By Roxy Pakkar
As an L.A. native, I stayed close to home when I started school at USC. Even still, it was a big change. Attending a world-renowned private research institution is incredibly different from the public schools I grew up in. In high school I was involved in a lot of activities, from soccer to figure skating, and Interact club (a Rotary sponsored community service organization). My most important activity, however, was my high school’s FIRST robotics team which I started with a group of students in ninth grade. We were fortunate to attend a high school near the L.A. Airport and all the major aerospace corporations surrounding it such as Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, and Space X.
In FIRST robotics, we were able to tour and work with engineers from these companies. Experiences like visiting clean rooms where satellites were built exposed me to the real-world applications of concepts I had learned about in class. More importantly, I was able see directly how engineering benefits society. This is what pushed me to pursue engineering: a field where I could work hands-on in projects that directly influence the world in so many ways.
As an L.A. public school kid, I always thought my path would be to go into the University of California system. However, my entire vision for college changed when my Interact Club’s Rotary sponsor gave me an application to USC’s Mission Engineering program. I applied on a whim, and that week-long program turned out to be the most influential experience in my college decision making process. This program was my first exposure to USC (I had never even visited campus before) and I was blown away by the offerings of the school. From research opportunities for undergrads to the many student organizations, there was so much to do.
During my week in the program I completed group projects in different engineering disciplines, under the guidance of USC students who had volunteered to assist. I learned a lot about an engineering student’s life at USC, and how to balance academics with extracurricular and social activities. This program was also what convinced me to apply to schools as an electrical engineering major. Being exposed to so many disciplines, I learned about the pervasiveness of electrical engineering and how it affects all the other engineering fields. Electrical engineering’s versatility lent itself to my interests in robotics, consumer electronics, and medical devices.
I’m so glad I decided to join USC! In my first semester I was able to start doing research on socially assistive robotics intended for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in Professor Maja Mataric’s Interaction Lab.
That fall I began the arduous task of researching and applying to colleges. While this was an incredibly stressful time, I was lucky to have guidance from my high-school teachers and mentors at a local community outreach program. They taught me that the most important thing was to be candid in my applications and interviews and to show schools what I really cared about. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to most schools I applied to, but what ultimately helped me choose a destination was my experience at Explore USC. At this outreach program, I was hosted by a freshman electrical engineering student, and got to see her experience, from classes and clubs to residential life in the dorms. I felt incredibly welcome and at home in this community, and could easily see myself there the following year. USC’s relationships with the companies I had worked with in high school, and proximity to the tech industry at Silicon Beach (or SCilicon as we like to call it), in Los Angeles also factored into my decision.
A year later, I’m so glad I decided to join USC! I have been presented with so many amazing opportunities here. In my first semester I was able to start doing research on socially assistive robotics intended for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in Professor Maja Mataric’s Interaction Lab. The upperclassmen in the lab have become mentors to me and helped ease my transition into college. Of course, I had to learn to balance my academics, which was definitely the hardest part of starting college. After excelling in high school, the rigor of college classes and the amount of studying was a real challenge. I got a wake up call when I performed poorly on my midterms in my two EE classes. Luckily, the professors in the department are extremely friendly and approachable. I visited my professors, Armand Tanguay and Sandeep Gupta, during office hours and they gladly worked with me one-on-one to help improve my understanding of the material and perform better in class. My biggest takeaway from my early struggles was that USC really wants everyone to succeed and offers so many resources to ensure that we do. As long as you ask for help here, you’re sure to find it.
Although I’ve only been here for a little over a semester, I have already been embraced by the Trojan family through the amazing friends I have made, campus organizations I have joined, and in my residential building. Even though I’ve lived in this city my entire life, I am still exploring new restaurants, museums, hiking destinations, and more. In a city as geographically and intellectually diverse as Los Angeles, the opportunities, from recreational to academic, are endless — and USC is the perfect platform to explore them all.
Roxanna Pakkar is in her second semester of freshman year in the Electrical Engineering department. In addition to her classes and lab research, she is the Freshmen Ambassador for IEEE USC.