At the time of writing this, I’m only a sophomore at USC. This is my fourth semester taking classes, and I’ve had course plans for 3 different majors so far — that’s almost one major change every semester!
As such I’ve taken classes in all sorts of subjects from many departments at USC, but there have been a few classes that stood out to me for different reasons.
One of the biggest factors in enjoying a college class is the professor. If the professor isn’t passionate about what they’re teaching, they won’t enjoy transferring this knowledge to their students and thus the students won’t enjoy trying to learn the subject matter. Every professor I’ve had has been passionate about their work, but not every professor is passionate about teaching undergrads and re-teaching the basics every semester. Which brings me to my next point: to make a class fun, the professor needs to know how to make the subject matter seem fun and applicable rather than just information from a textbook. Finding a professor who teaches well for your learning style is one of the most important factors when it comes to succeeding in a class. While Rate My Professor can be a really useful tool, it doesn’t always fully encapsulate the spirit of a professor and how they teach; I like to figure this out by talking to upperclassmen and asking for their advice and opinions on professors before signing up for classes. Sometimes, though, you choose a random professor and it just works out. That’s what happened for me with all of my favorite classes (and professors): the section they taught just so happened to work better with my class schedule so that’s where I ended up. Without any further adieu, here’s my list (in no particular order) of my favorite classes I’ve taken at USC so far:
- MATH 245: Mathematics of Physics and Engineering
Now I know what you may be thinking. How could differential equations be one of your favorite classes? Are you crazy? Isn’t college math supposed to be really hard? I took this class my first semester at USC so I had no idea what I was getting into. All I have to say is that I love math, and my professor made a very difficult subject very fun! In lecture my professor would do proofs of our concepts with fun spins (Did you know you can use differential equations to learn that slow and steady doesn’t always win the race? Thanks to my professor’s analogy about worms and rubber bands, I now do!) In discussion, our TA would walk us through problems that were nearly identical to the problems we had on our weekly quizzes and he spent lots of time making sure we really understood the concepts. The class was small and got very close through all this — so much so that we even bought a cake for our TA’s birthday and threw him a little party! We even formed a study group that would have half the members go to office hours one day and the other half the next day so we could get everyone’s questions answered. I still keep in touch with so many people from this class even though we’re all in different majors because we loved our little community. To this day we still joke about some of the ridiculous things our professor said in class to help us remember the concepts.
- ITP 125: From Hackers to CEO’s: An Introduction to Information Security
This is one of the most fun classes I’ve taken in my entire life, and I highly recommend it to anyone (even if you’re not into computer science!) We covered all sorts of topics that I never thought I’d be taught about: how computers actually work, from wifi and routers to firewalls and operating systems; how cybersecurity and psychology interface; and how unsafe most digital information is if you’re not careful! We learned the basics of hacking and the different aspects of cybersecurity in our labs and had tons of help from our super knowledgeable undergraduate TAs — they were upperclassmen who had taken the class only a few semesters before, so they knew exactly what it was like to be in our shoes! After a couple months of the class, I knew how to hack into Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows 7 computers in no time! All the professors that taught the class were super cool and knowledgeable since all of them are also specialists in the industry and do cybersecurity for a living while teaching for fun! Even though it was online, there were only ~20 people in the 3 hour discussion-based class so we all got to know each other really well and some of us still keep in touch!
- BME 101: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering
If you’ve read some of my other blogs, this may seem like a surprising class to be on here considering I switched out of the biomedical engineering major during my first semester at USC. Just because the coursework for the major didn’t mesh with my interests doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my time in it! My class was small, and was taught by a faculty member from the medical school and not a typical intro BME professor. As such, we got to hear about all sorts of interesting biomedical research that was going on at USC and do projects to learn more about the field of biomedical engineering instead of constantly doing bookwork and applied math problems. Since the class was very group based, I got to know some of my classmates really well and we began to hang out outside of class, and some of these peers are a couple of my closest college friends I’ve made. We also got pretty close with our professor and learned a lot about his career path and the opportunities we would have as we advanced in our degrees. He even helped me decide to switch majors, and gave me recommendations on ways to take all the classes I wanted. Though the professor I had is no longer at USC, we still keep in touch and he checks in with my classmates and I every once in a while. And these close connections have lasted: one of my classmates and I text everyday and have zoom baking calls once a month, and this professor wrote me a letter of recommendation just last month, a whole year and a half after I took his class (and a year after he left USC).
To me, the most important thing about a college class or college education isn’t the information you’re tested on (this is still important though!) The connections you make and the skills and stories that stick with you are what make the academic rigor of college worth it! I’ve met some of my best friends in these classes, and learned skills that are useful both in college and in life in general!