Zoom Applause, Accolades at the 2021 USC Viterbi Faculty and Staff Awards

| May 4, 2021

USC Viterbi faculty and staff celebrate excellence, early initiative, research, teaching and service after the school’s first, fully-virtual year of instruction

Megan McCain accepts the Junior Research Award at the 2021 Viterbi Faculty & Staff Awards

Megan McCain accepts the Junior Research Award at the 2021 Viterbi Faculty & Staff Awards

The Zoom chat was a parade of valentines at the 2021 Viterbi Faculty and Staff Awards.

As Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos noted, despite the virtual nature of the event, “you can sing the praises of your peers in real time through the chat function, praises that can be loud, even without volume, heartfelt even if they cannot be heard.” 

He stressed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the working conditions of everyone employed by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and congratulated everyone on successfully completing the first, fully-virtual year of instruction in the school’s history.

“I cannot adequately express my gratitude to all of you for your collective trust in the school, in one another, in our faculty and staff, in our students, and for your tireless efforts that helped us move forward with competence and with character,” he said.

The event also featured an introduction by Jim Moore, chair of the Viterbi Engineering Faculty Council.

With about 40% of the U.S. having received at least one vaccination shot, Dean Yortsos felt it was important not only to look towards more hopeful times, but also to recognize the accomplishments of USC Viterbi faculty and staff during one of the most difficult years they may ever experience in their careers.

I am proud of a school with the ambition of leadership, the clarity of vision, and the commitment to competence, character and trust.

Dean Yortsos

He highlighted numerous, external accolades and national recognitions that USC Viterbi professors achieved in the past year.

Notably, four junior USC Viterbi faculty members received the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award: Jyo Deshmukh, Heather Culbertson, Constantine Sideris and Phebe Vayanos.

Additionally, in February 2021, Jong-Shi Pang, Epstein Family Chair and professor of industrial and systems engineering, and Azad Madni, professor of astronautical engineering, were inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor in engineering.

Hardworking & Supportive Staff

First to receive awards were the staff, who do the work behind the scenes to keep the USC Viterbi School running smoothly. 

The Early Career Staff Award was granted to Kristy Ly, an administrative assistant on the USC Viterbi Advancement team, as well as William Yang, a student services advisor for the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The Early Career Award rewards exceptional initiative taken by a recent hire at USC Viterbi.

Kristy Ly accepts the Staff Early Career Award.

Kristy Ly accepts the Staff Early Career Award.

The Staff Award for Excellence was awarded to Dante Galindo, a computer services consultant in the USC Viterbi information technology (IT) division, and Adam Smith, the chief creative content officer in USC Viterbi’s marketing and communications division.

Dante Galindo accepts the Staff Award for Excellence.

Dante Galindo accepts the Staff Award for Excellence.

Innovation in Research

Urbashi Mitra, the Gordon S. Marshall Chair in Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science, received the Senior Research Award. Mitra’s work in communication theory, information theory and signal processing has wide ranging applications from mobile health to underwater autonomous vehicles and even microbial networks. 

Urbashi Mitra accepts the Senior Research Award.

Urbashi Mitra accepts the Senior Research Award.

The Junior Research Award went to two junior faculty members: Megan McCain, the Chonette Early Career Chair and associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Mahdi Soltanolkotabi, Andrew and Erna Viterbi Early Career Chair and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science.

Satyandra (S. K.) Gupta, holder of the Smith International Professorship in Mechanical Engineering and professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and computer science, received the Use-Inspired Research Award for his cutting-edge research in the field of automation and manufacturing. Gupta’s work was highlighted due to its incredible potential for eliminating safety risks from dangerous jobs. 

Satyandra Gupta accepts the Use-Inspired Research Award.

Satyandra Gupta accepts the Use-Inspired Research Award.

Pedagogical Prowess

Of course, the entire year of remote instruction would not be possible without the professors teaching each of the courses. Awards granted to faculty members were determined by a combination of peer nominations and course evaluations by students.

The Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award was given to Sandeep Gupta, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Sandeep Gupta accepts the Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award

Sandeep Gupta accepts the Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award

Joseph Greenfield, associate professor of information technology practice, received the Dean’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Innovation. Highlighted in his nomination were student testimonials of a mock trial-based final examination that went above and beyond all their expectations of an engineering course.

