Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School Family Hears About Victories and Celebrates Excellence

On the day the latest graduate school rankings showed a move up in the top ten, faculty and staff lunched and listened

April 25, 2009 —

(Dean Yannis C. Yortsos was unable to address the annual Viterbi School Faculty-Staff Luncheon because of a death in his family. Senior Associate Dean John O'Brien spoke in his place).

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Faculty award winners (left to right) Carl Kesselman, Milind Tambe, Michael Neely, Ubli MItra, and Satwindar Sadhal. (Not pictured: Muhammad Sahimi.)

Good afternoon to all of you! It is, after all, a really nice task to be able acknowledge the accomplishments of our faculty and staff, so I am very happy to welcome you once again to our spring luncheon and our faculty and staff awards.

Yannis would be pleased to see so many of you here today. As always, this forum gives us an opportunity to review the past, and to help us plan for the future.

Spring is the season of hope and renewal. For a university, it is also the culmination of the academic year.

Spring is also the time to reflect on the past year, on our successes and our challenges, and to express our appreciation to all who have made a difference. While only some will receive awards we can all take pride in the progress of our school. Many people are responsible – our faculty first and foremost.

Before I review the past year, I’ll begin with some terrific breaking news released this morning.

US News and World Report released its latest rankings of graduate engineering programs – the Viterbi School has moved up one spot to #7, tied with Caltech on this list of the best programs in the nation!  And while the school isn’t managed based on rankings, the US News and World Report rankings are watched students and parents and clearly we’d all prefer this good news to bad.

Meanwhile, the Viterbi School continues to attract and inspire some of best undergraduate students in the world.
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Staff award winners: Shuna Holmes, Karen Johnson, Steve Schrader
Under the leadership of Louise Yates and her staff, the academic quality of our incoming class just keeps going up. The growth in quality has been unprecedented- and will be more and more challenging to be sustained.

Some of this year’s highlights include:

  • A 10% increase in the number of applicants for fall 2009, with enrolled target of 400 new freshmen remaining the same as last year, which bodes well for increasing the quality of thee incoming class once again.
  • A significant increase in academic quality of applicants as well as admits.  We are 10 points above last year’s SAT average, with Viterbi admits being 80 points above the university average on the SAT. 
  • 55% of our freshmen admits are from outside California, which bodes well for our national reach.
  • 32% of our freshmen admits are again women, which we hope continues to help increase our percentage of undergraduate women from the current 27% of our undergraduate student body.
  • Increases in both underrepresented minority students as well as a very significant increase in the number of international student admits is also being seen in this year’s
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    Staff Early Career Award - Shuna Holmes, with Linda Rock
    admitted class of freshmen.

On our continuing students:

  • Retention efforts continue with the freshmen year return rate last fall being 93% of our freshmen returning to Viterbi for fall 09 and 97% of our freshmen returning to USC overall.
  • New programs have been developed to focus on sophomore retention… including a sophomore connections program and a spotlight series that provides opportunities for sophomore students to interact and network with industry representatives early in their careers in order to learn more about their intended majors.
  • The Progressive Degree Program continues to be of interest to our undergraduates. Many of our students are also now combining degree areas between their BS and MS degrees via this program thanks to the efforts of Matthew O’Pray and Joe King, who manage the effort.
  • Our undergraduates continue to win numerous university awards and honors:
  • This years’ University valedictorian will again be a Viterbi undergraduate.
  • One of the 10 Renaissance Scholar Prize winners is a Viterbi undergraduate who has combined Mechanical Engineering and Political Science for her undergraduate degree.  
  • We also expect to have at least one undergraduate Viterbi student named as a Discovery Scholar and a Global Scholar, but those awards have not yet been announced.
  • Four of our Viterbi Students won recognition at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • For the second year in a row, the Society of Women Engineers won the University Tommy Award for best undergraduate student organization on campus.
  • On the staff side, Monica De Los Santos, who is the Director of Academic Services, in the Viterbi Admisison & Student Affairs Office won the university’s first ever “Advisor of the Year” award… being recognized for excellence in advising.
  • Undergraduate Viterbi students also won recognition at the Grand Challenges Summit
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    Muhammad Sahimi - Senior Faculty Research Award, given by Maja Mataric' and O'Brien.
    at Duke University, by taking home the 3rd prize in the video competition, the 3rd prize in the poster competition and won additional prizes in the design and trivia competition during the event.

Louise Yates is serving on the steering committee for the Grand Challenges Scholar program with committee members from Duke and Olin and will be assisting in the creation of a national program for encouraging involvement from engineering schools across the country in developing undergraduate programs that will address the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering as outlined by the National Academy of Engineering.

