Collaborative Cluster Communities

For over 20 years, the UCLA Cluster Program has helped freshmen successfully transition to the rigors of academic life at the university level. Throughout its evolution, the UCLA Library has played a significant role in these year-long interdisciplinary learning communities.

Exploring a variety of “big idea” topics (this year’s courses include “Interracial Dynamics in American Society and Culture” and “Biotechnology and Society”), Clusters allow for greater engagement than a traditional general education course. Two hundred freshmen enroll in the program each year to receive instruction from some of UCLA’s most distinguished faculty. 

A significant goal of the program is teaching college-level research skills, making the UCLA Library an essential partner. Each Cluster is assigned a librarian liaison who collaborates with faculty on curriculum, orients students to the Library’s vast resources, and holds office hours to provide one-on-one support. 

The Library also trains peer Inquiry Specialists and assigns one to each Cluster. The “InqSpecs” are upper-division students who excelled in the program and are eager to set their fellow Bruins on a similar course for academic success. They attend lectures with their Cluster and hold office hours in Powell Library.

“Having a fellow undergrad to consult makes asking for help on papers less threatening, and they are more likely seek out assistance,” Cluster Program Director Anthony Friscia said. “Students appreciate that they receive guidance on using the library early in their undergrad careers, and report that it helps them with papers in their later coursework.”

“The most rewarding part of being an Inquiry Specialist is seeing how students’ writing and analytical thinking skills develop over the course of their first three quarters,” says Hannah Young, ’21, a current InqSpec mentor. “As a freshman I was hesitant to share my ideas; I hope that by helping students advance these skills, they will have more confidence in the classroom, feel empowered to share their thoughts, and be assured that their contributions are important and relevant.”

The benefits of completing a Cluster year are quantifiable. On average, Cluster students graduate earlier and have a higher GPA. The UCLA Cluster Program model has been adopted at universities nationwide, and with the Library as an integral partner in teaching and learning, it continues to build on the momentum of the past two decades.