The first year at any four-year university is a time of great transition and adjustment, whether students are entering from high school or community college. Navigating academics, extracurricular opportunities and community-building is not a simple task at an institution with a student body of more than 30,000 undergraduates In 2020, this means an added challenge of beginning a new academic career in the midst of a global pandemic, adapting to remote learning and social distancing.
Fortunately, UCLA Samueli boasts a community-oriented culture of collaboration and problem-solving, with a variety of academic support, student services and student organizations that offer relevant information, advice and mentorship. These resources will enable engineering students to thrive academically and emotionally even during a period of great uncertainty.
Becoming acquainted with counseling resources, sharing tips and best practices for remote learning, and joining student organizations are helpful steps that incoming students can take to make the most out of their academic experience at UCLA Engineering.
Academic Counseling and Guidance
In the beginning of fall quarter, undergraduate students should familiarize themselves with the various counseling services available to them and plan their course load for the year and beyond. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for success is to create a degree plan, according to fourth-year computer science and economics student Tanish Ambulkar. The Office of Academic and Student Affairs within the School of Engineering offers virtual appointments, walk-in advising and sample two- and four-year plans on its website.
“It might change every quarter, but it gets you to actively think about whether you want to take certain classes before an internship next year or overload on certain classes one quarter if you plan to be busy with work the following quarter,” Ambulkar said. “Many student organizations hold mentorship hours and course-planning events throughout the year that will allow you to get real insight on these classes from your peers,”
In addition, some students may benefit from utilizing peer-counseling services offered by student-run retention projects in the Student Retention Center.
Students from historically underrepresented communities, including those who are first-generation, low-income, and racial or ethnic minorities, may be eligible for a membership in the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) at UCLA. AAP provides academic, personal and career counseling, as well as scholarships, peer-learning programs, graduate and professional school-mentoring among other services. Admission into the program requires an eligibility check, and there is also an appeals application for those not automatically deemed eligible.
In addition, some students may benefit from utilizing peer-counseling services offered by student-run retention projects in the Student Retention Center. These projects, including the Academic Supports Program, MEChA Calmecac, Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEA CLEAR), Samahang Pilipino Education and Retention (SPEAR) and Retention of American Indians Now! (RAIN!), employ peer counselors who assist students with holistic development along with academic success. According to Annie Pham, a third-year psychobiology student and peer-counseling coordinator for SEA CLEAR, peer counseling can be uniquely beneficial because fellow students can be easier to talk to and more relatable, giving candid feedback and relevant insight on classes, extracurriculars and career paths.
Another avenue of academic and career support is faculty advising. Each undergraduate student at UCLA Samueli is assigned a faculty advisor within their department of study, who meets with the student at least once a year. Students are encouraged to develop relationships with their faculty advisors and ask for insight on graduate school, research or industry job opportunities.
“I’ve had a positive experience with faculty advising. Professors have been very knowledgeable and helpful,” said Francisco Galang, a third-year chemical engineering student. “I ask them about what kind of things I should try to do during the year or the coming summer to get myself into a competitive position for pursuing academia or industry.”
Griffith Hughes, a third-year bioengineering student, recommends that students have a candid discussion with their faculty advisors about their goals.
“Figure out exactly what you want to gain from UCLA and begin talking to your faculty advisor about that. They can help point you in the right direction or they may know other people who can do so,” Hughes said.
Succeeding in Coursework as an Engineering Student
Organization, Time Management, and Remote-Learning Best Practices
Organization and time management are essential skills that incoming students must build quickly in order to succeed in classes. Different systems work for different people, so taking the time to explore options is crucial.
“It’s important to be meticulous in organizing your schoolwork because engineering classes get really heavy, really fast. You might underestimate how difficult the assignment is and end up working to 4 a.m. on the last day, whereas it would’ve been easier to work one or two hours throughout the week,” Ambulkar said. He recommends using a calendar app to plan out a balanced schedule, blocking out time for classes, assignments, physical activity, breaks and personal time.
Angela Lu, a third-year bioengineering student, recommends using weekly office hours as a way to time-manage efficiently.
Establishing a daily schedule and structuring a workspace can aid in the process of remote learning.
“If you attend office hours every week, you can hold yourself accountable for keeping up with the material as the quarter goes,” Lu said. She also noted that students should establish their preferred study method as early as possible by experimenting with flashcards, note-taking styles, individual studying and group study sessions to determine what works best for them.
In a remote setting, students may find it difficult to remain focused and productive. Establishing a daily schedule and structuring a workspace can aid in the process of remote learning.
Galang found that following a morning routine to start his day before classes and staying active at home were two things that helped him stay on track academically during spring quarter.