I also want to commend our Engineering Writing Program, headed by Steve Bucher, for their innovative work and for their outstanding contributions to the university’s community relations programs.

Our Master’s and Professional Programs MAPP office headed by Kelly Goulis also had a great year.  Several new MS Degrees will be available in available Fall 2009, including the MS in Health Systems Management (ISE), the MS in Finance Engineering (EE), and, pending final approval, the MS in Green Technologies.

  • New on DEN in the fall will be an MS in Civil Engineering –Transportation – and an MS in Operations Research Engineering.
  • Lockheed Martin selected the Viterbi School as one of a handful of partners to offer a Systems and System-of-Systems Architect Certificate and a Master’s Degree.
  • During a week-long recruitment trip in Mexico organized through the US Embassy, MAPP visited 9 universities, and Yannis signed a collaborative agreement with the
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    Dean's Staff Award for Service - Karen Johnson
    National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
  • We have a new Shanghai Office opening next month headed by Christopher Leung, a recent Viterbi alumni MS in Computer Science. The office made two recruitment trips to China this year, including a recent conversion trip with 3 faculty: Stephen Lu, Joe Qin, and Don Zhang.
  • The MS enrollment numbers from mainland China are up by almost 110% - a significant increase for a 2nd year in a row.
  • We also expanded our efforts in Taiwan and are showing a 19% increase in applications to date (286 vs 240).
  • Applications from India remain relatively flat year to year – our focus has been to expand quality and, through the efforts of our person on the ground, Sudha Kumar, we have a more targeted recruitment strategy, and rolled out for the first time a conversion campaign to convert the highest quality MS student from our Indian applicant pool.
  • I also want to acknowledge the hard work Matthew O’Pray and Brian Lin have put in correlating the history of our own masters student performance across departments and undergraduate institutions to better inform graduate admission decisions.
  • Domestically, we signed ViP agreements with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the Olin College of Engineering
  • We are also launching a new program – Viterbi Squared – inviting domestic MS Alumni to come back for a 2nd Master’s Degree.
  • MAPP is continuing to actively recruit at more than 50 domestic institutions, education fairs and has an aggressive DEN recruitment strategy.
  • We introduced Dean’s Master’s Fellowships – 20 partial scholarships to help convert the top domestic and international students.
  • Our Professional Programs element  (Continuing Education) is moving forward, and now offering three program types: Short Courses, Custom Courses & Courses on Demand. We are rolling out 9 courses beginning in May, and in July we will offer a series of specialized short courses in partnership with the Institute for Industrial Engineers.
  • I’d also like to acknowledge the efforts of Carolyn Suckow, MAPP’s Student Services Director for her efforts to improve student services overall for our Master’s students. One such example is her work with MAPP IT to design and implement a new student advisement and academic performance tracking system.
  • Our Professional Programs element, Continuing Education, is moving forward under the direction of Candace House, and is now offering three program types: Short Courses, Custom Courses & Courses on Demand. We are rolling out 9 courses beginning in May, and in July we will offer a series of specialized short courses in partnership with the Institute for Industrial Engineers.

The Division of Engineering Education, led by Raghu, is implementing major curricular reform in our undergraduate program, addressing the needs of our Masters students, and looking at new degrees and continuing education opportunities.

One notable activity is a capstone design project course, where EE students are collaboratively working with Business and Fine Arts students.

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Use-Inspired Research Award - Carl Kesselman
We regard the current student quality in our Ph.D. program, managed expertly by Margie Berti, as excellent, but we are also actively working to continue to improve it.

We increased the size of the class by 31% this past year, 178 entering students in fall and 20 more in spring. The increased class size better allows us to achieve our goal of graduating 150 Ph.D. students per year.

This increased number is made possible, in part, by an increase in the number of fellowship students.  These numbers are strong, however, and we are continuing to work to attract even better students and place more graduates in academic positions at top research institutions.
Maja Mataric and Margie are leading a new initiative to increase interest in academic careers among our doctoral students.

Members of our past Ph.D. class are now Assistant Professors at Columbia, George Mason, Washington State, Indiana, Southern Methodist, Arizona State and Temple.  We also have new Assistant Professors from this past class at the National Taiwan University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Sharif University, the King Mongkut Institute of Technology in Thailand and several other domestic and international institutions.

Our current class makeup is closer to the national average than ever before. A 2007 study reported that 60% of Ph.D.’s nationwide were awarded to foreign-born students. In 2007-08, 72% of Ph.D. degrees awarded by our School were to international students, compared to 88%

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Use-Inspired Research Award - Milind Tambe
in 2006-07.  We expect to continue to make progress in this area.

