Coming into USC my mind was set on one thing, to do good enough in my engineering classes and gain enough experience to get an internship as soon as possible. As a first-semester freshman, I was not able to see further than what I was taught in high school, that internships are the only way to gain real experience. Over the course of that first semester, I started to learn more about the various research opportunities on campus, including research at colleges outside Viterbi and my mentality began to change.
I have always been interested in elementary education, fascinated by how we learn in our early years, probably stemming from the years I spent working with preschoolers back home. But coming in as an engineer, I thought I would not be able to pursue that interest since it was different from what someone studying Computer Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) does. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by multiple upperclassmen to just follow whatever I was interested in, mentioning how our first couple of years of college are the perfect time to try new things. At the end of that semester, I began to look into what research was being done in the Rossier School of Education.
When the spring semester began, I emailed Doctor Yasemin Copur-Gencturk since her research on elementary students’ understanding of fractions and its effect on their later development in STEM caught my attention. Just remembering how confused I used to be with fractions made me want to know more about the research. After a 15 minute conversation with her, talking about her various and future projects she invited me to join her lab.
The experience was very different from what I knew other people were doing in engineering labs. I would go to our weekly lab meetings, with Ph.D. and Postdoctorates and have hour-long conversations about education issues instead of technical conversations. The conversations spanned from social issues to the problem with administrations. It was a great experience, where I had the chance to learn about our current education system while taking the point of view from multiple people. It became something to look forward to, where even though I was the only undergraduate and non-education student there I still felt comfortable to provide my opinion.
I am very happy to have had my first research experience outside Viterbi because I was able to move away from an engineering-only mentality and appreciate all the options available to me.