Engineers With A Cause

July 28, 2017

Yutong and his campers at Troy Camp – USC’s Summer program for kids from South LA.

By Yutong Gu

As Engineering students, we sometimes feel that everything we do should be engineering-related and career focused. It’s easy to forget to look around and help others, when in fact this is the most important responsibility an engineer has to society.

This summer I volunteered at Troy Camp, a USC summer camp for kids from the South LA area. I hosted the horse-riding station and, despite coming from Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, I had no idea what I was doing. I had grew up watching horses race and graze but I never worked with one up close. As they say in the South, I was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. But I stuck through with it because I wanted to help kids conquer their fears, escape the city, and have fun. Despite being constantly covered in sweat, dirt, and what was most likely horse poop, everything went well at camp.

As I enter my junior year of electrical engineering, I’m excited that I can continue giving back and have an escape from the dark corners of Leavey Library where I spend most of my days. After two years at USC, the three things that never fail to bring my mood up are seeing my circuit/code finally work (after 4 hours of debugging), listening to Professor Burke pass out wisdom in the form of colorful metaphors, and taking time out of my day to help others.  With this in mind, I put together a list of three reasons to close your $249 textbook, go out into the world, and volunteer for a cause.

Put Your Skills Into Practice In the Real World

What’s cool about engineering is that you’re pretty much a superhero with the things you know. You may not be the next Tony Stark but there aren’t a lot of people with your kind of knowledge. So what better way to use it than to make the world a better place? After all, that’s what engineering is really about.

I didn’t think I’d use any of the skills I’d learned in school at Troy Camp, but I was quickly proved wrong. I found a niche in math tutoring for high school-aged campers. After cramming years of advanced math into my head, I could easily answer questions like ‘what’s the quadratic formula’ or ‘what’s that squiggly line’ to which I would respond with ‘that’s an integral’. I realized that without my passion for the STEM field, I may not have been as effective as I was. So even if you don’t think your skills will directly translate into volunteering, you may be surprised.

Gain skills outside the classroom

Sure, you might be able to design a bandpass filter, program a microcontroller, or operate a 3D printer but can you manage a team, speak in front of a crowd, or build a fire with your bare hands? If not, that’s okay; you’re not expected to. It’s not in the curriculum! Having skills that go beyond engineering isn’t just nice to have but they help make you a more well-rounded individual and can get you far in life.

Sure, you might be able to design a bandpass filter, program a microcontroller, or operate a 3D printer but can you manage a team, speak in front of a crowd, or build a fire with your bare hands?
Electrical engineering student, Harrison Getter, spoke on how volunteering for Engineers Without Borders has helped him grow as a leader and develop new skills. “It [Engineers Without Borders] mostly helped me with my managerial and organizational skills because as project manager and now president it’s more about delegating tasks to the club members and organizing the different factions of the club.”

While Harrison may know how to build and analyze circuits, he says it does not apply very much to the work he does in EWB. Regardless, he got involved and along the way he picked up extremely valuable skills that can be applied in other aspects of his life as well. So although they probably won’t be adding ‘Team Management 101’, ‘Public Speaking 245’, or ‘Fire Building 310’ as a major requirement anytime soon, it’s never too late to learn those skills while also making the world a better place.

Make New Friends and Be Exposed to New Ideas

Wherever you decide to volunteer, you’ll meet amazing people who share a commitment to service. Spending time with other volunteers can be a needed break from studying engineering, which can take its toll on any sane human being. When more than 80% of your classes are engineering classes and most of your friends are in your major, it’s refreshing to hang out with different people and not think about how you bombed the EE 201 midterm.

“I think it’s important to make friends outside of your major because it helps expand your horizons and give you a more well-rounded collegiate experience,” said Dillon McKinley, a Troy Camp volunteer who is studying biomedical engineering. “Volunteering through Troy Camp has allowed me to build a common interest with students from all aspects of USC.”

Interacting with people from different backgrounds and disciplines can even help you look at your own field of engineering from new perspectives. I have met some of my closest, life-long friends through volunteering. I even plan to spend time after college helping out at local high school robotics teams. If I learned anything from my experience it’s that that when you stand up for something you believe in, good people will stand beside you.

Hopefully I’ve made you consider devoting more of your time to a cause you believe in. If not, that’s fine too; it’s hard making time for anything else when you’re an aspiring engineer. But if there’s anything you should take from this article, it’s that as engineers, we have a duty to make the world a better place. We have the knowledge to make an impact wherever we go. We should have the compassion to go along with that knowledge. We build things with the hopes of making people’s lives easier, bringing them together, and helping those in need. We’re no superheroes, but we’re close enough.

Yutong Gu is a Junior in the electrical engineering department and president of USC Makers, a student club that promotes innovation and interest in electronics on campus. Read Yutong’s earlier blog about USC Makers.

Published on July 28th, 2017

Last updated on October 11th, 2017