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State of the School, Fall 2006

Dean Yannis Yortsos lays out the state of the Viterbi School in address to faculty and staff.

September 21, 2006 —
State of the School Address
September 21, 2006
Yannis C. Yortsos
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
As we begin a new academic year, a new administration and a new century of USC engineering, I want to take this opportunity to report on our past year and share with you my vision for our future.
It was about this time last year that I posed the school’s immediate challenge: to have a year of no-transition. Did we respond to that challenge?
I believe that with your wholehearted involvement – from all of you – an involvement that I can only characterize as magnificent, the answer to this question is a thunderous yes!
Last year, our school lost a charismatic leader in Max Nikias, along with three important members of its leadership team, Randy Hall, Tom Katsouleas, and Sue Lewis. This practically overnight change could have resulted in uncertainty, lack of direction, perhaps even acrimony.
Yet we navigated this important year in the school’s history with remarkable poise and maturity – and without missing a beat!
Later in the spring, a transition to a permanent dean did take place, but it was accomplished with remarkable efficiency, openness, and, by all accounts, through a highly competitive process – thanks in large part to you and your involvement.
I have been asked countless times the “big-shoes-to-fill” question. Just last week, when I was interviewed for Trojan Vision, the student TV channel, even a Communications major asked it!
The question misses an important point. It misses the gigantic strength that is the faculty and staff of the School, and all our constituencies – students, parents, alumni and friends. Last year I discovered that when they are asked, these constituents would rise as one to support the school, and carry it forward like a tidal wave. I experienced such a wave last year, and I thank you all for it!
Last year – the 100th year of USC engineering – was a milestone all by itself. We marked the occasion by a number of great events. These, and especially the series of department centennial lectures, put the Viterbi School in the spotlight. In fact, we will make this keynote lecture series a permanent annual feature in all departments.
Our faculty produced some wonderful accomplishments, many of which I covered at our spring luncheon, so I will not repeat them now. However, I should again single out the NSF Early Career Awards won by our junior faculty, Igor Devetak, Ellis Meng, Maria Yang and David Kempe, and also Elaine Chew’s PECASE award. More recently, Len Adleman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences; and both Len and Bob Hellwarth were also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And as we proudly announced to the world, the Viterbi School now counts 4 faculty members with a simultaneous appointment in 3 prestigious national academies. I can assure you that this is a rare distinction indeed!  
Bill Steier was the co-winner of the 2006 IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society’s (LEOS) Streifer Scientific Achievement Award for his seminal work on polymer photonic devices and materials, and Sanjit Mitra, who joined us this summer, won the James H. Mulligan, Jr., Education Medal of the IEEE, an honor of the highest rank.
John O'Brien, our new Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, was selected to be a Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society.
George Chilingar added a gold medal of honor by the Armenian Academy of Sciences to his vast collection, and Iraj Ershaghi won the 2006 Technology Transfer Award of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. And just last week we learned that Giuseppe Caire and Gaurav Sukhatme won Okawa Foundation research grants for their work in wireless communications and robotic sensor networks, respectively.
Four terrific new colleagues joined us this fall: Sanjit Mitra, an NAE member, joined EE; Detlof von Winterfeldt shifted his primary appointment from SPPD to the Epstein ISE Department; Yu-yong Chen became a new assistant professor, also in ISE; and Kristian Jessen joined us as an assistant professor in the Mork Family Department. Welcome aboard!
We will proceed aggressively with faculty hiring in the coming year by leveraging the Provost’s initiatives for the recruitment of “star” faculty with joint appointments and for increasing diversity. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s energize ourselves for a concentrated effort to identify and recruit such faculty – faculty who are better than us, and who will help the school strengthen its diversity profile. 
