As a student at Los Angeles’ Sierra Canyon School in 2019, current USC Viterbi sophomore John Connor Branca IV turned his passion into a purpose.
Branca was the founder and captain of his school’s esports team and led it to national prominence. After its fast growth, popularity and overall success – and with support from his family – the school established the Branca Center for Technology and Esports, one of the first facilities of its kind in the U.S. The center’s mission is to change the landscape of traditional athletics and offer young adults a new way to use strategic thinking and leadership.
Fast forward three years, and Branca, now a Trojan studying in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, continues to give back, this time to a new passion and purpose: STEM education.
Branca, again through his family foundation spearheaded by his father, L.A. attorney John G. Branca, has teamed with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to launch Engineering Transformer, a unique program that will increase student interest, confidence and motivation in K-12 STEM education through hands-on activities, projects and challenges.
By utilizing various technological tools and kits, participating elementary students at various L.A. schools will learn about computer science, graphic design and multiple engineering disciplines (aerospace, civil, etc.). Each week, students work in teams to develop their skills in technology and engineering by taking part in hands-on projects, and, at the end of the year, they will highlight their work at a student showcase, a celebratory event to which all families are invited.
During his time at USC, Branca IV has been heavily involved from the onset of the program, meeting regularly with the USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center’s Darin Gray and Mary Bonaparte-Saller to help design both its curriculum and logistics.
“To create a better world we need math, technology and STEM,” says Branca IV. “I want to help give students the resources to figure things out themselves. They will learn when they are left to their own discovery.”
The Branca family has been involved with philanthropy for decades. Branca Sr. is chairman emeritus of famed organization MusiCares and has been honored by the Grammy Foundation with its annual Service Award. He is on the board of directors at the Jackie Robinson Foundation and is on the advisory council at Occidental’s Barack Obama Scholars Program.
His resume is legendary. He is renowned for his publishing rights-and-royalty dealmaking and, over the last 35 years, he has represented Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, negotiated mammoth touring and song catalog deals, and currently serves as co-executor of the Michael Jackson estate.
Now he’s lending his experience and expertise to USC Viterbi K-12 STEM initiatives.
The Engineering Transformer program has already launched in two pilot L.A. schools: 42nd Street Elementary and Alexander Science Center School. Additional schools will be added each year, with a current target of 10. It is currently modeled as an afterschool “club,” each with ample access to materials, including laptops, robotics & solar car kits, 3D printers, electrical circuits, drones and more.
As for personnel, there is no shortage of program leadership and guidance; teachers operating the day-to-day activities undergo training, and USC student assistants are available as technical support.
“The commitment we’ve seen from the volunteers, students, teachers, principals and planning team has been outstanding,” said Bonaparte-Saller. “It’s wonderful to see everyone’s passion for — and dedication to — STEM education come together in this program.”
Indeed, K-12 STEM at USC Viterbi continues to be one of the school’s priorities. For more than 40 years, it has collaborated with local schools to strengthen pathways that broaden college and career options. Various programs and research-based initiatives offer myriad experiences while providing impact locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
And the numbers are impressive: USC Viterbi STEM programs currently work with 18,000 students each year through programs like SHINE (Summer High-School Intensive in Next-Generation Engineering), BOTS (Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools) and Code.org to help plant the engineering seed throughout the engineers of tomorrow.
Through the Engineering Transformer program and with significant support and assistance from John Connor Branca IV and the Branca family, USC Viterbi’s STEM outreach, already recognized throughout the country, will continue to soar.
“The teachers can use this program to bring people together,” says Branca IV. “The program helps me to see that STEM learning can impact even further beyond the children; parents are also engineering transformers.”
Published on November 30th, 2022
Last updated on November 30th, 2022