4 USC researchers named AAAS fellows

The council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has elected USC faculty members Carolyn C. Meltzer, Massoud Pedram, Remo Rohs and Richard M. Watanabe to the rank of AAAS fellow.

Selected by the council each year, AAAS members are elected through a judicious process. Recognizing “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished,” the honor is among the most prized in academia.

The honor recognizes excellence in research, technology, industry and government, teaching, and communicating and interpreting science to the public. The new cohort of USC fellows joins more than 40 of their USC peers already inducted into the AAAS.

The newly elected AAAS fellows will be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Carolyn C. Meltzer

Meltzer is the dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the May S. and John H. Hooval, M.D., Dean’s Chair Professor of Radiology. She was awarded the distinction of AAAS fellow for “distinguished contributions to the field of neuroradiology, exemplary leadership in the realm of academic medicine, and tireless advocacy in communicating the importance of scientific research to the government and public.”

Meltzer is an expert in neuroradiology and nuclear medicine whose research has improved the understanding of the brain’s structure and function during normal aging, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and psychiatric disorders in later life.

Meltzer has received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Distinguished Service Award from the American Medical Association, the Gold Medal Award from the Association of University Radiologists and the Outstanding Contributions in Research Award and Gold Medal Award from the American Society of Neuroradiology. She is also a fellow of the American College of Radiology and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and a past president of the Academy for Radiology and Biomedical Imaging Research.

At Emory University, where Meltzer headed the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences prior to being named dean of the Keck School of Medicine, she launched a training program to give midcareer health professionals the tools they need to advance in their field, notably women and people from underrepresented backgrounds. When she discovered pay inequities in the radiology department, she established new salary guidelines that eliminated the pay gap between men and women.

“I am deeply honored to join the ranks of investigators recognized by the AAAS, and particularly delighted to receive this distinction alongside my distinguished [Keck School of Medicine] colleague, Dr. Watanabe,” Meltzer said.

Read more on the Keck School of Medicine website >>

Massoud Pedram

Pedram is the Charles Lee Powell Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science and professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He was awarded the distinction of AAAS fellow “for leadership in low-power design of VLSI [very large scale integration] circuits and contributions to energy-efficient computing resulting in sustainable computing infrastructure.”

Pedram is a pioneer in advancing the theory and practice of energy-efficient computing and introducing methodologies and design automation algorithms for reducing power dissipation in electronic circuits and systems. His research interests include the computer-aided design of VLSI circuits and systems, low-power electronics, energy storage systems, machine learning, quantum computing and superconductor electronics.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be in the company of all the past and present fellows of the AAAS, a multidisciplinary organization whose mission is to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all,” Pedram said.

He is currently the principal investigator for a multi-university DISCoVER Expedition team focused on green computing and superconductor electronics, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Expeditions in Computing Award. He leads a multidisciplinary team of USC researchers, along with a consortium of partner universities, working toward developing complete hardware and software solutions that enable the design, optimization and demonstration of novel superconducting devices and superconductive systems with very high performance and ultra-high energy efficiency.

An IEEE fellow, Pedram received the 2015 IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Charles A. Desoer Technical Achievement Award for his contributions to modeling and design of low-power VLSI circuits and systems and energy-efficient computing, and the 2017 USC Viterbi School of Engineering Senior Research Award. He holds 10 patents and is the author of four books and more than 800 archival and conference papers. At the 50th anniversary of the Design Automation Conference held in 2013, Pedram was recognized with the Third Most Cited Author Award.

Remo Rohs

Rohs is professor of quantitative and computational biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy and computer science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He was named an AAAS fellow for “integrating structural biology and genomics with high-throughput methods to predict the three-dimensional structure of DNA, which allowed the prediction of transcription factor-DNA binding and revealed mechanisms of protein-DNA recognition.”

Rohs uses computational and experimental approaches, including artificial intelligence, to understand mechanisms of gene regulation. Such mechanisms describe how proteins that regulate genes, called transcription factors, detect and interact with specific regions of the genome.

“My lab deciphers gene regulatory mechanisms through AI, machine learning and biophysics to understand development, aging and disease, and to develop drugs,” he said.

Widely recognized in his field of study both as a researcher and a mentor, Rohs received an American Chemical Society OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry in 2016 and a USC Mentoring Award in the “Mentoring of Graduate Students” category in 2015. He earned an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 2013, and since 2012 he has garnered nine RECOMB/ISCB Top-10 Paper Awards and a NAR Breakthrough Article honor for research papers published in high-impact journals such as Cell, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nucleic Acids Research.

A member of the American Chemical Society and International Society for Computational Biology since 2012, he has been a member of the AAAS since 2013.

“I was very honored to be recognized as a fellow because my most distinguished colleagues are AAAS fellows,” Rohs said. “Joining them was touching to me, and my initial thought was also that this is an honor for all current and past members of my lab who have earned this recognition.”

