Logo: University of Southern California

State of the School, Fall 2010

I view the current juncture as a time for retrospection, refocus, and renewal

September 28, 2010 —

Thank you for the kind words, Erik – and congratulations on your re-election to the EFC chair. I kind of feel your pain…

Good afternoon to you all!

I am very pleased to welcome you to our traditional fall luncheon and the “State of the School” address of the Viterbi School of Engineering.

Associate Professor Erk Johnson, recently  re-elected to a second term as EFC chair, introduced Dean Yannis Yortsos

I am even more pleased that so many of you could be here today. As always, this forum gives us an opportunity to review the past, and set goals for the next year.

It was suggested to me that all I needed to say was: "The state of the school is fine. Thank you for coming." Then we could all go back to our offices and get some work done.

I was tempted, but there are just too many important things to talk about. So let me begin by paraphrasing Mark Twain who said: "I'm sorry but I did not have time to make this shorter."

But before we go to our main topic, allow me to take a few minutes to discuss the Good Neighbors Campaign.

The campaign is a university initiative to help the campus neighborhood- including a number of K-12 schools. It is entirely voluntary; it is funded by your own contributions; and it uses 100% of the proceeds to support projects in the surrounding-the-campus community.

I am very proud to tell you that just like in the prior year, the Viterbi family (including AMI, ICT and ISI) had a record contribution of $109K- up from last year’s $107K- with a participation rate of 35%. The amount is impressive.

It is a strong statement of outreach. In today’s tough economic times demonstrates your faith to the values of service and community outreach: Values that, incidentally, are also demonstratively shared by our own students.
Strengthening such outreach also helps us become more competitive in federal research awards, as many of you know. This provides us with the added unique incentive as engineers and researchers, to help even more this initiative.

I want to thank Steve Bucher and Neil Teixera for skillfully leading and managing the campaign last year.

Associate Professor Peter Beerel and Gloria Hayes will lead the Viterbi School's Good Neighbors Campaign.     

Gloria Hayes and Peter Beerel will lead the campaign this year. They are here to tell us how and particularly how to improve our relatively low participation rate of 35%.

Thank you Gloria and Peter.

This is a special time at the Viterbi School, and at USC. We are in leadership transitions at both the university and the school.

I am thrilled that my new term as dean coincides with the inception of the leadership of President Max Nikias, our former dean. The success of the Viterbi School is due in no small part to his contributions, and indeed, the contributions of all who preceded him in this office. And of course, I must credit our former president Steven Sample whose leadership has taken USC and the Viterbi School to new heights.

In previous years I have used the themes of music, painting, and… mythology, to paint the accomplishments of our faculty and staff. This year’s theme: A mystery writer. Look for hints along the way!

Once again, this Fall we have a banner freshman class that exceeded our expectations in quality and quantity. As in the past we surpassed our 400 freshmen target with 450 freshmen enrolled and another 50 waiting for a spot.

The class continues an ascending trend that is pulling the entire university up. Since 2000, the average SAT scores - math and critical reading and verbal - at the Viterbi School have risen by 120 points. In fact, this year’s class tops all last year's class by another 18 points.

Louise Yates tells me that it is difficult, almost impossible, to move this score more than four or five points in a given year. If you are really lucky, you can move it 10. We moved it 18 points in a single year. And once again we have the highest average in the university, and again, by a large measure.

Our students come from 26 different countries and 38 different states, and more than a third - 35% - of our freshmen are women. Their incredibly diverse backgrounds and interests enhance their co-curricular experiences, and their expectations of us.
One third of the entering class were named university scholars and almost one-fifth of our freshmen had perfect math SAT scores. Alas, my son Stevie, who is one of those freshmen, was not in the perfect score category, but he did earn athlete of the year honors in the San Gabriel Valley area.

These are some very bright students! They are, in fact, the brightest and the most talented we've ever had. Phileas Fogg would be proud of them. Louise and her office deserve the credit for getting them here and for taking care of them while they are here. Now it is up to the rest of us.

Perhaps the best news of all is how many of those students will be graduating with engineering degrees. In the crucial freshman year, the Viterbi return rates to engineering have steadily increased: from 84% three years ago, to 90% two years ago, to 92% last year. Our freshmen return rate for those who started fall 2009 has yet to be determined, but we expect continued progress in this metric.

These are outstanding gains for what is arguably the most demanding major in the university.

