Logo: University of Southern California

2007 State of the Viterbi School

September 20, 2007 —
State of the Viterbi School
Fall 2007
Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

I am pleased to welcome you to our traditional fall luncheon and the “State of the School” address of the Viterbi School of Engineering.  And I am even more pleased that so many of you could be here today – I hope you enjoyed your lunch! As is common, we will take a look back on the past year …  and a look forward to what comes next.....

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

Before I begin, I would like to ask Najm Meshkati and Candace House to join me briefly, as we start this year’s Good Neighbor’s Campaign.

As many of you know, USC ranked last year at the top — number 1 — in community involvement among peer universities. This important achievement is a USC signature, and it bodes well for the university’s future growth, given our urban character.
The Viterbi School has contributed significantly to this distinction in a variety of ways: from the student outreach programs in Louise Yates’ office, to the community projects in Steve Bucher’s Engineering Writing Program, to the mentoring programs of our national centers, such as IMSC and BMES, and many others.

Let me identify a non-trivial part of community involvement: the Good Neighbor’s Campaign, which is entirely voluntary.

I am proud to say that with almost $89,000 in monetary contributions last year, the Viterbi School faculty and staff raised the largest amount among all other university units. No small accomplishment, given that we represent only 10 percent of the university. Warm congratulations go to all participating faculty and staff … and to Najm and Christine Lavoie, who led the campaign.

This year, we have as our target to increase our total by 5 percent. With raises last year averaging 4 percent, this should not be too difficult. But we can do more … and not only increase our participation total in actual dollars, but raise the participation rate from its current modest level of only 31 percent.  I encourage you all to participate:  The Good Neighbor’s Campaign has a strong impact. I will ask Najm and Candace, this year’s campaign leaders, to tell us more about the campaign this year.
Thank you, Najm and Candace.
Good Neighbors' Campaign co chairs Najm Meshkati and Candace House announced campaign results.

I have regularly used this forum to tell you of our accomplishments last year and of our goals and challenges for the year to come: Challenges to forge a sustained and brilliant culture of excellence.

I am pleased to tell you that the school is on the right track — and continues its rising trajectory. We have accomplished a lot — and we are poised to do even more. Let me briefly review some highlights of the year.

The first harbingers of how we are doing each year are the students we attract.  Under the leadership of Louise Yates and her staff, the academic quality of our undergraduates continues to increase. Last fall, the combined SAT scores of the entering freshmen jumped 30 points. This fall, with almost 440 new freshmen (that number exceeded our target of 400) the trend continued with another 10-point gain — easily leading the university once more — at 40 points above the university average.

Since 2000, the average SAT scores (Math and Critical Reading/Verbal) at the Viterbi School have risen by 76 points — in the process helping USC attain the elite reputation it has reached in recent years. This puts Viterbi at the top at USC and among the nation’s leaders.

And I am happy to tell you that the percentage of female freshmen has increased to 30 percent this year, bringing the school’s average to 25 percent overall.  That is above the national average, which is about 17 percent, I believe.

It is of paramount importance to retain the students that join us. I would like to share with you a retention statistic: The return rates of freshmen to engineering — those starting in engineering and returning in engineering the following year as sophomores — moved from 84 percent for the cohort of fall ‘04, to 89 percent for the cohort of fall ‘05 to an estimated 92 percent for last year’s cohort. A gain of eight points in three years is a remarkable feat. Indeed, keeping these high-quality kids in engineering helps us in multiple dimensions, and makes teaching them a true pleasure, as many of you have realized.
The address began with a buffet luncheon served at Town and Gown.

We attribute this success to a number of factors: The freshman academies which, thanks to many of you, have flourished, becoming a model for the entire university. To the Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life (KIUEL), which provides leadership opportunities, develops community and builds well-rounded engineers. The KIUEL Showcase, held for the first time last spring, was a striking example of how well-rounded are our students, and how they have engaged with the “Visions and Voices” initiative.

Our graduation rates have also been climbing systematically, last year being the high water mark. Today, the Viterbi six-year graduation rate, which is a significant benchmark, has reached the university average, coming from a significant lag a few years ago. We are poised to continue increasing this rate every year.

Overall, I am very pleased that our undergraduate program is reaching the high-quality level of our research program. And, make no mistake about it, excellence in undergraduate reputation is mirrored in the peer assessment opinion from outside groups. Let me state it another way: In research universities, the peer opinion of graduate programs and the peer opinion of undergraduate programs go hand-in-hand -- and I have the data to prove this!

