Sparking Innovation @ USC

calvin-2016 Calvin, Computer Science, Entrepreneurship, Viterbi Life, Viterbi Orgs, Work Leave a Comment

I wanted to spend a blog post talking about Spark SC, a student organization that I founded, and a huge part of my life. I want to give some context about student organizations on the USC campus before I start though, because they are very different than what I expected based on my interaction with “clubs” in high school.

In my first semester on campus, I was completely disinterested in joining a student organization. The few clubs that I had interacted with in high school mostly met in some classroom during lunch time, ate pizza, and their activities made little difference on campus or beyond. I played on the club water polo team for a bit when I got to USC, but that was pretty much it for my involvement with student orgs.

However, what I realized after about a semester at USC is that student organizations are one way USC students create an identity and form communities around projects they work on outside of the classroom. For some students, the projects involve choreographing hip hop performances at 1AM, and for others it means building rockets with the skills they’ve picked up in class.

I started looking into student organizations and trying to find what projects I wanted to work on in my free time after my first hackathon. I learned so much in the one weekend I spent at the event that I wanted to figure out how to share that experience with other students. I wanted to empower them to build cool things and give them opportunities to solve challenging problems that felt relevant and tangible.

Inspired by my experience at the hackathon, I finally started paying attention to all of the emails I was receiving from student organizations, and started attending some of their events. I ended up meeting a group of students that were also interested in empowering others to build things, and that saw the value of connecting “makers” from across diverse communities (check out Spark SC’s Maker Campaign below to see what we define as a “maker”). That group became my closest set of friends, and together we founded Spark SC.

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Our goal was to unite the entrepreneurial community at USC, and to give it an identify that students could relate to, regardless of whether they were studying engineering, law, writing, design, art, business, or whatever major you could think of. We first set out to achieve this goal by bringing together some of USC’s most entrepreneurial organizations from different parts of campus, all of whom shared our goal of being a part of a larger community. This included LavaLab, Design For America, Corpus Callosum, Girls in Tech,  and others when Spark was first formed. Our Spark team also started some of our own events and initiatives that we thought could help ignite a conversation about entrepreneurship on the USC campus, including 1000 Pitches (a two-month long pitch competition with the goal of engaging every student on the USC campus) and USC Hack Nights (a weekly mini-hackathon that we used to run). As a side note, Hack Nights has since been replaced with the more ambitious USC Hackers initiative.

We started forming a lot of relationships with startups in the surrounding LA area, and gaining a lot of interest from students on campus. The organizations grew rapidly as we took on more and more projects, and today we have 37 members and 14 internal projects (we call them committees now).

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I am so fortunate to have been along for the ride of Spark SC’s inception and growth. I have had the opportunity to develop skills in areas I didn’t know I cared about (like Project Management, Development/Sponsorship, Logistics, Marketing), to form relationships that will be important for my career and personal life for years to come, and to push myself beyond what I knew I was capable of. I have also learned so much about what it means to work on a team and what collaborative work really looks like. It is a pretty unique environment in that, literally every single member is the sole leader of a project, or at least the piece of a few projects.

I have not even touched on how much of a family the Spark SC team is, above all else. You won’t find a tighter-knit group on campus. We all come from such different backgrounds and one cannot help but respect the vastly diverse set of skills that everyone brings to the table –– everyone is an expert in something that I know nothing about, and have ambitious goals that overlap with my goals in some ways but differ completely in others. It is an inspiring environment to work in.

In order to provide the younger members an opportunity to experience the same growth we have experienced, and to make sure that Spark is a sustainable organization that can handle leadership transition, the founding core team will be stepping down at the end of this semester. I am so excited to see where they take the organization and cannot express enough how much being a part of Spark SC has impacted my life for the better. For myself, I have no idea what will be filling the (monumental) gap in my schedule that Spark will leave behind. I have been thinking about getting into martial arts, becoming a TA for some of the intro CS classes, doing research, joining Code The Change (check them out!), and maybe trying to start a company or starting to do pro-bono work for  nonprofits… As you can see, I’m still figuring it out :P.

While I am sad to be closing an (important) chapter of my life, I am looking forward to what is coming next. For those of you that made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read this, and check out some of the highlights from my year in Spark SC and a couple of videos we have put together.

The Startup Career Fair

USC Hacker Orientation

Arts Grooves & Foods

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Computer Science, Class of 2017, Learn more on his profile here!

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