When you are as successful as we have been, stewardship becomes vital. Late in the Spring we had a barrage of successful site visits: Reviews for the two NSF Engineering Research Centers, IMSC, for a record eleventh year and BMES, which underwent its third-year review and received a three-year renewal about ten days ago; CREATE’s third-year review; CENS, jointly with UCLA in its fifth-year review,; and the Center on Ultrasounds (BmE, Kirk Shung). Barring any unpredictable political shifts affecting federal funding policies, I anticipate that CREATE and CENS will join IMSC, BMES and the Center on Ultrasounds, all of which have been already renewed.
Just this month we learned that through the leadership of Bob Lucas at ISI and Priya Vashishta in the Mork Family Department, the Viterbi School will take the lead on more than $20 million in new research programs announced by the U. S. Department of Energy program "Scientific Discovery Through Advanced Computing,” and share in two others.
Our research profile is impressively strong. In fact, I am pleased to report that as of August, our research volume was at its apex. With the leadership of Maja Mataric, our new Senior Associate Dean for Research, we are poised to aggressively promote innovative research across the scales (nano, bio, cogno, quantum), in communications and devices, in energy, sustainable development, infrastructure, health, homeland security, and systems engineering.
Let me summarize some other notable developments:
On the undergraduate front:
We now have full ABET accreditation of all UG programs submitted for accreditation (including first-time programs in CS and CECS). The grateful congratulations of your colleagues go out to those of you who helped in this grueling process. But the good news should be tempered with the realization that the next ABET visit is almost around the corner.
Parenthetically, I would like to mention an anecdote about the rigors of ABET. A faculty member, to remain anonymous, came to my office to ask for a phased-out retirement, in which he will be on a part-time basis for the next couple of years. As we were drafting the letter of agreement, I pointed that his faculty load profile should also involve 10% of his time in service. To which he replied – “Yes, but I explicitly request that the service does not involve ABET, and I want it in writing!” He got his wish.
We will be better prepared to face the ABET challenge next time. I am in the process of creating a new division of engineering education, which among other things will coordinate accreditation and general assessment issues.
Last year, we inaugurated the KIUEL institute – with outside-the-classroom activities that will help in retention, and also with the University’s initiative Visions and Voices on the arts and humanities. The program has been launched with considerable early success.
A new BS degree in CS (Games) through the GamePipe Lab has been approved and enthusiastically received. In fact, just last week, Channel 11 News came to campus to interview Mike Zyda on the program.
And a new BS degree in ChE (Nanotechnology) will be launched this Fall.
In a program that is probably unique in the nation, we are collaborating with Marshall and Annenberg for a common capstone design course – and for a minor in Interactive Marketing.
We are aggressively addressing academic integrity issues under Steve Bucher’s leadership.
On the Graduate Education front:
As you know, we have restructured the graduate office by disentangling the professional (I want to emphasize professional and terminal) MS program from the PhD program and by consolidating all its efforts in marketing, recruitment and services (both DEN and on-campus) in one office to be headed by Kelly Goulis. Kelly’s remarkable leadership of DEN will now be expanded to a larger and equally vital part of the school’s offerings.
As part of this effort, a 4+1 (JUMP) program with other schools nationwide is in the process of implementation. In this way we will create pipelines with other colleges (offering BS but not MS degrees in engineering) to increase domestic quality and diversity.
Margie Berti will continue handling the doctoral program, which is a most important part of our mission and to which we need to pay special attention. A key goal of the doctoral program will be to eventually fully support all PhD students in a 1+1+3 system (one year unrestricted fellowship, one year TA and 3 years RA – not necessarily in that order). We should aim that each TT faculty member gets one new PhD student every year and graduates one each year. 
The effort to provide unrestricted fellowships to all first-year PhD students is continuing, as are our efforts to increase diversity and domestic representation among our PhD students.
DEN continues its remarkable growth, with more than 12% increase in enrollments this fall, and with a strong global presence. This increase followed another robust year last year. Distance learning is here to stay.  
In the next few months, we will announce many new and bold initiatives to further improve domestic participation, increase diversity, improve student quality in all our graduate programs and launch new continuing and life-long learning programs.