At the graduate level, thanks to the energetic activities of our new Office of Master’s and Professional Programs, directed by Kelly Goulis, we have put significant emphasis in the restructuring of the M.S. program. The emerging trends are for M.S. degrees to become professional terminal degrees, rather than a pre-requisite to the Ph.D. program. We are looking at ways to decouple these degree programs, to the extent possible -- improving our Master’s and Ph.D. tracks.
Linda Rock

The accelerated dual degree program — 4+1 — for our own students has been a tremendous success. And during the year, we received approval from the university to implement a pilot VIP program, which will extend this 4+1program to other universities and colleges across the nation. This program will create currently missing pipelines and feeder domestic schools and lead to increased domestic academic quality and diversity at the M.S. level.

Under Kelly Goulis’s leadership, MAPP has energetically moved to improve services for M.S. students and helped increase the overall quality-- including the award of 15 new M.S. fellowships and the closer scrutiny of academic progress. With DEN enrollments reaching a plateau, the next challenge is to improve the quality and composition of the on-campus component.
And to also look for opportunities in lifelong learning, which is the next important challenge that Kelly will undertake this year.

The immediate challenge for our educational program at the undergraduate and M.S. levels is how to reform our curricula. Voices from prominent engineering and scientific bodies, including the National Academies, have urged renewed attention on the importance of engineering and its paramount role in incubating innovation and economic growth in this country, but also worldwide. They have called for new investments in engineering education - - and challenged us to respond to the new reality, by promoting and implementing new curricula and educational practices to form a new engineer.

Last week I announced the establishment of a new entity, the Division of Engineering Education, and gave it the charge of producing the Viterbi School’s response to these urgent national and global needs. 

This new organization will be comprised of existing faculty from the school, who by being jointly appointed to the new division, will focus a non-trivial part of their academic activities on engineering education at both the undergraduate and the Master’s levels.

The division will focus on issues that cut across the school and across the academic departments, with priorities in the undergraduate curriculum, including:

·       Assessment of our curricular offerings vis-à-vis effectiveness, instructional methods, retention and relevance to our strategic mission;

·        Response to proposals by national agencies (such as the NSF) and foundations to obtain funding for innovative engineering education programs;

Sandeep Gupta, new chair of the Engineering Faculty Council, introduced Dean Yortsos.

I expect that this division will be a vibrant body of faculty, with passion about engineering education, who will help departments implement school-wide initiatives to enhance engineering education. Senior Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives Cauligi Raghavendra will lead it at the present time, although I expect a permanent faculty director appointment after the division is up and running.  I am very confident that the division will become the crucible for new and innovative ideas that will transform engineering education at the Viterbi School and become a national model.

The efforts in engineering education notwithstanding, it is the doctoral program which is the most important part of our mission. Along with recruiting new faculty and building the school’s endowment, attracting the best possible Ph.D. students is the best recipe for moving the school to a higher level of excellence.

In the last two years, we have graduated about 150 Ph.Ds per year, a pace we need to sustain if we are to continue being counted among the elite.  This number is a good target: It is roughly equal to the number of tenure-track, research active faculty in the school.  Indeed, I believe that we should raise our own expectations and aim at the following model:  On average, each faculty accepts one new Ph.D. student each year, graduates one Ph.D. student each year-- and based on a five-year residence time, supervises 5 Ph.D. students.  The number of Ph.D. graduates we reported was one of the reasons our U.S. News and World Report graduate rankings rose by a couple of points to tie Caltech at seventh place last year.

Our Ph.D. students must be fully supported.  I have proposed a 1+1+3 system — one (first) year of unrestricted fellowship, one year TA and three years RA — not necessarily in that order. I am happy to report that this model has found resonance in the Provost’s Office. Thanks in large part to that support--and with the vigilance from Margie Berti and John O’Brien, we have substantially increased the number of first-year supported Ph.D. students through unrestricted fellowships. Assuming full conversion, I believe that we now can guarantee the support of at least 100 first-year Ph.D. students.

The biggest change has resulted from the new Annenberg Fellowships, which are among the premier fellowships at USC. And we hope that the Provost’s recently announced new increase in Ph.D. fellowships will further increase that number, so that we can meet our target of unrestricted first-year support for all incoming Ph.D. students.

Professors Julian Domaradzki, left, and Satwindar Sadhal enjoy lunch.

