After four years of growing within the USC Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Shana Douglass has created and led a tight-knit and diverse community at USC Viterbi. From her leadership role as president of USC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, which excelled in leading the group to win National Best Medium Chapter of the Year, to the many roles she played interning at Visa and Microsoft – Douglass is a super-networker whose influence extends beyond campus.
But she wasn’t always at the front of this progress. At one point, she was even tempted to switch fields. Believing that “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going,” Douglass turned the obstacles she experienced early on in her educational journey into opportunities.
Every heroic engineer has an origin story and Douglass’s begins with someone taking notice.
“One of my dad’s coworkers, an officer in the Navy, introduced me to the Society of Women Engineers when I was in high school,” Douglass recalled. “I joined their outreach committee, planning STEM events for middle school girls.”
Although she was attending a performing arts school at the time, that experience changed her trajectory.
“It gave me strong female STEM mentors, exposed me to the infinite career opportunities as an engineer, and was the catalyst for me to begin studying engineering,” said Douglass.
Douglass entered USC with an eye set for technical design. Specifically, she envisioned combining engineering with her artistic side as a theater stage producer. However, her motivations were soon tested as she entered progressively difficult classes and tests of skill.
“It was tough.” Douglass said, “I felt so out of place, and I felt that people expected less of me. I really disconnected with the coursework and it really hurt my grades.”
Engineering is not an easy major, even for a driven student like Douglass. It requires time commitment both within and outside the curriculum. Forming communities of study and peer networks helps address many of the challenges felt by many students. She began to find that support system in the National Society of Black Engineers, or NSBE. Their study groups, mixers, and conferences pulled Douglass back into the center lane, pushing her to seize every opportunity.
At her first NSBE conference, Douglass met multiple professionals within the black community who shaped her drive towards engaging with the diversity within the industry.
“It’s really important to get that visibility and to know I’m not the only one,” Douglass said.
At that conference, Douglass networked her way into an internship with Visa where she was exposed to the application of mechanical engineering in business, data modeling, and more.
“Learn how to communicate. Learn how to talk to others, because every opportunity I’ve gotten is through networking… and putting [myself] out there.” Douglass emphasized. “It’s really hard to sell yourself on paper.”
The following summer, Douglass won another coveted internship, this time with Microsoft. Within the course of several months, she converged a computer science-dominated scene with work on hardware and business within the company. Microsoft even designated her a Microsoft Student Partner – a campus evangelist for the tech giant.
At the end of her internship, she returned to USC with an arsenal of knowledge that she was eager to share with her peers.
And not just with them. She reached outside of USC to share the technology and resources from Microsoft with children and youth in the Los Angeles community as vice president of NSBE in her third year. Her goal: bring all types of people into the STEM fields and assure them that they are not alone, no matter who they are or where they come from.
It was with these initiatives and the strength of USC NSBE’s programing, particularly the Black Excellence Gala sponsored by Google that earned them the title of Best Medium Chapter at the 2018 NSBE national conference.
“I was absolutely shocked and thrilled because NSBE has been my passion and community these last four year,” Douglass said.
Now, her final days at USC passing before her, she looks back on her four years with a renewed motivation to take on the future.
“My experience here was full of fun, opportunity, and a great education. Everything I was hoping to get out of my college experience,” she said. “An overwhelming sense of pride for Viterbi and USC has filled me these last few months, and I look forward to being one of those alumni who gives back and is still active in the USC community for decades to come!”