Logo: University of Southern California

Engineering a Good Life

Class valedictorian Liana Ching has worked in Honduras and studied in Rome.
Stephen McDonagh
May 12, 2010 —

Liana Ching is a big Law & Order fan. That is, when she has time. The San Diego native has a lot of logs on the fire these days.

Liana Ching: next stop, grad school in environmental engineering. (photo by Dietmar Quistorf)
Ching is finishing up a distinguished career at USC that has led her on a path straight to the podium during Commencement, when the USC Viterbi School of Engineering chemical engineering major will give a speech as the 2010 valedictorian. The path was marked, she said, by a “series of medium informed to uninformed decisions.”

A collection of serendipitous decisions perhaps, but more likely, success is a result of her determination to stick to something she told herself when she walked on campus in the summer of 2006: “I was going to do as much as I could and follow up on all my interests.”

Ching added to her engineering major with a minor in forensics and criminology, a course of study she picked up “for funsies.”

She also spent three years playing for the women’s club soccer team and was a student ambassador for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The summer after her sophomore year, she studied in Rome, where she picked up enough Italian to make her way around the restaurants. She also saw Alex Trebek “in the flesh” when Jeopardy! came to the Galen Center at the end of her freshman year, something she listed as one of her favorite USC memories. Another was dominating friends and roommates in a weekly board game night.

The achievement closest to her heart was her work in Honduras as part of the USC chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which partners with developing communities to improve their quality of life through environmentally sustainable and economical engineering projects. “We’re literally building a $30,000 water system for a village that doesn’t have any water,” said Ching, who has been involved with the venture since her freshman year.

In her capacity as project manager, she collaborated with the Peace Corps, the Rotary Club and local Honduran governments. She made two trips to the country to oversee the building of the water system, whose completion is coming closer to being a reality every day.

Life is hectic for Ching at the moment, as her group, through its Honduran contacts, is rushing to finish as much as possible on the project before the rainy season in November. “We need to get all the pipes buried and all the concrete set and poured and dried before then,” she said.

Ching plans to continue her support for the project after graduation, during her internship at Intel and even when she begins a master’s program in environmental engineering at Stanford University this fall.

Despite the busy schedule, Ching has paused to reflect on her college experience. “I feel so much attachment to this place,” she said of USC. “It’s part of my identity.”

Now she’s ready for the world beyond Tommy Trojan, hoping to continue the type of engineering she started in Honduras with a hands-on, technical focus that will bolster the environment, an approach she refers to as “making everyday processes more benign and capable of sustaining human life.”

While taking on such a tall order, however, don’t be surprised if she finds time to sneak in a few episodes of Law & Order.

by Stephen McDonagh