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Unlimited, Unbounded, Infinite

Senior Rebecca Braun wins top prize in a recent I Am USC Dornsife contest for her essay describing how her experiences in USC Dornsife have transformed her. Senior Brittany Lala places second for two life-like paintings connecting all species.

These two paintings reflecting appreciation for the complexities and similarities of our diverse natural world won second place in the "I Am USC Dornsife" contest for artist Brittany Lala, a neuroscience and biological sciences double major. Photo by Sonya Vanhoof.
These two paintings reflecting appreciation for the complexities and similarities of our diverse natural world won second place in the "I Am USC Dornsife" contest for artist Brittany Lala, a neuroscience and biological sciences double major. Photo by Sonya Vanhoof.

Growing up in Delaware, Rebecca Braun felt like “a lemon tree in a pot several sizes too small” — there was so much she wanted to see and do, but her world somehow seemed narrow. So she chose to attend USC Dornsife some 3,000 miles away.

In Los Angeles, she would claim her independence and dive into everything USC Dornsife had to offer.  

“Waiting for life to begin is like waiting for the Antarctic sun to rise in December — it has been up the whole time,” Braun, an international relations major and French minor, wrote in an essay that earned her first place in the inaugural I Am USC Dornsife contest, which comes with a $1,000 prize.

“But there are certainly transformative events, moments that strike like a lightning bolt and suddenly that person sets off airport metal detectors because she is invisibly but undeniably different inside.”

Now Braun is ready to take on the world, and she cites her undergraduate experiences as leading her to this pinnacle moment. Participating in the Teaching International Relations Program (TIRP) has been an “invaluable experience,” Braun said. It gave her the opportunity to instruct high schools students in the community and see the world from their perspective. She also studied abroad in Brussels and France, where she took international relations courses in French.

“It was a huge challenge, but definitely worthwhile,” Braun said of studying abroad. “I learned about myself and how I as a unique individual with my own history, view the world, in addition to learning more about the world itself.”


Senior Rebecca Braun won top prize in the inaugural I Am USC Dornsife contest for her essay on the countless opportunities that her USC Dornsife education has offered her. The international relations major and French minor took home $1,000. Photo by Mary Braun.

Braun also received a Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) grant to conduct research for International Relations Professor Steve Lamy, vice dean of academic programs in USC Dornsife, for an international relations theory textbook he was writing.

“That experience was so transformative because a real mentorship relationship blossomed out of it,” she said. “I learned so much from professor Lamy, and I expect to continue to keep in contact with him after graduation.”

She concludes her essay titled "Unlimited, Unbounded, Infinite" by emphasizing that she has tried to take advantage of the countless opportunities available.

“USC Dornsife has helped make me unlimited, unable to be bound by national frontiers, stereotypes or academic assumptions.”

The competition invited undergraduates to use their creativity to define how they embody the spirit and mission of USC Dornsife: to move humanity forward and make a difference in society through interdisciplinary research; preparing the next generation of scholars and leaders; and giving back to the community. Sponsored by the USC Dornsife Office of Advancement, the contest gives students an opportunity to share their passions and their quests to understand pressing issues through their education.

Submissions for the 2013 contest included essays, poetry, paintings, videos and even a song. There may be similar contests in the future.

“The numerous entries that we received answering the question of how USC Dornsife students capture the spirit of our school were fantastic,” said Steve Kay, dean of USC Dornsife. “The entries embodied the diverse and unique stories that represent the USC Dornsife experience. All of our judges enjoyed participating in this contest and that truly speaks to the caliber and creative spirit of all the submissions.”

Entries were evaluated based on four criteria: overall impact, quality, creativity and the written statement accompanying their entry. Five judges from USC Dornsife weighed in, with representatives from the student body, the dean’s office, faculty, and the communications and advising offices. Second place included a $750 prize and third place, $500.

Brittany Lala, a senior neuroscience and biological sciences double major, placed second for two life-like paintings. One depicts a human mother swaddling her baby and the other is of a chimpanzee mother hugging her child. A colorful, striped blanket appears in both works, symbolizing an innate biological connection between all species, Lala wrote in her accompanying essay. Her paintings also reflect her appreciation for the complexity of our diverse natural world and the mysteries that exist within it.

“Over the past three years, Dornsife has given me the opportunity to work in a research lab and expand my knowledge for the scientific world,” she said. “This experience has led me to become more passionate, curious and appreciative of the work being done by the scientific community.”

Lala aims for a career in the sciences so she can “further contribute to this wealth of knowledge.”

Sophomore sociology major John Ingram placed third for his poem “Composing USC,” a collection of three works written to form U-S-C in large letters. Each letter comprising a poem has its own theme. The “U” combines the story of USC’s history and Ingram’s personal background. The “S” illustrates the diverse academic disciplines available in USC Dornsife, and the “C” highlights extracurricular opportunities.

The end of the poem declares:

Cardinal and gold I bleed!

USC is home to me.

What I become in life will be because of dear Dornsife.

Ingram said that constructing the poem in such a way was challenging — the way that any creative journey should be.

“Without a struggle and trying new things, one will learn nothing,” he wrote in his accompanying essay. “Dornsife and Thematic Option challenge me, pushing the boundaries.”

View the entries and learn more about the I Am USC Dornsife contest at