‘Without a humanities education, I would have a far less in-depth understanding of not just the way the world works, but the way so many things intersect to make the world work. That’s a problem with a lot of lower level education; it’s not interdisciplinary at all. Having an interdisciplinary education is so important because the world is not just made up of discrete units. That is one of the most important features of a humanities education: it provides a broader perspective.” – Rachael Denny, 3rd year English Major
Rachael Denny is a third-year English major with a minor in Public Affairs from the San Fernando Valley. She is passionate about interdisciplinary education and the importance of the humanities as a lens to understand the world, and she hopes to pursue a career in which she may use her skills and social positioning to help better the lives of others. Read below to learn about her education pre-college, her experiences as an English major at UCLA, and her impressive involvement in various non-profits, foundations, and organizations!
Education before UCLA
Rachael was fortunate enough to attend Cleveland High School’s humanities magnet program in LA, where she received an interdisciplinary humanities education before coming to UCLA. This academic experience shaped her understanding of the world by exposing her to topics from various disciplinary areas, such as philosophy, literature, history, and art. Her first year of high school was dedicated to global studies, with four units focused on the Australian Aboriginals, the Mexica, Development Studies in Africa, and China. This interdisciplinary approach to a humanities education is not the standard for high schools in California; however, this approach allows students early on to form important skills such as critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and the ability to approach problems from more than one perspective. According to Rachael; “The whole idea is to encourage critical thinking and the ability to look at the world differently than you would if you were going to a standardized test-oriented school.”
Rachael has always been a lover of English. She’s loved reading for as long as she can remember, and recalls choosing to read over watching television as a child. Her humanities magnet program showed her how literature works as a commentary of the social world and helped her come to understand how powerful and important literature can be. In her final year of high school, in her AP Literature class, she read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. “That book totally changed everything for me. I thought it was such an amazing and interesting way to look at the intersection between race relations and beauty standards in the US. It was that text that made me think about how books and literature have such an important role in talking about broader social understandings. At the end of the day books of every caliber don’t exist in a vacuum – even something like Harry Potter is still inherently reflective of a certain social atmosphere that the author is writing in.”
Rachael has loved her experience as an English major at UCLA. “It’s very heartwarming to me because I always hear people complaining about their majors, and I’ve never felt that way. Since the beginning, I’ve truly loved this major.”
She reflects on various classes she’s taken in her major, and how she’s been able to contextualize them within her life and the world around her.
“I’m taking an English class right now about how science fiction interacts with environmentalism with regards to toxicity and climate change and both the class and my professor are amazing. It’s crazy to think that we’re here learning from the best of the best in so many academic fields.”
“I took a class last year about the Canterbury Tales, which was written in the 14th and 15th centuries – a time period that I wasn’t interested in before taking the class. Even though I started off just taking the class to fulfill one of my historical requirements, by the end of the quarter I felt completely differently. My professor was amazing, and so was the way the class was structured. We would read a different tale from the book each lecture, and in each discussion she always did a good job tying the text back to some of the most relevant issues of today.M uch of the class was spent making sure we read the text in the way somebody in the Middle Ages would have understood it, and then also looking at it from our own current perspectives with our own political biases. I think every class that I’ve had in the English department that I’ve really enjoyed and has most impacted me has done that.” Speaking about another English course, she said: “I took a class on Shakespeare and law, and it was so fascinating to see how the legal institutions from Shakespeare’s time built the foundation for our legal system today.”
Rachael is grateful for her English education above all else because it’s given her such a strong foundation for any career she may want to pursue. In her words, “everybody needs to be able to communicate; everybody needs to be able to read things and understand them.”
Clubs and Internships
Rachael is a natural leader, and quickly found places at UCLA where she could use and develop her skills. During her freshman year, she helped found She’s the First at UCLA, a chapter of an international nonprofit which provides girls in 11 different low income nations with scholarships and mentorship to be the first in their family to get an education. She was also the founder and president of this organization at her high school. Since freshman year, she has also been involved UCLA Cub Tours, a volunteer branch of the UCLA Office of Undergraduate Admission that gives campus tours to often underserved children grades K-8 to inspire them to pursue higher education. She was the Social Media and Marketing Officer of Cub Tours last year, is currently the Fundraising and Finance Officer this year, and next year will serve as one of two Executive Coordinators.
The summer after her freshman year, Rachael interned at Write Girl, a nonprofit that works with low-income young girls in the LA area to provide them with creative writing workshops. At the start of her sophomore year, Rachael began working as a temporary assistant at Annenberg Foundation, a large family foundation that provides funding to nonprofits community organizations and institutions. Since then, she has been hired as an employee at the foundation. Rachael is extremely grateful for the perspective she has gained working at both sides of the table, on both the non-profit and foundation sides. Because of these experiences and everything she has learned so far about the inner-workings of NGOs and foundations, she hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a career in that sector.