Read more on the USC Dornsife website >>

Richard M. Watanabe

Watanabe is professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and is the associate dean for health and population science programs. He was named a 2022 AAAS fellow for his “distinguished contributions to the identification and interpretation of genetic variation underlying Type 2 diabetes-related traits, administration and training in statistical genetics.”

Watanabe’s research focuses on the abnormal physiological processes and genetics of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Over the course of his career, Watanabe has developed mathematical models to quantify insulin secretion in living organisms. In the area of complex disease genetics, he also employs novel strategies to identify genetic alterations that make people more susceptible to developing Type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related traits and understanding the genes and gene expression and how they are affected by environmental exposures.

Watanabe has worked to improve student diversity at the Keck School of Medicine through his co-leadership of the NIH/NIDDK-funded Summer Program in Diabetes and Obesity Research (SPIDOR) and participation in the USC Bridging the Gaps summer program and the NIH/NHLBI-funded LA’s Biostatistical Education Summer Training program.

“It is an honor to be recognized by the AAAS and to join the ranks of those who were previously named fellows. The accomplishments for which I am being recognized would not have been possible without the support of my mentors, research team and numerous colleagues. This honor is equally theirs as it is mine,” Watanabe said.

Read more on the Keck School of Medicine website >>

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Black History Month at USC offers opportunities to celebrate and educate

USC’s celebration of Black History Month begins Wednesday with a livestreamed kickoff program inspired by this year’s theme: “Reclamation Through Resistance, Rebirth Through Reconciliation.” The hybrid event includes an in-person watch party at Tommy’s Place on the University Park Campus, where students, faculty and staff can watch the program together.

Black History Month logo“It’s one thing to watch it; I think it’s another thing to watch it in community,” said Damarea Parker, supervisor of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, which is presenting the program. “It’s going to be a very diverse group that’s coming to celebrate. We all love being in person and being able to feel each other’s energy, being able to shake those hands, give those hugs.”

In addition to musical performances, the kickoff program will include messages from USC President Carol L. Folt, U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Trojan linebacker Shane Lee, Chief Lauretta Hill of the USC Department of Public Safety, Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Jehni Robinson and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Miki Turner.

Black History Month at USC builds on national theme

The monthlong celebration takes its cue from the national theme of “Black Resistance,” according to Greedley Harris, director of strategic partnerships for USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs.

“We took that theme and wanted to put our spin on it as a campus,” Harris said.”We’re reclaiming who we are, reclaiming our strengths and our identities. We’re resisting all these different things like institutionalized racism that are trying to tear us down.”

The campuswide series of Black History Month events throughout February will culminate in a “Family Reunion”-themed celebration at Alumni Park on Feb. 24. In between, the packed schedule includes movie screenings, forums, live performances, a job fair and a book signing.

Black History Month, officially recognized nationwide since 1976, celebrates the achievements of Black Americans and recognizes their central role in U.S. history — from activists and civil rights pioneers to leaders in culture, science, politics and more.

I think a lot of times throughout history, you’re not taught who you are and where you come from.

Damarea Parker, Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs

“When you learn about who you are and where you come from, you can be better prepared to show up in different spaces as your whole self with a sound understanding of your past and what you represent,” Parker said. “I think a lot of times throughout history, you’re not taught who you are and where you come from.”

The month grew out of Negro History Week, which was established in 1926. Expanding the occasion to a month was first proposed by Black students at Kent State University in 1969. A year later, that campus established the first monthlong celebration of Black history to take place in the U.S. In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first president to officially recognize Black History Month.

Opportunity to celebrate: Black History Month at USC

USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning sees the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate how Black people, who have experienced “centuries of generational trauma,” have resisted oppression, discrimination and prejudice throughout U.S. history.

This includes being brought against their will to the Americas as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries in conditions that were not designed for them to survive. Although enslaved people were freed in the United States after the Civil War, they then began suffering through laws that enforced racial segregation in the South (known as Jim Crow laws) from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Despite these enormous hurdles, Black Americans have made countless contributions to the United States.

“One of the principal values of Black History Month is to show people their ability to be resilient, to triumph over odds that are no way in their favor,” Manning said. “Yet they managed to not only survive, but to come to see themselves as having certain characteristics that defined their peoplehood and created a solidarity that we presently understand as Black or African American people.”

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, has by no means put an end to systemic racism.

“Yet African Americans and American Black people have managed to be fundamental to the country,” Manning said. “You have great intellectuals, great activists, great artists and thriving communities. The impact on this country is so great that you don’t have the United States without Black people in it.”

