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Getting Involved in Extracurriculars as a UCLA Engineering Student

Sep 14, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

The UCLA Engineering experience extends beyond the classroom. Getting involved in organizations, whether they are engineering-affiliated or not, is one of the best ways to maximize your time at UCLA. Through student organizations, students can find a support system, get access to career counseling and mentorship, and participate in hands-on projects that impart transferable skills.

Why Get Involved?

Kristie Lim, a fourth-year computer science student, said that getting involved in extracurriculars allowed her to find a community at UCLA and gave her new skills she could apply toward her career path. Lim learned technical skills for HTML/CSS, Javascript and React, as well as soft skills such as teamwork and conflict resolution through her involvement in student organizations. Lim is currently an officer for ACM Hack, one of the eight committees housed under the Association of Computing Machinery.

“What I learned in ACM was very applicable for the work I did in my industry internships, and I feel that my extracurricular involvements have given me the experience and skills I will use for my career,” Lim said. “They also gave me a support system for career preparation. Joining ACM-W as a mentee taught me about application timelines and freshmen-targeted internship programs to apply to. Until I joined, for example, I had no idea the recruitment period starts in August of the year before you want to intern.”

According to Lim, getting involved in these organizations gave her a community and helped her feel like she had a place at UCLA.

Lim was also involved in, ACM Teach LA, Foundations Choreography, Creative Labs (an organization that intersects design, engineering and technology through quarter-long collaborative projects) and UCLA Quidditch. According to Lim, getting involved in these organizations gave her a community and helped her feel like she had a place at UCLA.

Isabel Ketner, a fourth-year computer engineering student, echoed Lim’s sentiments about the importance of community. Ketner is the president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for the 2020-2021 academic year. SWE offers a mentorship program, a “family” system which places students with peers who share similar interests and goals, advocacy and lobbying opportunities, technical development, and information sessions with partner companies.

“As a female or minority engineer, engineering can be really hard. It’s important to find people who look and think like you to feel supported,” Ketner said.

Engineering organizations at UCLA blend technical skills and community-building — which, according to Ketner, are the two things engineering students crave most. Organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) run year-long projects to complement coursework, such as the Micromouse and Aircopter projects. “Because many classes are theoretical, having the opportunity to complete hands-on projects is crucial for students’ development,” Ketner said.

Francisco Galang, a third-year chemical engineering student and a family head in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), said that he valued his extracurricular involvements outside of engineering organizations as well. Along with AIChE, Galang has been involved in the UCLA Marching Band and Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night (SPCN).

“Engineering gets stressful and intense, and you’re surrounded by high-achieving people, which can hurt if you’re not doing as well,” Galang said. “Marching Band and SPCN gave me a community where engineering wasn’t the primary focus, and after a long day of classes, doing something completely unrelated was refreshing.”

Angela Lu, a third-year bioengineering student and academic chair of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), recommended Foundations Choreography for students to meet new people outside of academic or engineering-related organizations. Foundations Choreography is an organization geared toward training beginner and intermediate dancers. Participants audition at the beginning of each quarter and are placed into teams, performing in a showcase at the end of the quarter.

“It’s a great way to destress and actually increase your productivity when you study,” Lu said.

How to Get Involved?

All registered campus organizations (RCOs) fall under the jurisdiction of the UCLA Student Organizations, Leadership, and Engagement (SOLE) office. Students can view a list of all RCOs through myUCLA, housed under the Campus Life tab. Offerings include student government offices, dance teams such as Bruin Bhangra and VSU Modern, and service organizations such as Challah for Hunger and Swipe Out Hunger.

UCLA Engineering website features the names and contact information of all engineering-affiliated student organizations.

Additionally, the UCLA Engineering website features the names and contact information of all engineering-affiliated student organizations. Many student organizations also run their own social media pages with information on events and ways to get involved.

Generally, student organizations host informational sessions or general meetings in the first two weeks of the fall quarter to welcome new members. Both Lim and Ketner recommended that incoming students attend general meetings to learn how they can get involved in organizations and projects.

“Don’t be afraid of not being good enough. Consistently showing up is so much of the battle,” Lim said.

Galang emphasized the importance of balancing extracurriculars, academics and personal well-being.

“If you’re just coming in, don’t overcommit yourself, but do get involved so that you have a support system. Find a club that interests you; get a sense of the people and communities around you in these clubs. Get involved by attending meetings and talking to people,” he said.

In order to strike this balance, Lim recommended that students find an organizational system that works for them.

“I run my life according to Google Calendar and Trello, and use Notion to keep track of job applications,” Lim said. Google Calendar can be helpful for students to schedule periods of time for academics, extracurriculars, work and self-care, while Trello and Notion are two visual tools for project management and organization.

Joining organizations can help students adjust to physical isolation and the rigor of UCLA by connecting with a supportive community of like-minded peers. Although participating in extracurriculars may look a little different this year due to remote learning, students still have a multitude of opportunities available to enrich their experience at UCLA Engineering. With more than 45 engineering student organizations and more than 1,000 registered campus organizations to explore, every student can find the right community, or communities, for themselves.

Photo: Foundations Choreography performance, courtesy Selina Pan

This story is contributed by Emily Luong

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