October 23, 2007 —
The Viterbi School of Engineering has mobilized faculty and staff this October to reach new heights in USC’s annual Good Neighbor’s campaign.
Coming off a successful year in 2006, USC campaign organizers want to broaden participation in the annual fundraising drive, which brings in close to $1 million each year to fund outreach programs in local schools.
Professor Najmedin Meshkati
"We take pride on being first in all the things we do. Just like last year, being at the top in the total amount raised," said Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. "But we must also increase our level of particpation. Even a modest, one-time-only contribution makes a difference."
Last year, Viterbi faculty and staff donated $88,789, making it first among schools at the university in total dollars raised. Candace House, co-coordinator of the Viterbi Good Neighbors Campaign says she wants to see an increase of the 2006 participation rate of 31 percent.
“Participation is really where the heart is,” says House, who is the Viterbi School’s director of Career Services. The Good Neighbors Program is not funded by the university. Its budget comes directly from USC faculty and staff. She stressed that any amount can help.
“Literally, $20 can help five kids get sealant on their teeth,” she says. “It’s not about giving one percent of your salary, it’s just about giving anything.”
The Viterbi Good Neighbors other co-coordinator is Professor Najmedin Meshkati and he notes that contributing to the program is mutually beneficial to the school.
Not only do contributors support a worthy cause strengthening ties to the local community, but they also accrue benefits as well, he says.
In the spring of 2007, Viterbi faculty submitted several major proposals to the National Science Foundation, which requires researchers to engage in significant outreach with pre-college students in local schools. Researchers use the Good Neighbors programs in their proposals, which gave them a competitive edge, he says. Two of the proposals moved on to the next phase of consideration.
“It’s a win-win situation. It helps the community, and it helps us,” he says.
The Viterbi School operates several programs funded by Good Neighbors, including Mission Science and MESA - To Do and Learn, aimed at bringing science to young students in engaging ways.
In Mission Science children learn about electricity, motors, chemistry and phases of matter by using simple tools to make candy, says Larry Lim, Viterbi’s director of pre-college programs.
“The kids make a working model of a cotton candy machine out of a cardboard box and some aluminum foil,” he said. “As an incentive or a perk, they get to eat the cotton candy.”
The program covers costs for expenses such as teachers’ extra time and supplies for the projects, Lim said. Additionally, Viterbi sends its student volunteers to engage students in science projects. In "To Do and Learn," Viterbi students go to local middle schools to teach kids about aeronautics by having them build gliders and wings, he said.
In all, Viterbi Good Neighbors programs reach 600 to 700 children annually at eight locations around the University Park and the Health Sciences campus areas, said Lim
Meshkati and House say the Viterbi School can do more.
“The misconception is that this is not my neighborhood – it is,” says House. “It’s because of programs like this that the children are really part of the USC Community.”
Meshkati was also adamant that Viterbi should, and can, raise its participation rank from 13th in the university by leveraging its faculty population in satellite locations.
“I would like to see the faculty and staff who are direct beneficiaries of the program also make a contribution,” Meshkati says. “As I said in a dean’s meeting, I would really like to see contributions of all Viterbi department chairs, senior staff, center leaders and institute directors be at that 1 percent level this year. This is my dream.”
He also made a pledge: If he can see that dream fulfilled, he says, “Then I will retire from this leadership position.”