University of Southern California

Office of the President

C. L. Max Nikias

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Message to Ambassadors

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August 29, 2014

Niki and I are eager to begin a new academic year at the university—our fifth as president and first lady of USC—and hope you had a wonderful summer.  We are certainly pleased to be back, and to feel the energy of our new and returning students and faculty.  We draw such pride from our Trojan Family, and from our collective strength, creativity, and kindness.

I am always humbled by the generous support of USC—at all levels, and this summer was no exception.  The USC community celebrated the magnificent news that three trustees stepped forward with exceptionally generous gifts to the university.  Thomas Barrack Jr. and his family gave $15 million to our Marshall School of Business, significantly advancing the school’s global mission and supporting the renovation of a key building, which will be renamed Barrack Hall.  Just a few weeks later, the university received a $15 million gift from Andrew and Erna Viterbi—$10 million of which is directed to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and $5 million of which is dedicated to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  And most recently, USC announced a transformative $30 million gift from Kathleen McCarthy to name the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Honors Hall at the USC Village.  We will formally celebrate Mrs. McCarthy’s gift at the groundbreaking for the USC Village, and I will provide additional details regarding her gift in a forthcoming letter.

USC School of Cinematic Arts tops rankings
I was also pleased to learn that The Hollywood Reporter ranked our School of Cinematic Arts first in the nation, and in the accompanying article, asked its readers to think of “USC SCA as the uncatchable Moby Dick of film schools.”  One educator described our school, saying, “It is the patriarch: passionate, perennial, always turning out the best films.”  Over the summer, the school opened the Michelle and Kevin Douglas IMAX Theatre and Immersive Lab, which includes a screening room and research lab that live-streams events from all over the world.

USC innovation draws attention
NBC News covered the inaugural White House Maker Faire, which featured the unveiling of a 3-D printed bust of President Obama, along with a mold of his face.  Smithsonian-based specialists created these items using USC technology—a Light Stage face scanner, which captured the president’s face in high resolution.  This is another example of a USC innovation advancing an impressive, groundbreaking project.

In memoriam: distinguished Trojans
On a more somber note, this past summer we laid to rest a number of eminent Trojans, including University and Distinguished Professor Warren Bennis.  Professor Bennis, who stood among the world’s leading experts on leadership, wrote numerous highly regarded books, including the classic On Becoming a Leader, and served as an advisor to five United States presidents.  He joined our faculty in 1979, and received USC’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion, in 2001.

In facing a difficult loss, the Trojan Family always comes together even stronger, as we saw with the passing of other beloved members of our community.  In the news, you most likely learned of the tragic death in Afghanistan of Major General Harold J. Greene, a two-star United States Army general and the highest-ranking American military official killed in action since the Vietnam War.  Major General Greene was a three-time USC alumnus, having earned a Ph.D. in materials science and two master’s degrees from our Viterbi School of Engineering.

We also mourned the loss of Xinran Ji, a graduate student at our Viterbi School of Engineering, whose life was tragically cut short.  Our hearts went out to the family and friends of this young man, who had touched so many with his warmth, intellect, and creativity.  Friends recalled Xinran as someone who was “always smiling, modest, positive, and hard working.”  We have extended our deepest condolences to Xinran’s family and friends, and have pledged our continued support.

This past summer we also said good-bye to an American hero and proud Trojan, Louis Zamperini. Mr. Zamperini was an alumnus of USC Dornsife and an athlete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, who later moved myriad people around the world with his singular story of survival: during World War II, when his plane crashed on a routine mission, he survived 47 days aboard a life raft in the Pacific Ocean and more than two years of captivity as a prisoner of war.

Dr. Michael Preston, a venerable member of USC’s faculty for nearly three decades, also passed away this summer.  Professor Preston was a renowned expert on racial and ethnic politics, and inspired generations of scholars of urban politics.  He mentored countless faculty and students, and served as my special adviser during my tenure as provost.  These five distinguished Trojans will certainly be missed.

In closing, Niki and I are so grateful for your continued support as a USC Ambassador.  For my part, I feel truly fortunate to have Niki by my side: she is such a passionate ambassador for our entire community.  Our local paper, the San Marino Outlook, recently ran a piece that highlighted her dedication to USC, as well as the glorious history of the President’s House, which we are so fortunate to occupy.  I hope you enjoy the story!

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

USC Trustee Ming Hsieh Honored by Asia Society

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Eva Hsieh, Niki C. Nikias, C. L. Max Nikias, Eric Garcetti, Thomas E. McLain, Ming Hsieh

Eva Hsieh, Niki C. Nikias, C. L. Max Nikias, Eric Garcetti, Thomas E. McLain, Ming Hsieh

At a gala dinner on May 19, 2014 hosted by the Asia Society of Southern California, USC Trustee Ming Hsieh was honored as the 2014 Philanthropist of the Year, presented with the award by USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

Ming Hsieh earned a B.S. (1983) and M.S. (1984) in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. Soon after earning his degrees, he founded two highly successful companies, AMAX Information Technologies (1985) and Cogent, Inc. (1990), of which he is president, chief executive officer, and chairman.

