Students + Campus

New UCLA living learning community attracts creative, inventive Bruins

Sproul Hall floor nurtures students' entrepreneurial spirit

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Design and Innovation Living-Learning Community
Idriss Njike/UCLA

Students who just moved into the new design and innovation living learning community in Sproul Hall have already started to use their lounge space to connect and share ideas.

When second-year UCLA engineering student Dmitri Brereton was in high school and deciding which university to attend, he knew that the perfect school would be one where community, creativity and entrepreneurship were part of the campus fabric.

All of that came together in UCLA.

When Brereton was deciding this year which residence hall he wanted to live in for 2016-17, he followed those same principles.

Last week, he and close to 80 other undergraduates moved into UCLA’s new design and innovation floor in Sproul Hall, where students majoring in many different fields will work together to bring their imaginative ideas and concepts to life. It is the 10th living learning community to open on the Hill, UCLA’s on-campus residential community of approximately 12,800 students. Each living learning community is designed to bring together undergraduate students with similar interests to immerse themselves in a subject they are passionate about.

“I saw a post about it on Facebook and was immediately interested,” said Brereton.

In his first year at UCLA, Brereton attended events organized by Bruin Entrepreneurs, joined the UCLA chapter of the Association of Computing Mechanics (ACM), became president of ACM Hack and participated in 3 Day Startup. He said he is excited this year because he anticipates even more ways to get involved, network, learn and launch new ideas.

“The thing I love most is how easy it is for someone to build something that can be used by everyone, and how easy it is to solve problems with technology,” said Brereton, who flexed his creative muscles as a freshman by building apps and websites and working on other projects. “It’s an incredible time for entrepreneurs at UCLA.”

Idriss Njike, assistant director of academics in the Office of Residential Life, said the response from those wanting to secure a place on this new floor was overwhelming.

“This is the first time we have launched a new living learning community and had more demand than we could accommodate in its first year,” said Njike.

Brereton said he is most eager to meet the rest of the students who will be living there. “It’s the people that will make the floor.”

Among them is Jessica Cao, one of two resident assistants who will be working with the new residents on the floor to develop a tight sense of community and programming to supplement their in-class learning. She also wants to advance their understanding of how to actualize their ideas and concepts.

A second-year design major, Cao said she's looking forward to working with other designers and students with technological expertise since the two fields go hand in hand in the process of making excellent products.

She is also eager to create programming to foster career development and to encourage female students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and leadership roles within the design industry.

“Even though most of the students in my program are women, most CEOs, creative directors and senior leaders in the design field are male. There’s strong disparity there,” Cao said.

This is also a priority for Andrea Kasko, an associate professor in bioengineering who will help enrich the learning experience for residents as a faculty-in-residence living among the undergrads on the Hill.

Kasko said that she has witnessed a sharp uptick in entrepreneurial spirit among students over the 10 years she has been teaching on campus. “We see a lot of our students wanting to strike out on their own and start companies. They have a lot of great ideas.”

Njike said the floor lounge has been remodeled to facilitate collaboration and creativity, and a Maker Space, where students from all over campus can share ideas, tools and skills, is scheduled to open in Rieber Hall this winter.

“We have a lot of incredibly smart and talented students on this campus, and they have been asking for a space like this where they can invent and be creative, not only by themselves, but with one another,” he said. “We expect a lot of great things will happen here.”

The design and innovation living learning community is just the latest resource among many others that UCLA offers to entrepreneurial students. There’s an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship, which enrolled 75 students last year; competitions like the Student Entrepreneur Venture Competition and Code for the Mission, which this year included a Team Up With the Chancellor track; the Knapp Venture Competition; programs like Startup UCLA, Blackstone Launchpad at UCLA and Bruincubate; student groups like Bruin Entrepreneurs; events like LA Hacks and IDEA Hacks; and Sigma Eta Pi, UCLA’s co-ed entrepreneurship fraternity.

In addition, UCLA recently launched the UCLA Venture Capital Fund to support and promote campus entrepreneurship and invest in startups created by UCLA students, faculty, alumni and community.

Increasing entrepreneurship education and opportunities for students is a priority at UCLA, said Wesley Thorne, director of the UCLA Career Center, which has been a key partner in contributing to the vision of the floor and, more broadly, has been cultivating new strategic connections with startups and incubators to create internship and employment opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded students across campus.

This past year, the Career Center launched a new partnership with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) to create an internship stipend program for UCLA students to work with startup companies in the clean-tech sector. Interns work with LACI portfolio companies that will have big environmental, social and economic impacts in Los Angeles.

“Our focus at UCLA is to offer robust and skills-building opportunities for our students to become career-ready,” said Thorne. “Our employers tell us time and again that they value UCLA students because of the entrepreneurial mindset they bring to their organizations. The work that will be achieved through the launch of the design and innovation living learning community and the new partnerships we are forging with Los Angeles’ most pioneering employers will only further solidify UCLA’s reputation as one of the most entrepreneurial universities in the world.”  

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