SHINE alumna and class of 2021 USC undergraduate Tyler Amano-Smerling presents her work at the SHINE16 Poster Session.
Active learning. Real-life outcomes. Collaboration and friendships.
SoCal High School students are motivated to attend the Summer High School Intensive in Next-generation Engineering or SHINE program to take part in cutting edge engineering research as active team members of university-level research labs. Arjun Aron of SHINE17, for example, joined the Shen lab to further its research into the use of nanotechnology in targeting diseases that, like cancer, resist treatment because they interact with healthy tissues in complex ways. As part of his research in the Schaal Computational Learning and Motor Control Lab, Pavle Medvidovic of SHINE16 helped the Aemilie NAO robot become more human-like: along with his Ph.D. mentors, Pavle worked to incorporate tactile sensors so that the robot could learn from its surroundings in the same way humans do.
Arjun Aron, USC class of 2022, discusses his research at the SHINE17 poster session.
Professor Geoff Spedding and SHINE alumnus Rajvir Dua at the SHINE17 poster session. Rajvir is now an undergraduate at USC.
But more broadly, many students participate in SHINE to learn firsthand about the wide array of career pathways that exist in the field of engineering. For the past four years, SHINE has given nearly 100 top-performing students entrée not only to research labs but also provided active learning workshops. Led by professors and Ph.D. students, these workshops explore both novel and foundational engineering concepts. For example, while SHINE18 students learned from Professor Shaama Sharada about how supercomputing is revolutionizing chemical engineering, they also learned about civil engineering fundamentals--like how to solder circuits and work with Arduino sensors--from Ph.D. student Ashant Aryal, a member of Professor Burcin Becerik-Gerber's iLAB. This exposure to the many applications of engineering also helps SHINE students see avenues for interdisciplinary innovation.
However, a wonderful byproduct also can result from students’ SHINE experience. Some students enjoy their summers at USC Viterbi so much that they choose to pursue attending college at USC as well. Such is the case for SHINE16 alumni Tyler Amano-Smerling and Pavle Medvidovic and SHINE17 alumni Arjun Aron and Rajvir Dua. USC Viterbi is happy to have these four SHINE alums as part of the undergraduate class of 2021 and 2022, respectively.
When asked about their trajectory from SHINE participant to USC Trojan, Raj and Tyler both mentioned how SHINE helped them see USC as a college “home.” For Raj, USC had been more of an afterthought until his summer with SHINE, in part because his father is a UCLA alumnus: “USC had always been close by, but I never got a really good look at it.” But after working with Professor Geoff Spedding and Ph.D. mentors on his project as well as participating in the SHINE Friday lunches, he “saw what USC had to offer, and it was a pretty easy decision.” He considered other east coast schools along with UCLA and UC Berkeley, but “I felt USC was more of a home.” Echoing these thoughts, Tyler mentioned that, after SHINE, USC didn’t really feel like “college” anymore: “it just felt like USC—not scary at all.”
SHINE helped Arjun picture himself as part of the dynamic research community at USC. As a SHINE participant, he saw that research at USC is as rigorous as other programs—in fact, in 2017 USC Viterbi regained the #1 ranking by US News for graduate programs in Engineering and Computer Science. But what impressed Arjun was USC’s “vibe,” its cordial atmosphere that helped him feel comfortable right away. Thanks to his experience at SHINE, he’s now at ease when reaching out to professors for advice or letters of recommendation, a skill that will come in handy as he pursues his future goals of medical school and research.
Moreover, SHINE helped prepare these students for the rigors of college-level research. Tyler mentioned offhand that some of the concepts she learned from her Ph.D. mentor and applied to her project two years ago during SHINE are only now being covered in her sophomore level courses. Pavle concurred, emphasizing that although SHINE is a difficult as college is, the controlled environment of the program is far less pressurized, making it a great option for high school students interested in seeing if engineering research is a good fit for them.
For Tyler, the experience at SHINE convinced her that her chosen pathway in Mechanical Engineering was right for her. From her youthful experiments with Legos, her interests in making things work are well suited to that field. For others, however, SHINE helped them see new STEM pathways better suited to their interests than their SHINE research project. It turns out that while the practical side of engineering in robotics and aerospace engineering still interests Pavle and Raj, respectively, they now realize that they’re more adept in areas of applied math and computer science. Fortunately for them, USC has strengths in all these academic areas.
Each of the SHINE alumni at USC benefitted from two main components of the SHINE program: its emphasis on specific university level research projects and its coverage of broad trends in major engineering fields. Performing engineering lab research on specific real-world problems alongside Ph.D. mentors allows high schools students, in Arjun’s words, “a different type of learning than what is possible in the classroom” because “the onus is on you to find a way to make it work yourself, to find new ways to try to solve problems.” Yet the specific engineering research projects are also contextualized through the group activities of SHINE, best summarized by Pavle: “Whatever you do in SHINE, it’s about exploring.” That means not only exploring your own personal interests, but also exploring what’s fundamental to the field of engineering and what may be possible to do in the world to make it a better place. As USC Viterbi undergraduates, Arjun, Raj, Tyler, and Pavle are continuing to negotiate this balance for themselves.
If you or a high school sophomore, junior, or senior you know is interested in performing university-level research and learning more about engineering fields this summer, please check out the SHINE program. Applications for summer 2019 are now open.