Category Archives: USC

INTELLECTUAL SOCIETIES IN COLLEGE: How Philologos is Facilitating Student Growth


By Richard Petrosyan

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[6 minute read]

This article is an interview with Sean Silvia, a USC Dornsife junior double majoring in History and Archaeology as well as minoring in Classics. He serves as the Vice-President of the Philologos Society, a student-run organization founded in July 2019 at USC by its current President, Richard Petrosyan. Richard is also a USC Dornsife junior majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Health Care Studies. In this interview, Richard and Sean’s discussion focuses on Sean’s experience at Philologos. But before delving into the heart of the interview, allow us to offer you some insight into the Society’s background.

Introducing Philologos

Being unable to find a platform at USC promoting the exchange of ideas, debates of an interdisciplinary nature, and unique opportunities for humanitarian initiatives all-in-one, Richard decided to synthesize these ideals to establish the strong pillars for an intellectual society. The Philologos Society exposes its members to a diversity of academic fields and thought, expands their general knowledge, and helps them develop social consciousness through various altruistic endeavors. Without intertwining classroom development with the outside world, one’s collegiate experience cannot be complete.

Since the Society’s inception in July 2019, Richard has been tirelessly working to ensure its growth within the USC community as well as to establish partnerships with non-profit organizations and educational institutions outside of USC that provide all members with a wide range of opportunities. One of the greatest challenges has been to launch the expansion campaign for Philologos’ activities during the pandemic while having to stay remote, which the society has successfully accomplished.

A year and a half after seeing this Society come to life, we present to you a glimpse into the heart of the university’s one and only intellectual society, USC’s one-of-a-kind vibrant community of students eager to succeed in order to thrive in the midst of one of the extraordinary social contexts of our time.

-Richard Petrosyan, Philologos Society President

Interview with Philiogos Vice President

Q: Sean, would you describe the Philologos Society in your own words?

A: The Philologos Society is a combination of multiple things. It’s essentially an all-in-one intellectual society, with both an academic and philanthropic branch. It aims to enrich both the members and surrounding community with the pursuit of knowledge; we feed people both intellectually and literally with our volunteer service. 

Richard Petrosyan delivering a meal to recipient Steven

Q: How has your involvement with the society affected you?

A: The Society made me approach things from a philosophical angle in a way that I hadn’t before. Within archaeology, I’d done a lot of research projects that were very specific – “Let’s talk about this site- what it means, what’s the specific context.” But within Philologos, we’re encouraged to ask these bigger questions. We address debates within the field. I’ve explored the deeper, more philosophical and ethical side of archaeology- along with other topics, like medicine and journalism – in ways I hadn’t considered before.

It’s been very fun, being able to synthesize big debate topics into easily understandable language and talking about things that you don’t really get discuss to in a more detail-oriented class (like how to deal with the ethical implications of digging up corpses). 

-Sean Silvia, Philologos Vice President

Q: What are your favorite activities?

A: My top activities are definitely writing articles for our column and volunteering.  

I love all the volunteering opportunities – I enjoyed the Meals on Wheels phone reassurance in particular. I also really like the services we provide to high school students. I know as a high schooler, I had really good instructors who set me up well to be where I am today, but not everyone has access to the kinds of resources I did.

Q: Do you have any significant stories to share?

A: There have been some heartwarming moments for sure. During the phone reassurance program, the person I was talking to had said that she’d gotten very little contact because COVID-19 was reducing the number of people she could see, and how nice it was to talk to someone. The question of the week that we were assigned was about music, and she told me about her love of the Backstreet Boys and that she had a cat that would bob along to the rhythm of their songs. I found it heartwarming to be able to bond with this person through our shared love for music.

Fall 2020 Grand Debate with the USC Hybrid High School Debate Club & the Philologos Society

Q: Do you think the Philologos Society has adapted well to the current situation?

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Two Sides of Online Learning: A Dual Perspective as a Student and Teacher

By Minghan Shelley Sun 

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that we spend most of our time switching between screens while taking classes, socializing, or completing  work and internship projects. The digital fatigue we get from constantly looking at screens has eliminated the enjoyment and happiness we are supposed to receive from these activities or events. Because of this, a new question has been raised: How can educators infuse more excitement and motivation into online classes? Currently, I am taking online classes for the second semester in a row at the graduate level. I’m working from China and am also a student-teacher for a class at the USC International Academy. Therefore, I’ve gone through the process of adapting to online learning from both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective, and luckily, I’ve gained some insights and hope to shed some light on this issue for everyone who is also facing this issue.

Perspective as a graduate student

During this past semester (Fall 2020), my online classes seemed to always have group discussions and tasks. Having participated in many Zoom breakout rooms, I became aware of a sense of separation occurring when being grouped with different classmates. One experience I remember in particular is when I was in a breakout room with three classmates I’d never spoken to before. When we first entered the breakout room, no one started the conversation but just stared at their screens. I wondered to myself, ‘What are they doing?  Are they checking the rubric or looking for something?’ Eventually, I couldn’t stand the awkward silence so I broke the ice by saying “Hi, guys. Have you found the work document?” which started our conversation. Although we pretty much finished our assigned task, our discussion was superficial and did not really reach my expectations for that class. I was genuinely disappointed and felt upset about what I felt was a loss in value of that class time.