Joseph Greenfield accepts the Dean's Award for Innovation in Teaching and Education.

Joseph Greenfield accepts the Dean’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Education.

Exceptional Service & Dedication

Newly named this year was the Linda Rock Staff Award for Service; Rock retired as USC Viterbi’s vice dean of administration in 2020 after 25 years of employment at the university. The naming of the award was sponsored by donors, Judy and Jim Baum. 

The award was granted to two outstanding staff members: Lauren Ferrell, associate director of research administration, and Rhesa Melvin, assistant director for graduate admission.

Rhesa Melvin accepts the Linda Rock Staff Award for Service.

Rhesa Melvin accepts the Linda Rock Staff Award for Service.

“Lauren constantly embraces new challenges,” said Dean Yortsos as he presented the award, “ranging from putting together a workshop for new faculty to taking on the challenge of serving as Viterbi Change Leader for the USC Imagine Workday project.”

He also praised Melvin for her founding and continued involvement in the Viterbi Black Employees Resource Group. He highlighted remarks from Kevin Henry, director of diversity for graduate and professional programs:

“This group has been a saving grace for Viterbi’s Black staff and for allies alike,” said Henry in his nomination letter for Melvin. “It has provided an opportunity to have honest conversations about experiences, both professionally and personally, as well as a space for suggestions and for ideas to a forward path.”

Dean Yortsos completed the ceremony by presenting the John O’Brien Faculty Award for Service to an unusual recipient: every single faculty member at USC Viterbi. 

“If there was a moment that defined what it means to be a university faculty member, it was this past year,” he remarked. “Online delivery of coursework created a different connection between faculty and students; a connection that is immersive and to some degree of a different reality.”

Sami Masri, Viterbi's longest-standing faculty member, accepts the John O'Brien Faculty Award for Service on behalf of the entire faculty.

Sami Masri, Viterbi’s longest-standing faculty member, accepts the John O’Brien Faculty Award for Service on behalf of the entire faculty.

“An extraordinary ability for immersion of service characterized our late colleague, John O’Brien, after whom this award is named,” he concluded. “I can think of no better way to express this parallelism of immersion of service to immersive teaching but to award the John O’Brien Faculty Award for Service to all of our faculty.”

See below for a complete list of external awards won by USC Viterbi faculty this year:

AwardWinner
Election to National Academy of EngineeringJong Shi-Pang and Azad Madni
Election to National Academy of MedicineScott Fraser 
Election to National Academy of InventorsKeith Chugg, Jay Kuo and Gerald Loeb
National Science Foundation CAREER AwardJyo Deshmukh, Heather Culbertson, Constantine Sideris and Phebe Vayanos,
Orange County Engineering Council’s James E. Ballinger Engineer of the YearDarin Gray
Election to Pan American Academy of EngineeringLucio Soibelman
Franklin Institute Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical EngineeringDan Dapkus
IEEE SMC Nortbert Weiner AwardAzad Madni
IEEE AESS Judith A. Resnik Space AwardAzad Madni
NDIA Lt. Gen. Thomas. R. Ferguson Excellence in Systems Engineering AwardAzad Madni
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Technology and Engineering Emmy AwardJay Kuo
IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Charles A. Desoer Technical Achievement AwardJay Kuo
IEEE Sensors Council Technical Achievement AwardEllis Meng
Society for Developmental Biology Edwin G. Conklin MedalScott Fraser
ASEE Curtis McGraw AwardMaryam Shanechi
Membership to National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of EngineeringMitul Luhar
AVS Peter Mark AwardRehan Kapadia
AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with ScienceMayank Kejriwal
SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer AwardQiming Wang
AAAS FellowshipYolanda Gil, Leana Golubchik, Berok Khoshnevis, Paul Newton and Timothy Pinkston
ACM FellowshipSven Koenig, Maja Matarić and Mike Zyda
AIBME FellowshipStacey Finley
ASME FellowshipAssad Oberai
IEEE FellowshipCraig Knoblock and Yolanda Gil
SIAM FellowshipShang-Hua Teng
ACM Distinguished MemberJernej Barbič

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