Message to USC Ambassadors – January 2019

Steven Spielberg inside USC Shoah Foundation’s newly expanded space

For so many of us, a new year brings a list of resolutions and a hope that we can help others even more.  The truth is: there is already so much that we do, something I see every day on our campuses, and through the good work of Trojans all over the world.  In this spirit, I have chosen to focus my first letter of the new year on a few recent stories that underscore the excellent work Trojans are doing every day to benefit humanity.  One highlights a noble endeavor of a trustee, another of a faculty, while others showcase our alumni and undergraduates.  Taken together, they show how the USC community is determined to make a difference in the lives of others.

To start us off, The New York Times published a wonderful interview with our trustee, Steven Spielberg, in which he discussed the USC Shoah Foundation and how its mission is expanding in scope.  The organization, which he founded in 1994, has a new home at USC on the top floor of Leavey Library, where visitors can now interact with survivors of genocide through the use of playback technology and prerecorded video conversations.  The foundation continues to document anti-Semitism and archive the voices of survivors from the Holocaust, but it also gathers testimonies from survivors of other genocides.  “The presence of hate has become taken for granted,” Mr. Spielberg told the reporter, commenting on the urgency of the foundation’s work.  “We are not doing enough to counter it.”

Closer to home, but with equally broad implications, Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, who has appointments at our Rossier School of Education and our Brain and Creativity Institute, is examining the link between the brain and effective teaching, having recently launched a study at a public charter school in Long Beach.  This pioneering study combines brain imaging with classroom observations, and helps us understand how some teachers are so effective in inspiring their students to learn.  “I think it speaks to the need in our society to document what teachers know and recognize how difficult their job is,” Professor Immordino-Yang said.  “With this study, we’re acknowledging that the work they do requires serious skill.”

Meanwhile, two alumni of our Marshall School of Business—Brian Conyer and Jihye Shin—created a digital library of medical education videos that can be accessed on-demand.  The videos are high quality, shot in 4K or 360 virtual reality, and can help a surgeon determine the best approach for operating on a patient, before the surgery even begins.  This library, called GIBLIB, is distinguishing itself as the “Netflix of medical education.”  Mr. Conyer credits USC for helping launch this startup, as GIBLIB filmed its first surgery at our Keck School of Medicine.  It now has a relationship with six of our nation’s top 10 hospitals.

 Turning to our undergraduates, a junior at our Viterbi School of Engineering, Sandeep Suresh, created a website that provides practical information to a population that is often hidden or overlooked: students who are housing and food-insecure.  In launching this site, which is found at uschomelessinitiative.org, Mr. Suresh partnered with Alec Vandenberg, a junior at our Price School of Public Policy, and earlier on, Sidharth Raguraman, who is studying both computer science and business administration.  This site answers a real need on our campuses, as there are hundreds of students who have faced food insecurity or struggled with housing at some point during their time at USC—a problem we see replicated on college campuses across the nation.

Students at our Kaufman School of Dance, meanwhile, are mentoring local elementary school students to create special dance performances.  The new initiative, called Kaufman Connections, is already off the ground: USC students currently lead a 24-week, hip-hop dance program involving more than 200 students at 32nd Street Elementary School.  “Part of the brilliance of a community-based education program is that teaching artists learn more about themselves and about empathy through the process of teaching,” said Ardyn Flynt, a senior participating in the program.  “In this way, my students have been as much my teacher as me to them.”

I have every faith that students such as Ms. Flynt will continue their commitment to service when they graduate, and contribute to society in meaningful ways, as the two Marshall alumni have already.  We have constant reminders.  In Forbes’ recent “30 under 30” list, several USC alumni appeared among the forward-thinking young leaders.  Their work is certainly inspired, and I encourage you to learn more about them at forbes.com.

Wade and I hope 2019 is off to a great start for you.  We hope it brings you and your loved ones health, happiness, and joy.  Let us draw inspiration from these Trojans and, as always, Fight On!