Welcoming USC College’s newest undergrads, Dean Howard Gillman encouraged students to approach this milestone in their lives with “a spirit of exploration.”
“We offer you the best that has ever been thought, discovered or created,” Gillman said of the College.
With more than 30 academic departments and 130 majors and minors, the College is the largest and most diverse part of USC.
“Embrace this opportunity,” Gillman told the gathering at Founders Park, where students chatted with professors, enjoyed a buffet lunch and won bicycles and other gifts in a raffle.
“Expand your horizons. Find new passions. Do justice to your curiosity.”
The Welcome Day Picnic took place Aug. 22, three days before the fall semester began for all of USC’s students — including the College’s roughly 6,200 undergraduates (The number of undergrads was expected to increase as classes get under way).
The majority of the College’s 1,800 or more incoming freshmen and transfers attended the event, which featured an Indiana Jones theme — complete with a large skull and treasure chest display.
Before Gillman stepped onto the stage, the familiar trumpet melody from the Indiana Jones franchise score blared from speakers.
Other lighthearted moments peppered the event, some occurring when Michael Quick, the College’s executive vice dean, took the stage to introduce Gillman.
Quick, professor of biological sciences, advised the entering students not to fear if they felt anxious.
“Do not think any less of yourself because you are a quivering mass of indecision and stress,” Quick told students. “We are all quivering masses of indecision and stress. Get used to it.”
Students uncertain about their futures shouldn’t worry, Quick said.
“I actually hope that all of you don’t know what you want to do with your lives,” Quick said. “And I hope you never figure it out. Go explore, do as many varied things as you can. Let your college be your great, big sand box to play in for the next four years.”
Jens Midthun, president of the USC Undergraduate Student Government, echoed some of that sentiment. He told his fellow students that what they learn in their classrooms is only one part of their undergraduate experience.
“Another important part is what you learn through your interactions with students and what you get involved in on campus,” the economics major said. “My challenge to you is to get out there and explore your options. And really get involved in whatever you’re interested in.
“You have the opportunities. Now is the time to act.”
Steve Lamy, the College’s vice dean for academic programs, told students about one exciting new program called Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR), which offers stipends to undergraduates so they may conduct research with a professor.
By the time students involved in SOAR reach their senior year, they would be expected to have produced outstanding, original research, qualifying them for the USC Discovery Scholars program, said Lamy, professor of international relations. The academic honor awards $10,000 to students for the purpose of postbaccalaureate study.
During his address, Gillman also encouraged the new undergraduates to become USC Renaissance Scholars, students whose double majors and/or minors reflect disparate academic fields — such as physics and philosophy or neuroscience and literature. Those graduating with this honor also receive $10,000 for postbaccalaureate study.
“Don’t limit yourself by preconceived notions of what’s practical,” Gillman advised. “Classics, art history, comparative literature and philosophy are not less practical choices than bio and econ — so please, follow your curiosity and passion.”
He said students can benefit from being in Los Angeles by learning from and serving the community. One way to do so, he said, is to get involved in the College’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), one of the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the country.
JEP students teach and mentor children and teens in area schools, and work in hospitals and other institutions.
“It will be one of the most important experiences you will have,” he promised.
Gillman hoped students would use the College as a “gateway to the world.” He urged them to participate in international students programs and become USC Global Scholars, another academic honor for those who spend time abroad as part of their undergraduate experience.
“I’ll leave you with a quote from [British statesman and literary figure] Benjamin Disraeli, who once said, ‘The secret of success in life is for a man or woman to be ready for his or her opportunity when it comes,’ ” Gillman said. “Your opportunity has arrived. Embrace it, live it, enjoy it.”
After speaking, Gillman went from table to table, introducing himself to students and getting to know them.
“Has it been smooth nesting?” he asked students at one table, referring to the move into residence halls. “Any problems so far?”
After Gillman left, students said they were comforted by the dean’s heartwarming welcome.
“I was really paranoid coming here because I’m not sure what I’ll major in,” said Amrita Parekh, who had left her home in Bombay, India, two weeks prior. “The dean and his message made me feel more secure.”