It might seem unlikely, but for the past three years, the senior class valedictorian has come from the Viterbi School of Engineering.
The extensive math and science demanded by Viterbi’s curriculum is enough to scare many people away, but this year’s valedictorian, Liana Ching, embraced the challenge.
Ching, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, earned an overall 3.98 grade point average, which — combined with her extracurricular activities, post- graduation plans and an essay — won her the honor of 2010 valedictorian.
“In a way, I’m being asked to represent the achievements of the class of 2010,” Ching said. “It’s taking kind of a long time I would say for the gravity of that to sink in.”
Ching was among 18 seniors invited to submit an application for valedictorian in the beginning of March. Each candidate has a 3.98 grade point average or above and a transcript without any B’s, said Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs.
“We try to make sure that we go over every student who’s eligible,” Bickers said. “I’m glad I don’t have to make the selection because they’re all amazing students.”
In addition to Ching’s chemical engineering major, she has an emphasis in environmental engineering and a minor in forensics and criminality. Ching will spend this summer in Oregon working on air pollution for Intel’s Logic Technology Developmental group and then will attend Stanford University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering.
At USC, Ching has been project manager of Engineers Without Borders, an organization in which students travel to developing countries and facilitate the building of a necessity for the community, for the past few years. She has focused on constructing a water system in Honduras since her freshman year.
“The big challenge is just getting it all done, getting all the work done on time and still having time to get to do other things,” she said.
Ching also played on the women’s club soccer team and several intramural sports, represented Viterbi as a student ambassador and participated in the Society of Women Engineers, among other organizations.
“Liana is very special,” said Louise Yates, dean of Viterbi admissions and student affairs. “She’s also someone who’s been incredibly involved … She doesn’t sleep, I don’t think.”
Ching attended a small private high school in San Diego, which she said jumpstarted her education and placed her ahead in math before she was a freshman at USC. Looking for a bigger school, Ching chose USC for its vibrant community.
“When I came to college, I actually wanted to let myself not have the grade be the ultimate goal in my courses,” Ching said.
With the hefty requirement of 132 units for a chemical engineering major, Ching focused on learning the material and understanding the concepts, which consequently produced good grades, she said.
Viterbi gave her a sense of place, Ching said, and made her feel like the faculty and staff knew each student by name.
“It’s awesome because it’s almost like another small university within the university,” Ching said. “It’s like that small-school feel with all of the resources of a larger school.”
Ching, who studied in Rome during the summer 2008 as part of a study abroad program specifically designed for engineering students, said she is grateful for the opportunities USC afforded her.
“I’m going to miss being a student here and having ridiculous perks and having access to tons of activities without even trying,” Ching said. “I’ve really gotten to explore new things here.”
Ching said that, more than anything, she is grateful for the help she has received along the way.
“I think that every stage of life kind of builds on the ones before it,” Ching said. “And I’ve definitely had all the support that I could have asked for.”