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While not as obviously beautiful, South Campus has hidden treasures that only its hardworking students know about

By Swati Padmanabhan

March 3, 2011 1:00 a.m.

My first sighting of UCLA last September was a tall building boldly proclaiming itself as the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. I felt a twinge of dismay as I noticed it was nowhere near as pretty as the buildings in the UCLA pictures I had seen.

I meandered between Engineering IV and Boelter Hall, increasingly sure I had made the wrong decision in coming to a place where the buildings have such a confusing layout.

And when I finally figured out the right elevator to take to the library, I customarily puked at the sight of someone poring over a book ““ even during the vacation. I bet that is how all outsiders feel about South Campus. The ugly, uncool campus. The nerd haven.

South Campus isn’t like a chocolate-chocolate chip brownie that you dig into, immediately fall in love with and eat till you feel sick of it for the rest of your life. It grows on you as you experience it. It took me a whole quarter to melt and fall in love with the place.

I took engineering because I have always loved mathematics. I wanted to see the beauty and power of mathematics applied to real-world problems.

My education here has helped me make sense of the world, using nothing but cold, calculating logic. Each step follows the next, and there is elegance in the simplicity. There are few things that beat the rush of understanding an idea, or better, generating one and getting a model for it working. Or that sudden, rare flash of inspiration to make a wicked little manipulation leading to the three-line solution to the problem stumping one for four hours.

To the outsiders, the nerdiness in libraries is chafing. But to the patrons, there is almost a holy air about the science libraries, crowded with young minds all eager to absorb everything that comes their way. It is an inspiring, uplifting feeling. I feel it in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences labs too, where I see a perfect amalgamation of passion and dedication as students rapidly code away into the night, notwithstanding growling stomachs and unpleasantly air-conditioned rooms.

It is tempting to scoff at the intense pressure South Campus students put upon themselves and assume they have no life outside the library and the lab. But here’s something I have noticed. The ones most overburdened with work are also the ones who value their free time and spend it doing things not typically expected of South Campus students.

When I get free time, I run to Schoenberg Hall and play my favorite songs on the piano, singing along. It is so cathartic, and almost necessary, in order for me to be able to get back to normal mode. I have classmates who took chamber music lessons, went out of Los Angeles every weekend in every quarter and are part of the Badminton Club despite crazy graduate schedules. And I haven’t even gotten started with the undergraduate kids!

When you are working on something so passionately, you tend to be able to focus well on everything you do and hence manage to do multiple things equally well ““ which, in my opinion, is essential to get a well-rounded education. If structural engineers could only talk about trusses and English students jaw away only about Joyce, one group wouldn’t interact with the other at all. I cannot imagine a more bland world!

But there is more to the North-South rivalry than students criticizing each other. Many people say South Campus is an eyesore compared to the pretty North Campus. Clearly, they haven’t ever been to our planetarium and stargazed, or walked in our huge botanical garden, which leaves one with a quiet, twinkling sense of comfort after a long, hard day. I think that makes it more beautiful than lifeless statues of nymphs. Beauty need not be frilly and full of fluff.

Northerners conveniently ignore the food trucks with international cuisine that we play host to. Oh, za’atar-laced Lebanese food! No thanks to the campus on the other side of the road that only gives me a calorie overdose and sugar rush with its overpriced birthday-party menu of cinnamon sugar muffins, raspberry chocolate muffins and nothing else but muffins.

It is hard to make a North Campus student see all this. It is a secret only we South Campus-ites treasure ““ like the smile we smugly share when we see an outsider confusedly walking up and down our halls, not knowing that the sixth floor of Boelter Hall takes you to the fifth floor of Engineering IV, but the third floors are on the same level.

Think South Campus is cool? Comment below.

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Swati Padmanabhan
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