At the USC Latino Alumni Association’s 44th Annual Scholarship Gala on March 2, 2018, three USC Viterbi students were recognized as finalists for LAA’s highest honor, the Dr. John R. Hubbard Recognition Award: Andrea Luna, ’18 electrical engineering; Felipe Hernandez, ’18 civil engineering; and Diana Valenzuela, ’18 industrial and systems engineering.
Valenzuela was ultimately recognized with the Hubbard Award, named after USC’s eighth president in the 1970s, who subsequently served as an ambassador to India and chief education advisor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.
The award is given for academic achievement, leadership and community service.
“Growing up, I didn’t know what engineering was truly about,” Valenzuela said. “I knew that civil engineering existed, and I knew there was electrical engineering, but that was about it.”
Valenzuela grew up in McFarland, a Central Valley town. You may remember “McFarland USA” as the title and setting of a 2015 film starring Kevin Costner that tells the true story of a 1987 cross country team from a mainly Latino high school and their daunting journey from hopeless poverty to the state championship.
Valenzuela’s own underdog story isn’t too dissimilar. She credits her parents with the reason she was able to attend USC in the first place. They instilled in her a strong work ethic and drive to rise above life’s circumstances.
Throughout her time at USC, Valenzuela has seized every opportunity to make them proud, in and out of the classroom, volunteering at Keck Hospital of USC and interning at Southern California Edison.
“At Keck, I’m putting my engineering education to use, helping the hospital improve their systems and processes, from when a patient enters the hospital to when he or she gets wheeled into the operation room,” Valenzuela said.
She also interned with Southern California Edison for a full year. Edison immediately offered her a job upon graduation.
Finalist and civil engineering senior Felipe Hernandez is a first-generation college student.
“My parents are both immigrants from Liso in the state of Puebla, Mexico,” Hernandez said. “They sold food on the streets. I was raised in the surrounding area, I never stepped foot on the USC campus until I was about 21.”
Since he arrived on USC’s campus as a full-time student, Hernandez has continued to leave his mark. He regularly lends his time to Share A Meal, an organization dedicated to serving the homeless community downtown.
“On Friday, there’s usually a tour or a panel that people ask me to sit on for high school students from the neighborhood or transfer students from a local community college,” said Hernandez, who hopes to be a key decision-maker in the urban planning of affordable housing in Los Angeles.
“I want a seat at the table with the decision-makers in Los Angeles who say, ‘This should be built here,’” Hernandez said. “I like to listen, and there are issues in the city that need addressing. I’d like to be one of the people that helps address them.”
Hernandez currently works at AECOM, where he will start a full time position this summer.
Like Hernandez, Andrea Luna had a long journey to USC. Born in the United States, but moved to Guatemala early in her life, Luna seized the first opportunity to stay in the U.S. and get her GED after visiting her godmother. She then attended community college and sought ways to transfer to a four-year university.
“I applied to several and was first accepted to Loyola Marymount University,” she said. While I was looking for housing, I got the acceptance letter to USC.”
Luna chose USC over Loyola Marymount because of the prestige of its electrical engineering program and the many opportunities students have to engage with their field outside of the classroom. She’s now on USC’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Design Team, working as its electrical lead.
“We’re building a submarine that competes internationally in July,” Luna said.
She is set begin a job at Microsoft as a validation engineer in August.
“I want to keep learning about the field and how different aspects of electrical engineering come together. After that, I want to see if there is a specific area I want to focus on and pursue a graduate degree.”