Logo: University of Southern California

Spotted at the White House: Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

Chair of Diversity Committee of the Engineering Deans Council Discusses Consortium to Foster Diversity

August 04, 2015 —
White House 580
The White House hosted Demo Day, where USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos shared a pledge, signed by over 100 engineering deans, to foster great diversity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

USC Viterbi News: Why are you at the White House today?

Dean Yortsos: As chair of the Diversity Committee of the Engineering Deans Council, I led the Engineering Diversity effort which has resulted into a letter pledge signed by more than 100 engineering deans in a very short period of time — less than two weeks since the campaign was launched. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy thought that it is a wonderful initiative, nicely complementing the first-ever White House Demo Day on inclusive entrepreneurship. We timed the joint announcement of the two events, and as a result, I was invited as a guest at the event.

VN: What has USC Viterbi been doing to foster diversity thus far?

Dean Yortsos: USC Viterbi has a number of significant efforts from K-12 to undergraduate admissions to faculty recruitment to enhance engineering diversity in all the parts of the engineering pipeline. I am particularly proud of the fact that fall 2015’s entering freshman class consists of approximately 38 percent women, when the national average is still below 20%. There is a lot more that we need to do, and we are making strides through coordinated efforts, including the Center for Engineering Diversity (CED), WiSE, and VAST.

VN: Why did you spearhead the diversity letter initiative among ASEE schools?

Dean Yortsos: The initiative was the outcome of the diversity session of the Engineering Deans’ Institute in South Carolina on April 14, 2015, which I chaired. It became very apparent during that event that a stronger action was needed to make a change. With the help and support of my engineering dean colleagues, we were able to articulate an action plan, which was promptly endorsed by a substantial fraction of the engineering deans’ community, as I noted above. This endorsement effort will continue later in the summer as the fall semester begins. It will then be followed by specific action to help implement the items pledged in the letter.

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos (left) with Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States (right). Photo courtesy of Dean Yortsos.

VN: What excites you most about today’s event?

Dean Yortsos: In the past, the career avenues of engineering graduates were either industry or graduate school. Today, more and more of our engineering graduates start or join technology start-ups. Entrepreneurship is thus becoming a significant career alternative. It is important that this avenue becomes available to a wide segment of our graduates and our society. Today’s event is an affirmation at the highest level of authority in the U.S., the White House, that this is indeed an important national priority.

VN: How do you think this diversity initiative and commitment will impact society?

Dean Yortsos: Changing the conversation about engineering is a necessity, even for growing the economy. By engaging our whole society in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) we increase our innovation capacity through the diversity of thought and ideas. It’s also timely — to break stereotypes about ability and talent. Today's world is driven by intellectual property generation. Engineering is right in the middle of it; it empowers society. Our economy and ultimately our national security will be won on the strength of this competition. And we want all of our society to be equal partners in this evolution.