Logo: University of Southern California

Honoring new NAE members Iraj Ershaghi and Geraldine Knatz

New academy members receive engineering's highest honors
By: Marc Ballon
February 24, 2014 —
Iraj Ershaghi and Geraldine Knatz with USC President C. L. Max Nikias and USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. Photo by Steve Cohn

Iraj Ershaghi

At a Feb. 18 reception in the Ronald Tutor Hall, USC President C.L. Max Nikias, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and others honored two distinguished USC Viterbi School of Engineering faculty who have just been named members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the highest professional distinction accorded an engineer.

"Today we are proud to salute the significant accomplishments of Geraldine Knatz and Iraj Ershaghi," Nikias said. "And we are delighted that their extraordinary careers have been richly rewarded with induction into the National Academy of Engineering."

In early February, USC Viterbi Professor Ershaghi, Omar Milligan Professor of Petroleum Engineering in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, executive director of the Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies at USC, and executive director of UKC (USC - Kuwait Oil Company Center); and Viterbi alumna and lecturer  Knatz, the former Port of Los Angeles executive director, learned of their selections.

Ershaghi, a petroleum engineering graduate of the University of Tehran who earned an M.S. at USC Viterbi in 1968 and a Ph.D. four years later, has made innumerable contributions to the university over the past four decades. Among his many distinctions and awards, in 2012 he received the Society of Petroleum Engineer’s highest distinction, the Honorary Member Award, and in 2010, the John Franklin Carll Medal. Under his leadership of over 27 years as its chair, the USC Petroleum Engineering Program has become one of the most renowned in the nation. An internationally known expert in petroleum technology, Ershaghi also helped establish a number of innovative programs in the curriculum, including the nation’s first and only master's in petroleum engineering in smart oilfield technology. As co-director of CiSoft, a unique partnership between USC Viterbi and the Chevron Corp., Ershaghi has played an integral role in its success by helping to build teams of university scholars, scientists and students to undertake important research. In recognition of its educational impact, the Orange County Engineering Council last year named CiSoft as the OCEC Engineering Project of the Year.

Geraldine Knatz

Knatz, a lecturer in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a former member of the Viterbi School's Board of Councilors earned a master’s in environmental engineering in 1977 from USC Viterbi and a doctorate in biological sciences in 1979 from USC Dornsife. She became the Port of Los Angeles' executive director in early 2006 and held that position until recently. She and her team transformed the nation’s busiest commercial port into among the greenest while maintaining its No. 1 status.

Among other initiatives, Knatz and her team drove the switch to low sulfur fuels for ships’ propulsion by offering financial incentives. They also pioneered the use of shore-side electrical power for ships. During her tenure, she transformed the port complex, spearheading the creation of more than 60 acres of public parks and adding several miles of public promenade along the waterfront.

At the Feb. 18 reception, USC President Nikias spoke of the importance of faculty and alumni inductions into the NAE. "These extraordinary men and women not only enhance the reputation of the Viterbi School of Engineering, they raise the skyline of our entire academic community."

The NAE was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. Members have distinguished themselves in business and academic management, in technical positions, as university faculty, and as leaders in government and private engineering organizations. Members are elected to NAE membership by their peers (current NAE members).