Up, up and away at the 2017 faculty and staff awards

| May 3, 2017

Honoring the work and dedication of USC Viterbi faculty and staff

“Spring is the season of hope and renewal.” That was the reverberant chord struck by Dean Yannis Yortsos at the USC Viterbi annual faculty and staff awards luncheon on April 25 when the school came together to celebrate the accomplishments of its faculty and staff for the past year.

Yortsos began by applauding the people behind the scenes who’ve worked tirelessly to prepare the class of 2017 to cross the finish line, as well as those who have shaped the incoming class.

“This new group will be better than the previous, just like the previous was better than the one before it,” Yortsos said. “The cycle begins anew.”

Yortsos also emphasized that this creative cycle occurs in the midst of unprecedented and accelerating innovation that is altering the way we work, live, interact and create:

“Engineers, scientists and technologists will be the key drivers of new innovation and will increasingly be called to address new challenges in the expanding domain of convergence.”

Breaking boundaries, setting records

U.S. News & World Report recently designated USC Viterbi’s online graduate engineering and computer science programs as No. 1 in the country. The school is now home to 1,582 female graduate students, more than any other school in the country, according to the most recent ranking data. Similarly, 40 percent of this year’s incoming freshman class are women.

USC Games, a unique collaboration with the USC School of Cinematic Arts, was again named the No. 1 game design program by Princeton Review.

Nora Ayanian and Kelly Sanders were named among the world’s top innovators under 35 by MIT Technology Review, making USC Viterbi one of the world’s top institutions with the largest number of awardees — 12, since 2009.

Faculty and staff also celebrated two firsts for our undergraduate students:

USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab (RPL) broke the student world record by launching a student-made rocket to 144,000 ft. But USC Viterbi’s aero and astro accomplishments do not end here. The Aero Design team won first place at the 2017 DBF world competition of the AIAA. It was followed by the Georgia Tech team which claimed second place and the MIT team which placed fourth.

In 2016, the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) recorded the highest award wins and award funds in its history under the leadership of Prem Natarajan. 2017 has already seen significant success for collaborative proposals with participants from both ISI and main university campus. Examples include the $30.9 million IARPA RAVEN award, and the selection of our IARPA QEO (quantum computing), MOSAIC (human-machine interaction), and HFC (forecasting) proposals.

ISI’s new office in Waltham, Massachusetts started operations in February 2017 and currently hosts six research staff in computer vision, natural language processing and quantum information processing. The Waltham team has already recorded its first successful $6.4 million DARPA proposal in less than 100 days.

But the day was also about the individual accomplishments of faculty and staff. Here is a brief list of outstanding distinctions for the past year:

Mark Humayun, National Academy of Inventors (NAI) fellow & the USC Presidential Medallion

Shrikanth (Shri) Narayanan, National Academy of Inventors (NAI) fellow

Shanghua Teng, USC University Professor

Ari Requicha, USC Lifetime Achievement Award

Lucio Soibelman, 2016 ASCE Richard R. Torrens Award, and the 2017 ASCE Construction Management Award

Daniel Lidar, Guggenheim Fellow

Azad M. Madni, James E. Ballinger Engineer of the Year Award, John J. Guarrera Engineering Educator of the Year

Mike Gruntman, OCEC Distinguished Engineering Educator Award; Elected to the International Academy of Astronautics

Hossein Hashemi, 2016 Bell Labs Prize winner – 1st Place

Berok Khoshnevis, “Connected World” top 10 Pioneer in the Internet of Things

Mike Zyda, 2017 IEEE Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award

Parag Haldavar, 2017 Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement

Yolanda Gil, ACM fellow

Roger Ghanem, AAAS fellow

John Carlsson, Popular Science “Brilliant 10”

Felipe de Barros, Ilias Diakonikolas, Han Wang and Wyatt Lloyd, NSF CAREER Awards

Mitul Luhar, AFOSR Young Investigator Award

Megan McCain, 2017 Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE) Rising Star
and the American Heart Association’s Faculty Award

Stacey Finley, inaugural winner of the Leah Edelstein-Keshet Prize

Nora Ayanian, MIT TR 35 Winner

Kelly Sanders, MIT TR 35 Winner

Ilias Diakonikolas, Sloan Fellow

Emilio Ferrara, Complex Systems Society Junior Scientific Award

Dean Yortsos also highlighted the school’s ongoing effort to attract the best faculty. Mark Davis, renowned chemical engineer and nanomedicine expert will join the ranks of USC Viterbi faculty from Caltech in fall 2017. Davis is one of the few individuals in the world to be elected to the three National Academies: the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.

