At 8:00 a.m. just as you are about to hit the snooze button on your alarm, a world is already buzzing around you.
Jeff Fulkerson is arriving at his office on campus. He works as an academic counselor for CHP (no, not the California Highway Patrol). CHP actually stands for Campuswide Honors Program here at UCI. It is a highly selective honors program that provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to take a special curriculum. CHP is hands-on and personal, combining the qualities of a private liberal arts college with that of a dynamic research university. Fulkerson acts as the honors advisor for this prestigious program and meets with students regularly to discuss courses, research, grades, and career goals.
Eight hundred miles away, Emily Yee is doing her clinical work as a third-year medical student at the University of Texas. She is on the obstetrics and gynecology rotation, which requires her to work from five in the morning until 5:30 p.m.. Each day is as rigorous as the next and they all entail working for 10-12 hours a day. Medical students like Yee get one day off a week, but full two-day weekends are seen as a welcome luxury.
Further east in Cambridge, Masachusetts Vicky Zhou is working towards receiving her Ph.D. in Biological and Biomedical Sciences. After going through three rotations her first year at Harvard University, she settled on the second lab and began researching three-dimensional chromatin structure during her second year. In her third year as a graduate student, she only needs to focus on doing lab research and writing proposals, review articles, and papers, which she hopes will be published soon. This is what she does during the day, but in the evening, she transforms into a competitive ballroom dancer. Performing the Latin and Smooth dances with her partners, Zhou has competed at numerous campuses, including Harvard, MIT, Brown, Boston University, Tufts, Columbia, and Yale.
At our nation’s capitol, Jeffrey Post was one of the first people to arrive in the office and is already well into his responsibilities as a Legislative Assistant for Congressman Brian Bilbray. Post ensures that he is ready to brief the Congressman on public policy issues and helps Bilbray stay on top of the correspondence he gets from the constituents of his district. In addition, he studies upcoming legislations and continually thinks of innovative legislative ideas. It is natural for Post to stay in the office for more than 10 hours a day and, during the health care debate in March, he worked endlessly for two weeks. Yet, on any given day, Post has the incredible opportunity to meet a wide array of people, including lamb growers, postmasters, and earthquake researchers; he even has the chance to help craft public policy.
As an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student at Princeton University, Jenny Ouyang alternates every half year between New Jersey and Germany. Right now, she is in Germany doing field research on birds, focused on the physiological control of parental care. Early every morning, she goes into the forest to check the nest boxes for laying, hatching, and growing young song birds. Later on in the day, she begins catching adult birds to take their blood samples for hormones so that she can investigate the relationships between hormone levels and parental behavior. After entering all the data she gathers, Ouyang still needs to watch various bird videos for another project she is working on before her day ends.
As undergraduate students, Fulkerson majored in information and computer science, Yee in biology with a minor in psychology and social behavior, Zhou in biochemistry & molecular biology and dance, Post in political science, and Ouyang in biology and French. Five different people. Seven different majors. Now living in five different cities.
Yet, these five – the advisor, the medical student, the researcher/dancer, the legislative assistant, and the field researcher – have more in common than you think. They are all former CHP students, who made up the graduating class of 2007. Three years ago, they were taking UCI by storm.
Fulkerson and Yee shattered stereotypes when they were crowned Homecoming King and Queen, showing how “CHPers” aren’t your regular nerds or geeks. As a part of ASUCI, Yee also created the successful UTeach program, which gives current students the chance to get credits by teaching a class of their own. Zhou is the recipient of many prestigious honors and awards, including the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the National Science Foundation Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, as well as a member of the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team. Post was a part of the Social Science Dean’s Ambassadors Council, while Ouyang served on the leadership board for CHP. They have all made their mark at UCI and have undoubtedly improved the lifestyle on campus. Looking back on their four undergraduate years, they have something to say for current students.
When asked what they did or wished they did over summer vacation, there was a unanimous consensus that they wanted to study abroad. For Yee and Zhou, they took advantage of this opportunity by traveling to the University of Sussex.
“This was a life-changing experience that gave me a broader view of the world,” Zhou said. “I was surrounded by diverse cultures and was able to try different food. But most importantly, I was able to bond with other people within the program, including Emily Yee.”
Fulkerson, on the other hand, used the summer to work as a programming intern and helped work on an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, an online computer game, which involves a very large number of players to interact) called “Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.” Post took the time to see his family, and this is something he feels “incredibly grateful” for since his job now occupies much of his time.
Ouyang participated in research for all of her summers and, although she hoped to travel, she believes that research is essential.
“Not only will you get a great letter of recommendation, you will also get experience for whatever you’ll do in the future,” Ouyang said.
“Take advantage of the flexible class schedules, the great weather, and the opportunities. If you want to try something, there is a way to do it,” Fulkerson said.
Zhou also reminisced about the unique courses UCI has to offer.
“The ability to try new and different classes is invaluable. I was able to take many engaging classes outside of my major, like drawing and painting, and it made my undergraduate years that much more special,” Zhou said.
Post agreed with Zhou, having taken a course called “The Physics of Weapons” during his time at UCI.
Ouyang advises undergraduates to get their fix of all the Asian and Mexican eateries around campus. After being in Germany and New Jersey for so long, she recognizes the small joys of having so much good food, and personally attests that one can’t get food like California anywhere else.
“Absolutely seek out opportunities for free food because, believe me, there are a lot of them on campus,” Zhou agreed.
Finally, the CHP alumni wished to cite their favorite UCI professors. Fulkerson named professors Jeffrey Barrett, Deborah McWilliams, and Preston Stanford. Yee listed Dean Berkelhamer as her personal favorite, while Zhou credits professors Michael Leon, Elizabeth Losh, and Athan Shaka as being fundamental to her success. Post believes professor Mark Petracca is among the best and Ouyang adds that her research advisor, professor Nancy Burley, was the most instrumental in her development as a person.
As the end of the year approaches, the CHP alumni gave a few last words of wisdom for graduating students.
“Congratulations!” Yee said. “Enjoy your summer, travel, and relax. The rest of your life will be tough enough, so enjoy whatever vacation you get, but always keep in mind that it’s never too late to do what you want to do.”