Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School Celebrates a Momentous Gift to Name the Department of Electrical Engineering

A record-breaking gift will go to department endowment and new scholarship program for mainland China transfer students

October 23, 2006 — Close to a thousand faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the Viterbi School’s Board of Councilors (BOC) gathered in the Ronald Tutor Hall Courtyard Oct. 23 to celebrate the naming of the Viterbi School’s storied electrical engineering department, 100 years after engineering began at USC.
Ming Hsieh, left, with USC President Steven B. Sample.

Thanks to a $35-million gift from alumnus Ming Hsieh, BSEE ’83, MSEE ’84, the department will now be called the USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering.

Hsieh is co-founder, CEO and chairman of the board of Cogent, Inc., the leading provider of fingerprint identification systems in the United States. His gift is the largest ever given to name an engineering department in the country.

“Today, Ming is making history by giving back to his alma mater, thus leaving an indelible fingerprint on electrical engineering at USC and on the world at large,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “His is a statement of faith and confidence in this university that transcends time, distance and culture.”

Seated on the platform with Yortsos were USC President Steven B. Sample and Hsieh. Provost C. L. “Max” Nikias and his wife, Niki, Hsieh’s wife, Fong Liu, and Andrew J. and Erna Viterbi, for whom the School is named, were seated in the front row.

Also in attendance were USC senior vice presidents Todd Dickey, Dennis Dougherty, Martha Harris and Alan Kreditor, and the two electrical engineering department chairs Daniel Dapkus, chair of the electrophysics half, and Alexander “Sandy” Sawchuk, chair of the systems half.  BOC members included Jim Baum, chairman of the board, Gordon Anderson, Sonny Astani, Greg Brandow, Dave Chonette, Leo Chu, John Deininger, Tom Gephart, John Johnson, former BOC chairman Jay Kear, Ken Klein, David Lane, John Shea and Pete Staudhammer.
The new Hsieh banner is unveiled amid confetti and music by the Trojan Marching Band.

“One hundred years ago, electrical engineering gave birth to the Viterbi School,” Yortsos said. “In the century that ensued, EE propelled the School forward, as well as Southern California and the nation, with marvelous discoveries, new inventions and creative technological breakthroughs.  Such technologies have become an integral component of contemporary culture and society. Today, electrical engineering at USC is propelling the School to yet higher peaks that span time and global horizons.”

After a drum roll and some Trojan music to unveil a new USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering banner above the entrance to the Electrical Engineering Building, Yortsos presented Hsieh with a framed print of the banner.

President Sample, an electrical engineer and aa tenured faculty member in the department, characterized Hsieh as a “great Trojan who cares deeply about educating future engineers and who cares deeply about helping his alma mater continue its dramatic ascent into the top tiers of the world’s engineering schools.

“What he has done today for USC will be a shining legacy for future generations of Trojans,” Sample continued.  “His generosity adds immeasurably to the Viterbi School’s luster and promise, and will serve to inspire our faculty, our students and our alumni.”  

Shaking Sample’s hand, Hsieh said he was “honored and surprised” by the celebration.
Hsieh at the microphone.

“I came to USC as a foreign student and USC opened the door for me to look more into America,” Hsieh said.  “I was able to learn about technologies that enabled me to … succeed.”

Most of the Ming Hsieh gift will be used to strengthen the Viterbi School’s recruitment efforts and its ability to hire world-class faculty, as well as attract top graduate and undergraduate students. Part of the gift will also be used to create the Fong Liu scholarship endowment to support students who come to USC from mainland China.

“We are so fortunate to have an engineer of Ming’s caliber on our team,” said Daniel Dapkus, chair of EE-Electrophysics. “Ming’s knowledge of massively parallel computing architectures, high data flow management and biometric computing will have an important impact on our department and faculty, and add impetus to the directions we are headed academically in the next few years.”

“The students, faculty, staff and alumni of the department of electrical engineering join me in gratitude to Ming Hsieh for his very generous naming gift,” added Alexander “Sandy” Sawchuk, chair of EE-Systems.  “I know this gift will greatly benefit our academic and research programs, enhance our visibility and raise our stature to even higher levels.”

The electrical engineering department has 54 tenured or tenure-track faculty and is the Viterbi School’s largest department, as well as one of the largest of its kind in the nation.  The department has 11 faculty who are members of the National Academy of Engineering, three of whom are also members of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Four have received the Claude Shannon Award, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers highest award in information theory.

The department is known for basic and applied research that led to the global revolution in digital communications.  USC electrical engineers led the research efforts to create the JPEG and MPEG compression standards on the Internet. The department has held a prominent position in other areas of digital and wireless communications, ultra-wide band radio, fiber optics, quantum information-processing and nanotechnology.
Dean Yortsos, left, presents Hsieh with a framed print of the new banner. Andrew Viterbi is second from right, with USC President Steven Sample on far right.

In addition to the gift announcement, the dean’s board room on the fifth floor of Tutor Hall was named after Hsieh.  President Sample, Dean Yortsos, senior administrators and members of the Viterbi School BOC joined in a ceremonial unveiling of the glass sign bearing Hsieh’s name.

The Hsieh gift is the third department naming gift in the Viterbi School’s history. Alumnus Daniel J. Epstein named the the USC Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 2002 and in September 2005, alumnus John Mork endowed the USC Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.  Also, in March 2006, alumnus Ken Klein endowed the Klein Institute of Undergraduate Engineering Life (KIUEL), the only one of its kind dedicated to undergraduate engineering activities outside of the classroom.