A Spotlight on Engineering Excellence

By Marc Ballon and Michael Speier | April 18, 2024

The 45th annual Viterbi Awards celebrated major USC Viterbi anniversaries and milestones

(Left to right) USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos with Viterbi Award winners Julie Brown, Augustine Esogbue, and William Holliday, president and CEO of The Charles Lee Powell Foundation (Photo/Steve Cohn)

(Left to right) USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos with Viterbi Award winners Julie Brown, Augustine Esogbue, and William Holliday, president and CEO of The Charles Lee Powell Foundation (Photo/Steve Cohn)

The 45th annual Viterbi Awards, “the Academy Awards of engineering,” took place on Thursday, April 11, in the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Friends, faculty, alumni, students and staff of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering gathered to honor several distinguished Viterbi Award winners and to celebrate milestones and anniversaries.

The Viterbi Awards recognized several honorees whose impact on engineering and society have left an indelible impression. They included alumna Julie Brown, executive vice president and chief technical officer of Universal Display Corporation and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, who received the Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award; Alumnus Augustine Esogbue, Ph.D. ISE ’68, Professor Emeritus in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech, who won the USC Viterbi Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award; and The Charles Lee Powell Foundation, a longtime supporter of science and technology programs at USC and other California universities, which received the Distinguished Service Award.

In his opening remarks, Dean Yannis C. Yortsos celebrated several important school anniversaries. They included the 20th anniversary of the naming of USC Viterbi and the 15th birthday of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program for engineering undergraduates, which recently moved its home to USC.  “The stronger and the more enduring the institution, the more such anniversaries arise,” he said.

In the two decades since the school was officially named in March 2004, USC Viterbi faculty has won four National Medals of Science and Technology; 28 faculty members of various affiliations have been inducted into the NAE, the epitome of achievement for an engineer; and 78 have won NSF Career Awards.

During that same period, more than 14,000 Trojans earned undergraduate degrees, over 20,000 received master’s degrees and 3,000 earned doctorates. USC Viterbi alumni, Yortsos said, “carry the Viterbi name with them wherever they are in their life and place in the world. What an incredible legacy, meaningful, inspiring, forever lasting.”

In 2009, the dean noted, USC Viterbi co-created the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, which emphasizes “outstanding technical competence and outstanding character.” GCSP, he added, has expanded to more than 100 universities worldwide. In recognition of this groundbreaking program, the GCSP received the 2022 Gordon Prize of the NAE, the first time USC Engineering won the prestigious award for excellence in engineering education. USC Viterbi also took home the 2023 Gordon Prize for Professor Azad Madni’s systems engineering innovation, the first time any university has won the prize in two consecutive years.

USC Viterbi, the dean added, has achieved other notable milestones since the school’s naming.

This year’s entering fall class was gender balanced for the fifth straight year, an unparalleled feat for an engineering school. Under the leadership of the Information Sciences Institute, USC Viterbi received a CHIPS Act designation to lead one of eight national hubs to accelerate the development and manufacturing of microelectronics in the United States. More recently, two academic departments, the Alfred E. Mann Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science, were named in 2023.

Perhaps most significantly, Yortsos said, was the establishment of the School of Advanced Computing. Launched as part of USC’s $1 billion Frontiers of Computing initiative, SAC will serve as a nexus and incubator for advanced computation projects across USC for the betterment of all.

“The mission of our new school is to leverage all kinds of phenomena – physical, chemical, biological, social – with advanced computing, including particularly AI,” Yortsos said. [Our] “goal is solving grand challenges across the whole spectrum of natural and social phenomena.”

USC Viterbi Executive Vice Dean Gaurav Sukhatme, inaugural director of the School of Advanced Computing (Photo/Steve Cohn)

USC Viterbi Executive Vice Dean Gaurav Sukhatme, inaugural director of the School of Advanced Computing (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Executive Vice Dean Gaurav Sukhatme will serve as inaugural director of the School of Advanced Computing. He announced at the Viterbi Awards SAC’s first research center. The USC-Capital One Center for Responsible AI and Decision Making in Finance (or CREDIF) will advance responsible AI for financial services through innovative research and fellowship support for doctoral students.

