“Space: The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
As May 1st, 2012, college decision deadline quickly approached, I probably spent more time thinking about New Space (What is New Space? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NewSpace) than my college decision. I was (and rightfully so, still am) enthralled with the SpaceX Falcon 9, XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx, and Virgin Galactic’s rockstar founder Richard Branson. My college decision could wait. Instead, I was content watching Star Trek and dreaming of landing on Mars.
However, I could not put off the decision forever (There are only seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation; procrastinating by watching the original Star Trek was not an option). At the time, I had been accepted to several universities, but USC and Georgia Tech were my top choices. To ease the decision, I created a chart on my refrigerator via printer paper and magnets. There were two columns: USC and Georgia Tech, represented by pictures of Tommy Trojan (Fight on!) and Buzz the Yellow Jacket. Below the mascots, the chart expanded into countless rows, each containing an important aspect in my college decision making process. Academic ranking, alumni networking, retention rates, weather, and location were some row titles, among others. For each school, the row was given a numerical representation, 1 through 10.
When comparing Georgia Tech and USC, two rows stood out to me. The first row: Connections within the Aerospace/Astronautical Industry. USC stands at the heart of the New Space industry. SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon are all down the street in El Segundo. A two hour drive from Downtown LA will take you to the Mojave Desert, home of XCOR, Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Stratolaunch, and Scaled Composites. More importantly, USC students were working at these companies. As a high school senior, I toured USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab. During a brief tour, I met two students working at SpaceX, one at Virgin, and one at Boeing. Georgia Tech did not boast the same space scene, whether private or public. If I wanted to work in New Space, USC was a good starting point.
And the second row: academic diversity. As a high school senior with a love of more than just math and science, I wanted to attend a university that was not just an engineering school. At the time, I had an interest in entrepreneurship and was considering a business minor. Furthermore, I had hoped to make friends outside of engineering: friends in cinema, business, international relations, communications. I felt life would be more interesting with a diverse cast of characters around me.
USC provided that. While USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering is quite impressive, USC is also known for its cinema, business, and communication schools. While academically prestigious, Georgia Tech was purely an engineering school and lacked the well-rounded collegiate experience. Between its academic diversity and industry connections (and perfect weather), USC was a better choice than Georgia Tech.
So, here I am, three years later. Did USC live up to everything I expected and more? You bet. This summer, I’ll be working on space systems at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach. I have traveled with the Rocket Lab to the Mojave Desert for test rocket firings. I have even been lucky enough to tour SpaceX!
Outside of engineering, life has been filled with amazing opportunities. A friend Burt (studying film) took me to a screening of Shaun Levy’s film The Internship months before it was released. Another friend Max (broadcast journalism) recently gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of USC’s Annenberg Television Network, where he works as a sports anchor. I am involved with TAMID, an Israeli investing and consulting group, and learned consulting tactics through a part-time, pro-bono consulting position with SpaceIL. I just don’t think I would have had these experiences at Georgia Tech.
Why is USC the first school for me? Over the past three years, I have boldly gone where no Alex has gone before. Here is to hoping the next three are just as successful, and maybe even include a trip to space!