The Next Generation of USC Viterbi

Alex Baker | August 14, 2020

The USC Viterbi Summer Institute (VSI) provides incoming students from underrepresented backgrounds in engineering a preview of their USC Viterbi experience.

Despite the sweeping changes to academic and social environments brought on by COVID-19, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering remains committed to providing support for incoming students, particularly those coming from historically underrepresented backgrounds in engineering.

Each year, the Viterbi Summer Institute (VSI) hosts a four-week-long program aimed towards providing these incoming students with the resources, experiences, and connections that will facilitate a smooth transition from high school into the rigor of USC Viterbi courses.

This year, for the first time, the program was hosted entirely online because of the COVID -19 pandemic. Culminating in a virtual closing ceremony ceremony on July 30, viewers heard from USC Viterbi faculty as well as from the program’s current participants.

Yannis Yortsos, the dean of the USC Viterbi School, helped kick off the ceremony with a speech in which he told students: “Your success is our success, and as a community, Viterbi will hold itself accountable for your progress. This is fundamental in our commitment to equity and inclusion.”

Following the introductory speech from Yortsos, a few of the program’s nearly 80 participants had a chance to showcase their accomplishments and share the impact of VSI on their college preparedness.

Alejandra Felix, an incoming chemical engineering student, said, “Signing up for VSI has been the best decision I could have made leading up to my journey at USC.” She added that the program “has done a great job of exposing us to what the school year will look like in the fall, and has been a huge support in the transition from high school to college.”

In addition to taking calculus and programming classes, VSI participants worked with USC Viterbi Ph.D. student mentors on a variety of research projects.

Samuel Moralejo, an incoming computer science major, discussed the research into chronic kidney disease that he and his peers were involved in. “Specifically, we looked at how modern health clinics can slow down the progression rate and lower the cost of treatment for chronic kidney disease.”

Exposing incoming students  to college-level engineering courses and helping them connect with different parts of the USC community, Traci Thomas-Navarro said, will help them excel at the university.

“What we really try to do in the month that they’re with us is make sure that they’re challenged, but with the support of each other, with the support of the student leaders, the Ph.D. mentors, and the Viterbi Faculty,” said Thomas-Navarro, the director of USC’s Center for Engineering Diversity that runs VSI.

Although the VSI program is only four weeks long, Thomas-Navarro said that the Center for Engineering Diversity, or CED, aims to provide support for these students throughout their college experience, including members of such organizations as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and Queers in Engineering, Science, and Technology,.

Christina Mireles, the associate director of CED, spoke about the importance of the program in making USC Viterbi a more diverse environment. “The data shows us that for students from underrepresented backgrounds, creating a sense of belonging, reinforcing their confidence, and further fostering interest in engineering will support the retention and graduation of these students. VSI works to make sure that even before starting freshman year, they have access to the USC Viterbi networks and resources that will help them thrive.”

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