In 2006, Ming Hsieh generously made a $35 million gift to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and subsequently the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering was named in his honor. Hsieh serves as a USC Trustee and a member of the Board of Councilors of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Alia Tutor Chair in Reproductive Medicine

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USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Sylvester Stallone, USC Trustee Ronald N. Tutor, Alia Tutor, Richard Paulson (the holder of The Alia Tutor Chair in Reproductive Medicine)  and Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Sylvester Stallone, USC Trustee Ronald N. Tutor, Alia Tutor, Richard Paulson (the holder of The Alia Tutor Chair in Reproductive Medicine) and Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Alia Tutor, the wife of USC Trustee Ronald N. Tutor ’63, both longtime supporters of the university, is providing a gift to establish the Alia Tutor Chair in Reproductive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The new chair will be housed in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The first holder of the chair is Richard Paulson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and director of USC Fertility.

Paulson has served as director of the fertility program at USC since 1986. He is an internationally recognized expert in fertility in women over age 40. He published several landmark investigations addressing the effect of age upon female fertility, including the first observation that egg donation could be used to extend the reproductive life span in women over 40.

Alia Tutor currently dedicates her time and leadership to the board of directors of Indego Africa, an organization that provides female artisans in war-torn Rwanda with education, leadership skills and other training to become successful businesswomen. She is also a former adviser to the United Nations’ Office for Partnerships.

Read the full article at USC News.

Continuing the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong, C. L. Max Nikias, Mark RIdley-Thomasll

Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., USC President C.L. Max Nikias and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas talk during the 22nd Empowerment Congress Summit at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, January 18, 2014. (Photo: USC / Gus Ruelas)

As the 2014 year began, USC hosted key events that celebrate the ongoing legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 22nd annual Empowerment Congress, chaired by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, brought together stakeholders from civic organizations, faith-based organizations, private businesses, and community-based organizations to identify issues of justice and equality in Los Angeles. At another event on campus during the national holiday weekend, the law enforcement community came together for the 5th annual Los Angeles Police Department Martin Luther King Breakfast, with a special address by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Nikias, Beck, Harris, Baca

(left to right) USC President C.L. Max Nikias, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck California, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca during the Los Angeles Police Department 5th annual Martin Luther King Breakfast at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, January 18, 2014. (Photo: USC / Gus Ruelas)

Nobel Prize-winning chemistry professor honored on campus

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Nobel Prize recipient Arieh Warshel with campus leaders.

Nobel Prize recipient and USC Professor of Chemistry Arieh Warshel (center) is honored at a campus reception with colleagues and dignitaries. Pictured above: David Siegel, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles; USC President C. L. Max Nikias; Warshel; USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett; USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences Steve Kay.

Professor Arieh Warshel, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was celebrated at an event at the USC Town and Gown attended by faculty colleagues from across campus.

Warshel is a distinguished professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the Nobel Prize in chemistry for 2013 on Oct. 9 to Warshel and two colleagues for developing the key principles behind computer simulations that are now indispensable in the study of chemical reactions.

Warshel, Martin Karplus of the Université de Strasbourg in France and Harvard University, and Michael Levitt of Stanford University were recognized for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” Their crucial achievement was to marry classical and quantum mechanics in order to model both the relatively large-scale movements of atoms in a molecule, and the minute dances of the free electrons that shuttle between atoms and spark many chemical reactions.

Read the complete article at USC News.

Convergent bioscience supported by $50 million gift from Gary K. Michelson

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Executive Vice Provost Michael W. Quick, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Scott Fraser, Dr. Gary K. Michelson, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences Dean Steve Kay, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis Yortsos

Executive Vice Provost Michael W. Quick, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Scott Fraser, Dr. Gary K. Michelson, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences Dean Steve Kay, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis Yortsos

At a standing room only event on campus, USC President C. L. Max Nikias announced the creation of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, a cornerstone of research collaboration at the intersection of engineering and the life and biomedical sciences. The USC Michelson Center, supported by a $50 million gift from orthopaedic surgeon, inventor, and philanthropist Gary K. Michelson, will provide a 190,000-square-foot research building housing up to 30 principal investigators, with labs ranging from advanced microscopy to nanofabrication.

“This will be a center that will unify engineers, scientists, and physicians in solving real problems. When our experts develop a new idea or a timely innovation, this center will help their advances move rapidly from the laboratory into our society,” said President Nikias, “The work that will be done at USC will have a profound positive impact on the curing of diseases, the creation of life-saving biomedical devices, and on many other areas beyond the field of healthcare.”

Read more about the recent gift, which represents a milestone in USC’s current fundraising initiative — the Campaign for the University of Southern California. The Campaign, with a fundaising goal of $6 billion, recently reached its halfway point, raising an unprecedented $3 billion in three years.



Trojan Family comes together at Homecoming 2013

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Niki C. Nikias and C. L. Max Nikias greet alumni volunteer.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias and Mrs. Niki C. Nikias greet the many alumni volunteers and visitors who came to campus for Homecoming weekend.

