Why Our School is so Awesome

Sam Barke/New University

UC Irvine at first glance doesn’t appear to be very exciting – being in the middle of Orange County suburbia  brings a fair amount of dull, prim-and-proper Stepford-ness. For many visitors and students, this docile image is the one that sticks in the memory, inciting many incoming freshmen to opine that they wish they were somewhere more interesting. But first impressions can be deceiving. After spending a short amount of time on this campus, even the most ardent UCI naysayers can find something about our campus to make them proud to go here.

Any university worth its salt has good academics, and UCI’s is top notch. Student-wise, every new class of freshmen brings with it a higher average incoming GPA and SAT, raising the caliber of our students. Furthermore, according to undergraduate student profiles published by UCI’s Department of Undergraduate Studies, continuing UCI students continue to do well in academics. In the fall of 2011, the average undergrad GPA was 3.03 with 31 percent of all students earning a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Compared to similar data from fall 2006, the average UCI GPA today has risen by .05, and the number of students with a 3.5 or higher has nearly doubled.

UCI’s academic programs are nationally recognized as well: for example, our Biological Sciences department and our brand-new law school. Our Biological Sciences department has the highest undergraduate enrollment of any other academic department on campus, a testament to our student body’s dedication to the sciences. What’s more, stem cell research at UCI is nationally recognized, thanks to research from UCI’s Biological Sciences. In addition to the sciences, UCI’s brand-new law school can boast of a faculty that ranks 9th in the nation for scholarly impact, according to University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter. UCI law students are no slouches either, with one-fifth of them earning coveted spots in federal judicial clerkships, more than Harvard Law.

Our sports programs hold their own, too. Our sports teams, especially in volleyball, water polo, baseball and basketball, rank nationally. The athletic department as a whole ranked second in the NCAA’s Divison I all-sports rankings for schools who don’t sponsor football. Finally, individual Anteater athletes have continued to represent not just our campus, but our entire nation at the Olympics. As a whole, UCI sportsmen and women have won six Olympic gold medals, one bronze, and 16 silver medals in sports like diving, water polo, and volleyball.

UCI can boast of an amazingly rich culture as well. One need only glance around Ring Road at lunch to see the great diversity of clubs and ethnic organizations around campus that provide students with a direct connection to others who share the same interests. The large amount of posters for these clubs’ activities on Ring Road’s bridges attest to not only the great number of Anteaters who participate in campus organizations, but also to the vibrant and welcoming communities that call UCI home. A stroll through Aldrich Park by day reveals the hundreds of tiny narratives that take place every second of every day around campus: students bustling to and from class, couples reclining and relaxing beneath a tree, faith groups playing guitar in the center of the park, a group of friends playing with the tree swing that always seems to appear.

As night falls, the campus comes into its own and reveals itself as one of UCI’s greatest assets. The sun’s rays give way to streetlights and ambient lighting, recasting buildings like Ayala Science Library from monuments of academia to a welcoming home for late night studiers. Ring Road transforms from a bazaar of clubs selling boba and Korean barbecue into a peaceful, solitary walkway shared by lovers out for a late night stroll, late-night studiers on their way to and from the libraries, and joggers who enjoy the solitude of campus after dark.

But what really makes UCI great are the people who inhabit the campus. All of our top-ranked research, academics and sports wouldn’t be possible without the professors and students, coaches and athletes, who work diligently day in and day out to improve themselves and the world around them. And their work has not gone unnoticed: on top of the many accolades bestowed upon individuals and programs, UCI as a whole was recently named number six on the Times Higher Education’s list of the best new schools, which makes it the best school in America less than 50 years old. But despite this recognition and success, Anteaters remain, to my experience, the nicest and humblest people I’ve ever met on a college campus.

That, in my opinion, is what truly makes this campus great.