On May 2, guests from across the nation gathered on the USC campus to raise a toast to Azad Madni, holder of the Northrop Grumman Foundation Fred O’Green Chair in Engineering and University Professor of Astronautical Engineering, and winner of the 2023 National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. Madni was honored for his creation of transdisciplinary systems engineering education (TRASEE™), which has revolutionized USC’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program curriculum.
“Dr. Madni is being recognized for creating and disseminating a transdisciplinary systems engineering education paradigm based on entrepreneurial leadership, innovation, convergence, social awareness, and diverse thinking and backgrounds,” said John Anderson, president of the NAE.
The Gordon Prize includes a $500,000 award, apportioned between the recipient and the further development of their notable innovation.
“Receiving the Gordon Prize is the crowning achievement of my entire academic career,” said Madni. “It is the only prize of its kind that honors innovation in engineering and technology education. I am truly honored and humbled by this recognition and intend to continue to advance and disseminate TRASEE™. As I see it, engineering was always meant to be transdisciplinary, and this approach is necessary to confront 21st century problems.”
Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said, “In today’s world, where technology and humanity are increasingly intertwined, a human-centric focus will be essential. Azad’s transdisciplinary systems engineering innovation is expanding the domain to capture not only technical readiness, but also its rapidly emerging sibling of societal readiness for technology. It is this combined convergence that we are celebrating today.”
In 2022, the Gordon Prize was awarded to dean Yortsos in recognition of his role in co-founding the Grand Challenges Scholars Program. In a remarkable feat, is the first time that the Gordon Prize was awarded to the same institution two years in a row.
Engineering for humanity
Now reaching its 10th anniversary, TRASEE™ combines storytelling principles borrowed from the arts and entertainment with pedagogical principles from disciplines including cognitive psychology, biology, economics and decision-analysis. Hands-on learning is central to this approach, with strategies including role-playing from simulations and gaming environments to enable students to view problems from different perspectives. “The hardest part is not problem solving – it’s problem formulation and framing,” said Madni in the lecture that initiated the ceremony. “TRASEE™ helps to frame problems and explore solutions that appear intractable when viewed solely through an engineering lens.”
The lecture was followed by a medal ceremony marking the achievements of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP), a personalized co-curriculum experience based on the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering. Guests then proceeded to Epstein Plaza – the historic center of USC engineering – where Dean Yannis Yortsos set the tone by highlighting the ethical dimension of engineering.
Measures of success
Elected to the NAE in 2021, Madni is a fellow of 10 professional science and engineering societies, including AIAA, AAAS, IEEE, INCOSE, IISE and the Washington Academy of Sciences. In addition to his role within academia, Madni is founder and CEO of Intelligent Systems Technology, an R&D company specializing in transdisciplinary model-based approaches to scientific and societal problems of national and global significance. Madni is chief systems engineering advisor to Aerospace Corporation and a former Distinguished Visiting Fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Microelectronics Center.
His many awards include the 2023 IEEE Simon Ramo Medal for exceptional achievements in systems engineering and systems science – all in all, 2023 is milestone year for Madni.
That said, perhaps his greatest achievement has been the life-changing impact on his students. “Many of these students have launched innovative startups, or they’re working in top positions at companies,” said Andrew Guzman, current dean of the USC Gould School of Law and USC’s incoming provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “This speaks to Azad’s leadership as an educator, thinker and mentor.”
“As a young student in Mumbai, Azad decided to focus his engineering interest toward space after he heard President Kennedy’s famous ‘We choose to go to the Moon’ speech,” Guzman continued. “In his work, Azad chose to go to the Moon.”
Published on May 4th, 2023
Last updated on June 14th, 2023