Inside USD

Motivated by Curiosity: Tawni Paradise

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March is a national celebration of women and women’s history. This year’s theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).” To honor this celebration, Inside USD is doing a few articles to spotlight some of the inspiring female students on campus who, in turn, can and do inspire others.

If curiosity were a person, they’d be named Tawni Paradise.

How else could one describe this University of San Diego student, one who arrived in September 2010 with a healthy appetite for subjects such as math and physics, but who, when she graduates in 2015 will do so as an Honors Program student with dual BA/BS degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISYE) and an undergraduate degree in computer science.

“She started out wanting to major in too many subjects, as all of the math, science and engineering subjects were quite appealing to her,” said Truc Ngo, ISYE assistant professor and Paradise’s freshman preceptor and mentor. “We were able to narrow it down to two. She’s a motivated student, always eager to learn new things, responsible for her work and respectful to her classmates. She’s confident in her abilities and never wants to settle for anything less than what she’s capable of doing.”

Those attributes contributed to Ngo’s recommendation for Paradise to receive an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) scholarship, given to students in STEM fields. It’s another indication of the commitment shown by Paradise, one of a growing number of female students who excel in STEM disciplines. Giving her all is an everyday objective. She pursues her educational and life passions with equal zest.

• Concerned about environmental issues, Paradise was a research assistant last summer for Ngo. Together and with a counterpart in USD’s biology department, they sought to find bacteria that could help accelerate the decomposition rates of certain materials found in landfills and decrease the amount of waste at a given time. The research is ongoing and Paradise remains committed to get results.

• Paradise’s love for animals has led to volunteer stints with the San Diego Humane Society, working with cats and dogs, and providing animal welfare support at Pug Rescue of San Diego.

• She did a semester study abroad at Australia’s University of Technology in Sydney, and she did volunteer work in New Zealand.

• At USD she’s been a preceptor assistant for two years, enjoying the opportunity to meet and work with new students and gain leadership experience. She was named the 2012 Preceptorial Assistant of the Year. Paradise is also a member of the Alcala Club, an organization in which USD students serve as official representatives for major university events. Paradise said it’s been rewarding for friendships and networking opportunities.

A San Diego native, Paradise, who will be the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree, chose USD over UC San Diego and San Diego State. She liked the small campus, class sizes and the chance to connect with professors.

“I came here, talked to the professors and what I took away was that this is a school where you can meet your professors and they’ll really help guide you in the direction you want to go,” she said.

Math and physics seemed her initial destination, but Engineering 101 — “We played with robots and programmed them, which was pretty cool” — and a computer science course with Professor John Glick changed that.

“He’s incredible,” Paradise said of Glick. “Anyone who puts in the effort, enjoys the class and communicates with him will find him to be a great resource. He brought up the idea for me to consider the major. ‘You really have the mind for computer science,’ he told me, and that set off the light bulb.”

Paradise, through Ngo, found the smaller ISYE discipline more to her liking than USD’s larger concentrations in electrical and mechanical engineering.

“From the systems side I like to know how something works and how to improve it. The industrial side offers more business aspects,” she said. “I think if you’re interested in business and you also have the analytical thinking skills, Industrial and Systems Engineering is a great way to go.”

The engineering dual degree exposes students to the entire program and, combined with the liberal arts requirements, results in a “complete engineer.” Combine that with her computer science knowledge and Paradise’s career aspiration of working in computer security seems a natural fit.

“I think computer science has so much more room to expand and I think it’ll be a growing field for a long time. The potential with that degree, I feel, is good to have coming out of college.”

Paradise’s graduation is a few years away, so she’s just seeking new experiences. She’s waiting to hear back on a few summer internship opportunities, but plans to spend some of USD’s spring break working on a systems engineering course project that requires start-to-finish implementation, meets the demands of a client, a marketing plan and a problem-solving component.

It’s a mindset that’s natural for Paradise. Her desire is refreshing, too, as part of a growing, yet still minority female student contingent in the engineering program, which this fall at USD becomes the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

“It’s important for me to have women I look up to like Dr. Ngo and Dr. (Kathleen) Kramer [electrical engineering professor and USD engineering programs director]. I talk to Dr. Ngo a lot about what I can do through my major. It’s just easier for me to talk to her. I think it’s really important to have women in STEM fields. Women look at things a lot differently than men. We have a different outlook … just like it’s important to have people from all different areas and different backgrounds. Diversity is important. We each bring different experiences to the table. It could help us solve something better and more efficiently.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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