Think Global, Live Local

USC’s newly constructed residential college takes “getting an international education” to the next level.

It’s been 20 years since USC built a new residence hall, but by all accounts, the $35 million International Residential College at Parkside was worth the wait. President Steven B. Sample formally dedicated the four-story, 400-bed residence in a Feb. 26 ceremony with special guest Edward J. Perkins MPA ’72, former U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Besides the usual amenities, the 295,000-square-foot complex – one of only four residential colleges on the University Park Campus – comes equipped with a mission: to foster cross-cultural understanding and learning among American and international students. That mission dovetails with USC’s broader philosophy of “giving our undergraduates the best education possible for the 21st century, an education that will equip them to navigate in a world where national boundaries matter far less and cultures intermingle far more,” Sample told the crowd at the dedication.

The 400 students (mostly freshmen) who moved in early this year are clustered in handsome five- to eight-person suites. About one-third are international students, a ratio planners hope to nudge up to 50:50. With 5,321 (or almost one-in-five) of its student body coming from abroad, USC ranks second nationally for foreign enrollments.

“We are trying to create a culture overnight that will exploit the best possibilities of USC, drawing upon a global clientele, students from other countries and the diverse population of Southern California,” says history and policy and planning professor Kevin Starr, who with his wife Sheila serves as Parkside’s co-faculty master.

Located on the University Park Campus’ southwest corner, Parkside has a long list of bells and whistles: a collaborative learning center, meeting and seminar spaces, music practice rooms, faculty and student lounges, a library and a large recreation room. At lunch, students can practice language skills at language immersion conversation tables, and at night, meet informally at the coffeehouse.

The 380-seat dining hall serves international cuisine, and faculty resident Stephen E. Toulmin, a University Professor with appointments in anthropology, international relations and religion, is responsible for spicing up meals with sporadic talks by visiting scholars and international figures.

Starr, also a University Professor and California’s state librarian, has established Monday night faculty master dinners, throwing open his spacious first-floor apartment to scores of students and professors for a weekly preprandial mixer.

Three other resident faculty members are also cooking up interesting programs: Mitchell Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology, runs Thursday evening’s Performance Café. A recent happening featured six multicultural stand-up comics. Lillian Tseng, an assistant professor of art history and East Asian studies, immerses students in “global Los Angeles” through visits to ethnic restaurants, museums, performances and films. Meanwhile Ellie Nezami, an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is organizing Parkside students to be campus cultural ambassadors for their homelands.

Having lived in residential colleges as undergraduates at Harvard and Cambridge respectively, Starr and Toulmin are both hearty advocates of the concept.

“This building has superb meeting spaces, classroom spaces and collaborative learning centers,” says Starr. “We have to have a program worthy of it.”

– Melissa Payton

Photo by Michele A. H. Smith

Julliard String Quartet
Chambers of the Art

For a week in January, USC was awash in chamber music as the internationally renowned Juilliard String Quartet settled in for two days of master classes and three nights of public concerts featuring string quartets by Mozart (No. 22 in B-flat, “Prussian 2,” K. 589), Bartók (No. 6 in D) and Schubert (No. 15 in G), along with Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Dubbed the “first family” of American chamber music, the Juilliard has been the Library of Congress’ quartet-in-residence for 40 years. The title entails mentoring of young professional quartets, public rehearsals, coaching and other educational outreach, and it carries the extraordinary perk of playing on the library’s legendary collection of Stradivarius instruments.

Founded in 1956, the Juilliard String Quartet is composed of three longtime veterans – violist Samuel Rhodes (30 seasons), cellist Joel Krosnick (28 seasons), violinist Joel Smirnoff (16 seasons) – and a relative newcomer, violinist Ronald Copes (five seasons). Though noted for their seamless unity, the members soloed during master classes, simultaneously coaching a dozen USC student quartets at four campus locations. They regrouped for two packed performances in Bovard Auditorium, including the final night’s open discussion, in which audience members were invited to weigh in on matters contrapuntal. Sandwiched between master classes and concerts was an open rehearsal of The Art of Fugue, in which the more process-oriented music lovers got a glimpse of the creative give-and-take that goes into the Juilliard’s chamber artistry.

Requiem for a Stereotype

Ding, dong, the cliché’s dead. You know, the undying one about USC standing for University of Spoiled Children? Bob Shireman of the James Irvine Foundation nailed its coffin shut with a Los Angeles Times op-ed tallying working-class students at the nation’s top schools. Among elite privates, USC has “by far the most students from lower-income families” by Shireman’s reckoning: 27 percent of undergrads, he says, come from families in the bottom-third income bracket. Compare that to Princeton’s 7 percent or Stanford’s 11 percent. And with UCLA towering above all elite publics with 35 percent lower-income students, he concludes: “If there’s a University of Spoiled Children, it’s not in Los Angeles.”

Illustration by A. J. Garces

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