College life can be incredibly challenging. Just persevering through it all to finish your degree on time is no mean feat.
Claire Barbrack, B.S. ISE ’23, feels this deeply. Graduating is her proudest achievement.
During her sophomore year, Barbrack found herself dealing with poor mental and physical health and a restrictive eating disorder that required outpatient support and then residential treatment. She spoke up and sought help, and with the support of her loved ones, friends and professors, Barbrack overcame a difficult year and completed her degree on time.
Last month, she was honored at the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering Spring Banquet, where she was presented with the 2023 ISE Student of the Year Award.
In her recovery, Barbrack is passionate about speaking out about mental health issues and raising awareness of eating disorders, encouraging those who are struggling to reach out and seek the support they need.
“There tends to be a lot of guilt associated with mental health and eating disorders,” she said. “It’s just like this little secret that you have inside. Once you release that guilt and talk about it openly, it becomes much easier to tackle those issues because you’re not doing it alone. You’re doing it with a strong team behind you.”
“What helped me get through is being super open and honest with my friends and with my family about what I was going through — and also with my professors who were able to understand the situation and then help move through that,” she added.
Barbrack said that one of the best ways to support students was by raising the visibility of available services to help them manage mental health concerns and eating disorders. She took the initiative to seek out campus resources to get the medical support she needed while managing her degree’s timeline. Barbrack was able to work with her clinicians at Engemann Student Health Center, an eating disorder support group she found via Greek Life, and an advisor at Campus Support and Intervention, who helped her plan how to manage her classes during her recovery.
Bouncing back from that challenging time to win the Epstein Department’s top student honor was an important vindication of her hard work.
“Once the pandemic had slowed down and we came back to campus, that was extra motivation for me to stay healthy and to just try as hard as I could in my studies because I felt so grateful for the opportunity after the pandemic and everything that I had gone through,” she said.
Bringing balance and gratitude into day-to-day life
Barbrack has recently combined her studies with a job as a yoga sculpt instructor at CorePower Yoga in USC Village. It’s a newfound passion that she stumbled upon after she took a class on her return to campus during her junior year.
“I decided to try out a CorePower class in the village, and I just fell in love with it. I felt so empowered — being able to practice different poses and gain some strength,” Barbrack said. “Now that my body was physically healthy enough to do exercise, it was an incredible feeling to be able to do that. It was something that gave me a sense of mindfulness and being aware of how my body was feeling and dealing with stress at school.”
She loved the class so much that on her return to her home city of New York over the summer she took the teacher training, gained her certification and became an instructor. She hopes to continue it when she returns to New York to take up a data analytics role with UPS after graduation.
“Since I started regularly incorporating yoga into my life, I’ve just realized that nothing is honestly that serious and that I can really get through anything just by breathing and being,” Barbrack said. “It’s helped me to remain more present and focus on what I can do right now versus worrying about the future.”
Harnessing her ISE knowledge for career success
Barbrack was first inspired to switch to an industrial and systems engineering major after the pandemic caused global chaos in supply chains. She became fascinated by the complex challenges of meeting consumer demands for critical items.
“I started thinking about just how incredible it is how we move things across the globe. I was thinking about the distribution of the vaccine and just all the things that have to go into planning an optimal supply chain system. That was really interesting to me,” Barbrack said.
For the past year, she has been working on an undergraduate honors thesis with the support of Professor Najmedin Meshkati, focused on safety surrounding AI and autonomous vehicles (AVs). Barbrack explored how autonomous systems can be used to collaborate with humans and aid decision-making rather than completely replacing human drivers.
“There are certain human reasoning skills that AV technologies aren’t mature enough to replicate, so in order to promote safety on the roads, we must implement strong human-AI teaming strategies,” she said.
Barbrack’s research will soon have direct applications in her role with UPS over the summer.
“A really cool project they are working on now is installing cameras into the UPS trucks to monitor driver engagement and safety, which is obviously super aligned with my thesis,” she said.
Barbrack has remained highly involved in campus life as an e-board member of the Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), along with her involvement with the Society of Women Engineers (SwE) and Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
Her advice to incoming students is to take the time to explore the myriad of options on campus to forge your unique path.
“Say yes even when something is uncertain. Some of the best decisions I have made have been the most random,” Barbrack said. “There are so many events and possibilities here, so all you have to do is look for them and give everything a shot to find what you’re truly passionate about.”
How you can get help
Contact the National Eating Disorders Association online or by phone at 800-931-2237.
For USC students
If you or a student you know needs support, call 213-740-9355 (WELL), contact USC Student Health at firstname.lastname@example.org, or make an appointment through MySHR to speak with a specialist in Counseling and Mental Health Services. All Counseling and Mental Health Services clinicians are faculty members in the Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Published on May 10th, 2023
Last updated on May 10th, 2023