Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

The Dean’s Message

At a recent leadership retreat earlier this month, I pondered the following questions: What is the magic recipe for creating long-lasting, flourishing initiatives that last for decades and decades, particularly in our exponentially changing world?

As we celebrate the 50th anniversaries of the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI), DEN@ Viterbi, our distance education network, and USC Signal and Image Processing Institute (SIPI), these queries are more relevant.

I don't think I have the complete answer, but I believe that the following elements are always needed: bold, uninhibited vision to accomplish something new, exciting, transformative, ahead of its time; agility and speed to implement, launch and materialize the vision; and strong nourishment, support, trust and confidence by the institution.

The vision and mindsets must be inspiring and tenacious.

Indeed, these attributes describe, for example, the thriving story of ISI, which has revolutionized computing worldwide. ISI's vital role in developing and managing the internet, originally known as the ARPANET, helped usher in human history's most incredible explosion of information. Its scientists also developed the Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP-Zoom, anyone?— and launched the first operational quantum computer of any university worldwide through our D-Wave partnership.

In just five decades, ISI has grown from a concept to a powerful real entity, to a national asset.

Another transformative initiative, also founded in 1972 was DEN@Viterbi, celebrating its golden anniversary this year as well. What I have long described as “technology enhanced access to the classroom," DEN truly defined the concept of "hybrid", long before COVID made it a household term. DEN has made it possible for any student with an internet connection, from American soldiers in Afghanistan and Kuwait to a quadriplegic
doctoral student living on the East Coast, to receive a world-class engineering education.

Of course, many universities have their remote learning programs, but none has the illustrious history, the across-the-board quality and the spectacular breadth of DEN, that offers 41 engineering master's degrees and five graduate certificates. Perhaps this is why for 10 consecutive years, DEN has been ranked in the top five in the nation both for online engineering and computer science.

In an interesting historical twist, in 2001, ISI researchers worked closely with members of DEN to move the platform entirely online. Maybe this is why DEN could transition 6,000 graduate students and faculty to online learning almost overnight when the COVD-19 pandemic shut down universities worldwide in early 2020.

This year, the USC Signal and Image Processing Institute, or SIPI, also turns 50. Part of our Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, SIPI has left an indelible technological mark. It is where coding research began for the JPEG and MPEG standards used for digital image compression, enabling, for example, the selfie. The results enriched the world. They laid the foundation for an Engineering Research Center (IMSC) and helped award an Emmy to our faculty.

So, in a world, where "me" sometimes takes precedence over "we," USC Viterbi continues building a culture that produces a positive value, one that is enduring and prevailing, adding another constant to a world where change is another recurring constant.

It is through such mindsets of growth, resilience, vision and agility, that we empower all disciplines, create new transformative initiatives, the next ISI, the next DEN, the next SIPI, and in the process keep engineering a better world for all humanity.

Dean, USC Viterbi
School of Engineering


About the Dean

Yannis C. Yortsos has served as Dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering since June 2005. He is the Chester F. Dolley Professor and also holds the Zohrab A. Kaprielian Dean’s Chair in Engineering. Yortsos received his B.Sc. from the National Technical University, Athens, Greece, and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, all in chemical engineering. He is well known for his work on fluid flow, transport, and reaction processes in porous and fractured media with applications to subsurface fluid flow, transport and reaction, and soil remediation. In this capacity, he has been actively involved in the peer review of the Yucca Mountain Project for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Before his appointment as dean, he served as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering (1991-1997) and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (2001-2005).

The recipient of many honors for research, teaching, and service, Dean Yortsos is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (elected in 2008) and has served on the NAE Council (2017-2023). In 2022, he received the Gordon Prize of the NAE for co-founding the Grand Challenges Scholars Program. The same year, he was also a co-recipient of a Los Angeles area Emmy for the USC Viterbi documentary Lives not Grades, which documented the journey of USC engineering students to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos and their effort to provide technology solutions to improve their condition.

Yortsos is an associate member of the Academy of Athens (elected in 2013), the recipient in 2013 of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected in 2022). In 2017 he received from the ASEE the President’s Award. Since December 2022, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief of PNAS Nexus. The journal, founded in 2021, is the only other scientific journal of the National Academies in more than 100 years. He has served on the Executive Committee of the Engineering Deans Council (2011-2017), where he also served as chair of its Diversity Committee (2012-2017), as well as the Executive Committee of the Global Engineering Deans Council for two different terms (2011-2015, and 2021- present). In 2011 he received an AIME Honorary Member Award and in 1985, the AIME Rossiter W. Raymond Memorial Award, among many other honors and recognitions. Since 2017 he holds an honorary degree from Tsinghua University.

