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Energy Entrepreneur John Mork and Family Give $15 Million to Name a Department

The gift will support interdisciplinary research in chemical engineering, materials science and petroleum engineering

September 16, 2005 —
Energy entrepreneur John Mork and his family have given $15 million to the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering to name the newly merged Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, which includes petroleum engineering, the program from which Mork received his degree in 1970.
L-R: Dean Yannis Yortsos, John Mork, USC President Steven Sample, Julie Mork, Alison Mork and Kyle Mork stand in front of a new department banner.  Irene Fertik photo.
The gift from Mork, chief executive officer of the Denver-based Energy Corporation of America (ECA), his wife, Julie, and children Kyle and Alison, establishes a new name for the department: the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Since 1989, petroleum engineering has been a program within chemical engineering.
“Advances at the nano-bio-chemical interface will have a significant impact on many fronts, including our ability to develop a new means of energy production, for example, through fuel cells and new materials to facilitate the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen,” said Mork, who oversees ECA, a privately held company that would rank among the top 50 largest oil and gas companies in the country if it were publicly owned.
“This gift is the largest ever naming gift for any academic department of the University of Southern California," said USC President Steven B. Sample, at the announcement ceremony, held Sept. 16, 2005, on Bloom Walk. "We are deeply indebted to John Mork, who is a visionary alumnus and partner committed to academic endeavors of the highest caliber.”
The Mork family's naming gift will allow the department to strengthen its research and teaching in fields of vital importance to society, while enabling faculty and students to collaborate across disciplines.
"This gift will also help the school and the university to carry out the vision set forth in USC's latest Strategic Plan," said Sample.    "One of the three main pillars of our new plan is to solve societal problems.  Chemical engineering and materials science possess great potential for helping to transform the world by helping to find or create new forms of energy, by advancing the fields of medicine and nanotechnology, and by enhancing the quality of life for countless people around the world."
Mork addresses the crowd.               
An Opportune Time
Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos, a chemical engineer, said the departments of chemical engineering and materials science were merged at an opportune time to maximize faculty expertise and encouage collaborative efforts.
"This gift, along with the merger, is propelling an exciting synergy of research interests among the chemical engineering, materials science and petroleum engineering faculty, and strengthening our teaching, particularly for undergraduates,” he said. “The named department will be one of only four named chemical engineering departments in the country.
 "We have the vision that this department will help us make great advances in research and education in the fields of energy, nanotechnology, and biotechnology, and that it will help attract and retain engineering students in their chosen fields, particularly in petroleum engineering, which is John's own field," he added.
The Morks, whose gift coincides with the celebration of USC’s 125th anniversary and a century of engineering at the Viterbi School, have earmarked a portion of the gift specifically for retention.
"You are getting a better education and better preparation for life than you realize," Mork told hundreds of students in the audience. "With the talents and tools that you have,  you will be more successful even than your dreams. I guarantee it."
 Both chemical engineering and petroleum engineering have been part of USC almost since the first engineering courses were offered during the 1905-06 academic year. Because of the oil boom in Southern California at that time, many of USC’s early chemical engineers studied petroleum engineering. In 1922, USC awarded its first engineering master’s degree to U. Soe Theim in chemical engineering even though USC had yet to grant any B.S. degrees in chemical engineering. Theim wrote his thesis on cracking petroleum.
Mork, who played baseball as an undergraduate, dons a Trojan national championship baseball cap during the celebration.  Irene Fertik photo.
 When USC established a College of Engineering in 1927, chemical and petroleum engineering were two of the five original departments. Petroleum engineering flourished as an academic department in the post-World War II years, until in 1989, it merged with chemical engineering. In contrast, materials science did not become a department until 1965. Since 1989, it has been a graduate program offering masters and doctoral degrees.

From Bioengineering to Molecular Thermodynamics
Today, the Viterbi School’s chemical engineering research spans such areas as bioengineering, peptide and protein design, polymers, rheology, statistical and molecular thermodynamics, reactor design, fluid mechanics and molecular transport processes. The petroleum engineering program is one of the oldest and most academically respected programs of its kind in the country and is the key player in the Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies (CiSoft), funded by Chevron and others, to improve oil and gas exploration and production efficiency.

Materials science faculty at the Viterbi School have been investigating the properties and data-processing capabilities of metallic, semiconductor, ceramic and biomaterials, and developing advanced semiconductor materials and nanostructures.  At the Viterbi School’s Gill Composites Center, faculty are developing and studying new composite materials.

“These two departments have been relatively small but very distinguished,” Yortsos said.  “We will work to expand the faculty from 14, the current number of fulltime faculty, to about 20,” said Yortsos.  “Furthermore, the materials science faculty will now be available to teach a larger number of undergraduate students.”

The Morks looking over a geological survey of possible gas reserves.
  The Mork family’s gift is the second gift to name an engineering department at USC and is one of several major gifts received by the Viterbi School of Engineering since the inception of its $300-million fundraising initiative.  

Mork and his wife, Julie, who live in Denver, built an oil and gas exploration and production company from the ground up. Today, Energy Corporation of America is an industry powerhouse with more than 5,000 gas-producing wells across the United States and New Zealand.
In 2002, Mork became a member of the Viterbi School Board of Councilors, and in 2003, he received the Viterbi School’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
His daughter, Alison, graduated in May 2005 from the Marshall School of Business.  Son Kyle, a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell University, is pursing an advanced degree through the Viterbi School’s Distance Education Network master’s degree program in petroleum engineering.

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--Diane Ainsworth