Food insecurity has risen significantly since the pandemic, now impacting 54 million people in the United States, according to Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization. Faced with this alarming statistic, computer science senior Jessica Au got to work.
With six fellow students from “Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Crises,” a civil engineering course at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, she co-founded Good2Go, a non-profit that utilizes volunteer drivers to bridge the gap between food pantries and food-insecure individuals.
Launched in early February, Good2Go currently partners with three food pantries: Community in Schools Los Angeles, Family Health Care Resources and Salvation Army Los Angeles. In mid-March, the team reached a major milestone: more than 1,000 deliveries, including 2,500 bags of food.
In addition to her work with Good2Go at USC, Au also served as the president of Code the Change, a community of USC students working on pro-bono software for non-profits, acted as a USC tour guide, took stand-up comedy lessons, and interned at Google and Facebook. After graduation, she already has a job lined up as an associate product manager at Google.
We caught up with Au to learn more about the memories she will carry into life’s next chapter, and how she has grown since her her first day at college. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is your proudest achievement from your time at USC?
My proudest achievement at USC is probably getting my computer science degree. I didn’t come to college as a computer science major—I started off in as a business administration major—and I always felt like the material didn’t come naturally to me. However, I have amazing friends who’ve supported me until this point and made me really believe in myself.
What is your favorite memory of USC that you will carry with you into your next chapter?
Working on Good2Go has been one of my favorite memories of USC. Even when classes were online, Good2Go gave me something meaningful to look forward to every day. We started with just a problem and were able to scale to a platform that’s helped deliver more than 2500 bags of groceries to people experiencing food insecurity. I’ve often gotten stuck in the ideation phase of different projects, but my team and professors taught me the hustle it takes to bring something from 0 to 1. The professors of CE 486 always pushed my team to our limits, especially when the pandemic made it feel easy to give up.
What’s an area where you feel like you’ve really grown between your first semester of college and today?
Talking to new people is something I’m much more comfortable with. When I first got here, I was incredibly nervous when meeting anyone. Over the past four years, I’ve been in so many situations where I’ve been forced to talk — whether that was through having literature discussions in my Thematic Option courses, giving tours during my year in the Admission Center, working on projects in different student organizations, or performing in my stand-up comedy class.
What are your plans after graduation? How do you plan to make an impact in the world?
I’m moving to the Bay Area with a couple of my best friends from USC. In the fall, I’ll be starting at Google as an associate product manager. I’m really interested in the social implications of new technologies. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll make an impact on the world yet, but I do really want to find a way to build products for social good.
Based on what you know now, what advice would you have to other students considering a similar path?
I’d say try things outside of computer science. I felt a lot of pressure to join pre-professional organizations at USC, but some of the ways I’ve grown the most have been going outside of my comfort zone, like by taking a stand-up comedy class. Also, take CE 486 (Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Crises). That class really teaches you how to build, and you get to work with incredible people from majors across USC.
The past year has been especially challenging. How did you adjust as a student during the pandemic? Is there anything you’ve learned from the experience that you’ll carry with you beyond graduation?
I looked for ways to practice gratitude during the pandemic. I learned a lot about myself by thinking about what I was most thankful for. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself. At USC, there are always people who will push you to achieve more. I think that’s important and it’s important to make the most out of every situation, but it’s okay to take a step back as well.