We congratulate this year’s awardees:

Staff Award for Excellence, Heather Alexander

(from L to R) Vice Dean for Administration Linda Rock, Heather Alexander and Dean Yannis Yortsos

Heather Alexander,  administrative assistant in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science was awarded the Staff Award for Excellence that recognizes performance that is extraordinary, and routinely rises above and beyond our expectations.

Alexander has been the assistant to the Mork Family Department Chair for more than nine years, having assisted three chairs in that time. Along with directly supporting the chair and the scheduling that entails, Alexander coordinates large and small events, organizes the schedules of visitors, graduate students and speakers, supports faculty recruitment, appointments and promotions as well as coordinates all aspects of the department seminar series.

“Heather’s professionalism, excellent work product, service oriented outlook and willingness to consistently go beyond her normal job duties came through in all of her support letters,” said Vice Dean for Administration Linda Rock who presented Alexander with the award. “She is caring, going out of her way to treat everyone well and make them feel welcome.”

Early Career Award, Melissa Medeiros

(From L to R) Vice Dean for Administration Linda Rock, Melissa Medeiros and Dean Yannis Yortsos

The Early Career Award is given to a staff member who has been with USC Viterbi between one and three years, and whose performance is well above what is typically expected from someone new to their position. Melissa Medeiros, a student services advisor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering was honored in this category.

Medeiros started as a student worker and two years ago accepted a student advisor position. She quickly became an indispensable member of her department.  During the past year when the department experienced staff changes, Medeiros stepped up quickly to help cover duties, often outside of her job description, not just filling-in, as one nominator wrote, “but keeping things moving forward.” Her letters of recommendation from faculty, staff and students, paint a picture of a dedicated, enthusiastic professional who deeply cares for the students she advises. One nominator wrote that “Melissa routinely, consistently, cheerfully, reliably and professionally goes above and beyond her normal job expectations.” This sentiment was echoed repeatedly in the student messages, where they also wrote of how Medeiros makes the real effort to get to know them and help them where needed beyond academic advising – tracking down financial aid opportunities, helping to plan events, listening empathetically to them. One of her letter writers summed it up by writing, “There are some individuals who come to embody the hoped-for spirit of an institution – Melissa is that person.”

Staff Awards for Service, Kelly Goulis and Louise Yates

(From L to R) Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Programs, Kelly Goulis; Dean Yannis Yortsos; and Senior Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs, Louise Yates

Together, Louise Yates and Kelly Goulis have helped transform USC Viterbi’s students into one of the most competitive, talented and diverse groups in any engineering school in the country.

Louise Yates joined USC Engineering in 1978 as secretary to Clarke T. Howatt, assistant dean of engineering. She was then promoted through student affairs to her current position.

For nearly four decades, she has been involved in all aspects of undergraduate student affairs-recruitment, admission, conversion, retention and graduation. In her current role as senior associate dean for admissions and student affairs, Yates and her team have helped assemble a group of undergraduates that are the envy of engineering schools everywhere.

For example, our most recent entering class had 12,000 applicants for just 450 spots, making it one of the most selective ever. More than one-third are University Scholars. Equally noteworthy, the average SAT score at USC Viterbi has increased by almost 100 points in 10 years. Women account for nearly 40 percent of the most recent class, double the national average. The USC-wide six-year graduation rate, a mere 15 years ago being the lowest at USC, is now leading the university.

“Yates’ and her team’s fingerprints are behind many of these successes,” Yortsos said.

Yates also helped start many initiatives and programs, now routine to many other engineering schools, but pioneered at USC Viterbi.

