcome dinner courtesy of USC and ACCENT. They really made the transition to Paris as smooth as possible.

James G France MuseumThe next big event was meeting my host family. After spending three days in the hotel, it was time to put down more permanent roots in the City of Lights. I was placed in a taxi and whisked away to the Fifteenth Arrondisement of Paris, where my host family lives. I am living with Madame Charr who has two college-aged sons. She does speak English, but I am working to use as little as possible with her so I can improve my French. I can’t wait to see what this semester has in store!

James G USC Study Abroad HouseInstead of returning to Los Angeles for the spring 2014 semester, I will be living and studying as a Parisian in France. I first conceived of studying abroad after visiting many colleges during my junior year of high school and hearing all of them tout their programs during their campus tours. France was a natural choice for me because I have been taking French since my freshman year of high school and am pursing a double major in French and IRGB.

Last fall, I attended the study abroad fair to learn about (and decide between) USC’s three programs in France: Sweet Briar, Sciences Po, and USC Paris. All of the programs integrate students into French life with classes at French universities.

The Sweet Briar option places students in Paris’ renowned Latin Quarter for an entire year. Students live and study there and even have the option to work alongside their French peers.

The Sciences Po option places students at the prestigious Institut d’Etudes Poitiques in Paris’ historic 7th arrondisement. The school claims alumni such as Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, the current and former French presidents, respectively. At Sciences Po, students can take courses in International Relations, Economics, and Political Science.

Unlike the previous two programs, the USC Paris option places students in homestays with French families. Students take classes with other USC students at the ACCENT Center (a service provider that works with USC and several other top American universities to coordinate programming overseas) and with students


from around the world at La Sorbonne, the oldest French university. The course offerings range from French grammar to Art History to International Relations. To supplement the work in the classroom, USC and the ACCENT Center organize excursions around both Paris and France. For example, students spend a weekend in the south of France in Aix-en-Provence and see performances at L’Opera Garnier. Additionally, many classes leave the classroom to learn about topics on site. For example, the Art History course offered meets two days a week with one of those days being at one of Paris’ many museums. How cool would it be to learn about Leonardo DaVinci while looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre?!

Ultimately, I decided that the USC Paris program would be best for me because of the support provided to students by the ACCENT Center and the opportunity to take classes with students from both USC and around the world at La Sorbonne. However, only being a sophomore leaves me time to study abroad again and experience something completely different if I want!

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