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When I first moved back home, it didn’t seem like my online college experience was different to that of other colleges and universities. Everyone was taking classes online and everyone was adjusting to this weird situation we had found ourselves in. 

Now that it’s been more than a year, with more downs than ups, I’ve come to realize that a lot of what I love about USC has to do with the physical space in which the institution exists and thrives. Honestly, there’s nothing like taking a spontaneous trip to the Whole Foods in Downtown LA or meeting with your friend for lunch at CAVA in the village. But being online has made me appreciate everything else about USC, the aspects of this university that ebb and flow outside of any one physical space.

If I could describe this most recent semester in one word, it would be collaboration.

A couple weeks ago, I was up until 3am working on a group project for ISE 435: Discrete Systems Simulation. It’s one of the hardest classes I’ve taken and I definitely spend time understanding and doing the work but all I felt during those early hours was excitement and happiness. It’s been hard to find motivation these days and I was really proud of myself for making the time to sit down and do this work and really understand it. Now this was a group project, and if it weren’t for my group and my fellow classmates, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to do my best work. My teammates were so helpful every step of the way (shoutout to Adreanna for those last minute FaceTimes – they were immensely helpful). 

I have also been taking PHYS 151 and 152 for the past year. In 151 and now in 152, the reason I am able to get the homework done and understand the material is because of the support I have in those classes. If it wasn’t for friends like Dea, Danielle and Noah, I would be stuck and confused during every single lecture.

I have never felt more alone than during this past year. And that isn’t just something I’ve experienced. I spend at least 8 hours on my laptop each day but sometimes the connection I had with my peers was lacking. Because of difficult classes and group projects, I am able to get through this semester with all of the support I need.

My interests are always evolving and growing; I wish I was given more time to explore every job and career path. I’m grateful for the flexibility that USC and my professors provided me with.

When I came to college, I was a Computer Science major. After taking CS classes for three semesters, I knew this wasn’t the work I wanted to do in the future. It didn’t fit my interests or values, but I wasn’t sure what did. Moving to ISE wasn’t exactly a straight line. I didn’t lose interest in Computer Science and immediately gain interest in Industrial and Systems Engineering. I talk to the advisor, Jessica, and a friend in the major (thanks Derek!) and it became clear that the ISE program aligned with my career goals and values in a way that the previous program didn’t. Additionally, I would still be able to graduate on time so that definitely made the transition easier

The first semester in ISE was great, but I wasn’t super passionate just yet. I attended the Pacific Design and Manufacturing Expo in Anaheim and it was the best introduction to a potential career path for me. I loved the faculty and the classes were interesting but I still didn’t see exactly how I fit in.

Going into the next semester, I really found the areas of ISE that I loved. I was taking some of my favorite classes, Introduction to Operations Research, Engineering Statistics, and Human Factors in Work Design. Each of these classes were taught by amazing professors who were always willing to answer any question I had but each also gave me a better understanding of what I could do with a background in ISE. Human Factors in Work Design was the most influential class for me. Professor Meshkati, who taught the course, had a lot of real world experience with Human Factors and through his experience I was able to see how I could combine my interests of public policy with engineering. When I expressed my interests, he not only met with me on a regular basis to discuss his work, but he asked me to join two of his research projects and specifically allowed me to conduct work in the public policy area. 

Whenever I talk to my friends or interview people on the Viterbi Voices podcast, they always mention how when you love the work you’re doing, you will make time for it. Until a couple months ago, I was waiting to experience that same feeling. With the classes I took last semester and the ones I’m taking now, I get excited to do the work and attend lectures. In one of my classes, ISE 382: Database Systems: Concepts, Design and Implementation, I find myself doing the homework as soon as it’s assigned. I even got excited when we were assigned a project, because I really love the work I could in that class. It is such a great feeling when the work you’re doing is work you’re willing to make time for.

After three years, I learned that the time I spend outside of class is just as valuable and important as the time I spend inside.

One piece of advice I received as a freshman was to get involved outside of the classroom. I remember walking down Trousdale during the involvement fair and seeing so many different organizations. I wanted to join them all. Of course, reality kicks in and I soon had to decide which involvements I wanted to devote my time and energy to.

Most recently, USC OWN IT, an organization which hosts an annual women’s leadership summit, is an organization I took part in. When I attended the conference my freshman year, I knew I had to be part of the team that made it happen. I submitted an application around this time last year and it is one of the best things I’ve done. The group of women I work with are so supportive and encouraging and they’ve also provided me with the space to grow. We held an amazing summit just last weekend and I got the chance to meet with some of my heroes, including Gloria Steinem. OWN IT provides people with a safe space and for this past year, I’ve felt the strongest sense of community with these women. I am so proud of the work I did and I can’t wait to like back on this work one day. 

Another activity that I’ve pursued outside of the classroom is mentorship. Through Lean In USC, I was paired with the most incredible mentor. I was given the opportunity to build up my support system and my mentor has been there for me to celebrate my wins and help me talk through the more difficult days. Having that support in a time where I am physically isolated has been so meaningful to me.

While being in LA is amazing, and I have some really great memories there, USC has more to offer than its campus. USC has provided me with countless opportunities to collaborate and learn with my peers, the time and flexibility to figure out what I want my life to look like after graduation, and the support system and opportunity to grow as a person through powerful organizations. As someone who is occasionally indecisive, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Timothy Harrington