Said Yortsos: “From K-12 outreach, to the Center for Engineering Diversity and the Women in Engineering Program, to the Freshman Academies, the myriads of Viterbi engagement and extracurricular activities, she has tirelessly and with unparalleled dedication and commitment made a singular difference to USC Viterbi.”

Kelly Goulis joined USC Engineering in 1987 as a part-time admin assistant. By September 1, 1987, she was the PDP department administrator — PDP being the precursor of the USC Information Technology Program (ITP). Then, in 2001, Kelly was appointed executive director of USC Viterbi’s Distance Education Network (DEN), a position she held until she was appointed as senior associate dean for Graduate and Professional Programs (GAPP).

“Kelly has literally metamorphosed the graduate students programs,” Yortsos remarked. “She helped shape and define our master’s and Ph.D. programs, which at more than 3,000 students, comprise a very significant part of USC Viterbi and of the engineering workforce.”

Under her leadership, DEN has been repeatedly recognized as the best distance-education program in the nation. Goulis has pioneered new programs for student engagement and has expanded USC Viterbi’s international reach with flourishing new offices in China and India.

GAPP has also made engagement with active military and veterans a top priority. As a result of Goulis’s commitment, USC Viterbi now offers an unlimited number of partial scholarships to veterans admitted to its M.S. programs and on the GI Bill through the Yellow Ribbon program.

Junior Faculty Research Awards, Stacey Finley and Jongseung Yoon

(From L to R) Mahta Moghaddam, interim vice dean for research; Stacey Finley, Gordon S. Marshall Early Career Chair; Dean Yannis Yortsos

Stacey Finley, the Gordon S. Marshall Early Career Chair, received the Junior Faculty Research Award. Professor Finley is a computational biologist who works on constructing mechanistic models of cell signaling and metabolism to enable novel treatments for cancer.

Finley joined USC in 2013, after completing her Ph.D. at Northwestern University and a post-doc at Johns Hopkins University. Among her numerous recognitions are an NSF CAREER award for her work on mathematical modeling of angiogenesis signaling and crosstalk with tumor cells, and the inaugural Leah Edelstin-Kershet Prize from the Society of Mathematical Biology for her outstanding contributions to mathematical oncology.

(From L to R) Mahta Moghaddam, interim vice dean for research; Jongseung Yoon, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Dean Yannis Yortsos

Jongseung Yoon, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, also received the Junior Faculty Research Award for his research with micro/nanostructured inorganic materials and their printed assembly for applications in energy harvesting, electronics, optoelectronics and sensor technologies.

Yoon came to USC in 2011, after earning his Ph.D. from MIT and completing a post-doc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His work has been characterized as “groundbreaking” by the large group of senior colleagues at USC, who have nominated him for this award. They state that “Yoon’s novel materials fabrication methods and innovative design of photo-catalytic and flexible bio-electric devices far surpass the previous state-of-the-art in efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and have enabled diverse applications including environmentally friendly photo-catalytic splitting of water, extremely efficient Gallium Arsenide solar cells, and microscale lasers for bio-electronics applications.”

Yoon manages a prolific research group and has already received close to 4,500 citations to his papers which have appeared in top scientific journals such as Nature Energy.

Senior Research Award, Massoud Pedram

(From L to R) Interim Vice Dean for Research Mahta Moghaddam; Professor Massoud Pedram and Dean Yannis Yortsos

The holder of the Stephen and Etta Varra Chair, the winner of the Senior Research Award was professor Massoud Pedram from the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. Pedram came to USC in 1991 as an assistant professor, having just completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. Pedram has received what his nominators have called an “unusual” number of best paper awards, numerous technical recognition awards, various early career awards, various service awards, and an sizable amount of research funding. The holder of 10 patents, Pedram has authored 5 books, more than 180 journal papers, and over 400 conference papers. He has been the Editor-in-Chief of the ACM Trans. on Design Automation and of the IEEE Journal on Emerging and Selected Topics in Circuits and Systems. A fellow of IEEE, Pedram has a whopping H-index of 72 and more than 20,000 citations to his work.

