Logo: University of Southern California

Let's Change The Conversation

In his 2015 State of the School address, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos spoke of Engineering+ and of changing the conversation about engineering.
By: Marc Ballon
September 30, 2015 —
USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

In his Sept. 29, “State of the School” address, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos spoke to faculty and staff members at Town and Gown about how engineering has become the main driver of innovation by empowering "all other disciplines, from the natural sciences, to medicine, to social sciences, to the arts." He calls this process "Engineering+." Building on that theme, the dean said that technology and engineering leverage phenomena as never before for useful purposes, improving sustainability, health and security, among others.

Yortos also spoke of the importance of "changing the conversation" about engineering. He spotlighted several national programs and initiatives USC Viterbi has launched in recent months to dismantle pre-conceived notions about the profession and its many contributions to society.

“We are all familiar with the engineering stereotypes," Yortsos said, "which are as hard as those for lawyers. OK, I don’t disagree much about the lawyers. Just a joke — all my family have been lawyers, and I just barely escaped that destination myself! But it is about time that we dismantle these negative, Dilbert-like stereotypes about engineers and to just simply declare that engineers literally change the world, and they must come from all segments of our society.”

Download Full 2015 State of the School Address 

On “The Next MacGyver” competition
“Last February, in partnership with the National Academy of Engineering and MacGyver creator, Lee Zlotoff, we started a worldwide contest, “The Next MacGyver,” aimed at producing a script for a new TV show starring a female engineer. Nearly 2,000 entrants, worldwide, submitted ideas, which in June were distilled down to 12 finalists. In late July this summer, the 12 finalists pitched their idea to a panel of judges. The competition came to an end with the selection of five talented writers. Each finalist took home a $5,000 prize and was paired with a distinguished Hollywood mentor, including Anthony Zuiker of the CSI franchise, actress–producer America Ferrera of Ugly Betty, and Star Trek and Scorpion writer and producer Roberto Orci.

Just as CSI led to a surge of interest in forensics, we hope that one or more of our finalists’ visions for a strong female engineer lead will become a hit TV show, galvanizing girls everywhere to become the new face of engineering.”

On USC Viterbi’s commitment to inclusiveness
“I should remark that USC Viterbi has been transformed in the past few years in the makeup of its undergraduate class, as well as its faculty. The fall 2015 freshman class this year was 38 percent women, while the percentage of Viterbi undergraduates who are women is about 35 percent. Unfortunately, the national picture remains mostly unchanged. It has stagnated at about 19 percent for several years. And this must change. Hopefully, "The Next MacGyver" will do just that.

But the changing the conversation must also address other currently underrepresented in engineering segments of our population, Hispanic and African American. This is not simply a moral or societal issue. Given the changing demographics of our nation, it is also a deep economic issue.”

On supporting the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges
“As you know, as part of our efforts to change the conversation about what an engineer does, we have long promoted the NAE Grand Challenges – first, by hosting a national conference at USC in 2010; next, by organizing the 2013 Global Summit in London, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. And a week ago, by helping organize the second Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing.

But the Grand Challenges, and any grand challenges of the future will be solved by the next generation. It is for this reason that for a year now I helped organize the first-ever global student business plan competition on the Grand Challenges at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing. Fifteen teams, five each from the U.S., China and U.K., competed in a pitch competition very similar to our own MEPC. I am proud to tell you that USC Viterbi’s very own Stasis Labs took home the Silver Medal, the highest placement among the U.S. teams, under the guidance of Ashish Soni of our own Viterbi Student Innovation Institute.”

On attracting the best students
“Just like last year, our freshman class is the best in its history. In fact, this year was our most selective year since I have been at USC.

Thirty-eight percent of the entering class was named university scholars; 13 percent are National Merit Scholars. The average SAT at USC Viterbi has increased 77 points in the last nine years, which is incredible. I can say that we have the best freshman class in our history! Of course, I said the same last year — and the year before — and I think I will say the same next year, too.”

On the Four Pillars
"So, 110 years since its founding, USC Engineering is redefining what engineers do, who they are, what they look like. And as we take stock of where USC Viterbi is and where it is going, I would like to remind you of our four pillars, which essentially guide our strategy:

1. Talent. Attract top talent, whether students, faculty or staff, from anywhere in the world; and create the environment for them to flourish.

2. Value. Continuously add value in the curriculum, programs and infrastructure.

3. Thought Leadership. Lead globally to solve world challenges and enrich life, from sustainability, to health, to security to the elevation of the world’s standard of living.

4. Impact. Be the catalyst for the innovations — exponential, digital, combinatorial — that will fuel the economic growth of Los Angeles, Southern California, and the world."

On innovation
“Last year, as you know, USC became the home to a new hub of innovation — one of only seven in the nation — aimed at helping high-tech startups succeed. A three-year, $3.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation will help create an I-Corps Node at USC, to unite USC Viterbi and USC Marshall with our partners at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology.

In this sphere, the USC Viterbi Startup Garage, the nation’s only engineering student and alumni-led business incubator, has incubated 10 promising companies in its first three years of its operation.

Along with all other entrepreneurial and innovation activities, including MEPC, we are positioning USC Viterbi as a leader in tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Indeed, according to a recent study on engineering salaries and start-ups, Riviera Partners singled out USC as No. 2 ahead of Stanford as the school producing the most in-demand candidates.”

On the $500 million USC Viterbi Initiative (part of the $6 billion Campaign for the University of Southern California)
“To date, we have raised almost $300 million, about 60 percent on the way to our goal. Almost 11,000 unique donors have given so far in this campaign that is led by Mary Ann Schwartz, our terrific senior associate dean of advancement, and her advancement team.”