News | USC's Jessica Brown wins NCSEA Diversity in Structural Engineering Scholarship

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by Jacob Wong, USC Master of Public Policy, 2023

On February 16, 2022, the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) hosted a ceremony at its annual summit in New York city to celebrate recipients of the organization’s award and scholarship recipients. Among those that night was USC civil engineering major and METRANS Mentor Program Lead Jessica Brown, who received one of the NCSEA’s Diversity in Structural Engineering scholarships.


Jessica Brown accepting her award at the Structural Engineering Summit


The scholarship was established in 2020 by the NCSEA, one of the leading institutions in the structural engineering profession, to fund students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the field. $3,000 scholarships in various categories are presented annually to junior college students, undergraduate students, and graduate students pursuing degrees in structural engineering. Brown’s cohort was the first group to receive the diversity scholarship.


As a graduating senior, Brown recognizes the award’s significance. “In a lot of the spaces where I operate, I’m the only black student,” she said. “It feels nice to have the industry know that they need to be more diverse and inclusive because a lot of cool ideas come from having a diversity of thought, a diversity which comes from different backgrounds.” 


Brown, who grew up in Washington D.C., is pursuing a career in civil engineering with her own background in mind.  “It’s no secret that gentrification is a problem in many cities and that’s the case in Washington D.C. as well,” she said. “[Growing up], I saw a lot of new construction and luxury housing get built. Even today, my parents would hear on the radio about how people are moving out and a lot of them are black.” 


Aware of the social issues tied to urban development back home, Brown combined her penchant for art and design - “I did a lot of drawing and painting in high school,” she added - with a passion for problem-solving she developed while attending engineering camps growing up to pursue her current degree program at USC Viterbi.


In fact, Brown’s decision to attend USC was largely based on the opportunity to pursue both her interests in design and implementation in the field of engineering. “I picked USC specifically because of the civil engineering building science program,” said Brown. “We have a holistic curriculum where the first two years are done in an architectural studio setting, and in our senior year we get to work on projects that are architecture-focused while also doing things related to structural engineering.” 


“It’s been really valuable because it works both sides of your brain by having to think creatively in an aesthetic sense, but also doing structural engineering calculations,” she explained.


Jessica Brown, taken on her Last First-Day of Undergrad Classes at USC


Another valuable experience Brown had during her time at USC was the year she spent as a student worker for METRANS, where she picked up useful and applicable skills outside the classroom. “I contributed to many METRANS teams but mostly worked for the METRANS Mentor program. I moved my way up to the director of operations for that program, doing behind the scenes work to get students connected with mentors,” said Brown. “One of the things I really enjoyed was planning events…being able to be proactive and figure out what a student needs from a mentor. I think it’s strengthened my ability to be both a mentee and a mentor. That was something I really appreciated.”


As a BIPOC woman entering the engineering field, Brown understands the importance of learning from other professionals with similar backgrounds and passing on her experiences to the next generation. Brown offers the following advice to current and prospective students: “The biggest thing that has helped me is being curious. Curiosity can come in different forms, but asking questions is good…not just for the sake of getting a job, but understanding what’s out there.” 


“When I came to USC, I thought I was just going to do structural engineering and work on buildings, but I’ve learned that civil engineering is broad and there are opportunities to do different things [such as] transportation which is another one of my interests. I think exploring and asking questions is something that has served me well and will serve others well.”


About the Author:

Jacob Wong is a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at the Price School of Public Policy. He is curious about issues in urban policy and transportation planning. He is a recent LA transplant, and in his free time he enjoys exploring the area and the local food scene.