Homecoming weekend on the USC campus was filled with excitement—not only was it the site of a thrilling College Game Day live broadcast, tens of thousands of loyal Trojans came to renew connections, cheer on the Trojan football team, and enjoy the camaraderie created by The Trojan Family.

National Medal recipients on the Coliseum football field.

USC’s esteemed National Medal recipients were honored on the field of the 2013 USC-Stanford homecoming game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Left to right: USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, USC Professor Kevin Starr, USC Trustee and alumnus Andrew Viterbi, USC Professor Morten Lauridsen, USC Professor Solomon Golomb, and USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

A special tribute was made to some of the academic champions of the university, as National Award winners Kevin Starr, Andrew Viterbi, Morten Lauridsen, and Solomon Golomb were honored in front of more than 90,000 cheering Trojan fans.

The sold-out game brought Trojans to their feet as the weekend closed with an upset win against the 4th-ranked Stanford team. Fight on!


Epstein Family Chair welcomes new holder, Jong-Shi Pang

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Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, USC Trustee Daniel J. Epstein, Prof. Yong-Shi Pang, and USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, USC Trustee Daniel J. Epstein, Prof. Yong-Shi Pang, and USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

At an installation ceremony attended by USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Niki C. Nikias, Dean Yannis C. Yortsos of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and USC Trustee Daniel J. Epstein, the new holder of the Epstein Family Chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Jong-Shi Pang, was formally welcomed to the faculty. Pang, who is an expert in optimization and operations research, envisions using mathematical models to solve the major issues facing society, from health and social sciences, to homeland security and communications systems.

Read more about Prof. Pang.


Niki C. Nikias opens Court of Recognition for Town and Gown of USC

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Town & Gown of USC Court of Recognition Celebration

Town & Gown of USC
Court of Recognition Celebration

Mrs. Niki C. Nikias officially opened the new Town & Gown of USC Court of Recognition at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on October 1, 2013, delivering a welcome address to the group of dedicated Trojan leaders. Town & Gown of USC is a non-profit philanthropic organization whose purpose is to support USC through scholarships for students, building and campus enhancements and cultural programs. The Court of Recognition commemorates the contributions of outstanding women who have supported USC through their transformative leadership and gifts. Pictured in the photo above are Verna B. Dauterive, Niki C. Nikias, and Sheila Derrig.


USC Celebrates 130th Commencement

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USC President C. L. Max Nikias and USC Board of Trustees Chairman Edward P. Roski, Jr. celebrate the 130th commencement.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias and USC Board of Trustees Chairman Edward P. Roski, Jr. celebrate the 130th commencement.

Drawing a crowd of more than 60,000 to the University Park Campus, USC celebrated its 130th commencement ceremony on May 17, 2013.  The 13,284 new graduates respresented all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the world with over half earning master’s or doctorate degrees.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias told the graduating students that it was a pleasure and a privilege to unleash their talents and energies upon the world.

“Yes, you are graduating into times of uncertainty. But what is uncertainty? It is the beginning of adventure,” Nikias said. “Always remember: To the bold, uncertainty is a fountain of infinite creative possibilities. As the Roman poet Virgil observed more than 2,000 years ago, to be a Trojan is to be an adventurer.”

The commencement address was delivered by music industry executive, Jimmy Iovine who shared some important life lessons and conveyed to the USC graduates that their education would give them an edge in the competitive world.  “Today, each one of you has an excellent reason to believe in yourselves,” said Iovine, chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records. “You have earned a degree from USC. You are graduating from one of the greatest universities in the world.”

The ceremony also bestowed an Honorary Doctorate degree on Iovine along with fellow honorees Nobel Prize-winning biologist John Gurdon, renowned playwright David Henry Hwang, arts benefactor Glorya Kaufman, USC alumnus and USC Board of Trustees Chairman Edward P. Roski, Jr., and longtime USC supporter and namesake for USC Roski School of Fine Arts Gayle Garner Roski.  Valedictorian Katherine Fu and Salutatorians Alexander Fullman and Julia Mangione were also honored.

Nikias also recognized National Medal of Science winner Solomon Golomb, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Mathematics who has taught at USC for more than 50 years, and graduating USC quarterback Matt Barkley.


Presidential priorities

  • Transforming USC into a major hub of the emerging Age of the Pacific—by creating trans-Pacific alliances, by fully utilizing Los Angeles as a laboratory for trans-Pacific research, education and culture, and by building the foremost network of Pacific leaders.

  • Ensuring that the USC academic community serves as a key engine of intellectual, economic and cultural progress for the nation, and allowing its vast array of disciplines to be combined creatively in order to catalyze new knowledge and innovation.

  • Ensuring that USC promotes imagination and invention by creating a living and learning environment in which the university’s undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty are fluent in a wide variety of intellectual areas, ranging from classical literary works to the latest digital technologies.

  • Serving the neighborhoods around our two campuses through job creation and quality k-12 education. Further strengthening the legendary traditions of the Trojan Family.

  • Leading USC during the most ambitious fundraising campaign ever announced by an American university. This historic endeavor will raise $6 billion to support USC's faculty and students, as well as its academic priorities, capital projects, and essential infrastructure.