Registering for classes is a stressful experience. For me, this involves trying to juggle required classes, long labs, and rate my professor reviews to piece together the perfect schedule while simultaneously biting my nails as the open spots in my preferred classes fill up. In addition to the required classes, USC students get the unique opportunity to take general education classes, or GE’s, that range from arts and humanities to life sciences. Although these are great learning experiences, as an engineer with an already packed schedule, I will admit that I was reluctant to schedule my GE for this last semester. I am not a huge fan of writing so adding a GE seemed like an unnecessary distraction from my STEM classes. I ended up signing up for an anthropology GE-C, ANTH-371 Cross Cultural Research on Urban Gangs. The professor had good reviews, I needed a GE-C: it was worth a shot.
Looking back, this decision was one of the best that I have made at USC so far. ANTH 371 easily became my favorite class of the semester. This class was taught by Professor Thomas Ward, an anthropologist who spent 8 years studying and living with the MS-13 street gang community in LA. Professor Ward is a gripping speaker who entertained us the whole class with his countless stories and witty comments. Not only was this class fun because it was something that I had no prior experience with, it was also a much needed break from my STEM classes. Joining the class meant becoming part of the “Trojan Loco Gang.” We even got to make up our own gang names! Mine was Froyo because I love ice cream. Throughout the semester, we had various guest speakers ranging from former Blood, Crips, and MS-13 gang members to gang cops. Their stories were so genuine that I felt like I was really getting to experience their story first hand.
Even though I chose this course as a diversion to my engineering classes, I can really see how it links to my STEM classes. The whole discussion centered around the idea that gangs are adaptations to their hostile environment. With this in mind, we analyzed gangs through a holistic approach, looking into how childhoods of neglect, family violence, and poverty shape LA’s street gang community. This same idea of looking at the whole problem space rather than just the tangible problem is something that we as engineers do every day. In order to understand the issue, it is necessary to look at the conditions that create the problem and tackle it piece by piece. Who knew that a class about gangs could help me practice problem solving skills that I will need to use in my future career!!
All in all, despite my reluctance, taking this GE was such a valuable experience and my favorite class of the semester. One of the best parts about USC is that the curriculum pushes you to be so much more than your major. Thanks to the GE system, I got to have a learning experience that I could not have had at any other school. It is funny because I now know more about street gangs than many people will ever know! A lesson I learned through this experience is to pick GE’s based on something that you find interesting. Although they might seem like a pain during registration, taking a GE is a valuable experience that really makes USC special!