Use-Inspired Research Award, Viktor Prasanna

(L to R) Mahta Moghaddam, interim vice dean for research; Sandeep Gupta, chair of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering-Systems, accepting the award on behalf of Professor Viktor Prasanna; Dean Yannis Yortsos

The 2017 recipient of the Use-Inspired Research Award was Viktor Prasanna, Charles Lee Powell Chair in Engineering, and a professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering.

Prasanna is an internationally recognized leader in the field of parallel and distributed computing – recognized by his nominators as a “producer of visionary research and as a builder of a vibrant international research community that has translated scholarly research into impactful practice.” The hallmark of Prasanna’s recent research has been algorithmic innovations in applying data science for smart energy systems.

He is also a leading contributor in the Chevron funded Center for Interactive Smart Oil Field Technologies (CiSoft) at USC over the past fourteen years and served as its associate director. This Center is exploring the use of information technology for challenging problems in smart oil fields. Prasanna has demonstrated his leadership in guiding a large team of researchers to develop advanced IT technologies, methodologies and tools for challenging problems inspired by the Petroleum Industry.

As his nominators have pointed out, “Viktor has also clearly demonstrated visionary leadership in proposing interdisciplinary research in Smart Grid leading to one of the largest Smart Grid demonstration projects funded by DoE.”

This 5‐year $120.6 M project, a collaborative effort among LADWP, USC, UCLA, ISI, and JPL has developed a campus wide microgrid that acts as a Living Laboratory for many innovative research activities in Viterbi School related to energy and sustainability studies. Under Northrup Grumman sponsorship, he has extended the microgrid efforts to develop graph theoretic approaches to address critical security problems in Smart Grid.

Prasanna has done all of the above while also publishing more than 130 journal papers and co-authoring more than 30 book chapters. He has 18 patents issued and/or filed and has supervised 61 PhD dissertations.

Accepting the award in Viktor Prasanna’s absence was Sandeep Gupta, chair of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering-Systems.

Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award, Charles Radovich

(From L to R) Dean Yannis Yortsos; Frank Flores, vice president, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; Charles Radovich, lecturer in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering; James E. Moore, vice dean for academic programs

Geoff Spedding, chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, noted that Radovich “is one of the most dedicated instructors I have ever encountered,” and that “of all the faculty, Radovich is the one I can most count on to take academic integrity and ethics questions seriously.” Radovich, recipient of the Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award, has a large teaching presence, having delivered several required undergraduate courses, including two laboratory courses. He has consistently received high teaching evaluation scores, something that is particularly difficult in laboratory courses or in courses with north of the 130 students he routinely oversees.

Radovich also serves as faculty advisor for the USC AeroDesign team, supporting them as they compete in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics “Design, Build, Fly” competitions.

Dean’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Education, Azad Madni

(From L to R) James E. Moore, vice dean for academic programs; Professor Azad Madni, technical director, Systems Architecting and Engineering program; Dean Yannis Yortsos

Professor Azad Madni of the USC Department of Astronautical Engineering was the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Education, acknowledging his long term contributions to USC Viterbi’s success in the distance education arena. Madni was cited for having “advanced the frontiers of complex systems engineering education through creation of new courses for emerging timely topics such as model-based systems engineering, systems and system-of-systems integration, engineered resilient systems and systems-of-systems, and cyber-physical systems.”

His leadership is central to the USC Viterbi School’s Systems Architecting and Engineering program (SAE), which he has been continuously, methodically and systematically revising, updating, and strengthening since taking the helm as technical director just a few years ago. The award committee was particularly impressed by Madni’s “internationally-recognized pioneering work in game-based education simulations and interactive storytelling approaches to engineering education and training,” said James E. Moore, vice dean for academic programs, who presented Madni with the award.

“He takes teaching as seriously as anyone I have ever met, and it is a pleasure for me to work with him directly on the school’s autonomous SAE program,” Moore said.

In addition to government agencies such as the Department of Energy, NASA, DARPA, and Department of Defense Systems Engineering Research Center (DOD-SERC), Madni’s research  sponsors also include major aerospace and automotive companies including Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman Corporation and General Motors.

