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Press Release

Bob Calverley
USC School of Engineering


Tracy Olmstead Williams
Casey Sayre & Williams
(310) 396 400

Cell Phone Pioneer Endows Viterbi School of Engineering

LOS ANGELES – Andrew J. and Erna Viterbi today gave $52 million to the University of Southern California, lending a name that has become a legend in information theory, telecommunications and entrepreneurship to the university’s School of Engineering.

“We are deeply grateful to Andrew and Erna Viterbi for this extraordinary gift, which will forever associate USC’s engineering school with one of the most illustrious engineering names of our times,” said USC President Steven B. Sample in announcing the gift.

“As an academic, an entrepreneur, a corporate leader, an alumnus of this university and a member of our Board of Trustees, Andrew Viterbi has demonstrated intellectual dexterity, creativity, and spirit in every arena," Sample continued. "The Viterbis' gift to USC will serve as a powerful catalyst for bold research and innovation in an engineering school that is experiencing a rapid ascent.”

Engineering dean C.L. Max Nikias added, "To have our School bear the name of the creator of the Viterbi Algorithm and the co-founder of Qualcomm Corporation will be a source of tremendous pride for our faculty, students and alumni. His is one of the most brilliant careers in engineering history -- and he is a USC alumnus, one of our own."

Nikias said the $52 million gift would increase the endowment of the School, ranked #8 nationally by US News and World Report (and #4 among private institutions) and “help us strengthen our position among elite engineering schools by broadening our fields of excellence and by recruiting and retaining excellent faculty and students.”

Viterbi, who received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from USC in 1962, said: “My wife and I believe our contribution here will do more to further engineering and engineering education – goals we have supported through our entire 45-year marriage – than anywhere else. We are impressed by the extraordinary strides the School has taken and want that progress to continue and accelerate.”
As a researcher and professor of electrical engineering, Viterbi worked in information theory and is best known for the algorithm published in the late 1960s that bears his name. It allows rapid and accurate decoding of a plethora of overlapping signals. One key set of applications of the algorithm allows numerous cell phones to communicate without interfering with each other and today the algorithm is embedded in hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide.

Viterbi and colleagues developed one such system: Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA, the technology standard for most cell phones in North America. The Viterbi Algorithm is also used in rival cell systems. “He is a true pioneer,” said Nikias. "The cell phone technology he created touches hundreds of millions of lives every day."

Viterbi Algorithm applications extend beyond cell phones to voice recognition programs and even DNA analysis. For this and other scientific achievements, Viterbi has been honored by membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a recipient of the Shannon, Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell awards, three of the top honors in communication technology, as well as other awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and from foundations in Europe.

Early in his career, Viterbi held academic appointments at UCLA and then UC San Diego. “As an academic, he was and is outstanding,” said Nikias. “He would be a star on the faculty of any engineering school in the world. And, in fact, he has in addition to his gift accepted our offer to join our faculty here, which is a major gift in and of itself.”

Viterbi will be a professor of electrical engineering-systems and hold the Presidential Chair of Engineering.

Viterbi’s entrepreneurial acumen is equally outstanding, Nikias noted. He is a co-founder of Linkabit, a telecommunications consulting company, and a co-founder of cell phone giant Qualcomm.
Qualcomm is now a Fortune 500 corporation with its stock price computed into the Standard and Poor 500 index. The company is noted for technological innovation (it holds more than 1,000 patents) and has recently been recognized by Industry Week as one of the “100 Best Managed Companies;” and by Fortune as one of the “100 Best Companies in America to Work For.”

The Viterbis’ gift is the largest ever to name an existing school of engineering and it brings the School approximately to the halfway mark in its recently announced $300 million fundraising initiative. It is the sixth multimillion dollar school naming gift to come to USC under the administration of USC President Sample, following donations to the Keck School of Medicine (1999, $110 million), the Thornton School of Music (1999, $25 million); the Rossier School of Education (1998, $20 million); the Marshall School of Business (1997, $35 million); and the Leventhal School of Accounting (1995, $15 million)
The Viterbi School currently has 23 faculty who are members of the National Academy of Engineering, the fourth highest total among the nation’s private universities. With more than $135 million in annual research expenditures, it consistently ranks in the top three nationally in funding per tenured faculty member.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is the only school in California, and one of only four in the nation, to house two active National Science Foundation supported Engineering Research Centers. For the first of these, the Integrated Media Systems Center, it placed first in a 1996 competition among 117 universities. For the second, the Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Center established in 2003, it was first among 79. In 2003, USC bested a field of 72 to become the site of the Department of Homeland Security’s first Center of Excellence,

The Viterbi School now enrolls 1,858 undergraduate and 3,325 graduate students, including 915 Ph.D. students and 2,410 masters degree candidates. About 800 of the latter are pursuing their studies through the school’s innovative Distance Education Network.