Our office is also close to the goal of providing the one year teaching assistantship (TA) support outlined, namely the equivalent of about 150 50 percent TAs.  I view TAs not as a means of supporting our research mission, but as a way to satisfy as well as we can our instructional mission.

Our strength in research has always been a defining mark of the Viterbi School. In today’s tough research funding environment, this is truer more than ever.

In the past few years, we have been ranked consistently among the top five in the nation in total research volume—that’s significant for a school of medium to small size in faculty.  Not to be overlooked is that Viterbi also accounts for about one-third of all of USC’s research.

I am pleased to report that all our marquee national research centers have been successfully renewed. CREATE, the national center on Homeland Security was the latest one renewed--after relentless efforts by its director, Detlof von Winterfeldt.  Its new $11-million grant for three years gives it the support needed to continue and expand its programs in this crucial area of national interest.

This year is a seminal year for IMSC. Our first ERC, which made historic contributions to the rise of the school, is graduating as an ERC.  Graduating is a euphemism for being on its own, without targeted NSF support. Over the summer, I appointed Jim Baker, former chairman and chief executive officer of Fuji Xerox’s Palo Alto Laboratory, to guide and energize its evolution into its new form of life--sort of like when your child leaves home for college.  That’s the way we view IMSC.  The end of its term as an ERC, however, reminds us of the need to act aggressively to obtain a new national center.

With Maja Mataric’s support, a record four proposals were submitted last spring for new NSF ERCs, in areas as diverse as quantum computing and contour crafting. We are optimistic about success-- the competition is fierce. With systematic strong activities in fundamental engineering at the small scale, nanotechnology and bioengineering, communications and multimedia, transportation and decision-and-systems analysis, there are still areas of growth in our research portfolio.

One prominent area is the pressing problem of energy, as well as other large-scale complex societal problems, including “megacities.”  Initiatives in these important areas will be announced soon by Maja’s office, including new ways to support new ideas.

The constantly changing funding landscape will require adjustments and re-alignments. In particular, we need to strengthen our research relations with other schools within the university, including the Keck School of Medicine, the College, SPPD and the Arts. We have taken the initiative to forge agreements between our other school partners that clearly spell out how the research effort is to be counted, including indirects, cost of space, and the like.  So, you as faculty need not worry one bit about such issues. 

One response to the evolving environment is, of course, university-industry research partnerships. We have a very strong example of such relations through CiSoft, the Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies, a partnership with Chevron. The center promotes the integration of information technology with the management of oilfield operations. In addition to being truly interdisciplinary, combining strengths in petroleum engineering, electrical engineering and computer sciences, it has evolved into a model partnership-- expected to support next year up to 50 graduate students! I am thankful to Iraj Ershaghi for his tremendous leadership in this endeavor.
Fred Browand

We are working to establish new partnerships in the corporate world-- and we hope to have some announcements soon on new endeavors with GE and with Infosys.

ISI remains a constant strength and a critical element in the Viterbi School’s standing. ISI highlights this year include the funding of a $13.8 million project headed by Yolanda Gil to help solve one of the fundamental computing problems: the pile-up of data faster than it can be analyzed.

And Carole Beal of ISI and our Epstein Department made important contributions to educational technology this year through innovative work in Intelligent Tutoring Systems, including the use of serious games.

I am pleased that last year we instituted for the first time in the school’s history endowed keynote lectures in all departments. They have been an outstanding success attracting high-visibility speakers, including Nobel laureates and Shannon award winners. This year, we will also hold the first Ming Hsieh lecture on engineering entrepreneurship. 

Fundraising is a priority that cannot take second seat. CEO Christopher Stoy and his team tirelessly work to raise the School’s endowment. Our seven-year $300-million fundraising initiative, which started six years ago, was aimed at providing long-term support to enhance academic programs, teaching, research, scholarships and other priorities of the school. We are on pace to successfully meet our ambitious target. I was really privileged last October to be in the position of announcing the historic $35-million gift from Ming Hsieh to name our electrical engineering department. With $270 million raised so far, we are hopeful of meeting our $300-million target and, in the process, reaching new milestones.

The Corporate and Foundations Relations effort, now headed by Angus McColl, has been rejuvenated. We also produced a new and improved version of our magazine, the USC Viterbi Engineer.  Kirstin Strickland heads the magazine as part of our aggressive Alumni Relations effort.