Equally important is our stated goal to increase the diversity of our Ph.D. student population by recruiting more women and underrepresented minority students. Currently, 21% or 198 of our Ph.D. students are women. This is higher than the percentage (18.1%) at which women earn bachelors degrees in engineering.

Similarly, our underrepresented minority Ph.D. population is close to the national average as measured by the American Society for Engineering Education: 3% of our domestic population is African American, and 6.5% of our domestic population is Hispanic. Nationally, students from these groups each earned 3.7% of the Ph.D. degrees awarded last year.

I also want to acknowledge Sandeep Gupta for his outstanding work as Chair of the EFC.  Sandeep, I’ve enjoyed working and collaborating with you the past two years.  I also want to thank all of the EFC members for their service on the Council this year.

I also want to acknowledge the Department Chairs.  I want to say thanks to each of you for all of your efforts and for your contributions to all of the successes this year.

Yannis traveled the world last year. Our global initiatives, also led by Raghu, resulted in successful agreements for exchange programs with a number of prominent partners.

We established the Infosys funded Center for Research and Education in Advanced Software Technologies (CAST), the first such center funded by an Indian company abroad.

Recently, we signed a research agreement with Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) to be a strategic partner in SKKU’s plans for the International Joint Research Institute called the Brain City Research Institute.  This partnership will be initiated with research in cooperative communications and offering a joint course by USC and SKKU faculty this summer at the SKKU campus.

In addition to our MOU with UNAM in Mexico, we signed agreements with the Kyushu Institute of Technology, Japan, and the University of Southampton, UK.Last summer we hosted 8 students from Tsinghua and 13 students from IIT Kharagpur, and sent 4 USC students to Tsinghua for research internships.

This summer we will be hosting a similar numbers from Tsinghua and Kharagpur, and planning to send 8 USC students to Tsinghua for summer research. Providing our students with opportunities for meaningful international experience as part of their education remains a high

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Dean's Faculty Award for Service - Urbashi Mitra

We held the 2nd USC-THU faculty forum at USC during April 30-May 2 which was attended by 12 delegates from THU.  This year we will have the 3rd faculty forum that is focused on the “Smart and Green” energy area and on establishing a joint institute between VSoE and THU in energy+IT area for research and education.  This will be held at THU campus in Beijing during May 21-22 and about 15 Viterbi faculty will participate.

We also continue to improve our infrastructure where and when we can.

  • Due to the freeze in facilities construction and renovation projects, we had to reduce the scope of our efforts this year, but, under Linda Rock’s leadership, we managed to renovate lab space in KAP and VHE for three new faculty (Becerik, Armani and Povinelli) and renovate 3 offices into wet lab space for BME.
  • We created an instructional lab in SAL for the GamePipe Program, and improved lab space in the basement of RTH. We also purchased a GEM electric vehicle to help make our off-campus space more accessible to our researchers.
  • We also successfully worked with central Facilities Management Services (FMS) to fund and install a centralized UPS for the Keck Photonics Lab, a core facility; to paint the exterior and upgrade the interior lobby space of Biegler Hall; and to paint the exterior of PCE and HED – all over the summer of 2008.
  • Administratively, we successfully opened the RTH Business Center, which supports 12 - 13 faculty from 6 departments
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    Junior faculty research award goes to Michael Neely
    whose offices and research labs are located in Tutor Hall.
  • Managing the staff freeze and its effects to the school over the past 5 months with a mix of methods including matching existing staff with departments needing support without regard to department boundaries; use of temporary help; overtime and increased student workers have been successful so far.
  • We were also successful in obtaining approval to fill 7 staff positions.

Despite the tough times economically, the school remains financially healthy for a number of reasons: Robust enrollments (including gains in UG, due to retention), increasing endowment, and stable research funding. Dave Murphy and Linda Rock have been outstanding stewards of the school’s financial and human resources.

Part of our financial strength comes from our excellent External Relations effort headed by Christopher Stoy. This year, following the successful completion of our fundraising initiative, we were able to:

  • Establish the Center For Health Informatics (CHI) with an initial gift of $5.4 million.
  • Forge a new partnership with Infosys to establish the Center for Research and Education in Advanced Software Technologies (CAST), with a pledge of $500,000.
  • Initiate new out reach to alumni and donor prospects in Asia, the Middle East and India.
  • Acquire several estate gifts from Viterbi alumni supporting the school in their bequest, trust or will.  These are especially gratifying as they signify the donor's deep attachment to the school.
  • Award new gifts of $915,000 for scholarship and fellowships by Chevron through their university partnership program.......This is in addition to the generous and continued gift funding by Chevron of CiSoft that now totals  nearly $16 million.
  • Reach an agreement with Texas Instruments to support research to develop better packaging for digestive track pill cameras with a pledge of $600,000.
  • Obtain a gift from King Saud University of $400,000 to support data base research.

