My Experience with Small Classes at Cal

Coming to UC Berkeley, I heard a lot about the big classes I would be taking. I heard about 500 person lecture halls and about the 25 person discussions that would go along with them. What I didn’t hear as much about would be the classes under 15 people that would be just as big of a part of my time at Berkeley. As a German minor, I have never taken a German class with more than 12 people. Even when the classes were taught in English, the classes still stayed smaller than I ever imagined a college class would be. Last semester I took two courses that I want to talk about in depth to show examples of what a small class at UC Berkeley can be like. 

The first was a class called “Crime and Democracy” from the political science department. This class focused on us gathering our own data on homicides from the 19th and early 20th centuries. We read newspapers to gather data on the gender, age, race, and reasoning for every homicide victim and attacker so that we could study the change of crime over time. The final for the class was a paper analyzing the existence and reasoning behind crime based on this data. Even though our assignments were individual, the class was so small that data collection was like a class-wide group project. One day, our professor held class at his house and bought us pizza so that we could meet his family. He brought us snacks every class so that we wouldn’t get tired during the long class. The class not only taught me about the world around me, it gave me an opportunity to work closely with a professor and group of students I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. 

I also took a class about the history of Bauhaus last semester with 12 people. In this class we looked at the history of the architecture school and the projects done by the school and its legacy. Our final paper could be on anything of our choice related to the Bauhaus school and I chose to study Lucia Moholy, an important Bauhaus photographer, and how much of her was incorrectly cited to other photographers during her lifetime. Through my research I found that because she was not given the credit for her work at the time, there was little information available about her now, but I worked to find as much about her as possible. Although people had studied the lack of credit she had received, I was able to find examples of photos taken by her and later miscredited to others which I could not find described in any academic paper. Writing this paper, I realized that although I was most likely not actually the first person to find these misappropriations, I was giving her credit for work she did almost 100 years ago and I was probably one of a few people to do so. I spent many many hours working on this essay but I knew that I was working towards giving her the recognition she deserved to get many years ago.

These small classes show me a different side of learning, they are usually based on essays instead of tests and they give me personal connections with both the students and the teachers and they allow me to study niche topics I would never know I was interested in.

Author: Jazz Van Horn

I'm a sophomore majoring in economics and political science and minoring in German. In my free time when I'm not studying or giving tours, I am part of multiple clubs on campus and I love creative writing. A fun fact about me is that I'm trying to study at every library on campus.