“A quiet environment helps a lot, but that’s not a possibility for everyone,” Galang said. “So finding a structure that gets you out of bed early in the morning and getting active helps with motivation and focus. I woke up at 8:30 a.m. to do cardio before my classes at noon.”
Hughes recommends that students try their best to attend all classes and take notes by hand during online classes in order to identify the most important parts of a lecture and minimize distractions.
“I keep my study space completely separate from my living space,” Hughes said. “I don’t eat food where I study, and I leave my phone on mute on my bed.”
Asking for Help
Annie Pham said it’s important that students do not hesitate to reach out to peers and mentors if they are struggling.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned at UCLA is not to be afraid to ask for help, whether with studying, assignments or moral support, because it can go a long way,” she said.
Galang noted that students may struggle in their first year, as he did, with lower-division prerequisite courses if their high school did not prepare them well academically.
“Don’t compare yourself to the people around you who are doing well — there are students in your classes that will be math, chemistry and physics majors, for whom these courses are their primary focus of study,” Galang said. “If your background in these subjects aren’t as strong, there are resources to help you.”
Upsilon Pi Epsilon also hosts review sessions for core computer science classes, practice nights that can strengthen students’ skills.
Those resources include the Student Math Center, and the Physics and Astronomy Tutoring Center. Many student organizations and societies, including the chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma and honors societies such as Tau Beta Pi and Upsilon Pi Epsilon, offer free tutoring services throughout the year. Tau Beta Pi holds tutoring sessions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday through week 9 for STEM courses, and Upsilon Pi Epsilon hosts tutoring hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lower-division engineering courses and upper-division computer science courses.
Upsilon Pi Epsilon also hosts review sessions for core computer science classes, practice nights that can strengthen students’ skills by working together through practice problems and project hacks for CS 31 and CS 32. All events are held over Zoom and recordings are posted on Upsilon Pi Epsilon’s Facebook page, said Ambulkar, the organization’s tutoring director.
According to Wesley Uehara, director of the school’s Transfer Student Resource Center, incoming transfer students face a uniquely quick turnaround that can be extraordinarily overwhelming as they must figure out how to maximize their opportunities in the two to three years they will spend here.
“Keep calm and transfer on’ is a motto that goes beyond the logo,” Uehara said. “As much as we encourage our students to participate in the many different opportunities, the goal is to do a few to ensure your emotional well-being. You don’t want to get yourself so overwhelmed that you become the obstacle to being able to participate in these activities.”
He also recommended that transfer students connect with the resources and community available at the Engineering Transfer Student Resource Center, as well as think critically about how to give back to the community and what they want to leave behind as their legacy at UCLA Engineering.
“There’s a tremendous need from people who will come after you to see the successes and pathways that our engineering transfers are experiencing,” Uehara said.
Self-Care and Wellness
Galang struggled through his first year, spending countless hours studying and not enough time sleeping or eating healthy, balanced meals. These lifestyle decisions caused his grades to be lower than he had hoped. He then committed to making changes in his second year, which yielded great results.
“Coming into my second year, I prioritized taking care of myself. I exercised 30 minutes a day, stopped eating at Covel and De Neve Late Night, and made sure I got eight hours of sleep every night,” Galang said. “Then, I started getting all As. It really showed me how much taking care of my body helped my academics.”
In a rapidly changing world, UCLA Engineering students have a variety of resources to draw upon to achieve academic success and personal well-being.
Without balance, burnout is inevitable. Students have access to mental health resources, from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which has a satellite clinic in Boelter Hall, to the Resilience in Your Student Experience (RISE) Center. Typically, the Engineering satellite clinic is scheduled from weeks 5-10, on Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m. In a virtual setting, students can access engineering-specific counselors from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. throughout the quarter. CAPS offers one-on-one therapy sessions, group therapy, and skills groups such as “Coping Throughout the Quarter,” “Break the Cycle of Anxiety” and “Progress Not Perfection.”
The RISE Center serves as students’ one-stop-shop to holistic wellness, offering healing programs, guided meditations, trauma-informed yoga and connection circles. Aside from institutionalized mental health resources, students can also access peer-to-peer resources, such as Active Minds, Peer Assistance and Wellness Support (PAWS), Resilience Peer Network and GRIT Peer Coaching Program.
In a rapidly changing world, UCLA Engineering students have a variety of resources to draw upon to achieve academic success and personal well-being. Whether through faculty advising, student organizations, or population-specific resource centers, the UCLA Engineering community is ready to support and empower students to reach their goals.
Photo: Bioengineering student Angela Lu. Courtesy Angela Lu.
This story is contributed by Emily Luong.