Dean Yannis Yortsos delivers the State of the School speech for Fall 2010.

Many of our students chose to attend Viterbi and USC rather than other top institutions. The Viterbi brand is getting stronger and stronger! Our job is to ensure that four years from now those students will know that they could not have made a better choice!
New educational programs last year emphasized entrepreneurship classes with the X-Prize Lab of the X-Prize foundation (enabled by Raghu), the i-Podium program, joining USC and PKU (enabled by Stephen Lu), and a number of new MS programs. I should also mention significant gains in our Information Technology Program, which continues to offer timely, attractive offerings for undergraduates across the university. Thanks go to the ITP faculty and Ashish Soni.

As a result of the tireless efforts of Kelly Goulis and her staff, our new MS class has also experienced dramatic changes in quality and composition. Applications to our graduate program have increased by more than 25%, with applications from China increasing by a factor of eight during the last three years. Many of the Chinese applicants come from the top ranked universities.

We have also seen growth in the full domestic application pool. There has been a 25% increase in non-DEN domestic applicants for the fall 2010 semester alone.

This makes up for the decrease we experienced in industry-supported domestic students. Many companies have revised their tuition-assistance policies, and while we are preferred partners with companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, we have taken a hit in such enrollments. Some good news, however: Boeing is relaxing their condition for MS and certificates in engineering! Hopefully, other companies will soon follow suit. Regardless, we comfortably made our enrollment targets and with a significant increase in quality.

We will continue to diversify our applicant pool aggressively so that we can continue to strengthen our MS program. We have additional global efforts planned this year in Latin America and Brazil, Turkey and Canada. It will be Around the world in 80 days for Kelly and her team!

Through the combined efforts of Margie Berti, Timothy Pinkston and the academic departments we have a strong new PhD class with 166 brand new PhD students. That's 15% larger than last year and this class is 36% domestic compared to 23% last year. And we have four times as many new underrepresented PhD students as last year.

We have increased the conversion of Provost's and Annenberg Fellowship recipients by 14% each. And we now have six NSF PhD fellows, the highest number ever for the school.

Our collaboration with the Keck School is now formal, through the creation of the new center in Health Technology and Engineering, which has finally converged to the acronym...HTE@USC. That experience was like A journey to the Center of the Earth…

I believe that the education component of this collaboration is unique in the nation. Twelve PhD students from Viterbi and twelve MD students from Keck will be in a cohort that will expose future physicians to technology and engineering, and future Viterbi PhD's to the clinical practice - the “soft and squishy” side. In parallel, HTE@USC will coordinate interdisciplinary research between medicine and engineering. The effort is led by Terry Sanger.

Led by Senior Associate Dean Maja Matarić, the school’s research is at an all-time high in both excellence and volume. A meteoric trajectory from the Earth to the Moon!

Our emphasis on Engineering+ research is reflected in major efforts and awards in the areas of health, energy, homeland security, and education, among others.

Recent notable research awards include large grants of more than a million dollars per year each in robotics, quantum computing, and wireless networks. Just earlier today it was announced that the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) has won a recomplete at the tune of $15.3 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Congratulations go to Steve Hora and Isaac Maya for this significant accomplishment!

You probably know also that the school is the centerpiece of a very large Department of Energy smart grid project, cost-shared by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. This includes controls, cybersecurity, and demand response.

And we are continuing our pursuit of interdisciplinary opportunities. In addition to HTE@USC, we have initiated collaborations with the Annenberg School of Communication, and social science faculty across campus. Collaboration workshops with SPPD and other areas are being planned for later this year.
I was thrilled to learn from Shri Narayanan about several significant grants in the new interdisciplinary area "behavioral informatics" and "behavioral signal processing" that studies addiction, depression, biometrics and behavioral computing focusing on autism- with funding from NIH, ARRA, NSF, DARPA and Cogent.

More examples of societal relevance are our many efforts in K-12 outreach, combined under the new Center for K-12 and Community Outreach, led by Professors Matarić and Ragusa. This provides opportunities for faculty involvement in K-12 teacher and student training, and is networking teams toward many funding opportunities. They are also a great example of how engineering is empowering society, something I'll be talking about in just a few minutes.
It is traditional at this meeting to present new faculty. In his new capacity, Timothy Pinkston played an important role to help recruit:

Jongseung Yoon, PhD from MIT, is a new assistant professor of materials science in the Mork Family Department and comes to us from the University Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he was a Beckman postdoctoral fellow.

