Upward Bound


By Kristine Breese

Published Apr 1, 2007 8:00 AM

At least one out of every four UCLA undergraduates was born outside the US., and 60 percent of the parents of UCLA undergrads were born abroad. Like Los Angeles itself, the university is a beacon for those who dream of a better life for themselves and for their families.

Fourth-year senior Gbenga Elehinafe in the Engineering Building.

When Frank Lloyd Wright famously stated, "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles," he was talking about the city's endless capacity to absorb influences, ideas, attitudes — and people. Long before it became a metropolis, L.A. was multicultural, a trend that has ebbed and flowed but never abated since the city's origin as a Mexican pueblo 157 years ago.

According to the 2000 Census, 40 percent of L.A.'s 3.6 million residents at the time were foreign-born, the second largest percentage of any major U.S. city. L.A. was home to more Armenians, Bulgarians, Ethiopians, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Hungarians, Koreans, Mexicans, Pacific Islanders, Russians and Thais than any city in the world outside their native lands. The numbers, by all accounts, have only grown since then.

UCLA, like Los Angeles itself, beckons to the determined. It summons the hopeful. It changes the prospects for families from every corner of the globe. This is where we all come to reinvent ourselves, to make better lives for ourselves and for our children, to give breath to dreams.

"When there are waves of immigration, whether it's Cambodian, Vietnamese, Mexican or Iranian, it always reflects what is happening in the world at large," explains Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA. "When people come to the U.S., to California, to UCLA, they are looking to make a new start, to do something big."

That promise of a new and better life is no doubt behind many of the 50,000-plus applications UCLA receives every year. Indeed, one out of every four of the approximately 24,500 undergrads in this academic year was born outside the U.S., and more than 60 percent have at least one parent who was born abroad. Nearly four out of every 10 students will be part of the first generation in their families to graduate from a four-year university, including 29 percent who are Chicanos or Latinos; Caucasians, including students of Middle Eastern, Russian and European descent (20 percent); and Chinese (17 percent).