Black History Month events at USC

Below are some of the ways to celebrate Black History Month at USC:

  • MLK in Los Angeles (through March 15): Visit USC Fisher Museum of Art for an exhibit that focuses on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s visits to Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s and to USC in 1967.
  • USC Black History Month Kickoff (Feb. 1): Join the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs for an in-person watch party beginning at noon at Tommy’s Place with a virtual celebration on Zoom at 12:30 p.m. Food will be served.
  • Black Career Fair (Feb. 1): The USC Black Student Assembly is providing students with an intimate opportunity to meet recruiters of color from major companies, including The Walt Disney Co., Boeing, Paramount Global, McKinsey & Co. and Riot Games. There will be traditional career fair tabling, sit-down speed networking, headshots taken and resume review.
  • SOUL! 2023: Producing to Power in the 21st Century (Feb. 1): Dedicated to the work and legacy of legendary producer Ellis Haizlip, this event features an uplifting conversation with Melissa Haizlip, the award-winning producer of the film Mr. SOUL!, and other prolific producers. The event will be moderated by USC Annenberg Associate Professor Robeson Taj Frazier.
  • February Movie Night — The Woman King (Feb. 3): Bring a lawn chair or a blanket for this outdoor screening on Pardee Lawn, which includes a pre-movie conversation on topics surrounding the film and free food to the first 150 attendees.
  • Voices of a Movement premiere and Q&A with Lora King (Feb. 7): The USC Charlotta Bass Journalism & Justice Lab’s Voices of a Movement series welcomes special guest Lora King, daughter of Rodney King and founder of the Rodney King Foundation. She is the inaugural subject of the Lab’s groundbreaking oral history collection, titled The Second Draft Project.
  • Book Signing: Psalms for Black Lives (Feb. 14): Join the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life for the Psalms for Black Lives book signing and a curated conversation with authors the Rev. Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and the Rev. Andrew Wilkes.
  • A.I.M by Kyle Abraham: An Untitled Love (Feb. 15): Don’t miss A.I.M by Kyle Abraham’s presentation of An Untitled Love, one of Abraham’s new evening-length works. Drawing from the catalogue of Grammy Award-winning R&B legend D’Angelo, the creative exaltation pays homage to the complexities of self-love and Black love, while serving as a thumping mixtape celebrating culture, family and community.
  • Films Reflecting Ourselves (F.R.O. Fest) (Feb. 17): Be in the audience for this annual festival that provides a platform to tell and celebrate Black stories. In honor of Black History Month, films by Black writers, producers, directors and actors from USC will be screened.
  • An Evening with Nikole Hannah-Jones (Feb. 21): This is the inaugural event of the Charlotta Bass Media Trailblazer Speaker Series at USC and features Nikole Hannah-Jones, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine and the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of “The 1619 Project.”
  • Black History Month Family Reunion (Feb. 24): Get ready for the closing celebration of Black History Month. The afternoon event in Alumni Park will feature live entertainment, booths representing community groups and local Black businesses, a DJ, food trucks, giveaways and more.

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Allison Brightman uses her USC law degree at CBS Studios

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In the business of shaping entertainment: Allison Brightman
Allison Brightman (JD 1992) serves as Executive Vice President and Co-Head of Business Affairs for CBS Studios
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As the television industry undergoes tremendous change, Allison Brightman (JD 1992), part of the business affairs team at CBS Studios since 2006, has seen her job responsibilities shift considerably. But that’s all right with her — as she says, “I love strategizing.”

“The entire industry — really every industry — is going through especially trying times,” says Brightman, VP of business affairs for 14 years before being named executive VP and co-head of business affairs in 2020. “It’s more challenging to bring entertainment to audiences who have so many more choices than they ever had and to figure out where to allocate our resources. Being more creative with our deal-making and figuring out new templates and paradigms is deeply gratifying.”

Brightman, whose resume includes serving as senior counsel for five years at HBO, oversees everything from development to term deals on the studio side, while Co-Head Jeeun Kim handles the network side. She relies heavily on her communication and negotiation skills, developed through the USC Gould School of Law writing program and the Hale Moot Court Honors Program.

“We had to present one side and then flip and take the other side and, boy, was that a great exercise to train a negotiator,” she says. “It was the perfect preparation for what I do now, negotiating with agents or lawyers to get a deal over the finish line.”

As a 1L, Brightman had a son, Michael, who is now a lawyer. She and her husband also have two daughters, Erica and Mia, who have profound disabilities and, as adults, continue to live at home. They inspired her to become a special education advocate and to volunteer for more than eight years with Disability Rights California, where she also served as president of the board.

The way Brightman embraces business negotiations and champions civil rights, it’s perhaps no surprise that her favorite CBS show is the legal drama The Good Fight. “It’s about lawyers, right? And it’s incredibly smart and witty… and challenging.”

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New USC/Children’s Hospital Los Angeles lab to accelerate next-gen cell therapy

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New USC/CHLA cGMP Lab opens to accelerate next-generation cell therapy

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New USC/CHLA cGMP Lab opens to accelerate next-generation cell therapy

A new laboratory designed to advance early-stage research into lifesaving, commercially viable therapies was celebrated on the USC Health Sciences Campus Tuesday night.

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Housed at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, the USC/CHLA cGMP Laboratory will manufacture cell and gene therapies under the Food and Drug Administration’s good manufacturing practice (cGMP) standards.

Therapies developed in the lab could one day be used to treat diseases such as arthritis, blindness and diabetes.

