New students face their first test: Fact or fiction?
Roughly 9,000 incoming students are taking their first tentative steps as Bruin "cubs" during New Student Orientation weeks before the fall quarter begins. They’re practicing how to "swipe" for meals in residence halls, registering for classes and getting officially "Bruintized" at the Inverted Fountain.
A group of new students listen to their advisers as they tour the campus.
They're also facing their first test — ungraded — when they tour the campus led by knowledgeable guides who have mischief in mind.
Under the direction of Roxanne Neal, New Student and Transition Programs
in the College’s Division of Undergraduate Education has, of course, a very serious side. Neal’s staff collaborates with departments from all across campus to introduce new students to campus life, including a focus on their academic paths and a lesson on the abundance of services available to support them and help them thrive. The three-day sessions run for 12 weeks to accommodate 5,700 incoming freshmen and 3,300 transfer students. Those 12 weeks also include one-day sessions for their families.
Guiding these newbies is a cadre of advisers — energetic and enthusiastic upperclassmen and alumni who oversee their young charges’ stay at Rieber Hall and Terrace, walk them through workshops and presentations as well as oversee a midnight scavenger hunt that crisscrosses campus. But what many students may remember about their introduction to UCLA is a mixture of carefully crafted myths and outlandish folktales that have become embellished and passed down from one generation of students to another.
"Welcome to UCLA’s famous Urban Legends Tour," announced adviser and recent aerospace engineering grad Tim Webb, forewarning the 17 new students he was leading, along with adviser Sarah Thornton, that fictitious anecdotes, mixed in with a few true facts, were going to test students’ acumen. The quirky campus tour that spoofs innocent newcomers is a longstanding UCLA tradition.
Advisers Sarah Thornton, a second-year student, and Tim Webb, a recent graduate, carefully straddle the dreaded No. 6 step.
First up for the group was the Janss Steps. "Don’t ever — ever
— step on the sixth step," Webb sternly warned them. "Edwin Janss is buried beneath it," he intoned as he and Thornton carefully straddled the step to avoid touching it. They described a fierce rivalry between Edwin and his brother Harold that somehow attached a curse to step No. 6. "Never step on it. It’s bad luck," Webb repeated as each student gingerly bypassed the dreaded step.
Outside Royce Hall, Thornton pointed up at the archway ceiling, noting the frescoes that, she said, depict the 13 majors originally offered when UCLA was founded nearly a century ago. "Which one is for ‘undeclared’?" one student wryly asked.
In Powell Library, Thornton stopped to show them the grand second-floor reading room with its beautiful decorative ceiling. "I think of it like Hogwarts," she said, referring to Harry Potter’s famous school of witchcraft.
Students were also introduced to Haines Hall, where UCLA’s very first class — in chemistry — was held in 1929; Young Research Library, dubbed "the spaceship library" after its new study pods; Ackerman Union’s textbook store, post office and blood bank center; and the Bruin, whose foot needs to be rubbed for luck before midterms and finals.
Giving the Bruin a rub for luck in their future exams.
And then there was Bunche Hall, where, with advice from NASA, high-tech hydraulic lifts raised the multi-windowed structure fully intact and rotated it 90 degrees — to end reflections from the glass windows that were blinding drivers and causing accidents on the 405 freeway.
"It took … a whole month," Webb told the students, who looked incredulous but not completely convinced. "There’s even a documentary about it," he added, "that’s going to be on [the History Channel’s] ‘Modern Marvels’ next month."
Outside Murphy Hall, students learned from their guides, tongue-in-cheek, that former Chancellor Franklin Murphy was buried beneath an unmarked slab of black marble near a row of coffin-shaped park benches. And, by the way, it is home to the admissions office, academic counseling and other student services, they learned. "You might want to wave to the admissions office," suggested Webb, "since they kind of got you in here." Students dutifully waved to the closed front door and called out, "Thank you!"
Anticipating the tour’s high point, one new student confided excitedly, "I think we’re about to become true Bruins!" as the tour group approached the Inverted Fountain.
Sure enough, it was time to be "Bruintized," said Thornton, somberly warning that this was to be the one and only time they should touch the fountain waters until graduation, lest they suffer the curse of having to stay on campus an extra quarter.
New students take the True Bruin pledge at the Inverted Fountain as adviser Webb cools his feet.
All 17 students excitedly lined up around the fountain’s edge and solemnly repeated after Thornton this oath: "I, [their names], promise to uphold the True Bruin traditions of respect, accountability, integrity, service and excellence. I promise to bleed blue and gold, to study hard … and party even harder."
"By the power invested in me by the Regents of the University of California," Thornton intoned, "I pronounce you true Bruins. You are now members of the UCLA family. Welcome to UCLA!" leading to students' wild cheers.
"It was awesome!" one student exclaimed as the tour concluded with the sorting out of myths from facts. She and her now-official Bruin friends then headed back up the Hill to pack and head home.
Said Thornton, "I love giving the tours. I love telling them the stories. And now, they get to go home and get stoked to come back."
"I think most students will tell you," said program director Neal, "that they feel more connected to UCLA after New Student Orientation and very excited about coming back here in the fall. They meet other Bruins … and come away from this experience knowing that this community will have a place for them.
"I hope," Neal added, "that they feel like we’ve given them the sense that anything is possible here," including the possibility, perhaps, that they will ace all their exams with a good-luck rub of a certain bear’s very large foot.