If you ask Diana Bonilla what drives her, she’ll credit her family. Her parents gave up well-paying jobs in their homeland of El Salvador to provide their children a better life in the United States. Bonilla, an undergraduate studying industrial and systems engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has honored their many sacrifices by seizing myriad opportunities available to her.
Bright and hard-working, Bonilla was recently named a finalist for the Latino Alumni Association Dr. John R. Hubbard Recognition Award for her excellence in academic achievement, leadership, and community service.
“Being nominated for this award was an honor and a surprise,” said Bonilla. Though the senior ultimately did not win the award, she feels proud to have received a coveted nomination. “As a first-generation, low-income student, it feels great to know that my contributions are valued and seen by my professors.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Bonilla moved back to her parent’s homeland, El Salvador, when she was about a year old. She grew up there until she age 6, when her parents moved her and her brother back to the United States, hoping to give them a better education and a better future. “I get my main drive from how willing my parents were to give their careers for me,” Bonilla said. “I try to excel as much as I can because of them.”
In high school, Bonilla was named a national Questbridge finalist, a scholarship program that helps low-income students get matched to top-tier universities. Out of a pool of 16,000 applicants, Bonilla was one of only 5,000 finalists that were admitted to a Questbridge partner university: in her case, this was USC.
As a Questbridge scholar, Bonilla received opportunities for a few small scholarships and grants from USC, as well as connections to the Questbridge community on campus. Bonilla is also a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar, which has provided her with a yearly scholarship as well as access to career services, mentorship, leadership development, intern and career opportunities, and more.
Bonilla entered USC with the intention of going to medical school, but she discovered her passion for engineering during her freshman year and switched majors.
“I chose to major in ISE because I found it interesting how both business and engineering tools can be fused together to make systems more efficient,” said Bonilla, who hopes to pursue a master’s degree in business administration after graduating. “Studying ISE has changed the way I manage my daily activities: it’s taught me to manage my time more wisely in everything from studying, to budgeting my finances, to shopping for groceries.”
Bonilla places a high value on giving back to people in the Latino community. Over the past summer, she participated in a student-led organization called Spanglish, where she spent three months teaching English to students from Peru through Zoom. As a native Spanish speaker herself, Bonilla was able to efficiently communicate with Peruvian students and explain difficult concepts.
“I know the struggle of learning a new language as I myself, had to learn English all on my own at the age of 6 when my family came to the U.S,” she said.
Bonilla currently serves as a co-director of consulting for the USC Institute of Industrial Engineers, or IISE – a student organization that connects and supports industrial systems engineering students at Viterbi by providing them with tools, training, knowledge, and networking opportunities. In her role, Bonilla helps to organize events with consulting companies where students can learn more about possible career opportunities and receive guidance from professionals in the field.
“ISE is a very unique major: it’s a fusion of business and engineering,” Bonilla said. “ISE students are exposed to so many areas of study, and it can be confusing to figure out what to pursue after graduation. IISE hopes to give some sort of guidance and direction to our members.”
“We also hope to foster a supportive community with everyone, since we usually are in classes with the same group of students,” she added.
Bonilla is also involved in Break on 2, a student-run Latin fusion dance team on campus. Members learn dances such as bachata, merengue, Rueda, and salsa. The club usually hosts two showcase events throughout the year and hosts a salsa night on the first Friday of each month in Mudd Hall, where anyone is welcome to come and dance.
“I came to USC with the hope of developing my individuality and venturing out from my hometown,” Bonilla said. “I love that it’s a school that’s given me the opportunity to explore a wide variety of interests and the chance to shine a light on my culture.”