We have begun the transformation of the school from print and web-story communications focus to strategic communications and marketing, engaging in multiple types of communications (new media, online, PR) with an integrated marketing strategy. We are also implementing a "Points of Difference (POD) strategy throughout the school.

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Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award - Satwindar Sadhal, presented by John O'Brien and Kerri Bennett of Northrop-Grumman

An important part of the effort is launching a marketing effort to promote the concept of "Engineering +” as a major point-of-difference for the Viterbi School.

This fall, ABET is coming to town! So, among our highest priorities this year is preparing for that visit. I am responsible for this effort, and I’m fortunate to have Gigi Ragousa of the Rossier School of Education and the DEE to help by preparing the right education assessment tools.  

And then there’s our research – the jewel of the school.

The research effort, led by Maja Mataric, has always been a defining mark of the Viterbi School. In the past few years, together with ISI, we have 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.

Last year, our overall research volume was up again, against the national trend! Our campus research is up just over 10% and ISI's is up about 7%, so overall we are up an average of 8.7%. 

We are continuing our ventures into new research initiatives in strategic areas. Two of the broadest and most prominent initiatives are health and energy.
Last year, we started the process of planning for a new joint program between Viterbi and the Keck School of Medicine, inspired by the highly successful MIT-Harvard Health Science and Technology program (HST).   Our program, while it will learn from the best practices of institutions like MIT, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins, will be designed to best leverage the specific strengths of USC.  The development of the program was started last fall, with a weekend-long retreat attended by faculty and administrators from the two schools. 

A follow-up retreat is planned for May 12th, to continue to develop the structure for this joint program, which will span both interdisciplinary research and educational programs.  In the mean time, the two schools are collaborating with many joint proposals and joint hiring. 

At the end of March, we held a networking event that brought faculty together toward collaborative NIH proposals taking advantage of the surge in stimulus funding.   Our faculty already have major NIH support for research in several areas, including several types of imaging, medical informatics, vision, speech, and biomechanics, among others.

On the energy front, our faculty garnered all three institutional slots for the Department of Energy Energy Frontiers Research Centers (EFRCs), lead by Martin Gundersen, Dan Dapkus, and Don Zhang, in the areas of pulsed power, solar, and carbon sequestration, respectively.  We are eagerly awaiting the outcome of that national competition. 

In the mean time, other areas of energy research are also ramping up, such as work on green data centers, lead by Massoud Pedram.

We continue our relentless pursuit of national centers of excellence. In addition to the three DoE center proposals, we also submitted two NSF ERC proposals, lead by Profs. Gundersen and Narayanan, and there’s an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) proposal going out at the end of this month, lead by Prof. Gundersen. 

In other research news:

  • Infosys Technologies funded our new Center for Advanced Software Technologies (CAST).
  • We founded the Center for Health Informatics at ISI.
  • Carl Kesselman was awarded a $22.2M NIH National BioMedical Informatics Infrastructure Coordinating Center Contract - a five-year effort to make a wide range of biomedical data more accessible to physicians and researchers.
  • NIH renewed the Biomedical Simulations Resource through 2013 with a $5.9 million grant.
  • A collaboration of accelerator physicists from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, UCLA, our EE department and Duke University has received $13 million in federal funding over the next two years to build a new plasma wave accelerator that will help scientists probe fundamental questions about the origins of the universe.
  • The new USC Nano-Imaging Center was opened - a core lab operated jointly by the Viterbi School and the College, is located in our Center for Electron Microscopy and Microanalysis. 
  • ISI will work with SPARTA Inc. and other collaborators on a DARPA effort to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyber attacks. The $8.6M award to Sparta Inc is a key part of the DARPA National Cyber Range program.
  • Alan Willner and Bob Hellwarth have received $4.3 million in DARPA funding to develop "continuously tunable optical delays" which they hope will change the rules of manipulating photonic data at ultra high speeds.
  • Francisco Valero-Cuevas will lead a four-year $2 million study on "Reverse Engineering the Human Hand," funded by the NSF's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Office.
  • Jesse Yen received a three-year award from the National Cancer Institute to support development and testing of a novel ultrasound probe for the detection of prostate cancer.

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Staff Award for Excellence - Steve Schrader
And just last month we co-sponsored, along with Duke and Olin College, the NAE Grand Engineering Challenges Summit, held at Duke. The summit was a resounding success with the engineering education community – over 50 engineering deans participated – and the groundswell of their opinion leads us to believe that we should maximize our leadership position on this issue, and explore the possibility of another summit, to be held here next year.