Also joining the Mork Department in January is Yu-Shu Wu, a professor in petroleum engineering from Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the Colorado School of Mines.

Yan Liu, assistant professor in the machine learning and data mining area with a PhD from Carnegie Mellon, has joined the Computer Science Department from IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center's Data Analytic Group.

In the Epstein Department, Alejandro Toriello has joined as an assistant professor. He is working on supply-chain models involving transportation and inventory decisions and his PhD is from Georgia Tech.

Starting in January, Mike (Shuo-Wei) Chen will be a new assistant professor the Hiseh Department working on mixed-signal and RF circuits for WLAN radios. His PhD is from UC Berkeley and he is coming to us from Atheros Communications, Inc.

Also joining us after a competitive search is Professor Vasilis Marmarellis who has returned to Biomedical Engineering after leaving several years ago to create a startup. He lived five weeks in a balloon, so to speak!

Finally, I would also like to welcome Dorit Hochbaum, the Epstein Family professor of the Epstein Department. She is an operations research scholar and comes to us from UC Berkeley.

Our faculty is continuing to raise the stature of the Viterbi School by earning an impressive array of honors at an increasing rate. John O’Brien, Maja and Timothy, along with Gloria Hayes, have helped facilitate many of these.

Our junior faculty have received a truly outstanding number of national-level honors and distinctions, including PECASE awards (the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers) for Andrea Armani and Michelle Povinelli, the NIH Pioneer Award for Andrea, an NSF Career Award for Murali Annavarram, a highly competitive NIH R01 award for Noah Malmstadt, and a significant ARRA award for Shinyi Wu.

The PECASE is a very high and rare honor and I cannot remember our school ever having two PECASE winners in one year since I have been here.

MIT’s Technology Review also selected Michelle for the exclusive TR35 club consisting of the world's top innovators under the age of 35. And I do mean exclusive. Only 35 are chosen each year and about half are from industry, so the honor is all that much more distinguished for academic recipients. And of course, last year, Andrea, along with Ellis Meng, were two of the young engineers chosen for TR35.

Think about it: Three of the world's 70 top young innovators during the past two years are from the Viterbi School.

Please join me in giving these outstanding young faculty members a round of applause. All Michael Strogoff-like heroes!

There were many other honors and our older faculty are proving they haven't lost a step.

Alan Willner was elected an international fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He was one of only four U.S. engineers to be elected this year (along with Chuck Vest, President of the NAE and Bob Langer of MIT). Alan has also been honored with the Optical Society of America's 2010 Engineering Excellence Award and he has become the first holder of the Steven and Kathryn Sample Endowed Chair in Engineering.

Gerard Medioni was also selected with Alan for an HP Labs Innovation Research grant. Their projects were among only 52 universities to receive funding from nearly 400 submissions across 36 countries.

Giuseppe Caire has been elected president of the IEEE Information Theory Society for 2011. IEEE has honored Ari Requicha with its Nanotechnology Distinguished Service Award for his leadership as Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology and they invited him to serve a two-year term as a distinguished lecturer on the IEEE Nanotechnology Council- and that's no small thing!

There were two simultaneous honors for Petros Ioannou. He was elected a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and he received the institute's Heaviside Medal for Achievement in Control.

C. C. Jay Kuo was named 2010 Electronic Imaging Scientist of the Year for his excellence and contributions to the field of electronic imaging.

Martin Gundersen will be receiving the Sol Schneider Award of the 2010 IEEE Power Modulator and High Voltage Conference. This award recognizes continuing contributions to research, development, and test technology.

Maja Matarić was featured as one of the L.A. Times Magazine's five top "Los Angeles visionaries."

Andreas Molisch joins a list of Viterbi faculty as a recipient of an Okawa Grant to support his work in wireless systems in healthcare.

Jim Moore is the first academic ever elected to the Board of Directors of the California Transportation Foundation. He was also the first ever nominated.

Bhaskar Krishnamachari has received the 2010 Frederick EmmonsTerman Award from the American Society of Engineering Education- In part, for his textbook, Networking Wireless Sensors, originally published when he was just 28. Shades of the Fifteen-Year Old Captain!

Iraj Ershaghi continues to garner accolades from his peers but this time he has topped himself by winning the Society of Petroleum Engineers' John Franklin Carll Distinguished Professional Award.

