Freshman Academy Student & Coach

Pilar Luiz / August 25, 2020

Throughout high school, I was convinced that I was going to be a humanities major, specifically studying English literature. Having two engineer parents, a STEM-focused extended family, and a fervent apathy towards math and science, I resolved to never do another calculus problem and to stray far away from engineering and its respective STEM neighbors.

Funny story: I’m now a computer science major.

Even crazier story: I love it.

Let me explain: during my senior year of high school as the dreaded college application season rolled around, I had the sudden, and poorly timed, epiphany that I did not not want to write essays (which may or may not have been triggered by writing college supplemental essays) and read highbrow, somewhat pretentious articles discussing the underlying implications of color theory littered throughout classical works published over half a century ago. So, after a multitude of anxiety-ridden identity crises, I selected the only other major I could potentially see myself pursuing: computer science.

This was no easy feat; the transition to USC and to Viterbi was filled with uncertainty, self-doubt, and overwhelming feelings of being lost. But luckily for me, Viterbi predicted this and helped me navigate my new college life through the mandatory class ENGR 102: Freshman Academy. This class is run by an engineering professor and two upperclassmen engineering students called Freshman Academy Coaches and this 2-unit course aims to help incoming engineering students figure out their major, manage the rigorous STEM workload, and ultimately transition to USC and Viterbi life. Instead of drilling more algorithms, math equations, and physics problems into your brain, this class helps integrate you into the Viterbi community by enabling you to become friends with you engineering peers and by giving presentations such as “How to Get Involved in Clubs,” “Fun Things to do in LA,” “Getting Research Positions and Internships,” and so many more!

This class was crucial for me as a freshman for a multitude of reasons. First off, and arguably the most important, Freshman Academy quelled my anxiety about college. My Freshman Academy Coaches provided me with insight into my major in terms of what I could expect to get out of these classes, what kind of jobs/internships I can work, what the hardest classes will be, and also what the most rewarding parts of CS would be. They were not only able to expose me to the niches within my major, but also help me explore other engineering majors in case I wanted to switch out of CS and into another Viterbi major. In conjunction with this, Freshman Academy helped me get involved on campus. As a freshman, Welcome Week is utterly overwhelming: there are over a thousand student organizations bombarding your email with information sessions and application due dates, and this doesn’t even take into account other involvement opportunities such as getting a job on campus or attaining a research position. The Freshman Academy Coaches gave digestible crash courses on what types of clubs there are, how to find the Involvement Fair, how to create a good application, and how to pursue anything else you want on campus.

Fast forward to today, I am currently a sophomore—still studying computer science—and I’m also a Freshman Academy Coach for the Class of 2024 Viterbi freshmen. The beautiful thing about this class and this job is that although I am no longer a freshman, I still feel like I’m learning just as much as the freshmen in my class. Every time we bring in panels of engineering students, give presentations on campus involvement, create career workshops, and bring in people from the industry, I invariably discover something new about engineering, my major, Viterbi, USC, or just about myself.

So, if you’ve reached the end, or if tl;dr, let me wrap it up: ENGR 102: Freshman Academy was indisputably the deciding factor in my decision to stick with computer science and this class provided me with the conviction that I belong at USC Viterbi. And now, from a Coach perspective, I can affirm that this class is crucial for not only freshmen, but also for everyone involved in this program because of its role of building friendships, integrating you into USC, grounding you in Viterbi, and helping you stay inspired and joyful towards engineering amidst the chaos of our daily lives.

Pilar Luiz

Pilar Luiz

MAJOR: Computer Science YEAR: Class of 2023 HOMETOWN: San Jose, California PRONOUNS: she/her/hers INSTA: @pilarluiz I research in machine learning with the Automatic Coordination of Teams Laboratory, I'm a Freshman Academy Coach and a Course Producer (CP, like a TA) for CSCI 104: Data Structures and Object Oriented Design in C++.

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