Fall break: Washington DC for 48 hours

Rhea Choudhury Entrepreneurship, Free Time, Involvement, Professional & Academic, Rhea, Students, Study, Viterbi Class, Viterbi Life, Viterbi Plus Leave a Comment

Hey guys!

IT’S NOVEMBER! How wild is that, it honestly feels like yesterday the semester was just starting. Finally midterms are winding down, but projects, final assignments and presentations are starting to creep up; the end is near :O .

USC is actually changing this next fall, but currently, we are one of the few universities that doesn’t have a fall break. Between Labor day in early September and Thanksgiving at the end of November, we have no 3 day weekend, no random holiday, no courtesy half day. It doesn’t sound that bad until you’re deep into Week 8 or 9 of the semester, with a month till Thanksgiving, and you suddenly just feel overwhelmingly burned out. This is right around when people get sick, super stressed etc. As a result, most people end up making their own kind of fall break: going home for a weekend, visiting friends at a different university, heading out of state, going backpacking. A break is so important, and so necessary. Thankfully USC is instituting an official fall break next fall (2019)!

I got lucky this semester– I was invited to speak at a conference in Washington DC this past weekend, and got to fly out and spend 2 days in the capital. I was invited to participate because I’ve spent my undergraduate years engaged with Viterbi’s Global Grand Challenges Scholars Program. Let me take a second and explain how the GCSP works.

Almost 10 years ago, the deans of engineering at USC, Olin College of Engineering and Duke University came together to establish 14 grand challenges to the engineering community. These 14 challenges are like the engineering version of society’s “wicked problems,” covering topics like water cleanliness, reverse engineering the brain, creating better medicines, improving urban infrastructure and more. The three of them (they call themselves the three amigos), then came up with the idea of a student program intended to equip students with the technical and non-technical skills to solve these problems. They picked five general skills they believed all well-rounded engineers should have: technical expertise (through research), entrepreneurship, multi-disciplinarity, cultural competence and social consciousness. To complete the program at USC, students must pick a challenge and display efforts towards a solution across all five of these dimensions. Personally, I picked the challenge of engineering better medicines, with my involvement as follows:

  1. research in the USC Biomechanics lab, using force dynamics and biomechanics principles to craft robust training plans to prevent injuries in elite athletes
  2. my digital health startup, INTRAM, working to cut down pre-hospital delays in stroke patients (working on this my sophomore year was actually the first time I heard of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, check out my blog about that experience here) .
  3. my involvement in the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, and classes in Keck on medical ethics
  4. Bioinformatics research abroad at Tsinghua University with applications towards cancer diagnostics
  5. My volunteer organization, Violence Intervention Volunteers, through which I volunteer at LAC+USC’s Violence Intervention Program, providing mentorship, tutoring and support to children with disabilities and foster kids.

Being enrolled in the GCS program at USC has provided a purpose and a direction in my undergraduate career, and I was so honored and humbled at the opportunity to share my experiences with it to a global audience in DC this past weekend. The purpose of the conference was to meet and exchange ideas about how various schools could improve their current programs, start new programs, or strengthen their GCSP community. There were multiple speaker sessions, a couple of panels featuring students, graduates, employers, professors with “cool ideas” and a session on engineering ethics. We spent lunch and multiple breaks mingling with students, faculty and administration from different institutions. I had such a great time interacting with students from around the country, and enjoyed my experience a lot. It felt really wonderful to actually have a voice, and feel like I was tangibly contributing to the future of engineering education. Once the conference was over, I ran to catch sunset at the Washington monument, explored Georgetown, grabbed a famous Georgetown cupcake, had a delicious dinner on M street and popped over to Dupont circle for an evening at a bookstore. While the conference was incredible, my favorite part of the trip was getting a break from school, enjoying the fall colors and chilly weather, and getting to slow down for a hot second before returning to the grind of school.

Check out some of my pictures from my time in DC! I know this blog got a bit long, but GCSP is something that has become very central to my engineering education, and I could truly talk about it for hours :–) Thanks so much for reading!!

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Rhea

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