Simply the Best

USC has the nation’s best chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers — literally.

In March, USC NSBE won the organization’s coveted medium chapter of the year award.

“I am thrilled that USC NSBE was recognized in this significant way,” said Brandi Jones, USC Viterbi’s vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives. “I am also beyond proud of its commitment to academic excellence, professional development and community outreach.”

NSBE has 394 chapters with more than 29,000 members, making it one of the largest student-run organizations in the country. Its mission calls for “increasing the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”

USC NSBE’s commitment to making quality academic and professional resources available to its members has paid off. Recent chapter graduates have gained admission to some of the nation’s best Ph.D. programs, including the University of California at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University. They have also landed positions at some of the world’s most prestigious high-tech firms, such as Oracle, Microsoft, Twitter and Google.

As a measure of the chapter’s excellence, its membership now numbers 55. With many of the most active and committed members having just graduated — including former NSBE President Shana Douglass, B.S. AME ’18 — the chapter nonetheless lost a deep bench.

The new USC NSBE leadership promises not only to fill the void but to take the chapter to the next level of excellence. Meet some of USC NSBE’s future stars.

USC’s National Society of Black Engineers plans to build on its selection as the best chapter in the country

Avri Parker

Age: 20

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Nickname: Aves

Major: Computer Science/Business Administration

Biggest accomplishment at USC: Becoming president of
USC NSBE, of course

Dream job: Senior project manager at a large tech firm

Heroes: My mom. She’s taught me to never give up and put my all into everything. She has done so much for me. She never gave up on me and always gave a thousand percent.

Biggest obstacle you’ve overcome: Taking the CSCI 170 course my freshman year. I wasn’t doing well in the class, and I even considered switching majors. My professor was really great, though, and he helped me power through. (Shout-out to Professor [Michael] Shindler!) Because it was one of my first college classes, [surviving it] was a huge accomplishment for me. The experience helped me understand that not all things will come easily to me, so I have to work hard.

Favorite technology: I have soooooooo many. But at the moment I think my favorite piece of technology is the 3-D printer. I just read an article about how a group was 3-D printing homes in the hopes of resolving global homelessness. I think that’s incredible.

Music to engineer to: Anything up-tempo. I can never listen to anything mellow while I’m working. The music puts me in a working rhythm.

Favorite science experiment as a child: I made some crystals out of salt and alum. I thought I was so cool.

Superpower you most desire:
I would give myself the power to turn anything into food. I’m a foodie, and I could eat all day. So that would just be my selfish reasoning. But on a more philanthropic note, I could also end world hunger.

Favorite quote: “Risk it to get the biscuit.” — Unknown

Biggest NSBE accomplishment: This past spring we were able to partner with Google to put on the Black Excellence Gala, which was a night to celebrate black excellence in industry and at USC. It was a really successful event and definitely my greatest NSBE accomplishment. We hope to make it annual event!

Ways NSBE has changed you: I’m sure every engineer has that moment of second guessing themselves and their path. When I joined NSBE my sophomore year, I was definitely in a period of second guessing, but the mem-
bers were what kept me in my major and in USC Viterbi. Seeing all of their faces at meetings and social outings is what encouraged me to keep pushing forward. I ended up sticking with engineering because I knew that there were not many people out there like me — a black woman in engineering — and in order to get more people like me in the field, I would need to stick around and make myself visible to them. I realized I needed to be that welcoming face and that support system at meetings and social events.

Why USC Viterbi: I chose USC Viterbi because I knew I was going to get a great engineering education. Viterbi had been in the news a lot for research and an emphasis on diversity, and I thought that was someplace I wanted to be.

Cheyenne Gaima

Age: 19

Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland

Nickname: Paprika “Get it? Because your name is Cheyenne, like cayenne pepper … except that’s too obvious, so Paprika.” — Coach Jason, Cheyenne’s first travel softball coach, 2015

Major: Computer Engineering/Computer Science and English with creative writing emphasis (imagine saying that every time someone asks)

Biggest accomplishment at USC: Though this may sound basic, completing my first year of college is an incredibly huge accomplishment for me, especially as a first-generation student.   

Dream job: Highly decorated Michelin chef or “Jeopardy!” host

Heroes: Maya Angelou is someone I have always greatly admired. It may come as no surprise, then, that “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Angelou’s first autobiography, is what inspired me.

Favorite technology: I’m a sucker for all things efficient, and Alexa helps me get so much done! Want to know how long it will take to get downtown LA this weekend? Ask Alexa. Need a synonym for “very” for your English essay? Ask Alexa.

Desert island books: “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran, “In My Shoes” by Tamara Mellon, “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass

Music to engineer to: Whenever I’m doing coding assignments, I blast extremely hype music. I’m talking anything by J. Cole, any track from “Lemonade” by Beyoncé, etc. It keeps me focused and in the zone and can serve as celebratory music for when the code finally compiles.

