Logo: University of Southern California

Testing Drones and Building Mobile Games

Students in the USC - Base 11 Summer Mentorship Program complete inaugural session
By: Amy Blumenthal
August 11, 2016 —


Base 11 summer mentorship at a USC Viterbi Wind Tunnel, Photo Credit: Jessica Mendoza, Base 11

This summer marked the formal start of a partnership between USC Viterbi and STEM nonprofit Base 11 as community college students spent nine immersive weeks in campus labs doing hands-on research with faculty and Ph.D. mentors.

The USC Viterbi partnership with Base 11, a nonprofit STEM workforce and entrepreneur accelerator, developed out of similar institutional goal: to build a strong pipeline for students to pursue STEM education and careers.

Speaking about the start of this partnership, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said, “We are thrilled that the first year of partnership with Base 11 has resulted into important tangible outcomes. We are excited that the students had a substantial immersive research experience and we look forward to their very promising future engineering careers. “

This inaugural cohort consisted of four students, who took up residency on campus this summer. Select students participated in aerospace mechanical engineering internships, testing how lift and drag affect drones with small wings – a fairly new research area. One program participant, Paul Grad III, from West Los Angeles College, completed a computer science internship at the USC GamePipe Lab with the aggressive goal of designing and creating a working mobile game by the end of the summer.

Landon Taylor, CEO of Base 11, spoke of the impact he hopes to make through such university partnerships. “We want to solve two of the country’s biggest problems: the growing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent crisis that includes the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities, and the eroding middle class in America. We need to close the gap and build the pipeline for the fastest growing and high paying STEM jobs.”

On August 3, the students who interned this summer at USC Viterbi presented their culminating projects to an audience of faculty, doctoral students and guests.

After presenting his project on the performance of drones with small-sized wings, Francisco Gomez, a student of East Los Angeles College, discussed the value of taking part in this summer’s internship at USC Viterbi. “Coming from a community college, I had theory, but I didn’t have the hands-on experience,” Gomez said.

Student collaborator, Philip Chan, also of East LA College, spoke of how this intensive summer program built his knowledge: “Before, I didn’t have a true understanding of what research is.” Now, he does.

The effects may be long-lasting: Gomez and Chan both would like to continue their focus on designing and manufacturing drones in the future.

In addition, Grad completed an internship in the GamePipe Lab with its founding director, Mike Zyda, who built USC’s CS gaming program to be one of the nation’s best. Grad was intent on creating a mobile VR game, called VR Safari, which leverages a phone’s camera.

For Grad, the most rewarding experience of the summer was to have people actually play the very game he created. He, too, will stay on the STEM path and will be pursuing a computer science degree.

“An aspiring engineer like Paul needs access, equipment, mentorship and USC has all of this at its disposal,” said Scott Easly, GamePipe Lab associate director, who also served as one of Grad’s mentors.

Professor Wilson Chan, who mentored the students in the aeronautics track, remarked that one thing that clearly came across about the students was their passion and eagerness to learn.

Zyda remarked at the rigor and intensity of the participating students: “The students are doing the work of teams of students over a much shorter period of time.”

In the fall, the USC Viterbi and Base 11 partnership will continue. Community college students from Base 11 will be afforded the rare opportunity to participate in the USC student-run Rocket Propulsion Lab, which hopes to be the one of the first undergraduate student teams to send a rocket to space.