The transition from high school to college is exciting. You finally have the opportunity to live independently from your parents in a supportive environment where you are surrounded by peers. The grind of a six- or seven-classes-a-day schedule disappears and you finally have the chance to design your academic life for the semester with only a few well thought-out guidelines. It was those general education guidelines that led me to the American Studies and Ethnicity department here at USC. This department was established as a reaction to the Rodney King Riots of 1992 right here in South Central Los Angeles. One class in particular that I will never forget is AMST 301: America, the Frontier, and the New West with Professor Gustafson.
Instead of the usual midterms and papers, the first assignment of this course was a scavenger hunt. There were 52 questions about the history of USC and interesting facts about the surrounding areas. Next Professor Gustafson assigned an interview project where our challenge was to go out into the community and talk to complete strangers about their feelings about Los Angeles. In addition to interesting projects, Professor Gustafson gives lectures with a twist, showing popular movies and television shows like Chinatown and The Sopranos.
This class is full of surprises. In lecture this morning, Professor Gustafson wanted to demonstrate the danger of stereotypes and chose to share one of his own experiences. As an English professor, it bugs him when people automatically assume that he must be a boring academic lacking athletic ability. And to prove that this stereotype was false, what does he do but pop a video in the VCR from 1970 of his high school soccer team where he himself scored a goal!
One of the many things I love about USC is that the professors here aren’t just lecturers– they are real people, completely invested in their students’ success. They want to get to know us, and us to get to know them. Anyone can Google a professor’s credentials and research projects, but how many people can say they know that their professor was #27 on his high school varsity soccer team?