Ye Seong Kim remembers the initial excitement she felt after being accepted to UCLA. But that thrill turned to trepidation as she sat with 500 other new Bruins in Ackerman Grand Ballroom on the first day of a three-day freshman orientation.
Kim had arrived the night before from her home in Castro Valley, California, and already had had a hard time finding her way from her room on the Hill, where undergraduate residence halls are located, to the ballroom. “I was feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed,” Kim admits.
Her mood, however, lightened considerably when David Ravetch, a UCLA alumnus who has taught accounting at UCLA since 1982, took the stage to welcome freshmen to campus.
“I couldn’t believe he was a professor here,” recalls Kim, now a fourth-year biochemistry major. “The teachers I’d had in the past were all business, but David implanted the idea that UCLA professors really care about your learning; they’re here for us as a resource, and they love what they do.”
For the last quarter century, Ravetch, a senior lecturer at the Anderson School of Management, has been the charismatic warm up-act kicking off three intense days of freshman orientation and the very first faculty member most new Bruins meet. He estimates he’s spoken to tens of thousands of freshmen and their parents, who have listened to an orientation talk he’s tailored just for them.
His words so impressed Kim, for example, that she even considered pursuing a minor in accounting just so she could take his class. “I was toying with the idea … and then I realized, ‘Wait. I have no interest in accounting,’” she says with a laugh.
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On a recent morning at Ackerman, Ravetch sets the right tone as he welcomes yet another cohort of freshmen. “There may be lots of emotions going through you right now,” he tells them. “Whatever you’re feeling, I hope you also feel a sense of pride because we had 92,000 freshman applications to come to this school in the fall. And we picked you. We picked you. Congratulations.”
Right on cue, his audience erupts in cheers and applause.
Using his signature brand of high energy and humor, Ravetch opens by referencing Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and how to quickly square numbers. While the topics seem unrelated, somehow he breaks the ice and gets students thinking about how knowledge and education can be found in the simplest of situations. Just be open to learning, listen and pay attention, Ravetch advises.
To give students a sense of being part of a global community of Bruins, he asks them where they come from. Raise your hand, he urges, if you’re fluent in a language other than English. When students answer, he then speaks a few words in some of the 30 languages in which he can respond. On this particular morning, he impresses his audience with phrases in Korean, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Bengali, Russian and Armenian.
“It’s a way for me to connect with the audience,” Ravetch says later. “It’s a little bit of a surprise, and it opens them up to what I’m about to talk about. It’s the ice-breaker that works.”
Later, he tells them that their college experience is really what they will make of it. He encourages them to find balance between in-class and out-of-class learning.
“Their whole focus to this point has been grades and academic stuff, and UCLA is so much more than that,” Ravetch explains in a later interview.
Once a shy 17-year-old UCLA freshman from the San Fernando Valley himself, Ravetch says he gives students the kind of advice he wishes someone had given him in 1975. “I’d led a pretty sheltered life and was an introvert, and I was reluctant to do a lot of things,” he says. “I wish someone had told me to be more involved on campus, to focus on more than academia and to understand what a university is. It’s so much more than taking a bunch of classes.”
Ravetch asks these present-day freshmen to try new things, challenge themselves academically, volunteer, do research, study abroad, get to know faculty and be open to different fields and disciplines.
The perennial campus greeter recalls that his own one-day orientation was not a mind-expanding experience. “I didn’t really get a firm grasp of the campus or what was going to be expected of me,” he says. “I didn’t study much in high school — which says more about the school than it says about me. And I thought UCLA wouldn’t be all that much different. The change was startling. I wish someone had told me that.”
In contrast, Kim, reflecting back on his orientation talk three years ago, says she believes Ravetch’s humor, knowledge and insight on that one day helped her find her way at UCLA.
Within two weeks, she was meeting with professors during office hours and getting involved on campus.
“I don’t know if I actually would have gone to office hours if not for him telling us that professors want to be there with you and are invested in your learning,” Kim says.
Lost in that crowd of new faces, she heard him urge her to make her first-year experience a positive one. That pushed her to become a residence assistant and later a new student coordinator, positions that have allowed her to personally impact incoming students.
And that’s exactly why Roxanne Neal, director of New Student and Transition Programs, invites Ravetch back to the stage year after year.
“He brings such energy,” says Neal. Although there are a few other faculty members who give orientation presentations to incoming freshmen, she added, Ravetch is the only one who has been doing it since the 1990s.
“He has such enthusiasm, and he genuinely cares about students. That translates so solidly during his sessions,” Neal explains. “Students are here to get a degree and to get an education. They should be hearing from someone who is part of the group responsible for making that happen. … He loves getting them excited to be at UCLA. And he’s so good at it.”