Student Spotlight

Women in Engineering

Spring 2021

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Ashwini (Ash) Balaganesh

Sophomore – Mechanical Engineering (minor in computer programming)

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

Hometown: Kennesaw, GA

Fun Fact: I love too cook and have been making bread from scratch during quarantine!

Why did you choose your major? : I chose mechanical engineering because there's a lot of overlap between various industries with the major. You can work in defense, aerospace, materials, electronics and more! I think that the defense and materials industries are both super cool, and being a mechanical engineering major means I can dabble in both. It's also very design based, and I enjoy creating things whether it be by hand or on a CAD software. I picked up a programming minor to add on to all of these skills. It's really nice because I get to learn different languages (Python, Java, C++) without the stress of a hardcore CS class. The ITP minors are geared more to becoming proficient in these languages to adding them as skills onto your resume; this way you're a better applicant in a competitive job pool! 

What’s your favorite thing and the most challenging aspect about your major? : My favorite part of mechanical engineering is being able to work on various design projects, even as an underclassman. So far I have been able to build 3D printed bridges and mini rovers, participate in a Boeing design competition, and redesign a recalled product in an upper division materials class. The most challenging aspect about my major is definitely the sheer amount of content covered. It's amazing how broad it is, but with that you have to be knowledgeable about heat transfer, materials, fluid dynamics, electricity, design software, and more. I wouldn't change it for anything, though! I've met so many brilliant people in my major and because of how broad it is, it's really interesting to see the different paths each of my peers are pursuing within mechanical engineering.

Tell us about a great experience or opportunity you’ve had outside of class:Outside of class, I've had a really great opportunity to be part of Theta Tau. Theta Tau is USC's premiere co-ed professional engineering society. The organization focuses on professionalism, service, and social aspects of an engineer's life. During my time in Theta Tau, I've been able to gain experience on what a technical interview looks like for my major, give back to kids in the community by teaching them about STEM projects, and organize events that help the organization bond. Theta Tau has also helped me gain a lot of opportunities. Upperclassmen in the organization have pointed me the right direction in the regards to research, and I was able to get a position in the M.C. Gill Composites Center. The amount of connections within the organization also scored me a job interview (fingers crossed for an offer) from the Air Force Research Lab! It's really cool how bonding with a group of like minded engineers can carve the way to amazing opportunities like these!

What are your goals after graduation?: After graduation, I really hope to work within the aerospace or defense industry in regards to materials. I huge problem that I see with aviation and defense is that after the use of large scale systems (missiles, rockets, planes, etc), they either go to the dump or are buried in random places. This is a huge waste of material and an even bigger problem when it comes to the environment. I really want to create a new material that allows these giant mechanisms to biodegrade or become reusable. That way, no materials are wasted and it's not as big of an impact on our environment. I know that's super specific, but in general I just want to work in an area that connects defense, materials, and sustainability all together.

One more cool thing: I am also in Engineers without Borders, working as the international project manager. We're currently working on a project in Bolivia relating to water supply, distribution, and filtration. Our goal is to create a system that allows those in a rural community to have efficient access to clean water. It's great to see how engineers at USC come together for a greater cause, but at the same time are trying their best to give the community the tools to create these systems after we're gone so that they are self sufficient. 


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Penelope Hocking

Junior – Computer Science

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

Fun Fact: I am currently a Student-Athlete and member of USC's Women's Soccer Team! 

Why did you choose your major? : Initially, I was majoring in accounting, but I wanted to switch into engineering after my first semester. One of my teammates talked me into taking a computer programming course, which I was so fascinated by. After taking Introduction to Programming, I switched my major to computer science and have loved every course I have taken so far.

What’s your favorite thing and the most challenging aspect about your major? : The one thing I love about computer science is programming. I find it so rewarding to build a program from scratch and finally see it run successfully. It can be annoying and tedious to debug a program, but I find joy in solving the problem. The most challenging part of the major, however, is time management, especially as a student-athlete. It is really easy to fall behind in a class due to travel and time commitments, which leads me to doing work days or weeks in advance. It can be really challenging at times, but my professors have been very understanding and extremely great to work with.

Tell us about a great experience or opportunity you’ve had outside of class: One of the greatest experiences of my life was representing my country at the U-20 Women's World Cup in 2018. For the entire first half of the year, I was attending training camps all over the U.S., France, and Spain in order to prepare for the World Cup in August. I was able to meet new people, travel the world and play soccer at the highest level for my age group. Although I had to be away from my family for long periods of time, I loved competing and representing my country against the best soccer players and teams in the world.

What are your goals after graduation?: When I graduate from USC, I strive to play professional soccer and work in the Aerospace and Defense Industry. I want to play soccer for as long as possible and also have goals to play on the Women's National Team. I hope that playing professional soccer in Europe could lead me to representing my country in the Olympics and World Cup.

Working in the Aerospace and Defense Industry has been a goal of mine since I started taking computer science classes at USC. I think it would be really cool to develop software in the systems on aircrafts and satellites. I would love to work for companies like NASA, Boeing or Northrop Grumman.

Fall 2020

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Elena Ikeocha

Junior – Chemical Engineering (Petroleum Emphasis)

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

Hometown: Townsend, DE

Fun Fact: I was born in Nigeria! I also love sports and am a member of USC’s Club Field Hockey Team. 

Why did you choose your major? : From a young age, I was always a hands on child. I loved building and breaking things, arts and crafts, rocks, and math. As I got older, my love for STEM subjects grew and when I heard about the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010 I was devastated at the amount of destruction it brought to the environment and the animals that live in it. I couldn’t help thinking that there was a way the spill could have been prevented. The older I grew and the more I learned about life and different career paths, I decided that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. This was mainly to work in the energy sector and provide an efficient fuel source for people to utilize while minimizing drastic damages like oil spills. I felt like I could be part of a change to better the non-renewable energy sector, as the world and the U.S innovates and refines renewable energy to be as efficient.

What’s your favorite thing and the most challenging aspect about your major? :My favorite thing about my major is that is is very versatile. I can do anything from working in the technology field, to the research and development of cosmetics. As a person who is constantly active, I love learning about chemical engineering processes in class and realizing that those same processes can be applied to many different fields and projects. The most challenging aspect of my major would be math. Chemical engineering is very math based and learning how to utilize mathematics as a language to convey specific instructions and properties is a lot harder than it sounds.

Tell us about a great experience or opportunity you’ve had outside of class:Outside of my major I work as an Executive House Manager for Trojan Event Services. Through my job I have seen and worked with USC to host people like Ali Wong, Chelsea Clinton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earth Wind & Fire, Patty Jenkins (Director of DC’s Wonder Woman) and many more. My job allowed me to interact with different forms of the arts, and listen to a plethora of diverse speakers. One of my favorite events to work was the holographic performance of Maria Callas with a 50 piece live orchestra. I got to witness engineering and technology bring to life the vocal and visual performance of a famous opera singer who passed away in 1977. It was truly nothing like I’d ever seen before.

What are your goals after graduation?: After graduation I plan to get my masters degree in petroleum engineering from USC, and then enter the workforce. Within the workforce, I want to work with environmental engineers, geologists, and other chemical engineers to find better methods to protect the planet, while powering our lives.