The 3,184-square-foot facility offers cleanrooms, laboratory space, cryostorage and state-of-the-art equipment for manufacturing and analytical testing. It was launched through a partnership between Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Keck Medicine of USC and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The lab’s collaborative structure, broad expertise, specialized resources and regulatory knowledge will help accelerate big ideas and positive “disruption” to health care, said USC President Carol L. Folt, PhD.

“Effective partnerships can facilitate these breakthroughs while also supporting the steady, incremental and absolutely critical advancements” necessary to move an idea from lab to bedside, Folt said. “Billions of lives across the world could be changed by this work.”

Keck School of Medicine Dean Carolyn Meltzer, PhD, who began her position in March 2022, praised the countless hours teams spent bringing the idea to life.

“I came here because this institution really embodies interdisciplinary collaboration to solve the tough problems,” Meltzer said. “And this is a moment where we’re well positioned for disruptive growth and impact, which is really what’s most meaningful.”

The partnership demonstrates continued “representation of what world-class organizations can do working together,” said Paul Viviano, president and chief executive officer of CHLA, noting that his institution and USC have maintained an affiliation since 1932. “This magnificent center is a major step forward.”

The lab is part of a larger effort — the USC/CHLA Cell Therapy Program — to advance the science and translation of cell therapies at both institutions. (The program is tied to the USC+CHLA Alpha Clinic, which in November 2022 was awarded a five-year, $8 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.)

This effort marks continued momentum for expanding precision medicine. The cGMP lab’s multidisciplinary teams will work to further leverage the power of modified cells — as seen in CAR T-cell therapy, which reengineers patients’ immune cells to fight their own blood cancers — and apply them in new ways.

“The great thing about cell therapy is that patients are not passive receiving treatment; they are active participants,” said Mohamed Abou-el-Enein, MD, PhD, MSPH, executive director of the USC/CHLA Cell Therapy Program and director of the new cGMP lab.

The facility, he added, is “the missing puzzle piece that can enable us to bring homegrown discoveries to the clinic and to our patients.”

Abou-el-Enein expects the lab to serve 200 patients annually and partner with leading biotech companies. He also intends for it to help train a new generation of scientists and to prioritize pediatric and East Los Angeles patient populations.

Housing multiple parts of the development process under one roof offers a distinct advantage for researchers and patients, said Rod Hanners, chief executive officer of Keck Medicine.

“Cell-based therapies represent a quantum change in medical treatments,” Hanners said. “The establishment of the Translational Cell Therapy program between Keck Medicine of USC, Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, including the new cGMP facility, provides the collaboration, expertise and infrastructure to take new therapies and move them into clinical trials — all with the promise of curing diseases that affect our patient population.”

— Kevin Joy

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Americans don’t know what’s a healthy blood pressure — and that’s a problem

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False Confidence in Blood Pressure Knowledge Undermines Intentions to Seek Care

Most Americans don’t know the meaning of 120/80 mm Hg, but think they do — and that’s a potential problem for their health.

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Nearly half of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure (hypertension). In the long run, high blood pressure damages blood vessels, increases risk of heart failure, and leads to other poor health outcomes, especially in patients with additional conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes. High blood pressure is more common as we get older, and a majority of people will develop blood pressure in their lifetime.

Yet, almost two-thirds of adults do not know the upper thresholds for normal or healthy blood pressure, according to a survey a new USC study published this week in the journal Medical Decision Making.

“High blood pressure usually has no symptoms,” said Wandi Bruine de Bruin , who co-directs the Behavioral Sciences program at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and is provost professor of public policy, psychology and behavioral sciences at the USC Price School of Public Policy. “So it is important to have your blood pressure tested, and to take action if it’s too high.”

While most survey participants did not correctly identify the threshold for healthy blood pressure, Bruine de Bruin and her team found that the majority were overly confident in their knowledge of blood pressure readings – and this false sense of confidence may be undermining their intentions to seek care for stage 1 hypertension.

What blood pressure numbers mean and when to seek care
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. The top number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in our arteries when our hearts beat. The second number is called diastolic blood pressure and measures the pressure in our arteries when our hearts are resting between beats.

According to the American Heart Association, there are five blood pressure (BP) categories:

Table explaining blood pressure categories
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone with stage 1 hypertension talk to their doctor about making lifestyle changes, including eating a low-sodium diet, limiting alcohol use, being more physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and quitting smoking. Medication is recommended for people with stage 2 hypertension and for some people with stage 1 hypertension, including those who also have heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes.

Confidence outpaces knowledge of what constitutes normal/healthy blood pressure
Bruine de Bruin and colleagues surveyed 6,592 U.S. adults, including 1,342 who had hypertension without comorbidities (heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes) and 795 who had hypertension with comorbidities. They assessed whether survey participants could identify the threshold for normal/healthy blood pressure as well as their confidence in understanding blood pressure numbers.