Overall, this fall the School enrolled 394 new undergraduates (slightly short of the 405 target), about 110 new transfers, 1106 master’s students and 144 new Ph.D students. Their quality, at least as measured by the conventional metrics, is remarkable.
For what is probably our best news, however, the Viterbi School just enrolled what is statistically by far the best freshman class in USC history, with an amazing average SAT score of 1413 (in the two tests that compare to last year’s SAT). It’s the first time ever our entering SAT rose above 1400, and it represents a whopping 30 points increase over last year’s score of 1382! (By comparison, USC overall rose by six points in the same analysis, while the mean SAT scores across the nation actually decreased slightly.)
Did I have anything to do with it? Very little. Did Louise Yates and her team? Very much! But most of all, the credit goes to everyone in the school – your accomplishments have made Viterbi the place to be for undergraduate engineering!
Our challenge for this outstanding group of students can be summarized in three words: Retention, retention, retention! And let me add three more: Retention, retention, retention!
I am happy to report that due to considerable efforts, e.g., the Freshman Academies, with their dedicated corps of faculty, whose commitment I cannot overstate, and the leadership of Louise Yates and the new retention coordinator Kate Baxter, this year’s freshman return rate is now equal to that of the University overall, standing at 97%. (This is the percentage of engineering freshmen who returned to USC – not necessarily in engineering – for a sophomore year.) The return rate in engineering is still less, so we have a long way to go, but we are making progress and forging ahead! This is a tough battle where we need all your help, but it is a battle that I know we can win.
I am also pleased to report significant improvements in the quality of the MS class, where the average GPA is now 3.48, up from 3.41 last year, and the average Quantitative GRE rose to 752 from 747. With the help of the new office we expect a continuous rise in these metrics.
This fall’s robust enrollments, together with the increase in student quality, reflect the rising reputation of the school and our efforts to strengthen its programs. Indeed, the UG enrolled units in engineering majors this fall have increased by about 4%, compared to last year. It is a welcome development and hopefully a sign of better retention.
Last year was also a near-record year for fundraising. We raised nearly $47M in gifts, our second best year ever, and less than $1M below our best year (03-04). And I believe that a major gift to be announced in a few days will allow us to do equally well or even better in the coming year.
Last year’s contributions were highlighted by two principal gifts:
The family of John Mork, an alumnus of our petroleum engineering program and a successful energy entrepreneur, pledged $15 million to name our Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department.
And another alumnus, Ken Klein, pledged $8 million to establish the Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life, a unique resource for the Viterbi School.
Such gifts are vital for raising all our endeavors, and the added endowment allows us to invest in academic quality to advance the school’s mission.
Five years ago we announced a 7-year, $300M fund-raising initiative. I am proud to tell you that we are well ahead of the pace for reaching this objective.
At the gala dinner culminating our 100th year celebrations last year, President Sample noted that the history of engineering at USC was closely tied to the story of Southern California. He said that our progress over our first century was largely shaped by our nimble response to the emerging needs of our region.
I am suggesting that our success in the future will depend on the same agility, but with one big difference:
In this new century, our region is now the globe!
In a different way, so are our great challenges – global in scope, like energy, sustainable development and health; in complexity, as in systems engineering; and in scale (nano, bio, cogno, and quantum).
These challenges and opportunities make it the best of times to be an engineer!
In fact, a distinguished colleague, Kristina Johnson, the dean of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, was recently quoted as saying, "It's an incredibly sexy time to be an engineer." I don’t think I would go that far. But I would agree that it’s an incredible time for us. I am firmly with those who are saying that the 21st century will be the century of the engineer. Technology has evolved from a useful tool for humanity into a major component of contemporary culture and society.
Maybe we are sexy! All of a sudden, everyone – the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, medicine, law, business, public policy, you name it – wants to partner with us. And the inventiveness of the partnerships we form to cross disciplines, institutions, countries and cultures will play a large role in determining our future.
