University hosts Pi Tau Sigma convention

The USC chapter of Pi Tau Sigma, a mechanical engineering honors society, hosted the 101st annual national convention from Feb. 19-21, the first time this event was ever hosted at USC.

The event featured business meetings, panel discussions, trainings, competitions and keynote addresses. Apart from these, a career fair was also organized as a part of the three-day event. The convention saw the participation of more than 250 mechanical engineering graduate students, all from different chapters of the society across United States. The theme of the convention was “The Role of Entrepreneurship and Innovation on Modern Engineering.”

“We are kicking off a new century here,” said Stephen Wilson, president of the USC chapter. “It gives us an opportunity, as a local chapter, to share our University and our research. Our goal as the hosting chapter is to network with all the mechanical engineering departments across the country.”

Wilson emphasized the need for fostering innovation. The convention hosted small and new schools in addition to larger, older institutions.

Mun Young Choi, president of the National Honor Society, began proceedings at the USC Radisson Hotel Grand Ballroom by delivering the introduction to the society and taking a roll call of all the participating chapters. It was followed by a welcome speech by Yannis C. Yortos, dean of Viterbi School of Engineering, in which he talked about the role of innovation and entrepreneurship for the modern engineer. He defined technology as exploitation of a physical phenomenon for useful purpose and explained how it evolves exponentially and digitally.

“Problems are inevitable; all problems are solvable,” Yortos said. “As engineers, we not only solve problems, but we also create opportunities for the betterment of the world, and that is something the chapter needs to change.”

National Secretary-Treasurer Alex Moutsoglou from South Dakota State University and co-Vice President at Large Altaf Khan opened the floor for a think tank in which delegates discussed and debated on the representation of women in the male-dominated mechanical engineering society and the need to introduce engineering to more women across the country. Other issues discussed were funding and traditions followed by individual chapters. Students also questioned a proposed amendment on the admissions policy of the society.

Head Convention Coordinator Buck McKay said that Southern California’s status as a hub for mechanical engineering made it an ideal location to work through problems in the industry.

“Southern California, or Silicon Beach as we call it, has now become a mecca for this,” McKay said. “We are trying to resound that theme and get people excited to use this to launch into innovative pursuits and use these networking to generate ideas for startups.”

The next day saw a mix of various events starting with a panel discussion on the theme by Greg Autry, assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the Marshall School of Business, and Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of industrial and systems engineering. There was also a student competition sponsored by Autodesk and a lab tour.

Mauritz deRidder, principal engineer of propulsion at Virgin Galactic, delivered the keynote address in which he introduced his organization’s strategy of developing the world’s first spaceline tourism. In his speech, he addressed the three encouraging reasons of pursuing an engineer’s life.

“Make sure everyone is successful around you, set your goals high and push as hard as possible and do not be defined by your failures,” deRidder said. “Many of you are dreamers — you stare skywards and you see endless possibilities. That will make you a good innovator, but more importantly, it will make you a good engineer.”

He also answered many questions from the students on the significance of innovation in an engineer’s life. Ellie Ballad, a graduating senior from California Maritime Academy, said that attending the event made her want to be a better mechanical engineer.

“I had no idea of the magnitude of Pi Tau Sigma,” Ballad said. “It encourages and empowers me with my own work as a mechanical engineer. It gives me a sense of pride in my work.”

Drexel University in Philadelphia will host the convention next year.