USC Adapts to Growing Student Interest in Cryptocurrency - | Jewelry Dukan


Potential USC students who dream of studying cryptocurrency or blockchain technology may soon be able to do so as interest in the burgeoning space grows among the university’s student body.

Cryptocurrency is a digital token that uses blockchain, a decentralized ledger of all online transactions over a peer-to-peer network. Transactions take place online securely and without intermediaries.

USC’s first blockchain class was taught by Professor Nitin Kalé at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering in the fall of 2017. Kalé also helped create the blockchain minor for the information technology program, making Viterbi one of the first schools in the world to offer an academic program in crypto.

A number of other California universities, such as UC Berkeley and Stanford, have also recently started offering courses on blockchain and crypto. According to a 2019 report by Coinbase, a San Francisco-based company that operates a crypto exchange platform, 56% of the top 50 universities in the world now offer at least one course on crypto or blockchain.

The blockchain minor at Viterbi focuses on the technology and applications of blockchains, and courses within the minor discuss crypto. However, the curriculum does not include financial investing and trading. Kalé said the aim of the program is to educate students on blockchain innovation, its applications and the latest developments in the blockchain space.

“Obviously we cover new growth areas like NFTs, which have been big this year, with a focus on the engineering and technical aspects of such innovation,” Kalé said.

According to Harrison Macdonald, a sophomore majoring in economics, even students with no crypto background can get involved in the community at USC. For students who are interested in the field but have no previous knowledge, he strongly recommends adding the blockchain minor.

“It’s a great introduction to crypto and blockchain. It really describes everything you need to know about going into space,” Macdonald said.

During the pandemic, Macdonald and a couple of his friends started a small crypto fund and traded all sorts of crypto coins including Bitcoin and Ethereum, two of the most popular cryptocurrencies in the market today. According to Macdonald, it’s been an appealing way to spend time with other young investors at USC during the pandemic.

“I’ve been in crypto for quite a long time — ever since I was in high school,” Macdonald said. “I’ve always been very interested in finance, payments, decentralization and all that good stuff. And I’ve always been an entrepreneur. And so I think it was only natural for crypto to be there in some way.”

Recent media attention for cryptocurrencies speaks volumes about their growing presence in the mainstream investment world. Vitalik Buterin, one of the co-founders of Ethereum, appeared in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list of 2021, and AMC recently announced that the theater chain would accept cryptocurrencies for ticket purchases.

Growing blockchain membership at USC, a student-run club focused on teaching students about cryptocurrency and helping them build a network in the space, reflects the rapid evolution of crypto towards the investment and commercial mainstream. Macdonald, who also serves as blockchain president at USC, said the club has seen unprecedented membership growth.

“A few years ago we had about 20 members and now we’ve seen over 200 people join our discord [an instant messaging app that clubs often use] channel from just before the pandemic until now,” he said. “There was an incredible surge of engagement and interest.”

Mike Ma, a data science junior who serves as vice president of blockchain at USC, said the club is trying to become an incubator for blockchain projects. Blockchain at USC is currently the only Viterbi-backed crypto organization and the largest organization in Southern California for crypto.

The explosion of interest in the student-run crypto club isn’t the only change Ma has seen at USC following the pandemic-driven optimism about crypto. Ma said he noticed that as he switched his major from engineering to data science, more professors mentioned Bitcoin and included crypto in classroom discussions.

“It’s a small change, but crypto is everywhere now,” he said. “Everyone talks about it.”

Nor are tech and engineering the only areas where knowledge of crypto is becoming essential. To keep up with the changing dynamics and growing awareness of crypto in recent years, Professor Anthony Dukes of the USC Marshall School of Business said the school plans to add crypto-related topics to its curriculum.

“Our Internet Marketing course MKT 556 is currently being revised for Spring 2022 to include topics related to cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies,” he said.

Macdonald believes that more and more young people will join the crypto space, which will result in more startups and products being created. The most important thing is to exchange ideas with people who work in the actual industry, he said. Blockchain at USC regularly invites guest speakers for members to network with; They recently invited Jesse Powell, the founder of San Francisco-based crypto exchange and bank Kraken, which is now one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency trading exchanges.

“I think there are many opportunities for USC students to get involved and create products in space. And it starts with taking some classes,” he said. “But I also think that joining clubs where you can get more exposure to the actual industry is very important for young people who want to go into that field and start something.”

For Ma, crypto is a wealth equalizer that allows anyone to make money and participate in a global investment network. Being involved in a crypto organization has allowed Ma to travel extensively and meet people from all over the world.

“Crypto is a way for underprivileged people who had no tendency in the traditional technology or big finance world to have a chance to make money,” Ma said. “Anyone can contribute to the Bitcoin network and make money. I think it’s really great to get to know people and their work and learn about their culture at the same time.”

Correction September 30 at 10:30 am: A previous version of this story misspelled Harrison Macdonald’s last name. It has since been corrected.

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