I am also a firm believer in the enabling role of engineering in other sciences – in fact, in all aspects of society – and in its fundamental and ever-increasing role in innovation and the economy of this nation. With the office of research, and in partnership with other USC resources, we will forge ahead to lead the transformation. 
This transformation will need a new brand of engineer, a professional with ambidextrous analytical and creative skills (The Engineer of 2020) and a seamless blend of left- and right-brain skills. To prepare the new professional, we must proceed with a major curriculum reform. An initiative in this direction will be announced later in the semester.
The school is in an upward trajectory. In our constantly evolving landscape (both at USC and across the globe), our grand challenge is to sustain and even accelerate our pace: we simply cannot stand still.
I offer you this vision: within a context of rapid economic and global change, we will solidify our prominence among the elite engineering schools, and take the lead in the quest for new paradigms in engineering education and research. The Viterbi School should strive to become:
  • The leader at USC in all quality metrics related to education, research and innovation;
  • A leader nationwide in molding new paradigms of
·    Engineering education
·    Research
·    Innovation
·    Global outreach;
  • A leader in influencing national policy;
  • And a global school.
We must simultaneously sustain our rise in education and research metrics and continue to deliver excellence in all our endeavors.
We will achieve this vision through:
  • Engaging all our constituencies, with the faculty and the staff sharing ownership of the school and its ambitions
  • Constantly improving quality: faculty, staff and students
  • Bold initiatives in education and research
  • Taking risks, accepting failure in a risk-tolerant environment, rewarding performance and incentivizing excellence
  • Innovatively managing our resources
  • Aggressive promotion and fund-raising
  • Vigilant and proactive leadership at every level
  • And by creating new alliances (across disciplines, geography, with other peers and industry).
In this effort, I pledge a dean’s office that will provide an inclusive and forward-looking environment. We will be responsive and sensitive to expectations from constituencies, and we will be lean, creative and innovative. We will be transparent in our communications, rewards and incentives. And we will strive for imagination in our initiatives and excellence in their implementation.
What we do matters.
As a leading engineering school, we play a fundamental and ever increasing role in the national economy. America’s engineering schools have always been hotbeds of innovation. And innovation is the engine of our economic growth.
Our strategic advantage in producing new technologies developed from scientific discoveries has driven our economic success for the past 60 years. But the rest of the world is catching up.
You have read or heard of a number of statistics about India claiming to produce more than 300,000 engineers a year—three times the number in the United States. By some estimates, China turns out twice as many engineers as India, while South Korea produces nearly as many engineers as the United States – with only one sixth the population!
By 2020, 90% of all engineers are predicted to live in Asia. They will be vying for—and winning—contracts, customers and patents in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The offshore engineering industry is expected to surge from between $10 billion and $15 billion today to between $150 billion and $225 billion in 2020. India alone is poised to grab a quarter of the market.
Yet the United States still employs nearly a third of the world's science and engineering researchers, publishes 35 percent of science and engineering articles and generates 40 percent of research and development spending.
We still lead the world in technological innovation, and we must continue to do so if we are to preserve our way of life. Innovation is based on technology and imagination, and it requires a whole-brain approach. To meet the challenge, we must produce a new engineer, one with added value that will eclipse the offshore competition and transform the profession.
During a recent meeting, I had the incredible opportunity to listen to Nobel laureate James Watson, the discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA. When asked how he was able to produce such innovative ideas, he simply replied:
“By being around smart people.” (And with a lower voice, he added: “It’s really boring being around dumb people.”)
I think that this sums up our challenge – to create an environment that nurtures, attracts and retains smart people, the people who will lead the coming waves of innovation and create new and exciting paradigms in engineering and research.
I promise you that meeting the challenge will be our goal.
So, in closing let me encapsulate my vision. The Viterbi School will be:
         First at USC
         A leader in the nation
         With constantly rising quality
         And excellence in all our endeavors
Thank you.