Taking a Frosh Look

As USC sets new records for academic excellence, five incoming freshmen provide an intriguing microcosm of the Class of 2004.

Five of USC’s 2,924 freshmen (clockwise, from front): Wesley Precourt, Viviana Martinez, Yohan Shim, Courtney Heizenrader and Brianna LeGrand.

THEY COME FROM places like Texas, Illinois, Alaska, Oregon and San Diego. And though they were courted by such prestigious institutions as Yale and UC Berkeley, these freshmen say selecting USC was an easy decision.
“It has the best of all worlds – it’s a big-city university but has a small, private-school feel,” says Brianna LeGrand, one of five freshmen who reflect the changing face of USC’s undergraduate class. “It’s a place where you have school spirit, dorm life and football games,” says LeGrand, who hails from Arlington, Texas. “You tell people you’re going to USC and they say, ‘Wow!’”

THIS FALL'S INCOMING freshman class is among the smartest in USC’s history – with mean GPAs of 3.89 and SAT scores of 1308 (a 0.08 GPA hike and 36-point jump in SAT scores over last year).
The difference is palpable. In fall 2000, only 34.1 percent of applicants were accepted to USC, compared to 37 percent last year and 44 percent in 1998.
“Year after year we have been successful in attracting a higher-quality freshman class,” says student affairs vice president Michael L. Jackson. “We have the luxury these days of being very choosy.”
The Class of 2004 is also more ethnically and geographically diverse than in the past. Nearly 20 percent are African-American or Latino; 5.5 percent are international students; and 42 percent come from outside California.

BEHIND THE NUMBERS and statistics are 2,924 personalities. Five of these freshmen – LeGrand, Courtney Heizenrader, Wesley Precourt, Viviana Martinez and Yohan Shim – offer a small but illustrative snapshot of the class. They ranked at the top of their high schools and scored impressive GPAs. They had their pick of colleges. Though their academic interests differ, they were drawn to USC for similar reasons. They liked its reputation, vast liberal arts offerings, attractive campus and Los Angeles location. They also liked USC’s academic breadth and the active encouragement to take minors in fields far removed from one’s major.
Los Angeles seemed a world away from Viviana Martinez’s Chicago high school. But a weekend visit to campus made a big impression. “I liked the buildings, the trees, the plants and the size of the campus. The weather was incredible too,” she says. So was the chance to double-major in psychobiology and gender studies.
“At USC, there is a balance between the arts and technology. It’s all here, and it’s all within my reach,” she says. When it came down to choosing between Yale and USC, Martinez passed on the Ivy.
Yohan Shim, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t even need to visit. When he arrived for freshman orientation, it was the first time he had ever come to campus. “I’m grateful I was accepted to USC,” he says. “I was the only one from my high school who was.” Shim declined offers from UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.
Variety is what sold engineering major Courtney Heizenrader on USC. A resident of Portland, Ore., she didn’t want to attend a purely technical school. “I’m interested in a lot of things, like theater and music and writing,” says Heizenrader, who turned down offers from UC Berkeley and University of Washington. “USC is going to be an exciting place to be for the next four years,” she says.
Ambition and pragmatism played a role in Brianna LeGrand’s decision to attend USC. A theater major, she dreams of breaking into Hollywood, so “being in Los Angeles was important to me.” But if stardom proves elusive, the Texan has a fallback plan: she’s minoring in business. “USC has top theater and top business programs,” she notes.
Wesley Precourt was so keen to start USC that he got here a year early. The San Diego violinist was accepted under the Resident Honors Program, an early admission track for gifted high schoolers.
“I don’t regret missing my senior year of high school at all,” he says. “I’m able to take a lot more music classes, like piano theory, chamber music, chamber symphony and private violin lessons.”
Precourt appreciates the freedom to specialize yet still experiment.
“USC is giving me the best of both worlds – strong academics and conservatory-quality instruction,” he says.

– Gilien Silsby

The Play’s the Thing

A scene from Storm in the Iron Box

YOU MIGHT CALL IT five playwrights in search of a staging. In a dramatic partnership, USC teamed up last fall with the respected National Repertory Theatre Foundation to showcase five new American plays, each a finalist in the NRTF’s 2000 National Play Award competition. It was an inspired collaboration. USC's School of Theatre has been educating actors, playwrights, directors and theater technicians since 1945. The NRTF has been discovering unproduced, unpublished original plays since 1976. In November, the two came together to produce fully staged professional readings of five outstanding new dramas – among them Adam Kraar’s Storm in the Iron Box, based on the life of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich.
The festival included a symposium on the role of critics and audiences, featuring guest speaker Robert Brustein, artistic director of Boston’s acclaimed American Repertory Theater. The five playwrights were in residence at USC while their plays were rehearsed by professional directors and actors, with USC theater students assisting. Residencies, stipends and the symposium were supported by the theater school, the USC Arts Initiative and the USC Annenberg School for Communication. The winning play, Brad Rosenstein’s The Vermeer Room, was announced at a Dec. 11 awards ceremony in Bing Theater. Closing the festival, 1999’s National Play Award winner, In Walks Mem’ry by Eric C. Waldemar Jr., received a workshop production at USC.

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Little did electrical engineer Bart Kosko realize how much fuzzier the math was going to get when he penned an election-day New York Times editorial chiding George W. Bush and Al Gore for their frequent abuse of the concept.
Noting that both candidates had used the term “fuzzy math” as the ultimate logical putdown, Kosko pointed out that “neither seems to realize there really is such a thing as fuzzy math, and we use it every day.” The math itself is not fuzzy, Kosko explained. It simply lets computers reason with shades of gray. Too bad the technology wasn’t built into the voting machines of Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties.
Photographs by Irene Fertik and illustration by Matthew Martin

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