Much of our research can be directly linked to the challenges listed by the NAE.

Last year we hired 9 new outstanding faculty. We are very proud to say that all fit the criterion “are they better than us?”- and we are very pleased to say that we are making substantial inroads in closing the unflattering gap between the school’s average and the national average in terms of URM and women faculty. 

We will be hiring more this year. And the current faculty had a great year.

Many of you earned significant honors, led by Andy Viterbi’s award of the National Medal of Science at the White House, and Bob Scholtz and George Olah’s election to the National Academy of Engineering. Their election made us one of only six schools in the nation with two or more elected members each of the last two years. Addtionally:

  • Andrea Armani of the Mork Family Department earned a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research for her innovative work in biosensor design.
  • Steven B. Sample received a IEEE Founders Award, “For leadership in higher education and the engineering profession, and for pioneering contributions to consumer electronics.”
  • Also from IEEE, C.L. Max Nikias received a Simon Ramo Medal "for outstanding leadership in engineering systems research and education, and for pioneering contributions to integrated media systems for the entertainment industry.”
  • The USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship went to Dan Dapkus of the Ming Hsieh Department.
  • Ari Requicha received the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s Pioneer Award.
  • Stan Settles has received the Institute of Industrial Engineers' highest honor, the Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award. 
  • Terry Langdon earned honors in both Europe and China: the 2008 Blaise Pascal Medal for Materials Science from the European Academy of Sciences, and the Lee Hsun Lectureship at the Chinese Academy Institute of Materials Science. He was also named the “most cited” author in 2005-2008 by the journal Progress in Materials Science.
  • The American Society for Engineering Education named Keith Chugg of our Hsieh Department the recipient of its 2008 Terman Award.
  • Shri Narayanan of the Hsieh Department and Laurent Itti from Computer Science are the latest Viterbi recipients of Okawa awards. Shri also won a 2008 IBM Faculty Award, as did Barry Boehm and Leana Golubchik of Computer Science and Murali Annavaram of EE.
  • Firdaus Udwadia won the Torrens Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers contributions as journal editor.
  • Viktor Prasanna received the Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award from Penn State.
  • Sanjit Mitra won the Athanasios Papoulis Award for excellence in engineering technology education from the European Association for Signal Processing.
  • David Kempe won a Sloan Fellowship.
  • Shahram Ghandeharizadeh is a recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery's 2008 Software Systems Award.
  • Petros Ioannou has received the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society Best Practice Award for his smart vehicle research.
  • Maja Mataric´, David Kempe and Sven Koenig earned USC Mellon Awards for Excellence in Mentoring for 2008.
  • Andrea Hodge received a BRIGE grant from the National Science Foundation. BRIGE, an acronym for "Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering " is a new program initiated just this year by the NSF's Directorate for Engineering. Andrea's grant is one of the very first of its kind.
  • The International Journal of Engineering Education has named Maria Todorovska of the Astani Department “a prominent woman in civil engineering”.
  • A team led by Vijay Kumar received the Best Paper Award at the 4th IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing in Sensor Systems.
  • Yong Chen won the Best Paper Award at the ASME Computers and Information in Engineering Conference.
  • Wei-Min Shen of ISI won the Best Paper Award at the 26th Army Science Conference for research that created an improved "self-healing" linkage system for his SuperBot modular robot system.
  • Bart Kosko received an excellence award from the USC Faculty Senate.
  • Peter Beerel received the 2008 Outstanding Engineer Award from IEEE Region 6.
  • Michael Arbib, Terry Langdon and Ari Requicha were named AAAS Fellows.
  • Shri Narayanan, Timothy Pinkston and USC President Steven B. Sample were elected IEEE Fellows.In addition, Todd Brun, Krishna Nayak, Michael Neely and Kostas Psounis were named IEEE Senior Members.
  • Craig Knoblock and Massoud Pedram were named Distinguished Members by the ACM.
  • Michael Safonov was elected as a Fellow of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC).
  • Alan Willner has been named the editor of Optics Letters.
  • And Fokion Egolfopoulos has been named Editor-in-Chief of Combustion and Flame.

Thank you all.

I think that is a fitting way to conclude this year’s event. I would like to thank Jennifer Alvarado for organizing it and Kerri Bennett from Northrop Grumman for their continuous sponsoring of the teaching award.

On behalf of Yannis, I also want to thank each of you for your terrific work this year, and tell you how proud he is of you.

I personally want to thank you for your warm welcome today.

Good afternoon.