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Father and Son Are Model Mentors

Helping undergraduates is a Viterbi School focus — and the Redekopps are leading the way
July 12, 2012 —

Viterbi School mentoring has an unusual dimension: like father, like son.

Professor Larry Redekopp, who has been on the faculty of the Department of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering for 42 years, this year won a Mellon Undergraduate Mentoring Award.

Professors Redekopp: father Larry, left, and son Mark.
His son, Viterbi alumnus Mark Redekopp (BS EECE ’99, MS CompSci ’01), became an Associate Professor of Engineering Practice in the EE-Systems Department two years ago following enthusiastic, near-perfect ratings by students, and winning the 2010 USC Viterbi School Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.

Redekopp senior is enjoying a rare summer without research or teaching in his office in the Rapp Building and began a conversation by praising the culture of the Viterbi School and its dean. “I find Yannis to be the most protective, supportive and even enthusiastic dean when it comes to mentoring and cheering for undergrad study support,” he said. “He’s been very forthright and outspoken as a backer of quality undergraduate education.”

The Viterbi School’s unique Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life (KIUEL) further buttresses the mentoring culture. “The students see this as an institutional positive,” he continued. “Students are incentivized. Leadership values need to be a tangible element for them.”

Redekopps’s own mentoring work builds on this foundation, adding his personal elements that focus on regarding students as colleagues, with teacher respect for the students as a prime concept. “I see the student as a co-learner,” he says. “And the return is your personal satisfaction as you see the student develop and grow. It was a personal challenge, and you [as mentor] succeeded.”

Others have observed Redekopp mentoring in action and admire what they see. He has received four previous USC awards for

Click on the image to read a 2008 Q&A with Larry Redekopp on mentoring, following a previous award
teaching excellence, in 1979, 1980, 1986 and 1991. His colleague, AME Professor Geoffrey Shiflet wrote Redekopp’s nomination for the mentoring award.

“For many of the forty plus years he has taught at USC, Larry served as one of the two go-to undergraduate advisors in the then Department of Aerospace Engineering. He took the time to listen to individual student concerns/desires and guide students through the labyrinth of University rules and regulations to help them achieve their academic goals... I've been teaching at USC for about thirty years and throughout that period I have been hearing from students who recount how Larry, with both advice and instructional guidance, has influenced their lives. Most amazing to me is how he can meet students years after they have graduated and still remember their names and details of their discussions in his office.”

Shiflet also noted that as a result of Redekopp being a repeat winner of teaching awards, the School created “the unofficial ‘Redekopp Rule’ (no one can win the Excellence in Teaching award more than once) in recognition of the fact that otherwise he would be a regular repeat winner.”

Mentoring begins in the home, and a smiling Redekopp recalled encouraging and helping son Mark and his older brother and sister (both of whom are B.S./M.S. Viterbi School alumni).

Mark did not recall any specific mentoring moment from his father. “But I was really glad he was around when I needed to understand calculus.”

Larry Redekopp, center, received his 2012 Mellon Mentoring Award  from Erica Muhl and Timothy Pinkston, co-chairs of the USC Mellon Mentoring Forum.
Redekopp fils, coming to the faculty right after receiving his M.S. has been teaching at the school since 2002 and is now finishing up his Ph.D. under Viktor Prasanna while he teaches computer analysis to undergraduates. He is also an Engineering Education Division faculty member.

“He has had a very significant role as instructor and course developer for several of our required EE and CE/CS undergraduate courses,” noted the announcement of his appointment as associate professor. “He has been a leader in developing new course content for freshman and sophomore students as well as upper-level undergraduate capstone design courses.”

And here are some of the comments from these students. “One of if not the best professor at USC; take every class you can from him.” “Known to be the best professor in the engineering school.” “I have never had a teacher explain things so clearly.” “The best USC has to offer.”

How does he teach? “You have to care about the students,” said the younger Redekopp. "And you have to be perceptive, to understand student response. It can’t just be you talking.”