Logo: University of Southern California

Masters of the Universe

At the USC Viterbi master’s graduation ceremony, students look to the future
By: Katie McKissick
May 16, 2014 —


See all photos of the event here.

On a sunny Southern California afternoon, graduating USC Viterbi master’s students filed into the Galen Center. Adorned in their caps and gowns—and sometimes decorated construction helmets—they were ready to receive the degree for which they’d worked so hard. And with years and countless hours of hard work behind them, these students were looking forward.

"It will be you who will solve vexing climate problems, who will master the miracles of biology to eradicate diseases, who will educate and enlighten, and who will help lift millions from poverty, who will re-light the engine of economic development," said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. "In short, you will 'create the world that never was.'"

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a visionary surgeon, philanthropist, good friend of USC Viterbi and member of the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors, gave the keynote speech about his groundbreaking career in medicine and the lessons he learned about persistence along the way. He encouraged students to follow their dreams and fight for what they believe in, saying, “Every one of you in this room has the opportunity to change humanity in your own lifetime.”

Tracy Lenz

This academic year’s graduating master’s students, represent 51 countries over 6 continents, with students from Azerbaijan all the way to New Zealand. This class also has the most representation from Latin America in USC Viterbi history. Additionally, an impressive 49 students maintained a perfect 4.0, and 230 earned their degree through the Distance Education Network, DEN@Viterbi.

One such DEN@Viterbi student is Tracy Lenz, 27. She had only been to campus once before the Commencement celebrations. An engineer at Jones Energy in Texas, Lenz will immediately put her master’s in petroleum engineering, smart oilfield technologies, to good use. For her, DEN@Viterbi presented a rare opportunity to further her career. “A graduate degree wouldn't have been possible if not through DEN,” said Lenz. “Getting my degree through USC sets me apart, as it's a distinguished university with a unique combination of strengths.”

Eder Figueroa Ortiz

Also among the day’s graduates is Eder Figueroa Ortiz, a 28-year-old from Bogota, Colombia. With his freshly minted master’s in computer science, he’ll be joining the team at Tilofy, a company launched in the USC Viterbi Startup Garage. For him, coming to USC Viterbi was a “life-changing experience.” After celebrating on campus with his parents who traveled from Colombia, he will be sightseeing around California.

Shruti Sharma

Another student, Shruti Sharma, 24, is an international student from India who studied electrical engineering and worked with the Office of Graduate and Professional Programs to address graduate student needs and concerns as the USC Viterbi graduate student liaison. Sharma took advantage of all the opportunities available to her as a USC Viterbi student. “The professors and facilities are world-class. Apart from academics, the opportunities for involvement with the student organizations on campus helped me hone my leadership and communication skills," she said. "I am a better team player now due to the multitude of group projects and collaborative study environments at USC Viterbi.” But for Sharma, developing these skills is just the first step: “The bigger goal is to make a mark on society by putting my engineering skills to use.”

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong

Part of the graduation festivities include naming the new inductees to the USC Order of Areté. In Greek, areté means virtue or excellence in attaining one’s utmost human potential. The following students are recognized for demonstrating significant depth and scope of responsibility in a campus or community leadership role: Kevin Xu, M.S. Biomedical Engineering; Christina Becerra-Jones, M.S. Civil Engineering; Shiyu Tan, M.S. Engineering Management; Rutvik Acharya, M.S. Mechanical Engineering; and Sara Voisin, M.S. Medical Device and Diagnostic Engineering.

As the USC fight song played students out while they exited the auditorium, it was symbolic of the day’s ceremonies and the future. Students celebrated with their family and friends, posing for pictures with their outstretched arms and their hands forming the “V for victory.” Indeed, graduates, “Fight on!”