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Young Engineering, Computing Alumni Offer Advice to First-Year Students

Young Engineering, Computing Alumni Offer Advice to First-Year Students

When you’re new and want to learn something or ask a question, it’s always best to go right to the source. So, when the University of San Diego’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering gave more than 50 first-year students just getting on their engineering and computer science pathway an opportunity to do it — that’s exactly what they got.

Engineering, Computing Alumni

Slideshow (click on box) of Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, Computer Science alumni.

“Do not let perfection be the enemy of excellence,” said Anthony Shao ’18. “College is a maturation process for a lot of people. Put yourself in a positive headspace. Try and avoid the (down) spiral and frame your head in a positive space.”

Shao was one of five recent USD alumni — Arica Christensen ’20, Molly McGarvey ’19, Kyle Thompson ’20 and Taylor Wong ’19 were the others — called on to provide new Toreros with insights ranging from being resilient and study habits, to favorite classes outside of engineering, internships and how they utilize skills learned at USD and apply it to their current employment.

Before delving into their advice, one of the best aspects was that all five young alumni are gainfully employed, enjoying it and two on the Zoom call work outside California.

Wong, a computer science alumna who had transferred to USD, is a technical product manager for Risk Sense, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based cybersecurity company. McGarvey, a mechanical engineering graduate, moved to Texas and is a manufacturing support team member for Lockheed Martin, a national aerospace, defense, arms, security and advanced technologies company. In her line of work, McGarvey gleefully stated, “I work on the flight lines, so I get a lot of hands-on time with F-35 jets and I dabble with some of the F-16s as well.”

The California-based alumni are Christensen, an industrial and systems engineering graduate who after interning for Booz Allen Hamilton, landed her data scientist position just two months ago; Shao, a double major in electrical engineering and business finance and the 2018 engineering valedictorian, is chief executive officer and co-founder of Darroch Medical Solutions, a company that emerged from his senior engineering project with a few classmates who remain at his side today; and Thompson, a member of only USD’s second graduating class of integrated engineering majors, is a manufacturing engineer for Sea Spine, a medical device company he interned with prior to being hired in his current capacity.

Advice from Alumni

The alumni were helpful, knowing it wasn’t too long ago that they were once in the others’ shoes. Faculty moderator, Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Odesma Dalrymple, PhD, asked the first question, having the alumni share something they wished someone had told them when they were first starting college.

McGarvey said the stress and anxiety one could feel meant it was important to find a non-school activity “to keep you sane.” Shao felt getting enough sleep is vital to good health and less stress. Getting eight hours of sleep can be very helpful on test day. Thompson recommended “finding something you’re passionate about” and “keep an open mind.” Wong believes leaning into knowing classmates and working with them and attending faculty office hours were beneficial for her.

Christensen knew her first semester of college would be an adjustment. “I had to manage what worked best for me,” she said. It was also important to learn that her own college/educational journey at USD should only be measured by own merit, not by comparing it to others.

Study habits of the alumni centered on organization and preparation to avoid last-minute or all-night studying. Christensen blocked out time each day to tend to her academic priorities and to study for tests a few days ahead. McGarvey found Copley Library was a place to lock herself into her studies. She deemed it very important for all students “to learn what your study style is.” Thompson agreed on understanding how you learn. For him, he put together a prioritized one-page study sheet, reviewed the last lecture and felt good about his chances. “Staying on top of everything is important.”

Equally, as McGarvey pointed out earlier, finding something outside of the subject you’re studying is a key to a more fulfilled life. McGarvey’s USD experiences included performing in the Founders Chapel Choir, pep band, working at the front desk for Residential Life and studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, London, Germany and Israel. Shao served as a practice player for the USD women’s basketball team for two seasons. “It was the perfect way to blow off some steam after having four classes back-to-back,” he said. Thompson was a math tutor and spent time at the beach to unwind. Christensen played intramural sports, was actively involved in a sorority and worked for USD’s Information Technology Services’ Help Desk. Wong was a resident assistant (RA), was on Mortar Board with community service opportunities and was a member of both Asian Students Association and the Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization.

Internship opportunities are key to gain experience, to know if your engineering or computer science major can be a good fit with a specific company and, ultimately, end up in a job after graduation. As noted above, Thompson and Christensen parlayed their internships into employment with their respective companies. Shao interned at both Hewlett Packard and General Atomics, but ultimately, his senior project took him in an entrepreneurial route. Wong did an internship at a San Francisco-based start-up SciRobot and then at local Clarity Design and both added to her skillset. McGarvey was a manufacturing engineering intern at Fox Factory and she obtained it through attending a USD Career Development Center Career Fair.

Choosing their major came pretty natural to the alumni panelists, typically finding that a certain concentration fit their style best. Meanwhile, each took full advantage of USD engineering’s unique dual degree program.

“I don’t take it for granted,” McGarvey said of the BS/BA designation. “You can play that up in engineering interviews. I took the public speaking class and I use what I learned in that class for when I’m having conversations.”

Thompson said his job involves writing so his dual degree classes helped him there. Christensen combined a study abroad trip to New Zealand and took a religion class. She also enjoyed a history class. “The dual degree helped me so much. They were extra classes, but I took some fun classes that got my mind off of the hardcore stuff. It built my talking skills and I communicate better now across all platforms.”

New information takes time to process and what the new students do with the information provided might be unknown until they’re the ones graduating or are alumni themselves, but by asking questions, listening and learning they’re already ahead of the curve.

—Ryan T. Blystone

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