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Research, Service and Excellence

2012 Faculty Staff Awards luncheon a time of celebration, renewal
Adam Smith
May 09, 2012 —

On April 25, in an annual celebration of USC Viterbi’s faculty and staff at Town and Gown, Yortsos took the occasion to salute both groups and forecast the school’s future.

SEASON OF CELEBRATION: Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, speaking before the assembled Viterbi faculty and staff at Town and Gown, recounted successes from the past year and bestowed honors. For Yortsos, the 2012 Faculty and Staff Awards Luncheon was a moment to "express appreciation to all who have made a difference."
“In today’s hyper connected world,” observed Yortsos, “being best or among the very best is essential; being average will not result in an average job. And at least in the developed countries, good jobs will be based on innovation. I strongly believe that engineering schools and universities will be the keys to that ecosystem. Our job is to nurture and cultivate this ecosystem here in Los Angeles.”

The dean’s call to action, on the heels of last fall’s “State of the School” address, is one of vaulting ambition.

Evoking President Nikias’ call for USC to become a place of “undisputed elite status,” Yortsos distilled this singular challenge for USC Viterbi by paraphrasing Jim Collins’ book: “Our challenge will be to go ‘from (very) good to great.’”

Yortsos enumerated four main drivers of that greatness:

• “One — be the global attractor of top talent, whether students and faculty (and staff), from anywhere in the world.”
• “Two — continuously add value and innovate in our curriculum, our programs and our infrastructure.”
• “Three — use engineering+ to be the catalyst for the innovations that will fuel the economic growth of Los Angeles, Southern California, the United States and the world.”
• “Four — lead globally to advance solutions to world challenges; from sustainability, to health, to security to the elevation of the world’s standard of living.”

The honorees at the 2012 Faculty and Staff Awards Luncheon include:

2012 Junior Research Award: Michelle Povinelli, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. Povinelli has been recognized nationally with a presidential PECASE award, an NSF Career award, an Air Force Young Investigator Award and an MIT TR35 award for her work predicting the efficiency of solar cells. Said Maja Matarić, vice dean of research: “. . . this person has already shaken the president’s hand — this is a natural next step, to be recognized by the Viterbi School!”

2012 Senior Research Award: Aiichiro Nakano, Department of Computer Science, Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Having been singled out nationally by the U.S. Department of Energy, Nakano is the architect of algorithms for massive “data visualization techniques for enabling simulations involving multi-billion atoms.” Said Matarić: “These are also critical to key societal issues, such as the design of next generation nuclear reactors to address the global energy problem.”

2012 Use-Inspired Award: Rich Roberts, Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. The Roberts Lab Group has developed new therapeutics for treating cancer and diabetes — specifically, the idea that properly designed peptides, short chains of amino acids, could be used as effective therapeutics. According to Matarić, “Natural peptides are common, but they’re usually inappropriate for therapeutic use because they fall apart quickly . . . In cancer, the lab developed both a general approach and three new peptide therapies that are effective in blocking tumor growth, such as in common breast cancer tumors.”

Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award: Dana Sherman, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Having been the instructor of record in more than 100 course offerings over the past 32 years, Sherman, a Viterbi senior lecturer, has been known for his busy teaching load and the design of several courses from the ground up. Said James Moore, vice dean for academic programs: “He routinely, not inevitably, but routinely scores a perfect average of ‘5’ on the holy questions 11 and 12 from the course surveys we administer to our students . . . I expect (Dana) would have handily won the Northrop Grumman teaching award decades ago had part time faculty been eligible.”

Faculty Service Award: Erik Johnson, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. According to Yortsos, Johnson, the former interim chair of civil engineering, served the Astani Department “at a very critical moment of transition.” Said Yortsos: “This year’s recipient has provided dedicated service to his department and the school over his career. He served as the EFC chair for two consecutive terms and helped elevate its impact significantly. In addition, he generously gave his time . . . as the chair of the faculty search committee in his department.”

Staff Service Award: Jason Dziegielewski, manager for the VBA IT Information Services group. In addition to maintaining a number of existing applications — databases and web based — and overseeing the creation of new applications throughout the school and the university, Dziegielewski’s team also is responsible for the IT backbone of the Viterbi website and the Content Management System devised to allow units to manage the content of their websites. According to one nomination letter: “In some way, just about every Viterbi faculty and staff member interacts with an application (Jason) developed or helped develop.”

Staff Award for Excellence: John Ng, VBA IT Operations Manager. Ng’s sprawling portfolio includes the administrative IT needs of faculty, staff and sometimes students and support for a number of department computer labs. According to Linda Rock, vice dean of administration, Ng’s support letters cite: “ . . . a passion for improving the delivery of services with a commitment to continuous improvement.” The nomination letters go on to note that Ng “works diligently to provide friendly immediate customer support . . . with professionalism and a smile.”

Staff Early Career Award: Shirley Schutt, Instructional Support Center evening supervisor at GAPP and DEN. With over 16 support letters from a cross-section of DEN faculty, colleagues, her supervisor and some of her employees, Schutt’s support package was singularly impressive, according to Rock. Her nominators wrote that Shirley’s work is “of the highest quality, consistently excellent, and she focuses on customer satisfaction. She keeps a positive and customer service attitude in challenging situations, and often goes out of her way to assist the faculty, staff and students.”