Among the whole sample, 64% of participants expressed confidence in their understanding of blood pressure numbers but only 36% stated that 120/80 mm Hg was the upper threshold for normal/healthy blood pressure. When counting 120-130/80 mm Hg as correct, it was 39%.

Participants with high blood pressure without comorbidities were also more likely to be confident (78%) than knowledgeable (47%), when counting 120-130/80 mm Hg as correct. The same was true for participants who had high blood pressure with comorbidities who were slightly more confident (81%) but less knowledgeable (40%).

The researchers suggest that this false confidence may stem from repeated exposure to a topic. “We tend to feel more confident about topics that are more familiar. And blood pressure feels like a familiar topic because it gets measured at pretty much every healthcare visit,” says Bruine de Bruin. “But if these blood pressure measurements are not explained well or at all, we may develop false confidence. And that false confidence makes is feel that we know when to seek care, even when we don’t.”

Indeed, the researchers find that this false confidence in understanding blood pressure readings may undermine intentions to seek care. Survey participants who were confident were more likely to express intentions to act on stage 2 hypertension readings, but less likely to express intentions to act on stage 1 readings compared to those who were not confident.

“Identifying, treating, and controlling high blood pressure is a major clinical and public health challenge,” says coauthor Mark Huffman, professor of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “We know that the earlier patients seek and receive treatment, the better and easier it is to control their blood pressure.”

Every doctor’s visit is an opportunity to talk about blood pressure
“Blood pressure is measured every time we go to the doctor as well as the dentist and other medical offices,” said Bruine de Bruin. “But knowledge about what these blood pressure numbers mean is not being transferred from the provider to the patient.”

It’s not clear why doctors skip opportunities to talk about managing high blood pressure. Possibly, doctors are desensitized to seeing stage 1 hypertension. High pressure is very common among adults across the U.S. Some people also have elevated blood pressure readings due to the stress or anxiety of being at a doctor’s office, which may lead doctors to take no action after seeing a high blood pressure reading.

But lowering blood pressure can help people stay healthy. In fact, a recent study showed that lowering systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg through medication reduces the risk of major cardiovascular events by 10%. Providing patients with information about blood pressure levels and behaviors and treatments they can do is an easy way to improve health, explained the researchers.

In addition to Bruine de Bruin and Huffman, Yasmina Okan (Pompeu Fabra University and Centre for Decision Research, Leeds University) and Tamara Krishnamurti (Center for Research on Health Care, University of Pittsburgh) coauthored the study. The survey was administered through the Understanding America Study at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research.

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Brand New Theatre puts original student productions on the stage

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Student Group Spotlight: Brand New Theatre

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Student Group Spotlight: Brand New Theatre
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Brand New Theatre (BNT), one of the oldest Independent Student Production companies on campus, has been producing original student works on stage since 1996. BNT is one of the few student producing groups on campus that connects student artists from different majors and schools around USC. The group produces a one-act festival in the Fall semester, a full play in the Spring semester, and recently has started producing a series of dramatic readings of original works. Every work produced by Brand New Theatre is 100% original work by student playwrights.

Plays are written not only by USC School of Dramatic Arts (SDA) students, but also by students majoring in other schools as well. “A lot of our playwrights are from SDA, but we also get a lot of screenwriters and narrative studies majors,” current Brand New Theatre president Jacob Hollens (BA Theatre ’25) said. “We like to reach out to playwrights on campus. This is a good opportunity to extend your work outside the classroom and see what that would be like.”

The plays are then produced by student directors, designed by student designers, and cast with student actors. One of the group’s major selling points is its accessibility for all students as a point of entry to become involved in theatre on campus.

“I was always intimidated and worried that I wouldn’t get the opportunities to do play writing,” Sol Lagos (BA Creative Writing and Narrative Studies ’25) whose play Mirror will be produced later this semester, said. “Brand New Theatre gives me that opportunity to work with SDA students, non-SDA students, and people who want to tell stories through theatre in general.”

Brand New Theatre connects student writers with student actors and directors on campus. Photo courtesy of Brand New Theatre.
A chance to learn and try new things

One of the benefits of the group is as a training ground for student writers, directors, and actors. Lagos had just finished taking a playwriting class with Boni B. Alvarez, and Mirror was the first play he had written. As part of the process at Brand New Theatre, that play will now be brought to life by a student director and student actors, featuring a mostly Latinx cast.

“I knew that Brand New Theatre was one of the main opportunities on campus for student work to be produced, and it’s very accessible,” Lagos added.

Former Brand New Theatre president Eden Treiman (BA Theatre and Narrative Studies ’23), whose play Bridge of Birds was produced in 2022, agreed. She was selected to serve as a member of BNT’s literary board in 2020. It was the first time she had been asked to evaluate and edit student work.

“They said, ‘We chose you for a reason. You have good instincts. Just do it and we’ll correct you if we need to,'” she remembers. “It gave me a lot of confidence as someone who was new to writing.”

