A Passion for Equity in Education Drives USC Viterbi ISE Award Winner

| May 5, 2023

Janet Choi (B.S. ISE ’23) was recently honored for her research into improving access to online education for students with learning differences.

Janet Choi - ISE Graduating Senior

Janet Choi, graduating senior in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Image/Janet Choi.

First-generation graduating senior in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Janet Choi is passionate about removing barriers to education.

As the start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced school students and their families to take their education online, Choi took the opportunity to focus her research efforts on understanding how this new frontier for learning could better support students with learning differences, such as ADHD.

The Epstein Department recently recognized Choi at its Spring Banquet, where she won the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for her work, as well as the Outstanding Achievement in Leadership Award. USC Viterbi School of Engineering spoke with Choi to find out more about her journey at USC, as well as her plans for the future.

Janet Choi (She/Her)
B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering 2023
Hometown: Los Angeles, California

What first inspired you to study engineering?

I was first inspired to study engineering in high school. I went to high school in South Central, near USC, where the majority of the students were low-income and first-generation. Despite the potential for high-paying careers in STEM fields, underrepresented communities like mine were not exposed to these opportunities. Fortunately, my school recognized this issue and actively promoted STEM through engineering-related courses, competitions, guest speakers, and field trips. These experiences, combined with my natural inclination towards math and science, solidified my interest in pursuing a career in engineering.

What is something you’ve achieved while at USC Viterbi that you’re most passionate about?

I had the opportunity to work on a passion project by spearheading research on improving equity and inclusion within online education systems. This research has won awards at both the CURVE Fellowship, the Viterbi Undergraduate Research Symposium, and the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award from the 2023 ISE Spring Banquet and Awards. I also had the opportunity to share my research progress at conferences such as the 2021 INFORMS Annual Conference.

Tell us more about the research you have been working on.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to spearhead a research study with Professor Yalda Khashe, which aimed to make online learning more accessible for students with learning disabilities such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As someone who has a passion for education and equity, this project was particularly meaningful to me, as I was able to apply my skills and knowledge to make a positive impact on a pressing issue. Throughout the research process, I gained valuable experience in literature reviews and UI/UX (user interface and user experience) analysis. Working with other members of the research team and organizations also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which broadened my understanding of the challenges facing students with disabilities. This experience solidified my commitment to promoting access and equity in education, and I’m excited to continue pursuing research and initiatives in this area.

Are there any extracurricular activities or organizations you participated in during your studies?

I had many great opportunities throughout my time at USC. I got to help other first-generation college students navigate similar challenges as a peer mentor for the First-Generation Mentor Program. I was also a Mission Science Instructor for the Viterbi K-12 STEM Center for the past three years, where I created an inclusive environment that enabled students to explore new concepts and ask questions. During the weekends, I went on hiking and camping trips within the greater Southern California area through S.C. Outfitters.

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be returning to USC for an extra year to complete my Progressive Degree Program in Engineering Management. This summer, I will be working as an Operations intern for Abbott Nutrition. Before I finish my Progressive Degree Program, I aim to get my research published.

Based on what you know now, what is your best piece of advice for other students?

Things have a way of working out in the end. As a student, you’ll likely face a variety of challenges, from managing coursework to balancing extracurricular activities and personal obligations. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these demands, things will always work out eventually, so it is okay to relax and prioritize your well-being. To prioritize your well-being amidst these challenges, I highly recommend adopting stress management strategies that work for you. This could include practices like meditation, spending time with friends, or engaging in physical activity. By prioritizing self-care, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever comes your way. It’s important to remember that you are capable of overcoming challenges and that things will always work out in the end. With the right mindset and support, you can navigate the ups and downs of college life and emerge stronger and more resilient.

What’s an area where you feel like you’ve grown between your first semester of college and today?

Over the course of my college experience, I’ve noticed significant growth in my confidence and courage. As a first-generation student at USC, I initially struggled with imposter syndrome, which made it difficult for me to fully embrace all of the opportunities available to me. However, I soon realized that by taking risks and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I could achieve more than I ever thought possible. Through these experiences, I learned that my fear of failure was holding me back from reaching my full potential, both academically and personally. By embracing new challenges and pushing past my self-doubt, I’ve gained a greater sense of self-assurance and a deeper understanding of what I’m capable of accomplishing.

Published on May 5th, 2023

Last updated on May 5th, 2023

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