Bucket-list items: Fly in a hot air balloon, write a book, hold a snake (eek!), attend a Caribbean Carnival, ride a mechanical bull, attend a Summer Olympics, swim in the ocean (I can’t swim!), give a TED Talk.

Superpower you most desire and why: Teleportation. If I had the ability to be anywhere at any time, I would travel like nothing else. On long days after class, if I felt like seeing my grandma back home in Cameroon, I’d snap my fingers and be right there!

Favorite quotes: “Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours; let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.” — Khalil Gibran

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” — 1 Corinthians 16:13

Most unusual hobby: Recently, I became a certified piercing artist! My unpopular opinion: needles really aren’t that bad.

Biggest NSBE accomplishment: Being a part of the chapter that won both Regional and National Chapter of the Year at the NSBE National Convention this year was so rewarding!

Ways NSBE has changed you: NSBE has become a space for me to engage with other students in a field where there is a scarcity of students that look like me. It’s inspiring, truly, and makes me want to work hard and use my energy positively. For that, that I couldn’t be more grateful.

Rajuan Nelson

Age: 20

Hometown: Atlanta

Major: Environmental Engineering

Biggest accomplishment at USC: Serving on executive board of USC NSBE that won National Chapter of the Year

Dream Job: Researcher

Heroes: Nelson Mandela. For him to be imprisoned for nearly three decades for a belief that would change the world is quite remarkable.

Biggest obstacle you’ve overcome: When I was younger, I developed a speech impairment due to my tongue’s enlarged frenulum. Through speech therapy and my parents’ continual support, I overcame this obstacle.

Favorite technology: My iPhone

Desert island books: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie, “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer, “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin

Music to engineer to: “South of the River” or anything else by Tom Misch

Bucket-list items: Skydiving and visiting the Great Barrier Reef

Favorite quotes: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius

“In this life, don’t ever stress the could haves; if it should have, it would have.” — Fabolous

Most unusual hobby: Telling corny jokes

Favorite science experiment as a child: Solar disinfection

Favorite movie and why: “The Pursuit of Happyness,” as it illustrates the lengths that our parents would go to ensure that we have all the necessary tools to become successful.

Superpower you most desire: The ability to time travel. Visiting ancient relics and places before they were developed would be an amazing experience.

Biggest NSBE accomplishment: Becoming the chapter’s treasurer

Ways NSBE has changed you: Whether it is coordinating events, meeting with executives or volunteering at pre-collegiate initiatives, NSBE has provided me with resources and opportunities to develop not only as an engineer but also as a leader.

If you could put a message on a billboard, what would it say?
I would have two separate billboards. The first one would read “Breathe In” and the next would say “Breathe Out.” In life, we often become tangled up in our daily duties and stressors. That causes us to forget to do the little things, which are just as important.

Most significant faculty mentor: Professor Kelly T. Sanders has broadened my perspective of environmental engineering, and her vast accomplishments inspire me. Her engaging lectures during my first semester at USC strengthened my passion for environmental engineering, and for that I am ever so grateful.

Why USC Viterbi: USC Viterbi is an exceptional engineering school that offers a plethora of unique opportunities. The school provides a balance between academic, extracurricular and social aspects of my life, allowing me to develop as an engineer as well as a person.

Desiree James

Age: 21

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas

Nickname: Des

Major: Civil Engineering

Dream job: Movie critic

Heroes: My parents. They have done and sacrificed so much so that my siblings and I can have a better life than they did. And they do it with no reward and many times no acknowledgment.

Favorite technology: Keurig coffee machine

Desert island books: “Difficult Women” by Roxane Gay and “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred Taylor

Music to engineer to: Early 2000s hip-hop and R&B

Bucket-list items: Do a Color Run, ride in a hot air balloon, attend a Summer Olympics

Favorite quotes: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas A. Edison

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  — Socrates

Most unusual hobby: Up until senior year of high school, I collected state quarters.

Favorite science experiment as a child: Baking soda volcano

Favorite movie: “Ocean’s 11” — I love a good heist movie.

Superpower you most desire: Teleportation. Traveling would be much easier, no more security checks or long drives.

Ways NSBE has changed you: NSBE has given me a second family and has helped me throughout my time at USC in ways I didn’t know I needed. Not only has the organization helped me develop tremendously academically and professionally, but the people who make up this organization are some of my biggest supporters.

If you could put a message on a billboard, what would it say? “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” — Napoleon Hill. It’s a good reminder that the little things matter, too.

Most significant faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Felipe de Barros. He’s one of those professors who gets really excited about his field of study and the subject he’s teaching, so by default, you get excited to learn the material, regardless if you like the topic or not.

Why USC Viterbi: Besides the slight bias I have toward the university due to my parents being alumni and USC Viterbi being one of the top engineering schools, the Center for Engineering Diversity (CED) was a key selling point for me. All of the other universities I had looked at had some sort of diversity/cultural center for their students, but none had any specific to the engineering school, which is why I thought CED was so cool.