Brand New Theatre is one of the few groups on campus that is open to training brand new students who are interested in different aspects of the theatre. They recruit first-year designers and directors, which helps younger students gain valuable experience in the theatre that can serve them later in mainstage productions. Hollens recalls the welcoming atmosphere of the group when he joined as a first-year student.

“I started working in the one-act festival as a lighting designer, and just really enjoyed how BNT welcomed me,” Hollens said.

The current board is implementing a new mentorship program to address the shortage of student designers on campus, one in which designers with little or no experience can be paired with more experienced student designers to work on a show. “It’s a learning opportunity for all of us,” Treiman said. “That’s what I’ve loved most about working with BNT.”

Brand New Theatre performs Eden Treiman’s play Bridge of Birds in 2022. Photo courtesy of Brand New Theatre.
Telling authentic stories

Because the group focuses on producing 100% original student work, another aspect of the group that attracts students is that they provide opportunities to tell stories that may not find a place elsewhere on campus. Bridge of Birds, the play written by Treiman and produced in Spring of 2022, was a deeply personal expression of her experience growing up in a Korean American family and featured a fully Asian cast.

“My grandparents, who are from Korea, came to me and said, ‘I didn’t know that you cared so much about being Korean,'” Treiman recalls. “There were things in that play I couldn’t tell them face to face, but they were things they could watch and understand about me.”

Lagos, whose forthcoming play Mirror focuses on the Latinx diaspora and issues of immigration around the Mexico-U.S. border, spoke of how meaningful it was to be able to write a play that reflects his community.

“The audience I was so worried about not honoring was my own community,” Lagos said. He added that he is looking forward to the opportunity to work with Latinx student actors and receiving their feedback in shaping the story. “Since it’s a story so tied to community, I don’t want it to be told the wrong way. They’ve really respected my vision.”

“Because it’s so personal with the playwright, since we’re all of the same generation and living a similar experience, that comes with a lot of sensitivity,” Hollens said. Brand New Theatre sends feedback surveys to those involved in the production after each show to capture how students felt about the process and to try to improve productions in the future.

“At the end of the day, it’s a writer’s work that we have to respect, and a director’s vision that we have to respect, and an actor’s time that we have to respect,” Hollens added. “We’re all students and all humans with a lot going on.”

“Everyone there is so welcoming, and if you want to learn, there will always be someone there to teach you,” Treiman added. “Not only that, they will be happy to teach you.”

Hollens found the perfect way to sum up what appeals to students about the group. “There’s just a really good energy around BNT,” he said.

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Kevin Feige, producer and president of Marvel Studios, named USC’s 2023 commencement speaker

USC’s 140th commencement ceremony will be headlined by one of the most influential figures in filmmaking today: Kevin Feige, producer and president of Marvel Studios.

Feige will give the keynote address at the ceremony on May 12.

A 1995 graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Feige is head of Marvel Studios, the home of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a collection of interconnected films and streaming series that has made an indelible mark on popular culture and filmmaking.

He sat in the same seats and walked the same paths as so many of our students — and look where his adventure has taken him.

Carol L. Folt, USC president

“I’m so excited Kevin Feige is our commencement speaker. He’s a creative force: an impresario who builds extraordinary teams and tells magical, diverse stories that captivate people around the world,” said USC President Carol L. Folt.

“He sat in the same seats and walked the same paths as so many of our students — and look where his adventure has taken him. I can’t wait to hear his inspiring stories.”

USC commencement speaker Kevin Feige’s close relationship with film school

Feige has maintained a close relationship with his alma mater and serves on the Board of Councilors at the School of Cinematic Arts. In 2017, the Academy Award nominee established a fund to foster success for cinema students at USC. The Kevin Feige Endowed Fund for Creative Producing supports courses that teach budding filmmakers how to turn an idea into a successful commercial release. Feige is also the 2014 recipient of the Mary Pickford Alumni Award for achievements that have brought distinction to the school and the entertainment industry.

“My USC experience played such a fundamental part in who I have become, both as a filmmaker and as a person,” Feige said. “Of course, they never have to ask me twice to come back and talk with students, but I’m honored and humbled to be asked to be the commencement speaker celebrating the 2023 graduating class as they carry their own USC experience into the world to do big things as part of the next generation of storytellers and innovators and leaders.”

Feige, who returns frequently to campus for screenings and to talk with students, serves as an inspiration for students at the world’s top film school.

“Feige is an outstanding role model for all SCA students, as creative producing is a core competency across the breadth of the school’s curriculum, a hallmark of the industry’s best practitioners,” said Dean Elizabeth Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

‘Hands-on producer’: USC commencement speaker Kevin Feige

A hands-on producer, Feige, 49, oversees Marvel Studios’ feature film productions, with 30 film releases that have all opened No. 1 at the box office and collectively grossed more than $28 billion worldwide. Ten films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and two films — Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War — have grossed more than $2 billion.

Since 2021, Marvel Studios has released eight streaming series on Disney+, including the Emmy Award-winning shows WandaVision and What If…? as well as the critically acclaimed series Loki and Ms. Marvel.