Challenges for External Relations include research to identify new gift prospects, “closing the deal” with some major current prospects, improving the stewardship of our major donors, including the named departments, and establishing a high-functioning global alumni network.

In regard to globalization, last year was very productive. Our global initiatives, led by Raghu, resulted in successful agreements for exchange programs with many outstanding overseas partners-- including NUS, IISc and some Korean universities. We inaugurated strong relationships with the University of Peking and Tsinghua University, and started the latter with a kickoff event: a two-day workshop in May, which involved faculties from electrical engineering and computer science, and the School of Information Science of Tsinghua. And we are looking forward to opening wide the door to Mexico, by creating pipelines for students and faculty exchanges.

Over the summer we hosted 14 students from IIT Kharagpur, eight students with a summer research internship from Tsinghua, and we will also be hosting five Ph.D. students with Chinese government scholarships, who will visit the Viterbi School for a year or two.

Solidifying our status as a global school is an important strategic objective, one that we will strive hard to achieve. Indeed, we have a proposal pending for the creation of a Global Engineering Institute, one that will address engineering as a global discipline, in terms of content, practice, intellectual capital, innovation and entrepreneurship.

But…I have saved our best accomplishments for last.

When you assess the state of a school, you begin and end with the excellence of its faculty. Today I can report that our outstanding faculty have become even better this year!

Through aggressive recruitment, with the help of John O’Brien and Raghu and all of you, we have added eight strong new members to our faculty. And I am particularly pleased to report that while we were able to successfully recruit the best available faculty candidates -– that is always our priority –- we also made strides toward improving our female and minority representation.
John O'Brien and Alan Willner, and Julie Sanchez

I outlined the goal for faculty recruitment on this occasion last year.  I said then:

“We will hire the best — people who are better than us, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Let me repeat: people who are better than us, regardless of gender or ethnicity.”

And that’s what we did.

I would like to welcome to USC and the Viterbi School:

Professor Joe Qin, who has the unique distinction of holding joint appointments in all of our named departments: the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, and the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.  Joe specializes in process systems engineering. He joins us from the University of Texas faculty, where he was holder of the Paul D. and Betty Robertson Meek and American Petrofina Foundation Centennial Professorship.

Professor Dongxiao Zhang has a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and in the Mork Family Department, and expertise in water resources and subsurface fluids.  He was a senior scientist and team leader at Los Alamos before joining the University of Oklahoma, where he was the Miller Chair professor.

Dong is also the founding associate dean at the College of Engineering of Peking University in Beijing.

Associate professor Francisco Valero-Cuevas joins us from Cornell. Francisco specializes in the neurophysiological and mechanical functioning of human hands and on improving current treatments for hand injuries. He joins the Biomedical Engineering Department, with a joint appointment in Biokinesiology at the School of Dentistry.

 Assistant professor Andrea Hodge, joining the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, has been a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since earning her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Northwestern.

 Assistant professor Noah Malmstadt has joined the Mork Family Department following a postdoctoral fellow appointment in the Biohybrid Microsystems Laboratory in UCLA’s Department of Bioengineering. Noah’s research focuses on the temporal and spatial control of self-assembly processes. He did his undergraduate work at Caltech and his graduate studies at the University of Washington.

Assistant professor Murali Annavaram joins the Ming Hsieh Department from the Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto. Prior to his work at Nokia, Murali was a senior researcher at the Intel Microarchitecture Research Lab. He did his graduate work at the University of Michigan. 

Assistant professor Shinyi Wu, a RAND Corporation engineer, will join the Epstein Department in January.  Shinyi was recently honored by RAND for outstanding contributions to furthering its mission of improving policy and decision-making through research and analysis.

And starting in August 2008, Michelle Povinelli will join the Ming Hsieh Department from Stanford, where she is now on a post-doctoral appointment. Michelle works in the area of photonics.

Those of you here, please stand to be recognized. Thank you.

Many of the rest of you brought great distinction to the Viterbi School during the past year.

As I reported in April, Eva Kanso won an NSF CAREER Award and Chongwou Zhou won the first ever Career Award in Nanotechnology awarded by the IEEE.

Sami Masri won the Newmark Medal presented by the ASCE. Gerard Medioni won the “paper of the decade” award in machine vision applications, and Tom Holman jointly with Cinematic Arts won the IEEE’S Ibuka award.


There were many others I reported at that time.

Since then, Jesse Yen has won a Coulter Foundation Early Career Award for his work in developing novel ultrasound transducers that can image tissue in three dimensions.