Don Paul, who in addition to being a member of our faculty, is the executive director of the USC Energy Institute, has been appointed to the National Petroleum Council by U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu.

Milind Tambe just won the Homeland Security Award for Border and Transportation Security from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. And I can tell you that the USC Parents Association will also single out Milind this coming weekend with a teaching and mentoring award for 2010.

ISI's Yolanda Gil was elected chair of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence - that's ACM SIGART for those of you who prefer acronyms.

And Bart Kosko was elected to the College of Fellows of the International Neural Network Society.

The NAE has picked three of our faculty to participate in their Frontiers of Engineering program. Elaine Chew was a featured presenter at this month's NAE Frontiers of Engineering symposium and Burcin Becerik-Gerber was invited to attend the December Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium. Cyrus Shahabi is helping organize the NAE Frontiers of Engineering symposium next June in Japan.

Rahul Jain and Shri Narayanan have been selected for 2010 IBM Faculty Awards.

And for his service to the university community, the USC Academic Senate honored Shri Narayanan with the 2010 Distinguished Faculty Service Award.

Ubli Mitra is the first EE faculty member to serve as a Fellow at the USC Center for Excellence in Research.

And last but certainly not least, I would like to welcome back Naj Meshkati who has finished his year as a Jefferson Science Fellow with the State Department and has been working in an advisory role this summer on a federal panel providing technical analysis of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf oil spill. Passe-Partout would have been proud of him!

Congratulations to all!

Let me now call your attention to fundraising. I'm sure President Nikias will be calling my attention (and my compensation) to it! We are weathering a challenging economy- yet we are in good shape for the very strong USC push that lies ahead. Our new President has fundraising as one of the cornerstones of his presidency. It is almost certain that we will start racing towards that goal at 200 miles per hour.

Under Christopher Stoy's leadership in fiscal year 2009-2010, cash gifts and new pledges totaled almost $42 million. The new pledge gift total was the highest amount for any school or unit at USC for 09-10. Our 09-10 new pledges more than doubled the 08-09 total and we rank third among all schools at USC, trailing only Keck and Cinematic Arts.

As you know, we have a joint fundraising project with the College for a new building - the Frontiers of Science and Engineering Building. Of course, that building will have another name on it when we find a donor.

This building, to be shared with the College and located in front of Kaprielian Hall and across the street from Parking Structure A, should net about 80,000 assignable square feet split with the College. Plans are for it to have a “state of the art” auditorium, space for shared core labs, a mix of wet and dry labs for researchers and associated support spaces - offices, conference rooms, administrative space, etc. It will cost an estimated $100 million. Linda Rock is spearheading this effort. Sometimes you wish you lived in Montana…

The fiscal year 2010 ended in the black, again, with revenues slightly exceeding budget, with David’s masterful job of stewardship of our resources, and John O’ Brien’s exquisite planning of MS recruitment. The first three weeks in the Fall semester also show that we are right on target in meeting our budget projections for 2010. However, like everyone else, we are always vulnerable to global changes, and the global economy. We should be always alert and vigilant in these unsteady financial times and to wisely use and invest our resources.

I have mentioned often before that engineering is empowering society by supplying existing, and creating new, tools, devices, methodologies- and by exporting ways of thinking, of innovating and of communicating.

This empowering attribute could not be more aptly summarized but in the articulation by the National Academy of Engineering (the NAE) in February of 2008, of the Grand Challenges for Engineering. NAE President Chuck Vest defined a ‘Grand Challenge’ as one that is “visionary, but do-able with the right influx of work and resources over the next few decades”— a challenge that, if met, would be “game-changing” and have a “transformative” effect. A committee of 20 came up with 14 Grand Challenges (it is a mysterious number, I must say). They range from making solar energy economical to reverse-engineering the brain, to preventing nuclear terror. They can be summarized in four general categories/buckets of: sustainability, vulnerability, health, and the joy of living (an almost anthropomorphic categorization). Many, if not all, address important societal issues. And their solution is not going to be simply technological. It will include the combined efforts of technologists, innovators, businessmen, educators, policy makers and communicators.

