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USC College Dean’s Prize Winners Announced

Student suggestions for a new minor and two new courses win College competition.

USC College Dean’s Prize Winners Announced

What do students think would make for a better USC College? That’s the question at the heart of the USC College Dean’s Prize for the Enrichment of Student Academic Life.

This year’s winning proposals, announced April 20 during the annual College Scholarship Luncheon, included a career-skills course for liberal arts students, a mental health and wellness minor and a “radically interdisciplinary” course exploring the construction of alternative realities.

The winners were chosen from a total of 53 submissions.

Joseph Aoun, dean of USC College, launched the competition last year as a way to encourage students to take a more active role in their own educations. The proposals can cover any aspect of the student academic experience.

“We wanted to give students a chance to help guide the future of the College,” said Aoun. “The Dean’s Prize opens the door for students to tell us what changes we could make that they think are the most important, the most urgent or the most exciting. The students have been extremely creative in their suggestions.”
Peter Starr, dean of undergraduate programs in the College, congratulated the authors of the three winning proposals and presented each with a $500 check during the luncheon held at Town and Gown.

The competition “succeeded far beyond our expectations,” said Starr, who oversaw the program.

Freshman Ishwar Bridgelal was recognized for his proposal to establish a new undergraduate minor focused on mental health and wellness, to include courses from psychology, biology, philosophy, religion and English. Starr praised the creative writing and biological sciences major for a well-crafted proposal that incorporated peer mentoring and undergraduate research in forward-thinking ways.

Senior Merci Hammon created a QuickTime movie, called “Simultaneous Realities,” to present her idea. The creative writing student envisioned a course exploring the nature of reality and truth from the perspectives of philosophy, physics, neuroscience, anthropology, religion and media studies. The course would examine the ways in which interactive media and video games create alternative realities. It would culminate in the public display of student projects aimed at conveying a sense of “multiple realities” around the University Park campus.

Starr said the College received a number of submissions addressing students’ desire for more hands-on career preparation. But senior Brad Johnson’s proposal, “A Step Up: Career Skills Development and the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences,” offered the most articulate and compelling vision of what this might look like.

Johnson, a biological sciences and political sciences major, suggested introducing a two-unit, seminar-style course, offered in conjunction with the university’s Career Planning and Placement Center, to teach students how to shape their resumes, prepare for interviews and negotiate job offers.

His motivation came from a realization that many students “have no idea how [their major] translates to the real world. I’m hoping that the career skills course will give liberal arts majors a place to start toward applying their College degree to today’s dynamic job market,” he said.

“Overall, I think the competition is a great opportunity for the College to tailor its services to its students,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely excited about the prospect of working with Dean Starr to make the career-skills class a reality.”

New minors and classes must be reviewed and approved by College departments and the university’s curriculum committee, so students will not be able to sign up for any of the new offerings immediately, Starr said.

“But look for the realization of these three superb ideas in the year to come,” Starr added.