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"From Very Good to Great"

USC Viterbi School faculty and staff filled Town and Gown to hear their dean share a stirring list of accomplishments and set a lofty goal

September 22, 2011 —

What can we be best in the world at?


In a State of the School speech filled with quotes from Shakespeare and praise for USC Viterbi achievements and achievers, Dean Yannis C. Yortsos opened his second term as dean.

Addressing hundreds of faculty and staff gathered for the annual luncheon meeting in Town and Gown, Yortsos moved from the glories of the past year to the hopes for the future and beyond, hopes that were encapsulated around the lofty challenge of going from

Very Good to Great

The speech opened with praise for last year's accomplishments. Year-after-year, such successes have led directly, he said, to the remarkable rise in reputational, scientific and academic recruitment the school has enjoyed in recent years. But the challenge now, he said, paraphrasing the title of Jim Collins book, “Good to Great,” is how to move from Very Good to Great

Viterbi’s current ‘good’ is formidably good, the dean demonstrated, starting with a striking list of Viterbi advances from undergraduate entrepreneurial education to graduate student growth, including the creation of the unique HTE@USC 4-year engineering/medical program in collaboration with the USC Keck School of Medicine, to a remarkable growth in research and scholarship.

And he did not forget the many faculty honors, grants and awards in the short few months since last April, including:

  • Two prestigious MURI research awards, one for quantum research (Daniel Lidar) and another for behavioral game theory (Milind Tambe)
  • A $5 million Coulter Foundation award for translational biomedical science for BME and chair Norberto Grzywacz
  • A new K-12 outreach effort under Vice Dean Maja Matarić and Gigi Ragusa that won the only NSF grant awarded in the field
  • The MIT TR35 awards, a top distinction awarded to 35 top innovators worldwide under the age of 35. This year, two Viterbi faculty, Bhaskar Krishnamachari and Jernej Barbič, were singled out in this prestigious list. They joined three other winners from the school in the past two years, Andrea Armani, Ellis Meng and Michelle Povinelli, all women junior faculty. NSF Career Awards to Alex Dimakis, Rahul Jain, Andrea Hodge and Qiang Huang – plus a Humboldt Foundation Research Award to Hodge
  • A number of senior faculty awards, to Tony Maxworthy, who won the Fluid Dynamics Prize of the American Physical Society, Andy Molish, who was elected to the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Alan Willner, Andy Molish and Mel Breuer, who won various IEEE prizes.
  • And the recruitment of a remarkable group of new faculty members


YortbigBut, as the dean said, quoting Shakespeare, “what is past is prelude.” The dean laid out the future, the paths that the school would be taking on the road to advance the vision: “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+.”

But more will be necessary than vision.

As Yortsos noted, USC's recently announced campaign will "provide the means for us to move from very good to great. It will fund the hiring of transformative faculty, endowment for student scholarships and faculty chairs, the completion of the naming of our departments and centers, the creation of new research facilities and the launch of new academic programs."

In a nod to Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", Yortsos added: "'Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.' Well, as a school we can cross the first one off the list. Our origins are very humble. And we certainly cannot wait for the third — that does not work in a free and competitive society. Our challenge is achieving greatness on our own — here’s where this campaign, unprecedented among universities, will provide the means to move us. And I am very confident that with your support we will do just that."

An edited version of Yortsos’ speech can be found here.