Trojan spirit is oft referenced at this time of year, when alumni return and students, proud of their time at USC, move on to the next chapter. On campus, the first whispers of Trojan Family are nearly mythological; new students enticed, enthralled and invested in the sense of close-knit community. For Elyse Pollack, growing up in West LA the daughter of a Trojan alumnus, this community was both ever-present and aspirational.
“You can feel out of place easily, if you don’t know where to start looking,” Pollack said. “A lot of the advice I received and passed forward is taking the leap of faith and joining as many clubs as you can and want to, and finding the right fit for you. Once you do that, it makes the campus so much smaller, and you feel much more connected.”
One could say connection is a key motivating factor in Pollack’s journey into engineering. As a young girl, her desire to connect with new experiences led her to participate in an invention club, where she worked collaboratively on a model for a faucet-mounted system that could adjust water flow rates for different applications. “You can use a normal sink flow rate for filling a pot, but then, if you’re washing your hands, the stream doesn’t have to be as concentrated.” she said. The model (for which a patent is currently pending) was submitted to the Lemelson-MIT Program, which encourages youth innovators and inventors in STEM.
Seeing that idea through from conception to reality helped Pollack solidify her interest in civil engineering—a field she sees as ever-changing and increasingly important. “Even just little everyday adjustments can lead to behavioral and consumer changes, which is what we were really trying to target,” she said.
Freshman year coursework and an internship at Kiewit Corporation deepened her focus structural engineering, specifically. “Professors like Amy Rechenmacher were so passionate, they made me want to explore the material even more,” Pollack said, “while my internship showed me civil engineering is about more than just buildings and bridges. I worked on a railroad station platform and got to see what goes into making it sustainable.”
Pollack cites the flexibility of USC Viterbi and the Engineering Plus track with allowing her learn, grow and fulfill her dreams during her four years as an undergraduate. “The USC Viterbi staff has helped me plan out everything in order to fit in all my coursework and extracurriculars,” she said.
Pollack minored in archaeology, after taking an introductory course with the anthropology department. “I’ve always been interested in different cultures and history,” she said. “But after that class, I thought it would be cool to do more research into the overlap between civil engineering and archaeology; there’s definitely room within archaeological conservation that requires structural engineers. You’re able to work with historic buildings and their rehabilitation.”
Looking forward, she’s excited about the prospect of being part of new solutions in an increasingly relevant field. “A lot of buildings are LEED certified in order to reduce energy and water consumption,” she said. “That provides a whole other level of detail that structural engineers will have to focus on. I’m excited to delve into that realm, as well as learn more about retrofits and rehabilitation for older buildings in order to prevent damage when the “big one” hits.”
As a kid, Pollack remembers attending USC football games with her father. The marching band was a memorable part of her attendance, and as a student at USC, she played the trombone all four years with the renowned group.
“I think the band is what I’m going to miss the most,” Pollack said. “It really encompasses the spirit I love so much–the tradition of performing at football games and playing for many groups of fans on campus … The USC Trojan Marching Band is such a family within itself and the spirit and energy of the community.”
Pollack said the band has been the best way to integrate into the USC community. “It’s been everything I dreamed of.”
But when it came down to making decisions, Pollack said she tried to focus on which school was the best fit holistically and academically. “And USC ended up checking all those boxes,” she said.
Pollack is part of the American Society of Civil Engineers at USC, USC Chi Epsilon (civil engineering honor society) and USC Helenes, a group that focuses on volunteering and contributing to the local community.
She’s also a mentor for female engineers through USC Women in Engineering, a group she joined when she was just a freshman herself. “I was looking for a strong community of women. The balance between male and females at USC Viterbi is 50% compared to other schools where it’s still less than 20% or so. Thankfully I found that here.”
Pollack said advice she received as a mentee helped her find her footing and take advantage of all USC Viterbi had to offer. “Ever since, I’ve been dedicated to paying that forward and helping other incoming freshman and transfer students learn about the opportunities within USC as a whole.”
After graduation, Pollack will pursue her master’s in structural engineering at Stanford University. In the last few weeks on campus, Pollack is taking in everything one last time, finding new corners and exploring new spaces to study in.
While her next chapter will take her up north, she hopes to return to USC soon.
“I’m excited to come back and give back … and try to be one of those spirited fans I grew up loving,” she said.
Published on May 9th, 2022
Last updated on May 9th, 2022