Teaching the future generation

Posted: June 24, 2016, 12:53pm

One of the great parts of going to USC for my PhD has been the enormity of opportunities afforded to the students here. Generally, a PhD program can be thought of as the most “specific” form of an education: honing in on a given topic, studying and researching a project so specific that you’ll likely end up with only a few colleagues in the entire world who share a similar understanding and passion. But at USC, there are many opportunities to step back and enjoy a wider margin of life in the academic realm. One way I have benefited from USC’s broader perspective this past year has been through a grant program called BELA.

The Body Engineering Los Angeles (BELA) grant program pairs students from USC’s Viterbi school of engineering PhD program (across all engineering disciplines) with a K-12 teacher somewhere in LAUSD district. I had the luxury of being a PhD-liason to a middle school in downtown LA where I was able to teach wide-eyed, too-cool-for-school 8th graders from my engineering experience and education. What an incredible experience.

I knew from the start that this experience would be enriching, and well… to be perfectly honest: a polar opposite of my life in graduate school. I’m used to spending my days with 20-somethings that read textbooks for fun, go to school 5 years longer than average, and love knowledge with a fierce passion. Contrast that with middle schoolers who pretend not to enjoy learning in order to establish a good reputation with their bros. I’m only half kidding!

The trick is to convince the students that they want to learn before diving into the lesson. Thinking back to that time period of my life, I enjoyed watching tv shows like Modern Marvels, a Discovery channel show with descriptions (epic descriptions, I might add) of various engineering feats and mishaps around the world. Taipei 101. Mount Rushmore. The world’s largest airports. Engineering disasters. The list of gnarly engineering nerdiness goes on for 650 episodes. That kind awesomeness is what convinced me to become an engineer. There’s no other way to describe it: I became an engineer to work on epic, large-scale, futuristic projects.

So that’s where I started with my 8th graders. I took them through each of the disciplines of engineering and described the most epic form of that discipline. We talked about the space shuttle and rocket science. We talked about gyroscopic forces and how to reposition a satellite that can’t “push off” of anything. We talked about computer programming and how to make some of their favorite iPhone apps.

At the end of the day, I hope they were intrigued and genuinely hope to see some of them attending USC as part of the Trojan family in a few years. I’ll undoubtedly post more stories about this experience as time goes on; working with 8th graders ensures that I acquired many a good story over time!



Published on July 25th, 2017

Last updated on January 20th, 2021