Growing up, siblings and USC graduates Parker Alban—B.S. ‘20 in mechanical engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering—and Sierra Alban—B.S. ’21 in neuroscience from USC Dornsife College of Arts and Sciences–spent nearly every fall weekend at USC football games with their grandparents. “We have baby pictures at Trojan football games,” Parker Alban said. “It was the beginning of the USC dream.”
Alban’s grandfather, Ronald Miller Pharm.D. ’59, and grandmother, Marilyn Miller B.A. ’59, cite USC as having a life-changing and lifelong impact, from defining their careers and friendships, to continuing to heavily dictate their sports allegiances.
“I have only missed one home football game since 1954,” Ronald Miller said. “USC has been and always will be an important part of my life.”
It seemed inevitable that USC would also become an important part of Alban’s life. “At all our Christmas parties, we’d be surrounded by USC alumni—friends of my mother, Lynn Miller USC B.A. ’85, M.S.W. ‘87—who couldn’t say enough about how great their experiences were at the university.”
Alban applied to a few other schools, but he knew, deep down where he’d end up. Despite his father’s concerns over big city living—having grown up in a more outdoorsy and rural setting in Washington and studied forestry at Washington State—Alban believed USC would help him achieve his goals in the same way it had helped his grandparents and mother.
Alban’s grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and were high school sweethearts. Both were the first in their families to graduate college. “My grandmother grew up poor,” Alban said. “Every single day, for four years, she rode the bus to campus, studied and went to class, and then returned home where she did homework until she fell asleep. That was her life for a while.”
After USC, she worked as a teacher, before raising Alban’s mom—who studied psychology and social work at USC before starting her own practice. Alban’s grandfather was a career pharmacist, crediting his success largely to his USC education. Alban’s grandparents settled in Los Angeles—and now live in Arcadia, not far from the campus that defined a multi-generational legacy.
English was one of Alban’s least favorite subjects in high school and he would do anything to avoid it. Math and science, however, were subjects he loved and excelled at, which made engineering ever appealing to him.
“One of my friends got really interested in cars. He built a drift car, which involves a lot of building and breaking to rebuild,” Alban said. “I remember going to his house to take apart the whole front end.”
While his friend loved car mechanics, Alban’s interest in cars was centered on design. “Instead of working with my hands all the time, I wanted to be the one designing the cars from the start,” he said.
During his freshman year at USC Viterbi, Alban took an introductory class with Professor Paul Ronney (now chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering). “There’s one project where you get to build a prototype and battle other cars at the top of a ramp,” he said. “We were given the freedom to build the car however we wanted. Watching them battle tournament style was really cool.”
This hands-on experience is what drew Alban to USC Viterbi in the first place. He also joined the USC Formula SAE racing team, where he got to spend a year building a car with peers. “It was extremely grueling,” he said, “Because every year you try to build a car from scratch.”
As a freshman, he said, collaborating with the team was a bit of just figuring out how he could contribute. “By the summer, the car is ready for competition and you get to see it race around the track for the first time,” Alban said. “It’s a culmination of all this work and time that you couldn’t have even imagined from the beginning. I imagine it’s like that in the ‘real world’, when your project comes to fruition.”
Community Over Competition
While football games filled Alban with the USC spirit, it was his visits to campus watching students gather, go to class and collaborate, that sold USC and the place to set a foundation for his career. “I kept thinking—these kids are driven and ambitious and I really want to be a part of that. Transitioning from watching them from afar and finally being one of them has been incredible,” he said. “At USC, everyone feels like they welcome each other for being here and just for being a part of the family.”
His grandmother Marilyn Miller said: “The USC tradition impressed me from day one of my freshman year. I still get goosebumps seeing the band, Traveler and Tommy Trojan. After all these years, I am still amazed at the bonds between fellow Trojans.”
She added: “To see my grandchildren graduate from USC means more than I can say. They studied hard to be accepted into USC and then took advantage of all the extraordinary opportunities presented. It means that the great education they have received will help them succeed in life.”
Said Ronald Miller: “My wife and I were the first in our families to graduate from college. Both of us went to USC. Our daughter went to USC. Her children are now graduating from USC. We hope this tradition continues with their children. We are a Trojan family.”