Logo: University of Southern California

The Lau Sisters: Viterbi’s Own Trojan Family

May 10, 2012 —
From left to right; sisters Roberta, Rosa, Rowena and Rosanna Lau

A family gathers in USC’s Tutor Campus Center, making appropriate use of the palatial Family Room. As graduating senior Roberta Lau fixes her graduation robe, there’s the thought that this may be one of the last times she will be at USC as an undergraduate student hanging in the air. Roberta, a Viterbi student in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, laughs with her sisters as she prepares for her senior photography session. It’s a known fact that her walk across the stage this commencement not only allows her to join a legacy of Trojan engineers, but also draws her closer to her older sisters. Both are graduates of the Astani department with their younger sister, a rising junior, poised to join the Astani alumni in 2014.

“We all ended up in the same place, but the reasons why are so different,” said Rowena Lau, the second-born of the family. A spring admit her freshman year, Rowena graduated from USC in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering, and completed her Master’s degree in 2007 with a concentration in water resources. Today, Rowena supervises advanced planning at the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Sanitation.

Though she agrees that they all chose Viterbi for themselves, Rosanna, oldest of the four sisters, was the first through USC’s program and had a hand in setting the tone for her sisters’ experiences at USC. She recalls participating in business programs at USC during high school, and though she opted out of the business route, Rosanna also considered accounting. She was fond of the small class sizes that came with attending a private university, and made her decision when an older cousin in civil engineering recommended the program of study as a way to meet her interests in math and physics. Rosanna supervises water recycling for the city of Glendale and appreciates the experience of having one-on-one learning experiences during undergrad that have proved helpful in her career.

From left to right; sisters Rosa, Roberta, Rowena and Rosanna Lau

Roberta, however, knows her story is truly starting to take shape with graduation. After transferring from East Los Angeles College, her older sisters convinced her to further an interest in the environment by pursuing environmental engineering. She quickly became interested in water distribution, and likes engaging with the structural design of water recycling systems. In joining the workforce, Roberta is interested in restructuring storm water management systems to efficiently handle flooding, and really wants to focus on redistribution of natural resources.

As the youngest of the sisters, Rosa showed that she was still learning and excited for what Viterbi held in store for her undergraduate career and is looking to define her experience at Viterbi for herself. Though her sisters all followed an interest in water resources, Rosa noted that she is interested in working in transportation, recalling a field trip where her class drove alongside an airplane on the runway, as well as trips to the Port to hear about the way boat transportation works. She’ll be spending this summer studying abroad in Spain as part of the Engineering Overseas Program and looks forward to the adventures that Europe has to offer. She also noted that her main growth since freshman year mostly centers on the fact that she knows how to study better, which makes Viterbi’s challenging courses easier to manage.

All of the sisters commuted to campus, and each agreed that being a commuter student holds different challenges, but serving as captains and active members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave them greater access to USC’s offerings for social life. By leading the club in activities like the famous concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions, the sisters got chances to develop leadership skills while engaging with their fellow civil engineers. Rosa also shared how she liked that the club “allowed [us] to use our knowledge to build solutions.” Civil engineering is a small field and participating in ASCE allowed them to network with future engineers; Rowena told of times, when chatting with coworkers or industry friends, one would say, ‘I was at that competition, too!’

Today, Rosanna and Rowena are both enrolled in graduate programs to obtain their Master’s in Public Administration, which would be the second Master’s degree for both of them. This degree gives them an advantage as they seek advancement in their careers, but also allows them to focus more on serving the community. Roberta is poised to start working on her Master’s degree with Viterbi this year, and is fully assured that she chose the right major while an undergraduate.

When asked if there was another potential addition to the Lau family legacy at USC, the sisters joked that they had an interested cousin, “but he wants to be a doctor.” With the fact that Rowena started with plans to attend medical school, there’s no telling how far the Lau family will go with Viterbi.