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When I was a senior in high school, I decided on a complete whim to take statistics—partly because I just enjoyed math, but mostly because I wanted to get better at the probability problems that I’d had some trouble with when taking the SAT. A few months into the class, I discovered that I was really interested in everything about it. I realized that what was dry and confusing to a lot of people was super fascinating to me, and I just wanted to learn more—there seemed to be so much more to the surface-level concepts we were going over, and I knew then that it was something I had to dive deeper into. The central limit theorem is to this day the most mind-blowing piece of math that I’ve encountered.


As I was applying to colleges around that time, knowing I wanted to pursue something in STEM, I browsed Viterbi’s admissions pages, and found Industrial and Systems Engineering! I had never even heard of this field, and a lot of the other schools that I was looking at didn’t even offer it, so I looked more deeply into USC’s offerings and knew it was the major for me. ISE combined engineering and statistics in a way that I didn’t even realize I was looking for, but just sounded so cool to me. And at the same time, I could tell that it was a broad field of study that I could use to go down a number of paths. So… I applied!


Now, nearing completion of my degree in ISE, the time has come to narrow my focus toward a career, and I’ve settled into data science/analytics as the path I wish to follow. With my Information Systems focus in my undergrad, and soon my Master’s in Operations Research through the Progressive Degree Program, I now finally find myself technically specialized and primed to begin my career. It’s a little nerve-wracking to think about how much my perspective on all this has changed since that first semester of high-school stats, but I think I’m finally ready to not be a student anymore.


I never would’ve guessed that my seemingly random (probability joke, get it?) decision to take stats back then would lead me down this path, but I couldn’t be more satisfied now.

Derek Jones