Feige was honored with the 2019 David O. Selznick Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America, as well as the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in 2018.

USC’s 140th commencement ceremony will be held May 12. It begins at 8:30 a.m. at Alumni Memorial Park on the USC University Park Campus.

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Social work researchers examine the health impacts of U.S. immigration policy

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Social work researchers examine the health impacts of U.S. immigration policy

Deporting immigrants to countries where they never lived is causing mental and physical health disparities for individuals and families.
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Immigration is one of the most controversial social and political issues in American life. Yet little attention is given to the aftermath of U.S. immigration policies or the immigrant Americans who are deported back to their country of origin. What is the resulting impact on mental and physical health disparities, both individually and at the societal level? This question is at the heart of groundbreaking research by scholars at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Alice Cepeda, associate professor, and Avelardo Valdez, the Cleofas and Victor Ramirez Professor of Practice, Policy, Research and Advocacy for the Latino Population, have been studying disparities in health among deported Americans in Mexico City. They recently presented their important findings in a private audience with Ken Salazar, the United States Ambassador to Mexico, in hopes of expanding recognition for the impact current U.S. immigration policy is having on the lives of individuals and families.

“There are almost half a million deportees in Mexico City that are Americans,” Valdez said. “If you talk to these people, it’s like talking to any other U.S. citizen. Some of them have never even been to Mexico, have never even thought of going back, and suddenly find themselves in this strange country, separated and alienated from their families.”

Valdez and Cepeda have been working together to illuminate social and public health issues around Mexican American immigration and other factors for over 20 years. Their latest study funded by the National Institutes of Health – Disparities in Health among Floating Immigrant Populations – examines the health impacts of the U.S. immigration system. This study interviews recent immigrants in Los Angeles and deported Americans in Mexico City in order to identify mechanisms by which immigration processes expose individuals to distinct environments, increase susceptibility to risk behaviors and contribute to mental and physical health disparities, infectious diseases and alcohol/drug dependence. “Our goal with this research is to reframe immigration, not as a threat to public health, but instead recognizing immigrants’ special vulnerabilities from a human rights perspective,” Cepeda said. “The migration processes are something we really need to think about in terms of the health of these deported Americans, including mental health and substance use.”

Criminalizing the immigrant experience

When most people think of immigrants from Mexico to America they picture rural agricultural workers coming to work on farms in border states. However, many Mexican migrants to the United States today are from urban areas, and bound for major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta to work in service sector jobs. Also in contrast to common wisdom, immigration from Mexico has actually decreased significantly in recent years, with 2 million fewer total unauthorized immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. in 2017 than a decade earlier. This is attributable in part to a significant increase in deportations as a result of changes in immigration policy and the passage of laws specifically targeting immigrants. In 1996, the passage of the U.S. Illegal Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act began the era of a deportation-carceral system that criminalizes immigrants, militarizes the border and removes long-term immigrants from the interior of the U.S. This law expanded the list of “deplorable” crimes that warranted deportation to include common misdemeanors such as identification or tax fraud, and making unauthorized re-entry into the U.S. a felony. In 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was created and expanded into the interior of the U.S., not just border areas, enlisting local law enforcement to apprehend unauthorized immigrants. Currently, immigration offenses are the most common federal crime, surpassing drug-related crime.

Many of these laws overwhelmingly target immigrants commonly known as “dreamers,” who came to the U.S. as children and might otherwise qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to stay in the U.S. Because any criminal history, even misdemeanors, violates the DACA morality clause, these laws have the net effect of criminalizing immigration. For this reason, Cepeda and Valdez often refer to the deported Americans in Mexico City as the “other dreamers.” These deportees also create a new form of family separation. Among the deported Americans Cepeda and Valdez have surveyed in their study,45% report they left behind one or more children in the U.S., many of them U.S. citizens, disrupting the family’s primary financial support and creating tremendous anxiety and stress across the family.

One of the men Cepeda and Valdez interviewed personifies this dynamic. A 36-year-old married man with several children, residing in Dallas and earning a living as a contractor with six employees, was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. Due to this immigration status, he was deported to Mexico, a place he had not been for over twenty years. His wife and children were suddenly left with no financial support and his employees without jobs. In an effort to keep his family together, he tried moving his wife and children to Mexico, but they were unable to acclimate to the social systems and language, eventually returning to the U.S. Now, his wife visits him occasionally in Mexico, but the children, who feel uncomfortable in Mexico, only communicate with their father by phone.

“Like they deported us to a war zone”

Many of these deported Americans do not remember Mexico or even speak Spanish. Suddenly they find themselves in a country with an unfamiliar system, struggling to survive, and the physical and emotional stresses of this journey taking a significant toll.

“This is a population that is dealing with very high, severe mental health issues and anxiety, distress, ecological distress,” Cepeda said. “We really wanted to look at how these distinct immigration experiences contribute to these outcomes. It’s not just the immigration itself, it’s the transit to the destination, the interception, and then now coming back.”

