Caltech is a notoriously difficult academic environment. But students arrive eager to take on the challenge, and this year, the Office of Student Experience (OSE) is piloting two programming series that aim to better equip students to navigate the Caltech experience by expanding support structures and fostering community across all students.
First Year Experience
The First Year Experience (FYE) program, led by Isabel Peng, director of new student transition programs and first-year experience, supports students in their transition to Caltech. The program focuses on first-year undergraduates, transfer students, exchange students, and first-year graduate students.
Peng, who was previously the senior residential life coordinator for graduate students in the Catalina Apartments, says she is excited to establish a holistic first-year experience for Caltech students as part of her new role.
"That first year is so important for undergraduates and grad students," Peng says. The FYE program aims to build community and belonging among first-year students, introduce them to resources like Student Wellness Services and the Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity, and coordinate social and educational events.
After house rotation on October 1, the FYE program's Target & Tacos event made it easy for undergraduates to move into their room assignments for the year. Caltech provided transportation to more than 100 first-year students, so they could purchase college essentials at Target. Once they returned to campus, the students were treated to a lively taco party.
On the academic side, the Problem Set Workshops offer structured time for first years to collaborate on coursework. Held three times a week in different undergraduate residences throughout the term, the workshops are a convenient way to find study groups in an environment where collaboration is not only encouraged, but expected.
While events abound on Caltech's campus, students typically find it more challenging to explore the greater Los Angeles area. The off-campus programming series, led by senior residential life coordinator Steven Metzmaker, provides opportunities for undergraduates to venture beyond campus, participate in culturally engaging activities, and have fun.
"The goal of the series is to create environments where students can show up, be a Caltech student, and be in community with other Caltech students," says Metzmaker, emphasizing his hope that students can connect across friend groups and build upon their house identities.
Off-campus events are open to all undergraduates, and limited seats are offered on a lottery basis. But so far, every student that wanted to attend an event has been able to join.
On October 4, a total of 53 undergraduates attended the LAFC v. Minnesota United FC soccer game. The match ended with a 5-1 win for LAFC and Caltech students taking penalty kicks on the field after the final whistle.
"I had such a great time taking a break from doing sets to watch a super fun, high-energy soccer match," says Camilo Garrido, a second-year undergraduate who attended the game. "We had a blast coming up with our penalty kick celebrations as well!"
"Getting to see six total goals combined between the two teams is more than I could ask for, especially because the local team won," says third-year Albert Chen. "Seeing two goals in the first five minutes made for a super fun environment."
The following week, another 52 undergraduates had the chance to see the Broadway musical Hadestown at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The Tony-winning show, a tragic retelling of Greek mythology, resonated with the students who attended.
"I'm so glad that Caltech sponsored a completely free trip for us because I never would have seen this musical otherwise, and it has changed my brain chemistry a little," says first-year Ling-Yi Wu.
"LA is such a hub of art and culture," says Tanmay Gupta, a fourth-year student. "Unfortunately, being an international student without a car, it can be hard to get all the way down to LA from Pasadena, so I loved the opportunity to check out this phenomenal musical!"
First-year Albert Huang shared a powerful testimonial after the show, speaking to the greater impact of Caltech's new programming series:
"Hadestown was so incredible—with all the build-up and light work, and the unavoidability of the tragedy, I left the theater in a daze. That's the catharsis of Greek theater for you. In the following days, the final twist of the show, ‘and we tell the story anyway,' keeps coming back to me. Studying here at Caltech is tough, but we knew that coming in. And yet, we do it anyway. We attend lecture, grind out sets again and again despite—even because of—the challenge. And on top of all that, we find the time to watch musicals, go on hikes, paint murals, and orchestrate string ensembles. There's something beautiful about that."