Logo: University of Southern California

If You Build It, They Will Come

Historical Hughes Aircraft Cohort Reunites in Celebration of 20 Year Dedication Anniversary
Tiffanie Jan Lee
November 14, 2012 —

Two decades ago, Hughes Aircraft donated a naming gift to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, forever transforming the landscape of University Park Campus, as well as spurring the development of one of the nation's premier electrical engineering programs.

Since then, the Hughes Aircraft Electrical Engineering Center has been the home for the now Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering during its ascent as a premier institution, one that continues to foster some of the nation's top engineering and scientific talent.

This transformational gift enabled decades — and counting — of competitive engineering curriculum and programs at the Viterbi School, and the story of this gift is a history as rich as the future it propagated.

In the early 1950's, USC Engineering became a lightning rod for attracting top electronics talent from Hughes Aircraft. Being that both institutions were native to Southern California, these neighbors naturally found themselves developing a robust partnership.

At its height, Hughes Aircraft had more than 80,000 employees, most of which were based in California, making Hughes Aircraft the state's largest industrial employer. Many employees were USC students and alumni, engineers who would play a role in some of Hughes' greatest success stories: the first radar-guided air-to-missile, the first functional laser, the first geosynchronous communications satellite, the commercialization of satellites and the creation of XM Radio and DirecTV.

Many of these 1,000 plus graduate fellowships would also develop into some of USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s finest faculty and researchers. Mark Markkula, USC alumnus, co-founder of Apple Computer and former Hughes employee, was a beneficiary—one of many—of this fellowship.

Moreover, Hughes Aircraft's early partnership with DEN@Viterbi, the Viterbi School's distance education network, paved the way for modern distance learning. Forty years ago, the first distance classes with Hughes employees were conducted via the then Norma Topping Instructional Television Network (ITV)'s closed circuit TV. This partnership would also serve as the spiritual predecessor of the Viterbi School’s recently unveiled iPodia program.

Originally founded in 1932 by the eponymous Howard Hughes, Hughes Aircraft eventually dissolved in 2006. But for nearly 75 years, Hughes Aircraft was a veritable national treasure, one responsible for laying the groundwork of the American aerospace industry.

Hughes Aircraft’s leadership at the peak of the Cold War demonstrated an undisputed dedication to building a strong and competitive domestic industry—a dedication from its opening chapter to its epilogue.

The simple truth is that Hughes Aircraft was among USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s strongest and most consistent corporate allies. Both stories are inextricably bound, so much so that when USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s need for greater office space and facilities for electrical engineering became clear, it was Hughes Aircraft once again that conferred support—and its name. 

Today, Hughes Aircraft’s legacy continues to resonate throughout the aerospace and electronics industries, and the Hughes Aircraft Electrical Engineering Center continues to stand tall on the Viterbi School's campus. And it continues to teach electrical engineering students that innovation is the mother—the spark—of all invention. It is an idea so powerful that it transcends dissolution. Lightning can, and may very well, strike twice.

Please click the Play button to view a slideshow of the 20th Anniversary event. You may also visit here to download full-resolution photos.