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As both a student ambassador and a mentor for freshmen engineers, a question I often get asked by prospective and freshmen students alike is what some of my favorite classes at USC are. One of the many reasons I have enjoyed Viterbi so much is because of the flexibility within my engineering course load and the opportunities I’ve had to take completely unrelated and interesting classes alongside my engineering courses. There are some really fascinating courses I’ve been in that are a part of the CS program, but I’ve also loved be able to have a few small fun classes that add a little ~zest~ to the week and give me a break from the intensity that engineering oftentimes brings. Some are so uniquely “college” or USC that it makes me laugh telling others that I’ve taken a surfing class for college credit or filmed a special effects short film as my final. Here are a few of my favorites from my past 3.5 years, most of which were 2 units.

CTWR 431: Screenwriters and Their Work

3 hours of hearing from the professor and guest speakers about their experiences writing in the film industry! The professor during my semester was Bob Tzudiker (the prof changes every semester as well as the focus- this semester was Disney) who was a writer for Disney animation for years and wrote the musical Newsies with his wife Noni White. We had guests such as the director of Frozen and Frozen II, the director of Brave, the lyricist for Newsies, the producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and so many more. This class honestly got me through the craziness of that first online semester during Covid and gave me something fun to look forward to each week!

CTAN 436: Writing For Animation

This class almost got lost in the vacuum left in my mind from our online Covid year, but it’s a hard-to-forget course! The class detailed the writing process for animated shorts or feature length films, guiding us through how to conceptualize, storyboard, and write dialogue and a screenplay tailored for animation in particular. Each week we would be given a different prompt and have to write a short animation script that fit it, sharing it with the class the following week and listening to everyone’s heartfelt or hilarious stories. 

NAUT 301: Seamanship and Navigation

Sailing!! What a cool thing to do while I’m here studying in Los Angeles! It is very uniquely USC and is a well-known course throughout the school, I had been told it was a necessity to take since my freshman year. You learn the fundamentals of sailing such as navigation, staffing a ship, knot tying, different kinds and parts of a boat. Then you go on an overnight sailing voyage to Catalina Island! Check out this podcast to hear more about my experience in this course and on the trip! 

CTPR 423: Introduction to Special Effects in Cinema

For this class I got to spend my Monday nights on one of the sets in the cinema school, learning from two brothers who were seasoned experts in special effects and actually getting to try my hand at reproducing the effects on camera. This included having movie “glass” shattered on top one student’s head, using perspective to make a tiny car look huge, filling the set with a smoke machine, and faking a driving car with a green screen background. To finish off, our final was producing a short film utilizing several of the effects we learned and watching them all together in an official viewing!

PHED 104A: Self-Defense

This course was a workout and very practical for real life as the instructor taught us basic MMA moves to use if we ever are attacked and need to get out of a fighting situation. Thanks to him, I now know how to hip-throw a man twice my weight, get out of a chokehold, and properly roundhouse kick as well as many other maneuvers and lessons for being safe in the world. I thought this class was incredibly informative and confidence boosting, especially as a woman living in a big city. 

PHED 115: Surfing

What’s more University of Southern California than surfing and getting college credit for it? I absolutely loved getting to learn the basics of surfing and surf culture in this class, and by the end of the semester I was fully up and riding waves pretty well! The friends I made in this class are truly some of the funnest people I know and we all had a blast getting pummeled by waves together and venturing down to San Onofre for our day-long surf trip. Definitely a highlight of my time here and an experience I will never forget!

CTCS 466: Theatrical Film Symposium

Now this class is legendary at USC and is taught by a legend as well, Leonard Martin- an esteemed film critic of several decades who shared his expertise with us students each week. On Thursday nights we would all gather in one of USC’s film theaters and discuss the movie we had watched the previous week then watch a new film that had yet to be released in theaters (so we got to see an early premier before the public!). For the last hour, guests from the cast and crew of the film would speak with us and we could ask questions about their role on the movie. The semester I took it we had Marvel president Kevin Feige attend as a guest as well as Ryan Coogler, Abel Korzeniowski, Damien Chazelle, and Josh Horowitz. We watched movies like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Babylon, The Fablemans, Do Revenge, and Amsterdam. The class does a great job of balancing watching exciting blockbusters as well as lesser known or smaller budgeted films that I honestly would not have known to watch if not for this class. 

Honorable mentions from major classes:

ITP 380: Video Game Programming

Learning how to code for video games in particular using C++ and creating a different game each week from Frogger to Mario to Zelda!

ITP 438: Advanced Gameplay Programming (Unreal Engine)

Instruction in Unreal Engine and how to work the game editor as well as backend coding, gaining experience in gameplay engineering as well as more front-end game design work. 

CTIN 488: Game Design Workshop

Building our fundamentals in game design and understanding the necessary elements and places of focus when creating a game from scratch. Every couple weeks we would design a board game from conception to final production and play the games made by our classmates.

Currently I am enrolled in some pretty artistic and fun classes during my last semester:
– ART 140: Sculpture I

– PHED 160: Stress Management for Healthy Living

– DANC 188A: International Style Ballroom Dance 

– MPKS 300x: Non-major Individual Instruction Piano

– CTAN 452: Introduction to 3D Computer Animation (this one is for degree/major credit as a games elective)


Having such entertaining and fascinating classes mixed in with my engineering course load has been a wonderful way for me to get to know students around the university and learn a lot on random topics I would not have been exposed to otherwise! I love that I’ve been able to have this flexibility while also being a full-time engineering student, it’s an opportunity I definitely don’t take for granted!

Gianna Beck