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Remarks by Dean C. L. Max Nikias

April 20, 2005 —

I am delighted to see such a strong faculty and staff turnout for our annual luncheon tradition: the report from the dean.

Seeing you gathered as a group, with your vast range of skills and your unity of purpose, I can say with honesty and conviction that the state of the school – and its future – looks terrific from here.

Viterbi School Dean C.L. Max Nikias.

Four years ago, I began my administration by telling everyone that the key to academic excellence was a strong and superb faculty.

Thank you for proving my point.

While we’ve already honored some special people today, let me salute a few others among you who have distinguished us all by their accomplishments over the past year:

Sandy Sawchuk earned the Optical Society of America’s Distinguished Service Award.

Ramesh Govindan, Maja Mataric and Ari Requicha won Okawa Foundation grants.

Todd Brun recently received an NSF Faculty Early Career Award.

Cyrus Shahabi won a great honor: the Presidential Early Career Award.

Iraj Ershagi was elected a national Director-at-Large in the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Firdaus Udwadia has been elected a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering.

Milind Tambe earned the Autonomous Agents Research Award from the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).

Hank Koffman was elected to the board of directors of the Construction Management Association of America Foundation.

Terry Langdon won the Structural Materials Division Distinguished Materials Scientist/Engineer Award for 2005. 

Jim Moore earned the Women’s Transportation Seminar-Los Angeles Chapter Diversity Leadership Award.

And just last week, it was announced that Barry Boehm would be receiving the Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring at USC.

We just learned that Timothy Pinkston received the Distinguished Alumni Award from his undergraduate alma mater, the College of Engineering at Ohio State University.
And Dan Dapkus has added to his long list of honors with the 2005 Optical Society of America Nick Holonyak Award. The Holonyak Award is one of the major technical honors of the OSA.

Finally, let’s remember the friends that we lost: Bob Kalaba and Neil Pings.

At this point, I usually take a look back at the milestones of our year. After reviewing my notes, I think I could recite a litany that could kill our afternoon. But I don’t think you want that, and neither do I.  What we need today is a look forward.

I am going to list a few things that we have now that we didn’t have four years ago. I’m doing it because they position us for the future.

We have a new name, and it’s the envy of engineering schools everywhere.

We have two ERCs — and that sets us apart. Only four universities in the nation can make that statement.

We have the new Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization, and that will make a difference, not only for our research, but also for our educational programs. SITeC is an asset that no other engineering school has, and it’s in an area by which engineering schools will be increasingly judged.

We have a new research center for homeland security. When it came time to pick the best place to begin a new and critical national research effort, our country picked us.

We also have an essentially new distance learning effort. Our Distance Education Network reinvented itself overnight to emerge as the largest and most progressive e-learning graduate engineering program in the nation.

That’s a critical asset not only for us, but also for the entire future of engineering education. DEN has already helped us form productive partnerships in two major industries and forward-looking universities in three great nations.

We have Tutor Hall and all that it represents.
Most importantly, we have terrific new faculty and shining new students.

Together, they form the beginning and end of any meaningful look at the state of a school.

Ours looks great!

As you all know, on June first, I will assume new duties as the provost of the University of Southern California. The assignment is humbling, the responsibility is challenging and the opportunity is, indeed, priceless.

I love USC and all that it stands for.

I’m charged with helping one of the most influential university presidents of the last half-century, Steven B. Sample, accelerate USC onto an even higher trajectory.

Instead of being satisfied, President Sample believes, and I agree, that now is the time to redouble our efforts to become an elite 21st century research university.

The assignment — and I’m not going to lie to you — quite frankly thrills me. I expect the work to be hard, but also fun, and a rare opportunity to work closely with one of the most accomplished presidents in the history of American higher education. The accompanying pressures – the challenge of taking a great university still farther down the road – will make it exhilarating.

USC’s ascendancy rests on three pillars.  They are cross-disciplinary research and education, globalization, and learner-centered education, and we have to accelerate all three.  We need major investments in the biological and medical sciences, in nanotechnology, and in information technology and communications. We must strive to rapidly commercialize our inventions so that people everywhere can enjoy the fruits of our labor sooner rather than later.

We must continue to stretch USC’s global reach with new partnerships that transcend political and geographical boundaries. We are already the number one destination for international students.  USC is a brightly shining beacon in Southern California, where international students and students from the United States pursue their dreams together.

I’m sure everyone in this room is thrilled about how dramatically the quality of USC’s students has been rising.  But our responsibility as faculty, to engage the educational needs of these very bright young people, has also been growing rapidly. 

Our world is newly digital. Information has never been more easily accessible. The learning environment has changed and will continue to change. Se need to develop new methods and 21st century paradigms of learning and teaching.

I’m sure none of this sounds strange to you, for the Viterbi School has been a leader at USC in all three of these areas.  But we are the USC Viterbi School.  We are part of USC, which has some other parts. The USC College is the beating heart of the university and it will continue to be the beating heart.  The USC Keck School of Medicine has been a pioneer in medical sciences and will continue to be.  

The arts and the humanities at USC will be a huge part of implementing our goals. The arts and humanities will be intimately involved in addressing the core values of our strategic plan: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, ethics, diversity, risk-taking, and many other issues of profound societal importance.

And yes, the very first large initiative that I’ll be announcing as provost — with a major commitment behind it — will be the arts and humanities, for addressing the core values of our strategic plan to the students, faculty, USC community and beyond.

By now you all know that USC is 125 years old this year.  But did you know that engineering at USC is 100 years old?  Yes, the very first engineering courses were offered during the 1905-1906 academic year. 

We will be celebrating 100 years of USC engineering later this year with many activities.  Many of you will be called upon to participate.
A national search to produce a permanent dean for the Viterbi School will begin in September. By that time, one of my most important responsibilities as provost will be to co-chair the search committee. But the final decision on who is appointed as the new dean will rest with President Sample.

In the meantime, President Sample has named Yannis Yortsos as the new dean for an interim period, effective June 1. As you all know, Yannis is an outstanding colleague in whom I have complete confidence.

He is also a great friend of the faculty. He has played a key role in all our achievements, and he has been deeply involved in the planning of our ongoing initiatives to take the school forward.

Yannis will lead a school with the right people, plans and resources to carry on its remarkable rise.

I want to thank you in advance for extending the powerful support that carried me through over to him. I know you will. You have been the primary source of our success over the past four years. And I am confident we will continue our climb into the future.

Yannis, would you please come up to the podium.

[Yortsos delivers brief remarks.]

I’m going to close now by telling you of those am I most proud of.  I ask them to stand as I call their names.

Yannis Yortsos

Randy Hall

Herb Schorr

Margie Dufford

Christopher Stoy, Barbara Myers, Bob Calverley and the whole External Relations team… Isadora, Joyce, Kirstin, Matt…

Louise Yates

Margie Berti

Sue Lewis

David Murphy

Kelly Goulis

And Cynthia Harrison

Thank you for everything.  You are the best.