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USC Viterbi’s most prestigious night gives the stage to “heroic engineers”

Connie Choy | April 23, 2018

Legendary alums and engineering pioneers honored at the 40th Viterbi Awards

(L to R) Mark A. Stevens, Mike Markkula, Darlene Solomon, Terry Adams, Daniel J. Epstein, Yannis Yortsos at the 2018 Viterbi Awards

Wednesday night marked the 40th Viterbi Awards.

Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, welcomed over 500 distinguished guests at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to the star-studded affair, dubbed the “Academy Awards of engineering.”

Yortsos opened the event with a tribute to heroic engineers: “engineers who, motivated by a noble sense of purpose, apply their formidable skills and knowledge to better society.”

That theme ran through the night and was echoed in USC Viterbi’s most recent accomplishments, from the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience – that brings engineering, computing and bioscience under one roof to attack the most critical health issues of our time – to having the highest number of female graduate students in the nation.

Honorees included Terry Adams, B.S. ME ‘81 and director and senior vice president of SA Recycling who received the Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award, Darlene J. S. Solomon, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Agilent Technologies who took home the Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award and Mike Markkula, B.S. EE ’64 and M.S. EE ’66 and one of the founding fathers of Apple who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lifetime Achievement Award

As part of this round-number anniversary, USC Viterbi welcomed an engineering legend into the pantheon of heroic engineers previously awarded. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to A.C. “Mike” Markkula, most notably known as the co-founder of Apple.

The award had previously been given only three times in the last four decades: to Simon “Si” Ramo in 2008, aerospace pioneer and chief architect of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile system; Steven B. Sample in 2010, USC’s 10th president, who oversaw the university’s rise among the nation’s elite research institutions; and Alfred E. Mann in 2012, a pioneer in medical devices and namesake of the Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering.

Markkula, a savvy engineer-entreprenuer who retired at 32 after taking a pay cut in lieu of stock options in Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, shaped the Apple phenomenon we know today alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

In 1977, he became Apple employee number three when he invested $250,000 and excited the attention of investors like legendary venture capitalist Arthur Rock. Markkula went on to create the company’s first business and marketing plans and made history when Apple catapulted into a Fortune 500 company in less than five years.

His wife Linda and daughter Kristi joined Markkula in accepting the honor.

“I think it’s really important for me to honor the people who helped me get this award, starting with the Viterbi School of Engineering,” Markkula said. “If it weren’t for this school, I don’t think I would’ve accomplished nearly what I had.”

“To be considered among the ranks of Simon Ramo, it’s amazing to me,” said Markkula who, in his typical self-effacing manner, reminded attendees that Ramo had over 40 patents and was still at it by the time he turned 100. “I still have a long way to go.”

Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award

Terry Adams, who helped to built a billion-dollar recycling company from a modest family-owned business, was honored with the Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award. Adams turned SA Recycling into one of the largest metal recycling in the country with over seventy-five facilities across seven states. He currently serves on the Viterbi Board of Councilors and actively participates in the Viterbi Student Mentor Program. As a pillar of his community, Adams has also served on the board of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and is the Vice-Chair of the OC Boy Scout Council. “One of the best things that I have done is to participate in the Viterbi Student Mentor Program; I have been able to see firsthand the kind of things that Viterbi students are involved in, what they are accomplishing, and more importantly the dreams that they are pursuing,” Adams expressed about giving back to his community.

He was joined by his wife, daughter, son and sister and mother in accepting the award.

“Mechanical Engineering, for me, was a road map to a way of thinking about problems,” said Adams, who, as a second-generation engineer, considers himself an engineer first and businessman second.

Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award

Darlene J. S. Solomon’s rise to fame started long before she became the chief technology officer of Agilent Technologies. On Wednesday night, she was honored with the Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award. Solomon’s illustrious career as a scientist began at Helwett-Packard Laboratories, where she held a number of research and management positions. She played a fundamental role in the success of Agilent Technologies, a spin-off of Hewlett-Packard, and a company whose stock once ranked the highest in Silicon Valley’s history. Among a number of accolades, she has been inducted into the Women in Technology International’s Hall of Fame in 2001 and received the YWCA Tribute to Women in Industry Award in 2004. Solomon, along with Adams, also serves on Viterbi’s Board of Councilors and plays a key role in USC’s new Agilent Center of Excellence in the Michelson Center. “USC and Agilent are driven by the urgency to shorten the timeline between scientific discoveries and their benefits to humanity and our planet,” Solomon commented on the USC-Agilent partnership.

She was joined by her two children in accepting the award.

“Our world is led by technology wherever you look, and there has never been a better or more exciting time to be an engineer or scientist,” said Solomon who last year was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition

Embodying the spirit of heroic engineering were the student winners of the 2018 Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, or MEPC.

With a $50,000 grand prize, MEPC invites engineering startups to create inventions in the real-world marketplace and present to angel investors. Team Apeiron, meaning “limitless” in Greek, came out as the 2018 winner with their technology that transforms natural gas to having zero gas emissions.

“Through MEPC, we learned how to tell our story to investors, netted many advisors and contacted several potential customers,” said Esra Tiftik, a master’s student in chemical engineering. “I like to say I got my MBA through MEPC.”

Min Family Engineering Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Similarly, the Min Family Engineering Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, funded by alumnus Bryan Min and his wife, Julie Min, supports USC Viterbi startups dedicated to helping the world’s neediest communities.

This year’s challenge was to bring desperately needed assistance to communities affected by natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. The startups include Lighthaus, an earthquake early detection warning system; LightTech, a water purification system that provides drinking water during or after crisis; Portable Cell Initiative, a small cellular tower device connecting displaced communities and individuals after crisis; and Team Home, a temporary housing solution for homelessness after disasters occur. This past January, the four teams received additional funding to accelerate their start-ups.

The night was full of hope and optimism, and Markkula seized the moment to remind the Trojan family of students, engineers and entrepreneurs gathered in the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel about the qualities that make heroic engineers and those that formed the foundation for his career: a spirit of adventure, ingenuity but more importantly, honesty and integrity.

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