The Viterbi School has been a national leader in promoting these challenges. We co-organized along with Duke University and Olin College, the first national summit on these grand challenges in March 2009 in Raleigh, NC. And, we will host next week, from October 7-8, a second such summit. This time it will be co-sponsored with Caltech. We have put a tremendous effort to make this an outstanding national event. Leslie Da Cruz, Angus McColl, and a number of others have contributed immensely to putting together what will be a strong showcase of the school. I am very proud of the effort and so should you. I invite you to join us along with key speakers, including the presidents of USC, Caltech and Harvey Mudd, as well as Ali Velshi of CNN, and Matt Wald of the New York Times for a great two-day meeting. Please mark your calendars and I hope to see you all there! (I will take attendance! And you should feel free to cancel your classes.)

Now, I would like to talk a little about my re-appointment for another five years as your dean. I kind of feel that I am no longer Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea…

I have accepted this offer to continue with a great sense of responsibility, and with an equal share of excitement. My sense of responsibility flows from my obligation to enable us to reach for a destiny of greatness. My sense of excitement is driven by the realization that this destiny is within reach.

Retrospection, renewal, even re-invention, are essential to the success of all organizations. Our students automatically renew us every year, and we thrive on their influence. However, today’s world spawns change at an unprecedented rate, whether technological, societal, or global. And this change brings waves that break on the steps of academia with increasing force and frequency.

I view the current juncture as a critical time for retrospection, refocus and renewal. In the past, my vision was encapsulated in four succinct goals. I wanted all of us to work for the Viterbi School to be:

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

That vision remains, but I am re-adjusting and re-focusing with two new dimensions:

• Nurturing the culture for the school to be the source of the next great innovation and
• Advancing engineering's potential as the enabling discipline of our times - in what we call Engineering+

In today’s world, economic growth is driven by the creation of intellectual property. Successful research universities, such as ours, are measured by their ability to attract intellectual capital, whether students, faculty, or research staff, who produce innovation in all its forms, from education to research to commercialization. We are fortunate that we already have a wealth of such intellectual resources – talent of an increasingly rich caliber. Moreover the Viterbi School has already played a pivotal role in the communications revolution that has transformed the world during the past half century. The Information Sciences Institute was a pioneer of the Internet. And Andrew Viterbi’s algorithm has enabled the faithful transmission and reproduction of signals amidst the cacophony and chaos of signals that crowd the ether. These two dramatic discoveries have brought unprecedented advances in the lives of everyone on our planet. Now, our next challenge is for the Viterbi School to become the cauldron for the next important innovation to have worldwide impact, and to be recognized as such. This distinction will place the school unambiguously and unquestionably as a global center of engineering excellence.

“Innovation” is a word frequently used in many disciplines. But its most fundamental, most compelling, and truest manifestations are found in technology and engineering. Promoting and cultivating innovation is a mandate from the society in today’s challenging times. Meeting it requires us to unleash engineering’s enabling and transformative power to the problems of our times – Engineering+. Imagining this vision brings breathtaking vistas into view: a Viterbi campus that vibrates with the pulse of creativity and innovation and the advancement of thought, ingenuity, and skill; a curriculum enriched with innovation, entrepreneurship, communication, and community and global outreach; the pursuit and discovery of new laws, materials, processes, systems, and devices in collaboration with the natural sciences; interdisciplinary research and scholarship, in close partnerships with medicine and health sciences, policy, communications, social sciences, business, and the arts; the development of innovative solutions to vexing problems, such as the NAE Grand Challenges, faculty members enabled to fulfill their immense potential; and the preparation of new professionals with the skills and tools to implement these transformations, define the forefront of discovery, pioneer change, and become world leaders in new industries and new economies.

Accomplishing this vision requires nurturing a culture that promotes and rewards excellence and innovation in all its forms, is consciously impatient with mediocrity, and offers a tremendous pride of association to all who are touched by the Viterbi School. Creating the mechanisms for fostering a new culture has begun with the founding of departmental institutes, such as the Ming Hsieh Institute and the Daniel J. Epstein Institute. It will continue with a number of new initiatives.

Fundraising and further enhancing the school’s reputation and visibility will be significant components of this ambition to make Viterbi the premier incubator for new ideas in Southern California – and, yes, the world. I am certain that
you share in this ambition and I am thrilled to work together to make it a reality.

President Nikias’ own vision will certainly challenge the Viterbi School to surpass and re-invent itself. I am confident that this articulation of our goals and their relentless pursuit will harmonically resonate with his own goals for the University of Southern California.

This will be the goal that I will dedicate my next term as a dean. In the Fall of 2010, our vision is 20/20. I ask you to join me in that effort.  Thank you once again for coming, and I hope to see you all at the Grand Challenges Summit.