Jay Kuo and Stefan Schaal have extended a Viterbi tradition by winning Okawa Foundation research grants.

James Moore, our Epstein Department chair, has been elected to the leadership of the Council of Industrial Engineering Academic Department Heads. Jim assumes the presidency of the council next May.

Yong Chen, who joined the Viterbi faculty last year, won the Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineering. 

Iraj Ershaghi has added the Western North America Reservoir Description and Dynamics Award from the Society of Petroleum Engineers to his many honors.

Gaurav Sukhatme has taken over from our own very distinguished George Bekey as the editor of Autonomous Robots.

Barry Boehm had a busy summer. In May, a special symposium paid tribute to his achievements at the 29th International Conference on Software Engineering. 

In July, he was honored with a dedicated symposium hosted by Northrop Grumman on "Lessons Learned and Recommendations from 40 Years in the Software Business:  How to Prepare for the Upcoming Century."

And in August, a special Barry Boehm track was held during the Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training.

Najm Meshkati won the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s Oliver Keith Hansen Outreach Award for his work on the human factors of complex technological systems and for his efforts to enhance public awareness of critical human factors issues.

Elaine Chew and Alexandre François were selected as Radcliffe Fellows by Harvard.
Alice Parker, left, and Murali Annavaram, looking across the room.

In June, our Communication Sciences Institute held a special three-day workshop to mark the 75th birthday of Sol Golomb. The workshop drew an international field of luminaries to present papers drawing and expanding on Professor Golomb’s work.

And our outstanding alumnus, benefactor, and member of the USC Engineering faculty, Andrew Viterbi, added another world-class prize to his imposing list of honors –- he was named as the inaugural winner of the James Clerk Maxwell award of the IEEE and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

 And just this week, we learned that Jerry Mendel will receive the 2008 Fuzzy Systems Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society.

In sad news, we lost two distinguished colleagues and irreplaceable friends when H. K. Cheng and Dave Wittry passed away.

And I recently learned that one of our most senior members, the one who has always been here to welcome the rest of us when we joined, is going to retire.

It seems that every year that I make this speech – and every year for a long line of deans before me – we get to announce the latest award bestowed on George Chilingar. Now, after more than a half-century of distinguished service to the engineering profession and to the Viterbi School – George was already here for more than 10 years when Andy Viterbi was still a student! – George has announced his retirement.

I was going to say he’s an important part of our history, but, ladies and gentlemen, he is our history!

George is already taking advantage of his retirement with an overseas trip.

I should close this section by stating that with Dave Murphy’s careful and time-tested skills, our budget, for a second consecutive year, looks healthy. This bodes well for the future of the school--as we can afford to support initiatives, reward and incentivize excellence for faculty and staff, and modernize the infrastructure.

I am working closely with Linda Rock on new space in the Annenberg Center, to host IMSC and the new ORU on games, and the RAN building. Linda and her team have ambitious goals and plans to promote excellence in the staff-- which I will support with great enthusiasm.    

Last year I spoke of forging a culture of excellence at the school. It is the key to moving beyond what we have established so far. Indeed, not only must we sustain our rise, but also continue to deliver excellence in all of our endeavors.

A culture of excellence will attract top undergraduates, top Ph.D. students, and top faculty. They will come here in search of an environment that will enable them to make a difference and act as a positive feedback loop. Attracting the best leads to a more demanding environment, which, in turn, leads to more and sustained excellence.

In this process, we need to remember that excellence is a continuous journey not an end point!
Steve Bucher

And we also need to dispel some myths. Let me take the opportunity to clarify that:

•    Departments are NOT revenue centers.  We never look at a department in this fashion.

•    Faculty hiring is NOT based on slots, but rather on the needs of the school across disciplines, and with an eye on the future. We like to recruit faculty who will win Career Awards and at some point join the National Academy.

•    And service to our students, and more generally, accountability, should be a top priority in the things we do.

Our culture of excellence demands respect for all of our colleagues and students, and demands that we squeeze-out mediocrity, and that we encourage out-of-the-box ideas to lead.

I have summarized our objectives in this motto:

•    First at USC
•    A Leader in the Nation
•    With Constantly Rising Quality, and…
•    Excellence in All Our Endeavors

I want to thank each of you for so enthusiastically engaging these goals, and for your terrific work this year.

I am very proud that I serve as your dean.

Thank you.