The butterflies should have dissipated long ago. After all, the first day of high school was at least eight years ago. The first day of college was at least four years prior. Everyone should have been through the “What do I wear on the first day of school?” routine long ago.
This was real business. This was the rest of your life. This was supposed to be a coagulation of professionals and like-minded students, many of whom were well into adulthood.
But human nature is a mysterious thing. Despite already having been through the rites of passage, in a sense, there was still a great deal of uncertainty laying ahead for incoming students to the UCLA Luskin School.
Anna Miller was one of those with a great deal of trepidation.
She was nearing the end of the first year of her studies in the social welfare department and finally – months after she initially set foot on campus after receiving her undergrad at UC Santa Barbara – was starting to get her bearings.
So it would only make sense that a social welfare student would create something to help others. It wasn’t an epiphany as much as it was an avalanche of momentum. Anna Miller asked herself “How can we make this easier?”
The idea was a completely manifested student-run summit to indoctrinate any incoming graduate student on the ins and outs of what to expect. It was the first of its kind throughout the Luskin hallways.
“We don’t have to wait to get out of this program to use what they’re teaching us,” Miller said benevolently. “That’s one thing I captured most in the leadership programs – they are teaching me something and I can use it. You don’t have to wait to create change. They have given us the resources to create change and it’s when you see a need, you do something about it.”
Miller’s idea grew. The plan was to create a forum to simply illustrate what to expect. Soon enough upwards of 40 soon-to-be second year students were involved in the process.
The Luskin School is a nexus of personalities and personal lives. It features students who are fresh out of their undergrad studies, those who appear that they’re only around for Parent’s Weekend, students in Los Angeles for the first time, longtime natives, those who are married with children, those with full-time jobs and every other combination you can think of.
With Miller’s lead, the group developed a plan to host all of the wet-behind-the-ears students in September during a three-hour session. Despite where they were coming from, all of them would be brand new to the graduate school. The title was fitting and appropriate – “Tips, Tools and Truths” – as all three would be relayed in brutal honesty.
The first hour had Miller and some of her peers all clad in yellow shirts in front of a room candidly discussing what to expect to at least 60 incoming students – more than half of the new class of social welfare students.
The next two hours the groups were broken up into smaller modules where “we wanted everyone to get with 10 people they might never meet,” Miller said.
“We had an ice-breaker where they wrote down their fears of entering the program and put it in a bag,” the Los Gatos native continued. “Someone would pull it out and read it out loud. The goal was to normalize people’s anxiety – and they would have 100 people by their side feeling the same way.”
The avalanche of help from fellow second-year students allowed the group to create 11 different caucuses that ranged in scope from spirituality in social work to LGBTQ and diversity.
A larger audience of volunteers and incoming students allowed the group to discuss each resource available, including everything from commuting to school to which female restroom in the Public Affairs Building offered seat covers. (It’s on the third floor, by the way.)
“We actually, surprisingly, did not focus on class,” Miller said with a grin.
The tough part wasn’t organizing it and giving it structure – although that was a challenge in itself since this was the maiden voyage of something of this ilk. The tough part is going to be continuing it, passing the proverbial torch. Miller and her cohorts are graduating from the Luskin School in June. A student will have to become the master.
As she summarized a familiar social welfare refrain, it was hard not to think someone would pick up what she started.
“The little changes we make don’t always affect us in that moment, but it could affect people in five years or in generations to come,” she said.