SAC faculty will impact virtually every field, from medicine and the health professions to law, business, communications, and the arts and humanities,” he said. “This is an exciting time for all of us at USC, and our commitment to excellence and innovation in computing across all facets of our university is unwavering. We’ve only just got going, so stay tuned.”

The night showcased alumni, current students, and competition winners, all of whom perfectly represent the school’s mission to “engineer a better world for all humanity.” They included:

Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award – Julie Brown

Brown is executive vice president and chief technical officer of Universal Display Corporation.

Since joining UDC in 1998, she has spearheaded the R&D vision of the company, driving the discovery, development, and commercialization of state-of-the-art OLED technologies.

Brown is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is an elected IEEE Fellow, and was awarded the prestigious Karl Ferdinand Braun Prize for her outstanding technical achievements. She is also a Trojan, having received her master’s degree and Ph.D. from USC Viterbi.

“When I started out in engineering back in the early 80’s…, I was an EngiNerd,” Brown said. “But in today’s world, it is really cool to be an engineer as you are ‘in tech,’ and everyone interacts and depends on tech these days.”

Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award – Augustine Esogbue

Esogbue is Professor Emeritus in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech.

In 1968, he received his Ph.D. from USC Viterbi in what would later become the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. His research interests include dynamic programming and global issues such as health care, water resource management, and disaster control planning.

Esogbue retired from Georgia Tech in 2010 but remains involved in a number of regional civic activities such as the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission and the Leadership Atlanta Development Corporation.

“I am eternally grateful that my alma mater has chosen to honor me today, in this special way,” said Esogbue. “Receiving an award, no matter how big or small, can never be truly the result of a solo effort of one individual. Suffice it to say there is no way I did it all by myself.”

Distinguished Service Award – The Charles Lee Powell Foundation

Throughout the years, the Charles Lee Powell Foundation has supported science and engineering programs at four California universities: USC, California Institute of Technology, University of California, San Diego, and Stanford.

Charles Lee Powell established the foundation 1954; he was a pioneering, self-taught engineer who is credited with building much of Los Angeles’ early infrastructure, including the first modern sewerage systems in downtown Los Angeles, the Second and Third Street tunnels, and the Angels Flight funicular railway in Bunker Hill.

Having worked until his death at age 96, Powell made provisions in his will for a charitable foundation that would carry forward his legacy of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

To that end, the Powell Foundation has been a pillar of incomparable strength for USC over the decades. It has supported Charles Lee Powell Hall; the Charles Lee Powell Photonics Instructional Laboratory; two Charles Lee Powell chairs in computer engineering and in electrical engineering; Herbert Kunzel Fellowships for Ph.D. students; and various faculty research and equipment grants.

“The Viterbi School of Engineering continues to impress all of us through its constant growth, attraction of talented students, post-grads, and faculty,” said William Holliday, president and CEO of the Powell Foundation. “Dean Yortsos’ leadership, global approach, and relentless pursuit of excellence for the institution gives us great confidence in our continued support. For those of us at the Charles Lee Powell Foundation, we thoroughly enjoy learning about the activities and accomplishments taking place here at USC Viterbi. “


Min Family Challenge and Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition

At the Viterbi Awards, Ellis Meng, vice dean for technology innovation and entrepreneurship, spoke about USC Viterbi’s two premier business model competitions, the Min Family Challenge (MFC) and the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC).

In 2015, Bryan and Julie Min generously endowed and launched MFC, challenging students to tackle complex engineering problems with one goal in mind: to make the world a better place.

The 2023 winning team, and winner of a $50,000 grand prize, was Sier Technologies, a company that develops video- and audio-enhanced electronic glasses that notify visually-impaired users of surrounding dangers.

MEPC was founded in 2010 thanks to an endowment from entrepreneur and newly elected NAE member Fariborz Maseeh. The most recent winner was OSEM, which also won top prizes at the LA Nucleate Pitch Competition, ATHENA Women’s Pitch Competition, and New Venture Seed Competition. OSEM aims to automate and scale the processes used to produce lifesaving nanodrugs.

The night ended with the famed Trojan Marching Band (Photo/Steve Cohn)

The evening ended on a high note with the famed Trojan Marching Band (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Said Meng: “This competition inspires students to turn their ideas into innovative products, companies and solutions to improve society and instill an entrepreneurial spirit among our Trojan engineers.”




Published on April 18th, 2024

Last updated on May 16th, 2024

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