Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to staff a conference of chemical engineering undergraduates held here at USC, where over 300 students from universities across California, Nevada, and Arizona, gathered here in sunny LA to engage in academic competitions, network professionally, and attend career workshops. This event was organized by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) chapter here at USC, and provided a very valuable space for me to grow my engineering network, learn more about the field I am studying, and build my organizational and academic skills. It involved almost an entire year of preparation, involving countless spreadsheets, hours spent recoloring aesthetic brochures, and most importantly, lots of bonding with other chemical engineers here at USC on the team!
The conference kicked off on April 5th with a series of academic competitions, including research poster and academic paper presentation sessions, and my personal favorite event: a Chemical Engineering themed Jeopardy event! The Western Regional Conference is one of several regional conferences hosted by AIChE chapters at different universities across the country, in preparation for the annual national American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Student Conference. The Jeopardy competition in particular serves as a first round competition of sorts, as part of a larger national tournament that will end with the top teams at each regional conference competing at the national level in Orlando, Florida this year. As an avid trivia fan, prepping for and being part of the Jeopardy competition was an incredibly fun experience: not only did I learn the intricacies of an American quiz show that I had previously never watched, but I also learned a lot of chemical engineering concepts I had not yet covered in my classes. I am also very proud to say that USC’s Jeopardy team took first place and so will be traveling to compete in the Championship round in Orlando this year!
The research poster and academic paper competitions are conducted to encourage and reward undergraduate involvement in research, a theme that runs through the rest of the conference and one that is intrinsic to USC Viterbi’s distinction as a premier research school. At the conference, I also helped host the Chem-E-Car competition, where student teams from different universities compete in an innovation challenge to create a miniature mobile vehicle that runs solely on chemical energy (chemically synthesized fuel). The Chem-E-Car team is one that actually runs year round in preparation for this event, and is a great opportunity for chemical engineering undergraduates here at USC to get involved with hands-on lab work outside of conventionally conducted research in a faculty-led laboratory.
Although all of these individual events were very valuable learning experiences and a chance for chemical engineering undergraduates across the region to showcase their skills and hard work, the conference as a whole was also a wonderful way to get to know fellow chemical engineering students in both a professional and social setting. I truly bonded with a lot of the members of AIChE here at USC due to our shared efforts leading up to and over the course of the weekend, as well as forged new friendships with chemical engineering students at other universities! Overall the AIChE Western Regional Conference was a wonderful learning opportunity for me, and I look forward to more adventures with the USC AIChE team, including hopefully a trip to the National Conference in Orlando later this year!