Dean’s Special Recognition Award, Lynette Merriman and Ilene Rosenstein

Dean Yannis Yortsos with Lynette Merriman, assistant vice provost for student affairs, support and advocacy

The Dean’s Special Recognition Award went to two individuals who are not formally part of USC Viterbi but “who are essential parts of us,” Yortsos said. “They have always stepped up to help us in times challenging to some of our students and their families.” They are Lynette Merriman and Ilene Rosenstein of the USC Office of Student Affairs.

Lynette Merriman is assistant vice provost for student affairs, support and advocacy. She has worked in the Division of Student Affairs since 2003, previously serving as a senior associate dean and associate dean. She began her career in undergraduate admissions over 25 years ago.

Merriman’s portfolio includes Student Support and Advocacy, Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards, Relationship and Sexual Violence Preventing Services, Asian Pacific Student Services, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, El Centro Chicano and the LGBT Resource Center. She works extensively with departments and services throughout the university to assist students and their families. In addition to her responsibilities in student affairs, Merriman holds a faculty appointment as an assistant professor of clinical education in the USC Rossier School of Education. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC, a master’s degree in higher education and a doctorate in education from UCLA.

Dr. Ilene Rosenstein is responsible for overseeing her department. In addition, she provides counseling services to students and consultation to the university community. Rosenstein believes her department should also teach students how to cope with everyday stress. As director, she wants to “build strong connections around campus” and “find a balance between prevention and treatment.” Before coming to USC, she served as director of counseling at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 20 years. Rosenstein received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Ithaca College, a master’s degree in counseling psychology from American University and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri at Columbia.

“These two amazing individuals have supported the Viterbi School when we are faced with student-related crises big and small, and particularly in very challenging cases,” Yortsos said. “They are always accessible, literally on speed dial. Lynette and Ilene treat each student case as if it was their only one and always with the best interest of the student and USC at heart.”

Faculty Service Award (Posthumously), John O’Brien

An emotional conclusion to the event came as Dean Yortsos awarded the Faculty Service Award to the late John O’Brien, professor and executive vice dean. O’Brien, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 48 on March 31st, 2017, left behind an unparalleled legacy of service.

The Faculty Service Award is the most distinguished service award for a faculty member in recognition of outstanding service to the school. This award comes with a $3,000 token of appreciation, which until today was funded by the school’s unrestricted budget. But Yortsos announced that four generous donors have stepped forward to endow the award with a gift of $60,000, in memory of John O’Brien. Through this gift, the Faculty Service Award will from now on be named the John O’Brien Faculty Service Award.

Surinder Tayebi stands to be recognized by the USC Viterbi family for her family’s contributions to the Dean’s Faculty Service Award

Dean Yortsos thanked the two families that have made this possible:

Bryan and Julie Min. Byran Min is a member of the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors and Epstein Department ISE Advisory Board. He is the founder and CEO of Epsilon Systems Solutions. Julie and Bryan’s son, Brandon, will graduate in a few weeks from USC Viterbi, and their daughter Brittany is a freshman. Julie and Bryan have also endowed the Min Family Engineering Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Masood and Surinder Tayebi. Dr. Masood Tayebi is a founding partner and CEO of the Bridgewest Group. Along with his brother, Massih, Dr. Tayebi manages a portfolio of investments in hi-tech and wireless technology, bio-tech and pharmaceuticals, commercial real estate, banking and capital markets. They are creating an incubator in Southern California to attract entrepreneurs driving innovation and success and have also founded the Lotus Children Foundation. The couple has three children, and their daughter Natasha is an incoming freshman. Representing the two families at the event was Surinder Tayebi.

Yortsos concluded by recognizing O’Brien’s spirit of selfless collaboration and inclusion that had profound influence on everyone in the room:

“He truly epitomized faculty service throughout his more than a decade of outstanding involvement to advancing the school’s excellence. It is in recognition of this that I am honored and humbled to present the Faculty Service Award this year to John O’Brien, posthumously.”