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Strong start for Fiat Lux


UCLA Today

For 18 freshmen who launched their academic careers in a new Fiat Lux Seminar recently, their first class on their first day at UCLA began by listening to a recorded gospel performance of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Then, sociology Professor William Roy guided students through brief selections of 11 other versions of the same song — New Age, reggae, country-western and more — in an eye-opening start to the seminar’s quarter-long journey into an intriguing investigation of the social links, as well as the barriers, that music creates.

“In our seminar, my goal is to help students learn how to merge an academic understanding of issues with their own personal experiences,” Roy said. “This means that the students learn primarily from each other.”

Welcome to “Music and Social Identity,” one of the 120 new Fiat Lux Seminars offered for the 2002-03 academic year to bring an intense, focused, small-class experience to UCLA freshmen.

For the Fall Quarter, UCLA is offering 32 Fiat Lux Seminars that span the range of disciplines on campus. In addition to meeting with senior faculty who teach undergraduate programs, freshmen have the opportunity to enroll in seminars taught by professional school faculty who generally do not teach undergraduates.

For example, Susan Cochran from Epidemiology focuses on “Sexual Orientation and Health” in her Fiat Lux Seminar, while Kenneth Klee from the School of Law offers “Debt and Forgiveness: United States Bankruptcy Policy.”

“A Fiat Lux Seminar is a great opportunity to explore a subject that means a lot to me in a small class,” said Taylor Hanan, an undeclared freshman from San Diego. “I’m fascinated by creating music, so it seemed ideal to start my studies by learning more about how music affects our society. A small discussion course on such an interesting subject in my first quarter at college was not the sort of thing that other universities that I considered had to offer, but UCLA does.”

Each Fiat Lux Seminar, worth one unit of academic credit, revolves around intense class discussion, often led by the students themselves, and is supported by outside readings. Each seminar is designed to accommodate 15 students, with a maximum of 20 allowed.

“The hallmark of a Fiat Lux Seminar is the opportunity for freshmen to engage in a lively dialogue with faculty and peers,” said Judith L. Smith, vice provost for undergraduate programs. “Exploring ideas with others is an essential academic skill acquired only through practice.”

Fiat Lux (Latin for “Let There Be Light,” the UC motto) is the newest program in UCLA’s ongoing commitment to expanding opportunities for small and innovative classes for undergraduates. Other programs that focus on new students include the Freshman Clusters, the interdisciplinary, team-taught series of courses for general education; the Honors Collegium, a groundbreaking program that creates a small-college environment within the large public university setting; and the September 11 Seminars, a series of 86 courses offered last year that was the largest academic response created by any university in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“The Fiat Lux Seminars provide precisely the kind of academic environment that helps undergraduates flourish at UCLA,” said Chancellor Albert Carnesale, who will teach a seminar titled “Rethinking National Security” in the Winter Quarter. “Our goal is to offer a place in a seminar for every student who wants to enroll.”

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