UCLA freshman Ming Zhu takes a photo during a club orchestra rehearsal in the fall quarter. The group rehearsed every Thursday night for two hours. At the start of the year, rehearsals were outside due to COVID. Zhu played clarinet. (Photo courtesy of Zhu)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Ming Zhu, ’21, focuses on computer science at UCLA, participates in game development club

Ming Zhu, ’21, is a freshman at University of California, Los Angeles. He is majoring in Computer Science and participating in club orchestra.

Q: Why did you choose to attend UCLA?

A: It’s in-state, and they have a pretty good computer science program. 

I like the weather here and it doesn’t feel that far from home.

Q: Why did you choose your major?

A: I like making stuff that does things for me. I don’t like doing things that could be automated by something else. This is what (one of my professors) told us in lecture one: “in the field of computer science, if you’re not actively trying to make yourself jobless because of the algorithms that you’re creating, you’re not doing it right.”

Q: What precautions has UCLA been taking during the pandemic?

A: We’re required to test weekly for COVID-19, and there’s a system where we can get COVID-19 testing kits. You deposit them at various locations on campus, and you get the results back usually within a day. Everyone is required to test once a week, and encouraged to test twice. If you’re involved with music or wind instruments, you’re required to test three times per week. Rapid tests are available in most of the residential halls.

Q: Have your classes been in-person?

A: I have one lecture online, but every other class and discussion has been in person since about week five.

Q: What classes have you been taking?

A:  Contemporary issues in education. The other two are CS. One of them is CS 35, which is software construction, and the other one is CS 32, or Introduction to Computer Science II, which is an algorithms class.

Q: Which class is your favorite?

A: CS 32 has a very vibrant professor. He brings a lot of jokes to the class and he’s very dedicated to the work that he does. He knows a lot about what he’s talking about, and he makes it very engaging to listen to. On the other hand, with CS 35, although the tests are really hard, if you do the work, you actually learn a good amount of stuff because you’re forcing yourself to learn a ton of things in a short amount of time. 

Q: How big are your classes?

A: Largest are 300-people classes. That doesn’t mean that everyone is coming into class. Some people Zoom. One of the classes I’m enrolling in for next quarter has a max cap of 400 people. The smallest class I’ve had is 60 to 70 people. But, the discussions are very small. My discussion is only like 15 to 16 people, which is kind of like the Country Day vibe.

Q: What does your average workload look like this quarter?

A: One of my classes is from 10 in the morning to 12, and the other class is from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. I start doing stuff at around 9 a.m. and then get breakfast and then I go onto campus and stay there until 5-ish and then come back. In between classes I do my homework. All my CS 32 classes are recorded, so if there’s a hard project for CS 35, I spend the class time for 32 working on my project and catch up later.

What extracurriculars are you doing?

I’m part of the chamber ensemble here. The advisers are from the School of Music, but the organization itself is not. So, you send an audition to get paired with people of your skill level rather than to determine whether or not you make the organization. 

There’s also a big CS club on campus called ACM. And they have eight subgroups. I kind of tune in with ACM AI. They teach stuff like machine learning and algorithms. And then I’m currently an officer at ACM Studio, which is a game development branch that focuses on game development, design, writing, and UI and UX and all that stuff.

What do you do as an officer of ACM Studio?

So ACM itself is inherently a teaching organization. Every committee runs tutorials on concepts related to their committee. So with game development, that’s using Unity to do various things about game development. There’s a beginner track which covers the basics of how to use various parts of Unity to make a complete game. And then there’s an advanced track for doing more niche things like, for example, the rotational gravity in Super Mario Galaxy was presented by an officer as a part of the advanced track. And there’s also a creative track that covers the design aspects of game development.

Q: Are there other clubs in which you’re involved?

A: There’s a games club called Enigma — I’m a part of their board game branch. I participate in their events. There are two events per week: every Tuesday and Friday there is a board game night. Everyone brings the board games they have and they all just play and unwind, especially on Friday when the week is over.

Q: What is your housing situation?

A: Most freshmen are in triple rooms. I have one of the nice versions of that, called a plaza triple, which has air conditioning and a private bathroom. The classic triples, doubles and singles have shared bathrooms that are like one per half of the floor. So, I would say I’m among the luckier ones. I’ve heard people complaining about how the bathrooms aren’t maintained well, and that affects the whole floor.

Q: How did you find your roommates?

A: My roommates are random. I could’ve found and chosen roommates and networked with people but I didn’t. It was too late before I realized I should’ve done that. So, I have random roommates now, but they are very nice people. The two of them were from the same high school, which made it awkward; however, they were really welcoming so it wasn’t an issue for long.

How was your transition from Country Day to UCLA?

The first thing I noticed about the campus is that literally everyone here is nicer than you would expect. Most people are very welcoming and kind of forgiving of your mistakes. And the good thing about being a big campus is you just have so many people you can network with, and you can always find people who you vibe with.

The first weekend I spent on campus UCLA freshman Connor Perderson, ’21, and I went to the floor lounge. A bunch of people there invited us to go and play Poker. And having good food is also a plus because good food makes you feel good.

Q: What’s your favorite part about UCLA?

A: The people. The vibe here is very comfortable. You get people from all walks of life here, and the great majority of people treat you with kindness and respect. The whole club environment is super friendly.

Have you made any freshman mistakes?

Well, I mean there’s hard classes and there were a few shell shocks. I remember when the second midterm for my math class came, everyone was like, “This is fine — it’s just another midterm.” And it turned out to be harder than imagined: there were only five questions and the average was like 48%. So, I’d say that was a shock. Before that, college seemed to be going slow, like you could count the weeks go by. But after the midterm, it became like a scramble to get all the materials in your head and not screw up the final.

Do you have any advice for the class of 2022? 

I’d honestly say trust the process. As long as you try your best you can turn out on top. From Country Day, you can’t really end up in a bad spot. No matter what you think on the spot when you get that acceptance or rejection letter, it doesn’t really matter. After having gone to college for a bit, the results of your applications become obsolete — there’ll be better things to worry about. 

For incoming freshmen into UCLA, do the housing application and make an effort to choose your roommates. I’ve heard horror stories about people who chose random roommates, and you don’t want to put that up to chance because it’s not easy to switch out of it. You’ll be stuck with your roommates for a year.

University of California, Los Angeles
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Student-teacher interactions
Social scene
School spirit

— By Ethan Monasa and Arijit Trivedi

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