During a welcome picnic Friday for entering freshman, USC College Dean Howard Gillman urged the newcomers to begin their academic careers with an “open mind, grateful heart and fierce determination to excel.”
Roughly half of the College’s 1,850 incoming freshman and transfers attended the event at Founders Park, where professors and students mingled, ate lunch and enjoyed the USC jazz/funk/rock band Pinot.
Gillman applauded the students in the audience for gaining admission in an increasingly competitive environment. Of 33,000 applications to USC last year, 2,950 students were enrolled.
“Congratulations!” Gillman said. “Each of you has demonstrated the academic brilliance, personal accomplishments and commendable values that characterize the student body of our great College.”
After his speech, Gillman meandered from table to table, chatting with students. As part of the welcoming event, various gifts were handed out to students, and two bicycles were raffled off.
Fall semester began Monday for all of USC’s students — including 6,400 undergraduates at the College. The welcome picnic marked the end of a hectic week for the freshmen, who moved into dorms, attended orientation workshops and began life as a Trojan.
In his remarks under a cornflower blue sky, Gillman recalled his own anxieties as a college freshman 30 years before. Intellectually, he knew he was there to “absorb the best of what had ever been thought, created, discovered and debated.” But his mind was preoccupied with other things, such as “meeting friends, and buying my books without going broke."
“The excitement, the confusion, the nervousness and the joy you feel right now — it’s all totally normal,” said Gillman, professor of political science and history, and holder of the Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair.
He advised students to not be passive learners, but to become producers of new knowledge. He also gave them license to ask more of their professors and meet with them in their office hours for one-on-one mentoring.
“Take the time to engage your favorite professors in long conversations about substantive issues raised in their classes — and not just when you disagree with grades,” he said.
Gillman also encouraged students to develop “intellectual flexibility” by exploring and freely sampling from the College’s 130 different majors and minors.
Undergraduates can maximize their educational experience, Gillman said, by becoming involved in the College’s new Team Research Communities, where small groups of students work with individual professors on yearlong research projects in various disciplines.
“Find something that you are curious about,” Gillman said. “Then, we will help you to learn what it feels like to really wonder about a question.”
He emphasized that USC is in “one of the world’s great cities” and with “such incredible diversity and culture, it is an ideal place to open up your mind and expand your range of experience.”
Being in Los Angeles means that research opportunities are nearby; Students can go to Yosemite to collect rock samples, to Catalina Island to gather water samples or to the Huntington Library to examine historical documents.
The Southern California location also means being on the cutting edge of new media. Multimedia, he said, will be incorporated into many freshmen courses.
“Maybe you will construct an interactive 3-D model of the ancient city of Troy,” he began, as the multimedia concept appeared to capture the attention of scores of students.
“Or perhaps you will create a computer simulation of an earthquake. Or maybe you will use the video testimonies of holocaust survivors, housed at USC College’s Shoah Institute, to create a visual essay on the possibilities of love in the concentration camps.”
The energy and vitality of the campus coupled with the beauty of the landscape and architecture has a way of drawing students in, he said. Soon, it will feel like home.
“But however wonderful these surroundings may be,” Gillman warned, “I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone.”
He described USC College as a “great liberal arts school within a great research university that aspires to global leadership,” saying it would prepare them to succeed in a changing world.
“Powerful forces are changing our culture, institutions and practices at a rapid pace,” Gillman said. “Globalization is forcing previously insulated communities into relationships with one another. New information technologies make it possible for new ideas to circle the globe instantaneously.”
After the speech, moving from table to table, sitting down to get to know students, he carried a box filled with flash drives and handed one to student Kelly Girskis.
“Don’t just use it to carry music,” he said with a smile.
Girskis, 17, a neuroscience major, had arrived from Ann Arbor two days earlier. Wanting to broaden her educational experience, she is considering a minor in philosophy.
“This has been the best two days of my life,” Girskis said. “I was really surprised to have the dean come over to our table to talk. Everyone has been so friendly. They make you feel a part of the Trojan Family.”