With B.A. and M.A. – and having led a UCLA course – Harry Li launches his teaching career

Published: June 7, 2024

Emma Horio | June 5, 2024

When Harry Li begins teaching Chinese to high school students in Pasadena this fall, he’ll bring with him highly relevant instruction experience, having already led a college-level course.

Li — who will earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees this month — designed and taught a course on Mandopop for fellow UCLA students during the 2022–23 academic year. The Mandopop genre falls under the umbrella of Chinese pop, or C-pop, with the distinction that lyrics are sung exclusively in Mandarin.

Li taught the course through his participation in UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Initiated Education program, which enables third- and fourth-year students to create and teach lower-division seminars, with faculty supervision. He says his experience in USIE was the highlight of his four years on campus.

“My best UCLA memory has to be my participation in the USIE program.” Li said. “I have a tremendous passion for teaching, and designing a course from scratch around my research interests was thrilling.”

As an elementary school student in China, Li listened to C-pop, and it remains a hobby of his to this day. Sharing this passion with other students at UCLA in a classroom format became a meaningful experience for him.

Michael Berry, a professor of Chinese cultural studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, was Li’s mentor through the USIE program.

“Harry Li is brimming with intellectual curiosity, a deep knowledge of the field, and a passion for learning,” Berry said. “When he learned there was an opportunity for undergraduate students to teach their own one credit course on a topic of their choice, he immediately applied. Harry is the kind of student who seeks out opportunities and takes them, making the most out of his college experience.”

Li entered UCLA intending to major in music education and piano performance. But he switched to the Humanities Division during his secondyear, opting for two different majors: one in Chinese and the other in linguistics and Asian languages and cultures. Now, his knowledge of music informs his scholarly analysis of contemporary Chinese pop music.

And thanks to his acceptance into UCLA’s Departmental Scholars Program, Li was able to complete his master’s degree coursework concurrently with his undergraduate studies. At the graduate level, he took seminars with small class sizes, allowing him to connect with classmates who were as passionate as he was.

Li’s academic focus changed course a bit, but he is grateful for the way his experience in the humanities has helped shape his worldview.

“I feel that humanities majors are critically undervalued,” Li said. “Pursuing my fields changed the way I understand the world. For instance, I engage critically with content on social media and consider the broader social implications of seemingly small interactions. I believe it is my duty as an educator to give future generations the tools to ask questions about the information they consume, because I know I will never look at the world like I did before.”