UCLA Engineering Student Combines Love of Music, Video Games with Desire to Solve Real-World Problems | UCLA Samueli School Of Engineering

For Ryan Rusch, music has always been a part of his life. He played the flute, the synthesizer, and even conducted an orchestra during high school. Now, the third-year materials science and engineering student at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has become a piccolo player in the UCLA Marching Band.

“It’s been incredibly fun, from the rehearsals to the parties and games,” Rusch said. “I’ve gotten really close with many of the people in my section, and though it’s a lot of work, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made at UCLA. One of my biggest regrets is not getting involved earlier.”

Growing up in the small Central Valley farming community of Strathmore, California, Rusch loved studying math, science and history. When he got tired of studying one subject, he would switch to the next and found himself binge-reading Wikipedia articles for fun. He showed an early interest in building-themed video games, spending hours playing “Cities Skylines” and “Factorio.” He was also fond of music, be it flute and piano lessons, or participating in his high school’s marching band and symphony orchestra. But playing ensembles came to an end when the COVID-19 pandemic struck his senior year. It wasn’t until he auditioned for the Bruin Marching Band in the summer of 2023 that he would play in an ensemble again.

Before starting at UCLA, Rusch attended the charter school Harmony Magnet Academy, where students are able to specialize in engineering, a rare opportunity for the youth who otherwise would not have had the exposure. It was at the academy where Rusch learned the basics of computer-aided design, engineering drawings, prototyping, digital electronics and computer-integrated manufacturing. The experience inspired him to pursue engineering over arts, the other specialty the school offered.

After outpacing the most advanced classes offered in his high school, Rusch took AP statistics and multivariable calculus through Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth program and took a dual-enrollment chemistry course at Porterville College during his junior year. Rusch said the class was taught by one of the best teachers he has ever had, and it inspired him to pursue a chemistry-related degree in college.

Following in the footsteps of his older sister, who graduated from UCLA in 2020, Rusch became a Bruin and pursued materials science and engineering for its heavy use of chemistry and because his favorite video games sparked his curiosity about the small building blocks of the universe.

“I’ve met so many new people, and I’ve diversified my time,” said Ryan Rusch of his experience at UCLA. “The most fulfilling chapters of my life are being written as I open up myself to new possibilities.”

At UCLA Samueli, Rusch worked on artificial muscles utilizing dielectric elastomers in the lab of Qibing Pei, a professor and vice chair for undergraduate education in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. He also took a course with Ximin He, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. Finding inspiration in He’s graduate-level course on biologically-inspired materials, Rusch got involved in her research group, working with liquid-crystal elastomers — a class of soft-robotic materials.

Outside of class, Rusch is heavily involved in the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, where he has tutored students and participated in a science demonstration at a local elementary school. He served as an officer on the Engineering Minds, Cultivating Creativity committee, helping organize science demonstration events. Now, as the committee director, he is in charge of coordinating volunteers and communicating with school administrators to facilitate events and science demonstrations — all while juggling the nine classes he took this quarter.

In an effort to diversify his research interests, Rusch found an opportunity last fall working with a doctoral student of Kirsten Schwarz, an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The duo worked on a sustainable urban agriculture project with the nonprofit Crop Swap LA, aiming to quantify the costs and benefits of the current food systems and propose a more equitable framework for evaluating food systems. He presented his research during the campus-wide Undergraduate Research Week in May and is working toward coauthoring his first paper this summer.

Rusch is also enrolled in UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, where he works with the Veterans Administration in West LA to explore different avenues to address housing insecurity, urban gardening, waste management and health for veterans.

Off campus, Rusch holds an internship at NDS, a company that manufactures stormwater-management, drip-irrigation and flow-management products for global sale. He has been with the company since the summer of 2022, currently working as an operations intern to automate systems for optimized efficiency.

“I enjoyed this position because it has given me a wide variety of ways to think, with many different tools and projects,” Rusch said. “While I thought manufacturing would be boring, this idea of solutions engineering was really fun to me.”

Rusch said he hopes to find an internship that will turn into full-time employment after he graduates in spring 2025. But for now, he continues to enjoy his time as a Bruin engineer.

“I’ve met so many new people, and I’ve diversified my time,” Rusch said. “The most fulfilling chapters of my life are being written as I open up myself to new possibilities.”