We all know that class registration stress. Will this course interest me? Does the professor lecture with enthusiasm about the material? Will the readings bore me to sleep every night? Even with resources like Rate My Professor and Bruinwalk, you might find it tough to figure out how you’ll feel about a class. One boring reading list or unapproachable professor can ruin a whole quarter and make 10 weeks feel like a lifetime. When a course exceeds expectations though, it can change the way you think about school and the world around you. But how do you tell the difference before the first day of class?
Consult this guide to 10 eye-opening classes at UCLA, all led by passionate and knowledgeable professors, that will entertain and inform.
1. ART HIS C160: Art and Empire
Delve deeper into art history with this expansive course about the impact of colonialism on art from India, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Dr. Saloni Mather transcends the usual surface examinations of art, looking closer at the imperial factors at play beyond the canvas. This class will take you to the far reaches of the globe to figure out how ideologies manifest themselves through paintings, sculptures and other visual culture. “This class was challenging and eye-opening,” UCLA senior Shari Welch said. “Even one of my other professors said it was the best class she ever had when she was a student.” With the approval of both students and other professors, you should not miss this class.
2. COM SCI 32: Introduction to Computer Science II
Computer programming can seem incredibly intimidating, but this course eases CS-related anxiety and allows you to have fun in the process. Professor Carey Nachenberg’s approach to this computer science prerequisite puts students first, turning this “weeder class” into an enjoyable experience where you gain practical skills applicable to your future job. “The skills you learn in this class will carry you as a software developer and help you land a career,” UCLA senior David James said. “He always frames new topics with how they compare to the real world and how important they are to future employers.” Professor Nachenberg’s lectures provide extra fun, with memes sprinkled in throughout the PowerPoints to keep students interested. Comic Sans repeatedly turns up as his go-to font too, and if we’ve learned anything from Jerry on Parks and Recreation, “Comic Sans always screams FUN.”
3. SCAND C171: Introduction to Scandinavian Folklore
Whether you need to fulfill those literature in translation requirements for your English major or you just want to read about trolls, get ready for a hilarious time with Professor Timothy Tangherlini. He leads scholarship on Danish folklore and even helped compile an entire database of fairy tales and legends from the Nordic region. The course looks at some pretty obscure material, like a 19th century agricultural organization and biographies of Danish cobblers, but Professor Tangherlini’s lectures on these subjects warrant a Netflix comedy special. The class also includes a few weeks on storytelling theory, which applies to numerous subjects outside the folklore realm. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of this class, and I constantly found myself learning a lot through the entertaining discussions.
4. FTV/ENGL M50: Introduction to Visual Culture
Slap on your reading glasses and prepare yourself for North Campus’s biggest crossover event; think The Avengers but with every humanities field. This lower-division course brings together literature, film, photography and politics to form a comprehensive study of visual mediums we take for granted. Professor Mashinka Firunts-Hakopian helps students understand how and why certain images affect us, making students more self–aware in the process. “This is an excellent class for any major given that we all engage with visual culture. This class will make you think critically about how you participate with it,” UCLA senior Lara Campos said. Nothing beats watching movies and becoming more informed about the world around you.
5. EPS SCI 9: Solar System and Planets
If the first picture of a black hole captivated you, check out this class. Blast off with Professor David Jewitt into the final frontier and learn about the creation and makeup of the sun, planets, asteroids and other cosmic entities. Lucky students who can snag a seat in this course can look forward to 10 weeks with the scientist who revoked Pluto’s planetary status with his discovery of the Kuiper Belt. He’s won the Kavli Prize and the Shaw Prize (both awards from the scientific community nearly equivalent to the Nobel Prize) and we should count ourselves fortunate to have him on the UCLA faculty. Professor Jewitt traces astronomy from the earliest days of our solar system to recent space exploration, introducing students to the subject with passion and clarity. This class appeals especially to North Campus majors who want a fun way to satisfy their physical science requirement. If all this failed to convince you of this class’s merits, Professor Jewitt offers numerous extra credit opportunities to bump your grade into the next galaxy.
6. ITALIAN 46: Italian Cinema and Culture in English
As one of UCLA’s most coveted courses, seats for Professor Thomas Harrison’s class fill up quicker than you can say “fettuccini.” Explore the history behind cinema giants like Roberto Rossellini and Bernardo Bertolucci while examining Italian history and politics. The course description reads, “rotating topics include sex and politics, comedy, integration, family networks and neorealism.” No matter the quarter’s focus, you can count on getting something entertaining and insightful. Mamma Mia, that’s a spicy GE requirement.
7. PSYCTRY 175: Mindfulness Practice and Theory
Do you miss taking field trips like those in elementary school? Then this class can fill that void. Dr. Marvin Belzer’s class in its “retreat format” takes the science of meditation into the wilderness with an instructor-led backpacking trip. This course focuses on encouraging mindfulness in an effort to better respond to emotional and physical pain and readings include works by a Buddhist monk. “It was like a crash course on meditation and getting to know yourself,” UCLA graduate Danielle Doppee said. “It was a very unique experience that I was so grateful to have at UCLA.” Belzer’s unconventional teaching style distinguishes this class from its counterparts in the Psychiatry Department, especially because it doesn’t require any previous experience with psychiatry or meditation.
8. COM SCI 181: Introduction to Formal Languages and Automata Theory
At first glance, the description for this course seems overwhelming: “We will study a variety of abstract computational devices, from very simple and limited ones to sophisticated and powerful: deterministic and nondeterministic finite automata, regular expressions, pushdown automata, context-free grammars and Turing machines.” What? Professor Alexandr Sherstov walks through all of these complex concepts and fosters an environment where students can express confusion and ask questions openly. Professor Sherstov organizes the class efficiently, with a strict schedule distributed on the first day. While he gives several exams throughout the quarter, you don’t have to worry about a cumulative final. Above all, Professor Sherstov takes great interest in his students’ progress, making his classroom a place where you can learn without fear of embarrassment.
9. ART HIS 23: Modern Art
If Da Vinci and Rembrandt turn you off, time to acquaint yourself with Dalí and Warhol in this GE course on modern art. Professor George Baker leads students on a journey through the 20th century, making pit stops along the way to examine impressionism, minimalism and pop art. This class engages even the most disinterested students in discussions about modernism and its historical significance. “In my opinion, he can convince anyone to study art history,” UCLA sophomore Andrew Frastaci said. In a city where modern sculptures pop up on every street corner, Professor Baker can help you make sense of them. “I think it’s a class everyone should take before they scoff at some random geometric piece at LACMA,” Frastaci said. If you want to look smart explaining the meaning of an abstract piece of art to your friends, Professor Baker can help.
10. STATS 10: Introduction to Statistical Reasoning
Boasting a 4.9 out of 5.0 on Bruinwalk, student ratings establish this class as a clear favorite. Even for those of us who hate math, Professor Miles Chen presents the material in a straightforward way. This way, every student has a chance to grasp the concept before moving on. He also goes above and beyond to support students by posting lecture audio files and videos, giving fair exams and making himself available for any questions or concerns. An understanding professor can make all the difference in a course, and Professor Chen definitely improves what could potentially turn into a tedious quarter. Nervous students can rest easy knowing this STATS 10 section can guide them through this GE requirement.