News | Meet Tara Esfahani: UCI Undergrad and Future Engineer, with a Little Help From WTS-OC

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by Adylbek Abdykalikov, USC, IPPAM 2020

Meet Tara Esfahani, a one of the lucky women to earn a Women’s Transportation Seminar-Orange County (WTS-OC) High School Scholarship in her senior year of high school. WTS-OC’s annual scholarship program is one of the chapter’s many initiatives encouraging young women to pursue careers in transportation and Tara was one of three lucky high school recipients in 2018.  Thanks in no small part to this generous scholarship, cosponsored by environmental consulting firm LSA Associates, Tara is now in her second year of the Bachelors of Aerospace Engineering program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).


When asked how this scholarship impacted her future, Tara explained, “Winning the WTS-OC scholarship my senior year of high school changed my life. Not only has WTS helped me pay for school, but they have also helped me to network and forge connections that will last a lifetime. I truly owe so much to the organization, and I am excited to continue my journey with them.”  


Tara Esfahani, right, at the WTS-OC Awards Banquet.


Tara was initially interested in attending Cal Poly Pomona for their strong engineering program and technical focus. She ultimately decided to attend UCI, though, for its location and after realizing their program’s strength, and that she could afford the cost in part with help from WTS-OC. Tara graduated from Northwood High School in Irvine in 2019, and went straight to UCI with solid plans for her future. She remembers that she had a pretty specific reason for developing her interest in aerospace engineering.


“When I was in eighth grade, I did a project on female pilots from World War Two. I remember being so fascinated by how these women changed aviation. I have also loved math, science, and art since I was little. After doing that project, I realized I could combine all of my passions with this newfound curiosity for flight by studying aerospace engineering,” Tara elaborated. Boeing, where she really hopes to work in the future, awarded her a challenge coin for her labor on this project and for her recognition of women’s accomplishments in a male-dominated field.


Tara has been a very active student since then, and has made every effort to incorporate her passions into her school work. She took on rigorous coursework in subjects that fascinated her and was involved in multiple extracurricular activities and sports. “I was a member of the engineering club and vice president of a club called Operation Hero, which aimed to help veterans and active military members. I also founded the Northwood High School Documentary and Film Club and served as the treasurer,” she shared. Tara believes that taking on new challenges all the time in high school paid off when she got to college – “I think I have grown accustomed to balancing all these activities, and it developed my time management skills over the years.”


Two years into her undergraduate career, Tara is enjoying her time at UCI. “University has been great so far. I am lucky to be surrounded by professors and friends alike who care about my future and help me maintain a healthy balance between academics and fun, though arguably, the academics are pretty fun too since I love what I am studying,” she added. Her proudest extracurricular achievement is serving as an Apprentice Engineer with UCI’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) racecar engineering project. Through FSAE, Tara is gaining hands-on engineering experience and applying course concepts from concurrent classes, including thermodynamics and differential equations, while working alongside a team of “some of the most intelligent and kind people [she’s] ever met.”


  Tara shows off her school pride. Zot! Zot! Zot!


Aside from her love for aerospace engineering and transportation, Tara is also drawn to management and is considering picking it up as a minor. Outside of her studies, she appreciates learning about history and marine biology.  


Her best advice for current high school students is to remember that no matter what, you will end up right where you belong. “I never thought that I would attend UCI, but now that I’m here, I can’t imagine studying anywhere else! University is what you make of it, and if you are able to master your study skills while in high school, you can spend your time in college expanding your knowledge, making new friends, and growing as a person.”


As for her adjustment to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tara admits that “going from being with fellow engineering students all the time to sitting in [her] bedroom with prerecorded lectures” has been a huge adjustment. While she is eager to resume in-person education, Tara does recognize that the fragility of the situation has given her the “courage to take advantage of any and all opportunities…because you never know when things are going to change.”


When it comes to future plans, even though she is only in her second year, Tara is already confident that she wants to attend graduate school for her Masters of Aerospace Engineering. She is also sure of transportation as a focus. “My dream job would be to work at Boeing or to help design sports cars. I grew up around cars, and I could still apply aerospace knowledge to the field. Either way, I want to help make transportation more efficient, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and exciting!”


Tara’s success story is a testimony to the power of both scholarships and outreach programs for high schoolers, like that of WTS-OC’s. We can’t wait to see how she will continue to impact the field of transportation, and how her involvement with WTS-OC grows!


About the Author:

Adylbek Abdykalikov is a recent graduate of the International Public Policy and Management Program at USC Price. He has working experience in various positions at the Ministries of Transport and Communication and Investment and Development of Kazakhstan and was in charge of Transportation and Civil Aviation policy development and implementation. He served as the lead writer to METRANS Newsletter and lead student event coordinator for METRANS and PSR.