The Engineer of 2020

| May 15, 2020

The USC Viterbi graduate of 2020 is the fulfillment of a national vision.

Watch the 2020 USC Viterbi Virtual Commencement Ceremony in its entirety in the above video. 

In 2004, the National Academy of Engineering published a report imagining the engineer of 2020.

In the vision of the members of the report,  this engineer would have: “the ingenuity of Lillian Gilbreth, the problem-solving capabilities of Gordon Moore, the scientific insight of Albert Einstein, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the determination of the Wright brothers, the leadership abilities of Bill Gates, the conscience of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the vision of Martin Luther King.”

Sixteen years later, this vision saw its fulfillment in the graduates of the Viterbi Class of 2020.

They graduate in historic times, in the midst of a pandemic that has brought the world to its knees, turning to the natural problem solvers of our time. In total, 673 undergraduates ​2,608 master’s and 172 doctoral students made up the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s historic 2020 graduating class. On May 15, 2020, graduates, families, alumni and friends from all over the world Zoomed in to a live, online graduation celebration to honor them all. The main ceremony was followed by individual, virtual ceremonies at each of USC Viterbi’s eight academic departments.

In a letter to the graduates, Dean Yannis C.  Yortsos addressed the remarkable historical significance of today’s engineering graduating class. “No one could have possibly imagined in 2004 or since then, that the engineer of 2020 would be graduating under the most exceptional circumstances,” he wrote. “But you are very special. And I am very confident that… you will engineer a better world for all humanity, a goal more urgently needed than ever before.”

One thing is certain, 2020 graduates will never forget this day. The main school event, hosted by Yortsos from his office in Olin Hall on USC’s campus – and Mary Ann Schwartz, USC Viterbi’s senior associate dean of advancement, was characterized by strong optimism that this year’s class would fulfill the hopes of the past.

“I am very optimistic about science and engineering in the post-coronavirus era,” said Yortsos, “Because, if there is anything that we learned from this unprecedented pandemic, it’s that only through science and engineering we can solve big problems, to engineer a better world for all humanity.”

Making it all the more memorable were special appearances from friends and beloved members of the Trojan Family, including Andrew Viterbi, Ph.D. ’62, the engineer for whom the USC Viterbi School was named. The creator of the Viterbi Algorithm, Andrew Viterbi’s work revolutionized digital communications, making things like Zoom possible. A member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, Viterbi has literally brought the world together by eliminating distances and boundaries, and keeping the world connected, no matter what challenges come.


This optimism has been fueled by the many accomplishments of USC Viterbi in the previous year. The school continues to make history and blaze new trails in engineering education. This past fall saw the undergraduate class reach gender parity for the first time in the school’s 115 year history with women making up 50% of the 2019 incoming class. More accomplishments were highlighted in the Year in Review video.


“Reaching gender parity, reaching for the stars by going into space, reaching deep to understand human suffering and innovate with solutions, they all give us warmth, hope and optimism for the future,” said Yortsos in his address to the graduating class.

USC Viterbi engineers did not sit idly by as the world went on lockdown. They 3-D printed masks and face shields; they worked in the labs racing to find a COVID-19 vaccine; they delivered food to the needy; and they answered a national call to support public health efforts in the global crisis.

One such effort is being led by alumnus and USC trustee, Ming Hsieh, ’83, MS ’84. As president and CEO of Fulgent Genetics, Hsieh is at the forefront of addressing today’s pandemic. A member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors, Hsieh is forever intertwined with USC Viterbi, as the school’s largest department, the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, bears his name.


Academy Award winner Geena Davis also joined to congratulate the graduates. Davis is recognized worldwide for her advocacy of gender equality in media as a United Nations Special Envoy for Women and Girls. Through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Davis has used the power of engineering to help filmmakers better understand the essential DNA of film and television content, influencing creators to increase the percentage of female characters and reduce gender stereotyping in media.


The graduates were also encouraged by a scientist dialing in from the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19, Meghan McCarthy. She coordinates the national effort for 3-D printing personal protective equipment (PPE) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Other notable friends, professors and alumni offered their virtual congratulations including Wanda Austin, Ph.D. ’88, former president and C.E.O. of The Aerospace Corporation and interim president of USC; David Agus, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and founding director of the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine at USC; Kristina Raspe, MCM ’08, vice president at Apple; actor and musician Jack Black; Ret. Air Force General Ellen M. Pawlikowski, a Judge Widney Professor at USC Viterbi; and Larry Ellison, co-Founder and CTO of Oracle.

Published on May 15th, 2020

Last updated on November 11th, 2022

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