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Student Spotlight: Joanne Wu

By Habiba Fayyaz, SCHC '18, Biology and Neuroscience

Joanne Wu is a junior mechanical engineering major from Columbia, SC. She is a CEC ambassador and active member of Theta Tau and the Society of Women Engineers. Joanne will be spending her summer in Atlanta interning for PepsiCo! When she has a moment to spare, Joanne also finds time to enjoy the hundreds of memes floating around, and says that her favorite is the “hello, I’m squidward” vine.

Most semesters at USC, you can catch Joanne mastering some of her engineering skills in Swearingen, but if you’re looking for her this spring you’ll have a bit of a longer commute to Colorado. Joanne is spending this semester interning at NREL in Golden, CO. Here’s what Joanne had to say about her internship so far and life at Carolina!


What are you working on this semester? Can you describe a typical day at your internship?

“I am currently a student intern at NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, CO.  My research is on the effect of contaminants on Hydrogen fuel cell performance.  Each morning, I typically pick up my laptop from my desk, check some emails, and then go directly to the lab.  From here, I set up and run various tests on the fuel cells.  These tests differ from day to day, and encompass everything from prepping/assembling the cell and ensuring that the cell has the ability to run correctly to testing the actual performance of the cells.  These experiments can take anywhere from ten minutes to 200 hours, depending on what we’re looking for.  Between tests, I usually try to spend some time analyzing the data we receive.  Currently, I’m generating a lot of really fun-looking graphs that I’m not sure I fully understand, but they’re already starting to make more sense which gives me a little bit of hope. A lot of my time is also spent fixing my own mistakes and trying to operate test equipment without setting everything on fire.  But honestly, this is probably one of the best experiences I’ve had, and I’m only 4 weeks in. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunch, my mentor takes a few of us climbing at a local climbing gym. The people I’ve met are incredibly helpful and wonderful, and they somehow manage to put up with my many mistakes.”


What has been your favorite memory at USC so far?

“I have a lot of really great memories at USC, and it’s definitely difficult to choose a favorite.  During fall break freshman year, a group of us took a trip up to Asheville.  One night, we decided it was a good idea to turn off all the lights and play sardines.  The cabin we were staying in was in a fairly secluded area and the cabin was pitch black.  I can’t remember who, but someone decided to hide in the fireplace. The fireplace had this ridiculously rickety mantle made of wood, which was somehow knocked down, along with the mirror on the mantle and this terrible bird statue.  We managed to fix everything with some old glue we found in the car, and I think we used honey to conceal cracks in the bird. It was a wonderful night.” 


What is your favorite spot on campus?

“1D29 in Swearingen. It’s a computer lab.  It’s a wonderful place where engineers can suffer together.”


What are you looking forward to most about your senior year?

“Someone told me second semester senior year was the best time to get a dog.  I’m really excited about that.”


What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

“Take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffets on campus. The freshman 15 is not a lie, but you’re in college and you’re allowed to live a little.”


What is one book you would recommend everyone read?

“The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques are some of my favorite books.  They’re these wonderful little adventure books about mice and other little creatures that are definitely for little kids, but they’re some of my favorites because every story has a happy ending.  It’s great if you’re looking for a pick me up.”


Have you had any other experiences outside of USC that have been especially impactful?

“I grew up in Columbia, about 10 minutes away from USC.  Leaving my hometown, my family, and all of my friends this semester was definitely painful.  I chose to road-trip up to Colorado with my older brother, since he wanted to visit friends in CO and I wanted accompaniment on a 24-hour car ride. We decided to stretch the trip out into 3 days, making stops in Asheville, Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City.  Even though I hate driving with a passion, this was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I definitely truly enjoyed bonding with my brother, and as lame as it sounds, I feel like I grew up a little bit because I finally left my hometown.”


Good luck with everything this semester, Joanne!