Why USC? That is a question I have been asked countless times for the last four years. From Viterbi Live Chats to Explore USCs for admitted students, my college decision making process has been questioned over thousand times, in over a thousand different ways. Why did I choose USC? Why did I turn down a full academic scholarship at Georgia Tech? Why did I choose to travel more than 3000 miles from my hometown of Danbury, Connecticut, when Cornell, Brown, and MIT were right around the corner?
To avoid repeating myself, I’ll keep my answer brief. I chose USC for two reasons: academic diversity and alumni connections. I speak very well to the academic diversity in a previous blog, which you can read here: USC, More Than an Engineering School. The alumni connections are a little more self-explanatory. When I toured USC as a high school senior, I made sure to visit the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab and ask the graduating seniors where they were working come fall. With smug smiles, the seniors listed the aerospace leaders they would be joining: SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, etc. And who helped these qualified seniors find these positions? Rocket Lab alumni who had gone on to work at these corporations and sought to employ more USC engineers.
In retrospect, another, quite qualitative factor influenced my decision-making process. In the two years leading up May 1st, 2012, my collegiate commitment deadline, I had toured all my top schools: USC, CalTech, Georgia Tech, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Miami. And only at USC did I truly feel at home. I could see myself living at USC for the next four years and becoming a successful engineer, friend, and adult. In the college decision process, I could never quite put a finger on these feelings; I could not quantify the feeling and put that number in a spreadsheet to compare against other factors, such as school size and research funding. After touring all my college choices, I just knew USC was the right place for me.
With graduation approaching, I guess it is time to put my money where my mouth is. Was USC the right place for me? A trip down memory lane might convince you that I made the right decision and excelled in and out of the classroom. As you look through these photographs, never forget; in four years, this could be you, with your own USC memories.
One of my first USC memories was a Dodgers’ Game with David and Noah, two of my first friends at USC. As an avid baseball fan, I moved to Los Angeles anticipating watching a few ball games at Dodgers’ Stadium in Chavez Ravine. During the first two weeks of school, I was feeling a tad homesick. Realizing this, Noah offered to take David (another East Coaster) and me to the game, and a long-lasting friendship was started.
Flash forward a few months, and I was spending Presidents’ Day Weekend in Laguna Beach with Jonny, Judah, and Isaac (left to right in the picture above). The opportunity to relax in Laguna was fantastic, but the company made the mini-vacation even better. Jonny and Judah were both music industry majors, Isaac a theater major. I had chosen USC for its academic diversity, and here I was, living that dream on the beautiful shores of the Pacific Ocean. To this day, I am great friends with all three and have become very invested in their musical and acting careers. Thanks to them, I have a much deeper appreciation of the arts.
A mere two months later, I escaped Los Angeles again; this time, to the beautiful polo grounds of Indio, California, for the Coachella Music Festival. As a freshman engineer, my musical interest had not budded, and I did not have a strong interest in going to Coachella. However, the evening before, I threw any caution to the wind and purchased a ticket. The next day, I hit the road with David and another friend Alex with little understanding of what I was getting myself into. In the end, I had an amazing weekend, filled with great music and even better people watching. Coachella was an experience like no other (and taught me to live life with more spunk and spontaneity).
I kicked off sophomore year with Freshfest, an orientation program put on my USC Hillel for incoming Jewish freshmen. I was a Freshfest Engagement Fellow; I led a group of students in activities and answered any questions they had about SC. As you most likely tell, I was the challah baking champion of the trip! Freshfest and, more generally, USC Hillel helped me give my own, personal definition to Judaism, and I loved sharing the Jewish community with our new freshmen students. USC Hillel has become an important part of my college experience.
A reflection on my time at USC would not be complete without a photograph from a football game. Football is USC’s lifeblood. I love the school spirit that emanates from the sport, and its ability to unite students of all different hometowns, majors, religions, creeds, and upbringings is special. This photograph was taken at 5:00am the day of the USC-Stanford game, in the 2013 season. That year, Stanford was ranked in the top five, and USC, with the recent appointment of Ed Orgeron as head coach, had caught fire. ESPN came to McCarthy Quad to film their weekly college pregame show, College Gameday, and encouraged students to join the audience at 5:00am. I would not miss this opportunity for the world; I got four hours of sleep and met up with Natalie in the center of the quad to compare our matching Trojan attire.
In the spring semester of sophomore year, I had the pleasure of working on research in Dr. Berecik’s lab. As the photograph illustrates, I conducted tests using the Oculus Rift (usually on other students) to determine if the test subjects’ brain functions were inhibited by virtual reality. The research experience was eye-opening, especially as a younger engineer. I saw the rigors of being in academia and learned the process required to gather test results that could be used in published media.
Following my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to participate in the Viterbi Summer Overseas program. That year, the study abroad program took 50 Viterbi students to Rome, Italy! When not eating gelato, pizza, and pasta carbonara, I could be found taking two classes: Writing 340, an upper-division writing course, and Industrial and Systems Engineering 460, engineering economy. Both classes counted toward my degree! On the weekends, I took the liberty of exploring Italy. I conquered Milan, Florence, Sorrento, Capri, Sienna, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Pompeii, and Cinque Terre, ALL IN SEVEN WEEKS. I was busy but busy having an amazing time.
We are more than halfway through my collegiate journey now. In October 2014, I joined the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab in launching DCX, a six-inch-diameter rocket that had every intention of reaching outer space! This would have made us the first ever undergraduate group to put an object into space – a big deal. Perhaps an even bigger deal – I developed DCX’s parachute recovery system and led the recovery team on launch day, my first leadership experience in Rocket Lab. While the rocket experienced a thermal failure on the way up, I played a vital role in the attempt to make history.
For winter break junior year, low airfares (and Jonny’s 21st birthday) beckoned the gang to Hawaii. Kauai became our home for the week and the perfect place to celebrate Hanukkah!
Towards the end of junior year, I had the pleasure of meeting President Bill Clinton before he spoke at USC. One of my fraternity brothers, Zach Rodham, is President Clinton’s nephew and hooked me and several other fraternity brothers up with VIP passes to the speaking engagement. The evening was a blur; the uniqueness of the meeting, simply how lucky I was to shake the President’s hand, has stuck with me.
Senior year, six of my closest friends and I followed through on a dream we’ve had since freshman year: living in a house together! We were in our final year and mature enough to cook, clean, and pay the bills. Nicknamed the Embassy thanks to the diversity of its residents, the house was a cute little two-story place on Orchard Avenue, just past 27th Street. The picture above was the house’s Christmas/Hanukkah picture, that we put on a card and sent to friends and family across America, India, and Israel. We even sent a card to President Obama; the White House kindly responded with a holiday card of their own.
But even as a senior, I made sure to stay young at heart. One of my favorite memories was a winter beach trip to Manhattan Beach with several of my first friends from Birnkrant, 6th floor. Pictured above is me, childishly snacking on two pretzel rods. Enough said.
My final collegiate adventure brought the gang together one last time before we graduating. Now grizzled veterans, we enjoyed our final hoorah exploring the jungles, beaches, and cityscapes of Thailand. Looking back on my four years, I was blessed to have made such good friends that I could create and share such beautiful memories with.
But, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and my final day as an undergraduate at this special institution I have called home for the last four years is approaching quicker than I would like to admit. So, regardless of which university you choose, I encourage you to make memories and have out-of-your-comfort-zone experiences, such that, in four years, you have a collage of pictures to reflect back upon.
May 13th, USC’s graduation, is my last goodbye. However, May 1st, the commitment deadline, is your first hello. Your admission decision will be your first collegiate memory, so make it count.