Yortsos has articulated the concept of Engineering+, which positions engineering as the empowering discipline of our times and the discipline that helps engineer a better world for all humanity and has advocated a change of conversation about engineering. He views engineering education and research as consisting of activities in the following four general areas: Sustainability, Health, Security and Enriching Life. Along with his counterparts at Duke University and Olin College, he promoted in 2009 the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges of Engineering, co-hosting the first NAE Grand Challenges Summit at Duke University in the Spring of 2009 and the second annual summit at USC in Fall of 2010, and being on the steering committee of the ensuing global summits between the NAE, the RAE and the CAE. The first meeting produced the Grand Challenges Scholars Program for undergraduate engineering schools across the nation, which in 2022 received the Gordon Prize of the NAE. In the same capacity, he conceived and co-led in 2020 the NAE Call to Action against COVID-19. In 2015 he spearheaded an engineering diversity initiative that has been adopted by more than 230 engineering schools and has become a signature initiative of the ASEE. As a result of these changes in narrative, USC Viterbi attracts a large number of previously under-represented demographic groups in engineering- and since 2019, its entering Fall class has been gender-balanced. Yortsos also served as the PI of the NSF Gender Equity Initiative EDGE (2018-2021). He served on the National Research Council (NRC) Committees for the 2017 report on a New Vision for Center-Based Engineering Research as well as the 2017 report on The Value of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to National Priorities and completed a three-year term (2017-2020) as member of the National Sciences Foundation (NSF) Engineering Advisory Committee.

Yortsos led the establishment of new programs across curricula to enhance engineering, as well as multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, education, including collaborations between the Viterbi School of Engineering and other USC schools, such as the Keck School of Medicine, the School of Cinematic Arts (USC Games), the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work (Center for AI in Society), the Price School of Policy (transportation and homeland security centers), the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences (Quantum Computing Center, Research Center on Solar Energy and Solid State Lighting) and the Marshall School of Business (joint degree on AI for Business) among other initiatives. He has promoted global outreach through the iPodia platform, linking instruction of more than 12 top engineering schools worldwide and establishing engineering innovation and entrepreneurship in the Viterbi School. He was the PI of the NSF Innovation Corps Los Angeles Node (2014-2023) and currently serves as the PI of the NSF Innovation Hub West (2022-present), a multi-university effort to advance engineering and technology innovation in the Western United States between USC, the University of Colorado, UCLA, Caltech, Colorado School of Mines, the University of New Mexico, UC Riverside, and the University of Utah. To expand ties with top institutions overseas, Yortsos helped create offices overseas in India (Bangalore) and China (Shanghai), which have led to a strong global presence. He is a member of the Task Force on Expanding U.S.-India University Partnerships of the Association of American Universities (April 7, 2023- present).

These distinctions and initiatives have followed a substantial increase in size (by about a third), quality and diversity of the school’s faculty and its undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. student body (also by about a third); greater retention and graduation rates, which now exceed 90%; a growing number of major national and international faculty awards; and a thriving research program including forty-two national research centers and annual research expenditures of approximately $200M. Yortsos spearheaded strategic directions for the creation of educational and research programs that respond to the critical needs of the profession, as well as the broader needs of society. He instituted new programs for K-12 outreach (VAST, K-12 STEM), Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VSI^2), two Business Plan Competition Programs (MEPC, MFC), new undergraduate programs and options, including the CS (Games) program, new MS degrees (including Financial Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Green Technologies, and many others), which bring the total of such degrees to more than 40, and the creation of a new program that highlights the impact of engineers to society (Engineering in Society program). A significant new direction underway includes the Frontiers of Computing, announced in April 2023, and which will include the creation of a new School of Advanced Computing within the Viterbi School of Engineering, and a Silicon Beach Campus, that will incorporate the two Viterbi research Institutes, the Information Sciences Institute and the Institute for Creative Technologies. Since 2005, ten of its faculty and two of its Ph.D. students have been listed in the MIT Technology Review list of 35 Innovators under age 35, and nineteen of its faculty became National Academy of Engineering members. During his tenure as dean, the Viterbi School has raised more than $750M in external gifts and gift pledges, and five of the school’s academic departments have been named.

Published on October 18th, 2016

Last updated on July 18th, 2023