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Munushian Obit

Energetic Leader Also Served as First Chair of Computer Science Department

June 01, 2005 —


Emeritus Professor Jack Munushian: September 6,1923- May 29,2005
Jack Munushian, a scientist, educator and leader who played a major role in the development of the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, died Saturday, May 29, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles of heart failure.  He was 81.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, June 2, at 11:00 a.m. at St. Gregory Armenian Church, 2215 East Colorado in Pasadena.
"To an extent few people realize, we at the Viterbi School live in a house that Jack built," said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos. "Our eminence in computer science and distance education grows directly out of his hard work and foresight."
Educated as a physicist, Munushian began teaching at USC's school of engineering, while he was still working at the Hughes Aircraft Company where he eventually became the head of the Applied Physics Division.  Munushian and the engineering school's charismatic dean, Zohrab Kaprielian, had met and become close friends while attending graduate school together at UC-Berkeley. Munushian became a fulltime USC assistant professor in 1967 and was an emeritus professor at the time of his death.
Munushian wrote a successful proposal that made USC part of the Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP), a major research program funded jointly by the Army, Navy and Air Force.
"There were only a dozen U.S. universities that had JSEP in the early sixties and this enabled the engineering school to get on the research map," said William Steier, professor of electrical engineering.
Munushian had a vision for a new way to educate engineers by using television.  He persuaded the Olin Foundation to help the school of engineering establish the Instructional Television Network (ITV) in 1972 and used his ties with Hughes, Aerospace Corporation (where he had worked before joining Hughes) and other Southern California aerospace companies to make ITV successful. 
State of the art for its time, ITV beamed graduate lectures directly from USC to numerous specially equipped classrooms located at aerospace company offices and factories throughout Southern California. This arrangement enabled working engineers to continue their education without interrupting their careers, a concept that continues today in the Viterbi School's Distance Education Network (DEN).
In 1988, when the Institute of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers awarded its highly coveted Major Educational Innovation Award to Munushian for his ITV achievement, the school had recorded more than 50,000 ITV enrollments.
"The school of engineering has awarded thousands of M.S. degrees to part-time students who took their classes largely or entirely by television," commented Professor George Bekey in a letter supporting Munushian's nomination. "Let me emphasize that the success of this system would not exist were it not for the vision of this one man."
"We no longer use television," said DEN executive director Kelly Goulis, "but we still rigorously honor Jack Munushian's insistence that distance education be in every respect on a par with instruction on campus."
Though he was trained as a materials scientist, Munushian organized the Department of Computer Science, now one of the Viterbi School's largest and strongest departments and served as its first chair from 1972 to 1976.
Bekey paid tribute to Munushian's modesty and his skill in putting the new unit together and in creating a home for it with a new building, the Henry Salvatori Computer Science Center. "I saw him take it from idea to reality, and then quietly step aside.  Jack worked in the background, and did not seek the limelight."
Munushian was born September 6, 1923 in Rochester N.Y, where he later attended the University of Rochester, receiving a B.S. in Physics in 1948, and a Ph.D. also in Physics in 1954 from UC-Berkeley.  He was a resident of the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.