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.
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
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
"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."
An Opportune Time
Mork addresses the crowd.
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
"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
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
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
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
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