In his Friday, Sept. 19, “State of the School” address, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos spoke to assembled faculty and staff members at Town and Gown about the USC Viterbi School's major accomplishments in the decade since its naming and the excitement he feels about the engineering school's future.
“This year,” Yortsos observed, “marks the 10th anniversary of the transformative naming gift to the school from Andy and his wife Erna in 2004. We have grown tremendously through the years, most notably the last 10 years . . . In many ways, the USC School of Engineering has always been the USC Viterbi School of Engineering: synonymous with the academic excellence, inventiveness, entrepreneurship and character of its alumnus and current namesake.”
Some highlights from the dean's “State of the School” remarks:
On summer reading:
“One of the more interesting books I read over the summer is 'The Second Machine Age,' by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Among the many important points they make, I liked most their classification of technology. They classify it in three categories . . .
Exponential, digital and combinatorial. They are the domains upon which schools of engineering, like ours — and the world — will live and thrive in this new post-industrial era. It is our mission to develop these new technologies (whether exponential, digital or combinatorial) for useful purposes: to meet existing and new grand challenges in sustainability, security, health and the joy of living. Challenges, such as the NAE Grand Challenges, where our school is providing worldwide leadership.”
On attracting top talent:
“Thirty one percent of the entering (freshman) class were named university scholars. Fifty-nine are National Merit Scholars. Twenty percent had perfect math scores on either the SATM or ACTM. And the average SAT is about 10 points higher than last year’s (the power of 10 again!). It has increased by 66 points since the new test was introduced in 2006. Thirty seven percent of the entering freshmen are women: when only 18 percent or so is the national average in engineering.”
On a trinity of global innovators:
“Earlier this year, the ‘MIT Technology Review’ announced its TR 35 list (top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35). Among the winners are three USC Viterbi faculty members: Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Maryam Shanechi; Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering George Ban-Weiss; and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Megan McCain. This is the first time ever that three such winners from Viterbi were selected in the same year, among a few and select 35 worldwide.”
On the $500 million Viterbi Initiative campaign:
“How are we doing in this campaign? To date, and after four years, we have raised almost $250 million; we are halfway there with about the same time to go. Almost 10,000 unique donors have given almost 20,000 gifts so far in this campaign. (The power of 10!).”
On the vision of the School:
“This is a theme to which I have returned to time and again, which drives today’s world: ‘engineering empowering society.’ I call it engineering+. At USC Viterbi we look at engineering, at technology, in a much broader sense than the traditional. Here is how we think:
Technology is taking advantage (leveraging) of a phenomenon (or of phenomena) for useful purposes.
Traditionally, the ‘phenomena’ we exploit as engineers are of a physical, chemical or geological nature — e.g. semiconductors, chemical synthesis, water aquifers, oil and gas — and the resulting technology is what is traditionally associated with engineering (computers, airplanes, hydrocarbons, etc.). We are very much pursuing these phenomena today, and we always will.
During the last few decades, however, the rapid (exponential) advances in biology have also brought us 'biotechnology' and 'bioengineering,' now exploiting biological phenomena, with their unprecedented consequences for health and medicine, as well as for biomimetic processes in designing new materials, new processes.
. . . the next step will involve even more complex systems, such as individuals (the human body as a whole, including the brain), and then societal phenomena. So I will argue that we are also witnessing, and at an unprecedented fast pace, technologies which are based on leveraging societal (in addition to physical, chemical or biological) phenomena . . .
This enabling power of engineering, engineering+, is why I am so full of anticipation for the future and why USC Viterbi, which cultivates this mindset, is such an exciting place to be.”