However, there was another time when I was grouped with a classmate who was talkative and willing to share their ideas, and that experience was totally different. From the beginning, our greetings naturally warmed up our discussion, and some common thoughts that we expressed about the class deepened our conversation and elicited more thinking and sharing. This experience showed me that if all of the members of a breakout room are willing participants, the conversation can be great.

Perspective as a teacher

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to observe as a student-teacher in a class. Student-teachers at the graduate level typically learn to teach by observing the host teacher’s practices and teaching micro lessons in real classrooms. This is what I did at the USC International Academy during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. Due to the sudden shift to online learning, I’ve noticed a drop in student engagement and motivation in the classes I have assisted, especially compared to the behavior of students that I observed in in-person classes during Spring 2020. In particular, I noticed one odd but common phenomenon in breakout rooms: although the teacher had carefully explained the activity the students were about to perform before going into breakout rooms, the students tended to keep silent when they first entered the room and still needed some time to discuss what the task was about. Even though the teacher had asked if the students had any questions before they joined the breakout room, sometimes they even started the breakout room discussion by asking “What are we supposed to do?”. Even though they performed better in group activities after several weeks of class, communication efficiency distinctly decreased compared to in-person classes.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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Facing a Changing Path with an Open Mind

By Vincent Yang

Starting something new can be quite daunting – whether it is starting a new job after quitting your first, settling in with a new roommate after moving out from your old college dorm, or declaring a new major after leaving your former field of interest. While those who are motivated by new challenges would be thrilled to charge into the great unknown, most people would feel apprehensive about stepping outside of their comfort zone and walking down a new path in their life. Let’s face it – fear is a primal human emotion that everyone has felt at least once in their lives, and facing uncertainty will arouse a degree of fear in anyone who is about to start something new. However, if you were faced with a situation where you had to decide whether to stick with the familiar ways of life that no longer interest you or to take a leap of faith towards a path untraveled, what would you do?

The year 2016 was a crucial yet tumultuous year in my academic career. Back then, I was a Ph.D. student in the field of Organic Chemistry. It was not that I was performing poorly academically, but more that I was losing interest in the field that I was working in. Having studied chemistry for 4 years throughout my undergraduate years and excelling academically in that field, I was convinced that chemical research was the right career path for me and remained in that field through graduate school. However, after my first year into the program I started to feel something was amiss. Even though my experiments and projects were going smoothly, the fervor I had when I first undertook my research project for faculty labs was no longer there, and nothing in this field seemed to stimulate me as much as it used to. In short, I was losing interest in the academic field I had centered my life around.

Photo from Unsplash

The loss of interest must have been quite obvious to others: My Primary Investigator (the person guiding me in my research project) and I had a long talk about this, and he suggested that maybe organic chemistry was not the right field for me. He proposed two options – if I truly thought chemistry was what I wanted to study, I could stay in his lab, but I would have to put more enthusiasm into my work; otherwise, I could switch disciplines to some other field in chemistry or find another academic field that interests me more. If I were to go with the latter option, I would either join a different research group of my interest in the chemistry department or leave the chemistry department altogether and join another department. That meant I would have to start over with a different project or delve into another unexplored academic field.

Throughout the 10 months after that discussion with my professor, my life went through a sharp turn of sorts. I would get into intermittent arguments with my family over my decision, fervent discussions with my friends in New York about possible options, and numerous advising sessions with various career/academic advising officers on campus to seek advice about what to do. For nearly 6 years of my life after high school graduation I had been studying only chemistry and related scientific disciplines and had no experience in any other field. Oftentimes I got conflicting suggestions from everyone: I had one person tell me that starting over completely in an undergraduate institution for a second bachelor’s degree could work out; another source told me that I should jump straight into the job market with a master’s degree in chemistry; a third suggestion was to seek a job in a different field other than chemistry after completing some useful certificate programs. Ultimately, the decision was up to me – I had to make a choice from all the options available to me based on my interests, priorities, and any constraining factors.

In the end, I decided to stick with advice from a close friend of mine and a family friend who worked as a software engineer in a Banking firm based in Manhattan: Learn how to program and look for a job as a programmer. When my friend first suggested this idea I found it to be quite preposterous: I didn’t know where to begin, had no idea how a computer program worked, and just looking at the work stations of engineering students scared the wits out of me. How on Earth would I learn how to code at all? Fortunately this good friend of mine was patient enough to direct me to the right points where I would learn the very basics of coding. He first directed me to Codeacademy, an online website dedicated to teaching various programming languages to people who wished to begin programming. It wasn’t a major step, like attending a boot camp for programmers and jumping straight into the job market, but it was a start. After taking several online courses, I found them quite engrossing and decided to continue learning and laying down the groundwork for understanding how to write a program.

Continue reading Facing a Changing Path with an Open Mind