Hey everyone! After talking about some of the things that attracted me to USC in my last post, I wanted to spend some time telling you about one of my favorite programs here: Thematic Option!
Thematic Option (TO) is a liberal arts honors program that allows you to take alternative classes to many of your General Education and writing requirements. These classes are reading and writing heavy, discussion based, and typically smaller in size than the GE’s that they replace.
Though the program is through the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, there are tons of Viterbi students in TO. Many engineering students pursue it because it provides a great balance to our science and math heavy engineering classes. For those, like myself, who loved humanities classes in high school, I’d highly recommend TO, since it allows you to grow your writing skills in new ways, improve your analytical abilities, engage with brilliant professors and peers, and, most importantly, learn about topics that you’re passionate about!
My TO classes have been some of my favorite classes that I’ve taken. Like the requirements for the GE program, TO requires that you take certain types of classes. For example, you have to take one science-based TO class, a history-based TO class, two TO writing classes, and so on. In each of these areas, multiple different classes are offered by professors who are experts in their fields of study. The best part? New classes are taught each semester, so even if one semester’s classes may not interest you, you can always wait and take a different course the following semester!
One of the most valuable aspects of TO has been being able to get to know both faculty and students outside of engineering. Each of my classmates always brings a new and diverse perspective to discussion which forces each of us to think in different ways and reconsider our understanding of topics from feminist movements in India to interpretations of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Two of my favorite TO classes have been the second writing class I took, “Wayfaring Strangers: Out of Place, Space, and Time” and a history class that I’m currently in, “Theories of Decolonization.” In the former, we studied several texts, theoretical articles, and films, all related to the ways in which strangers or wanderers are depicted. There were only twelve students in the class, which allowed us plenty of opportunities for one-on-one time with our instructor, and enabled us to delve into intense discussions of the works we studied. For that class, one of our major assignments was to write a 10-12 page paper on several of the pieces we studied. This was definitely daunting at first, but throughout the semester our teacher prepared us for the paper through various intermediary assignments, along with one-on-one tutorials: required 30 minute sessions in which you get feedback on your writing and progress from your professor.
After completing the paper, I had the opportunity to present it at the TO Research Conference, an annual event in which TO students sit on panels moderated by faculty and get to share their research projects with their peers, other faculty, friends, and family. This was an incredibly rewarding experience and represented a culmination of my work throughout the semester. The photo at the top of this post was taken just before my friend and I presented our papers (as you can see it was a formal affair)!
The second class I mentioned, “Theories of Decolonization,” has pushed me to think even more critically about some of history’s most pivotal moments. My professor, Neetu Khanna, is an expert on the subject and has even written a book about decolonization. I’ve loved the class so much because it has reframed the ways I think about race, identity, gender, sexuality, and more in relation to both colonization and decolonization. Though the readings often are dense and challenging, Professor Khanna helps us break the texts down, guides us through the nuances of decolonization, and encourages ample discussion both in and outside of class. Though I still have a month of class left, I already know that this may be one of my favorite classes I take in college.
Thematic Option has allowed me to continue to pursue my love for the humanities and given me incredible opportunities to learn and grow intellectually. I’d highly recommend you check it out!