5 Ways CCA Prepared Me for Life at USC

Ulises Venegas-Rivera in front of a University of Southern California sign

The Community College of Aurora’s Communications and Marketing Department recently caught up with former CCA student Ulises Venegas-Rivera, who is now attending the University of Southern California.

Ulises attended classes at CCA from fall 2016 to spring 2017 and transferred to USC in fall 2018. He has spent the last two semesters at USC, going to football games, getting to know Los Angeles, and attending classes on a campus that features more than 40,000 students.

We wanted to know what it was like for Ulises to transfer from CCA to USC and find out how CCA prepared him for life at one of the most selective four-year university in one of the largest cities in the world

What are you studying at USC?

Philosophy as my major and public policy (law) as a minor.

How did CCA prepare you academically for classes at USC?

CCA has a high standard and I learned to embrace that standard. I’ve been doing really well in my courses at USC, and CCA helped me get to that level. I found my writing was up to par. CCA gave me a substantial amount of papers, essays, and research projects to do — it's pretty much the same work I have done at USC. I think the coursework and course load is about the same.

Was there anything the instructors at CCA did that helped you at CCA?

I was always very comfortable approaching CCA’s instructors. They are really accessible and understanding. I could talk to them about what was going on in my personal life or in the classroom and was really able to develop a relationship with them, which is very important when you go to a university setting. CCA gave me the courage and the experience to talk to instructors, so when I got to USC, I already knew how to talk to professors and what I needed and how to tell them and what to expect.

How else did CCA help you prepare for attending classes at USC?

CCA makes it easy to get involved as a student. All of the student involvement I did at CCA — being in student government and the other student-led organizations I participated in — really helped. That taught me how to create a coalition of people around me that wanted to succeed and work toward a goal. It taught me how to reach out to other students. USC is a really tough environment because everyone is in their own world and on their own track, going 100 miles per hour. Being involved in student government, CCA showed me how to be a leader. Regardless of where you go or who the people are, certain things stay the same, like leadership and being honest to yourself. Being involved in student organizations at CCA helped me figure out who I was and what I liked, so when I got to USC, I learned how to fit in a little bit better.

How does CCA compare to USC?

The diversity of both campuses is similar. There are students from all around the world at USC, and CCA has a very similar demographic of students. Being among the diverse student body at CCA prepared me to expect the unexpected when interacting with people. You have to be open to the entirety of the person. CCA gave me a good background on what people want because there is such a diverse group of students at CCA.

Ulises Venegas-Rivera at CCA

Although it is much smaller than USC, how did being on a small campus help you prepare for attending such a large university?

CCA isn’t as intimidating as bigger schools. USC can be intimidating because of its size. I come from an immigrant family that never went past the fifth grade. I'm a first-generation student. 

I had no idea what college was going to be like at all. I didn't even know how to apply for college. I came to CCA with no background and no knowledge and I was scared to ask people what I could do or what I should do. Once I got to CCA, it was a really welcoming environment and I quickly learned that higher education doesn’t have to be a scary thing — it can be your thing. 

At CCA you can meet [CCA President Betsy Oudenhoven] right away; she’s not afraid to say "hello" when you pass by her on campus. That gets you used to a higher level of thinking. It shows you, “This person isn't better than me” — everyone is on the same playing field. One of the things about CCA that is amazing is that there isn’t much red tape when it comes to students getting involved or taking on a leadership position of some kind. It really gives you the experience so that when you go to USC or another large university, you can say to yourself, "I have the experience of being president of student government."

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