Valdez says that most of the people who are deported to Mexico City have no family ties at all in the area. They are just thrown into the city and then have to find a place to live and a job, with almost no support from the U.S. or Mexico.

“It’s like they deported us to a war zone, one we don’t know anything about,” said one 25-year-old deported American interviewed for the study who came to the U.S. at three years old and lived in Indiana until being returned to Mexico in 2018. “I grew up in the States all my life and they deport me when I’m an adult to someplace where I don’t know how to file my taxes, get a job or get my ID. The only option you’re giving us is to commit more crimes, because we don’t know what to do.”

Valdez and Cepeda anticipate their study will stimulate discussion and lead to the implementation of policies and programs by both the U.S. and Mexico governments that address these inequities in mental and health conditions for this population.

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Jason King named dean of USC Thornton School of Music

Renowned music scholar and musician Jason King has been named dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, effective July 1, USC announced Tuesday.

King currently serves as chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is the institute’s founding full-time faculty member, and he developed the program alongside Davis, the famed music impresario.

“Dr. Jason King’s talents — coupled with USC Thornton’s incredible students, faculty and staff — will be a dynamic formula to expand musical education at this exceptional 139-year-old school known for enriching the arts and humanity,” USC President Carol L. Folt said.

Elizabeth Graddy, USC’s interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, agreed. “We are excited that Dr. King will be able to leverage his strong network and interdisciplinary experience of performance, teaching, production, research and business acumen to benefit the Thornton School of Music community,” she said.

King’s musical interests and accomplishments span multiple genres, including classical, pop, R&B, gospel, jazz, rock and other styles.

As a scholar and public intellectual with a doctorate from NYU, King has created multidisciplinary work in the fields of African American and African Diasporic cultural studies; performance studies; globalization and transnationalism studies; media and technology studies; music business, marketing and branding studies; and gender and queer studies.

New USC Thornton dean has long history as scholar and journalist

An inaugural member of the Hip Hop Culture Council at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Black Genius Brain Trust, King serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He brings a long history of publications as a scholar and a journalist, and extensive experience working with internationally known media outlets on series, podcasts and documentaries.

I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.

Jason King, new USC Thornton dean

“I think of myself as an institution builder: somebody who can identify an opportunity and build a structure and institution around that opportunity,” King said. “I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.

“From all the meetings I had — with President Folt, with the students, with the staff, with the faculty — I felt an overwhelming sense of exuberance and commitment to excellence,” he added. “USC Thornton felt like a place of great love — a place that wasn’t just a school, but a place that people felt was a kind of home.”

The USC Thornton School provides students with a conservatory-style education that prepares them for careers as performers, composers, industry leaders and educators — often before they graduate. The school has constantly evolved since its founding in 1884 to offer new degrees and courses to match industry changes.

King, who was born in Canada to Trinidadian immigrant parents, has been immersed in music for as long as he can remember. “Not just my first musical memory, but my first memory of any kind is sitting on my father’s lap while he was playing calypso records,” he said. “My parents had an incredible record collection — which I plundered — that had everything from classical and jazz to popular music to world music.”

He went on to study classical piano and musical theater, but he knew he wanted to write, beginning his college career at Carleton University in Ottawa as a mass communications major. Moving to New York City, he earned an associate degree from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy before completing his undergraduate studies at the New School for Social Research. He then went on to earn his doctorate from NYU in performance studies, with an emphasis on popular music, especially focusing on R&B and soul music.

‘I still see myself as a musician first,’ says new USC Thornton dean

“I still see myself as a musician first, but I would describe myself as a multihyphenate person, somebody with a wide range of skills in different areas,” King said. “Not only have I written songs and produced music, but I’m a scholar, I’ve managed artists, I’ve worked in marketing. I’ve tried not to put myself in a box.”

King says the lessons he’s learned through exploring so many facets of the music business will set an example for the students of USC Thornton.

“You don’t just have to take one path,” he emphasized. “You might be a classical music and composition student, but you can benefit from learning from jazz and pop music. You could be a popular music student, and you can benefit from the scholarly and research side. To pursue a career in music in 2023 means you need to have a wide range of understanding of all aspects of how music is made and released into the world.”

His time at NYU coincided with a radical transformation of the music industry and the music economy that is still ongoing.

Even though, from an economic standpoint, music has been hard hit over the last 25 years, the interest that people have in music has not waned at all.

Jason King, new USC Thornton dean

“Even though, from an economic standpoint, music has been hard hit over the last 25 years, the interest that people have in music has not waned at all,” King said.

“Some things are very consistent about music, whether you’re talking about Beethoven in 1802, whether you’re talking about Stevie Wonder in 1976, whether you’re talking about Rosalia in 2023. Transcendent music is still the goal. And for any student at USC Thornton who’s focusing on making or researching music, my goal is to help them achieve that artistic and scholarly transcendence.”

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USC trailblazer Tracy Poon Tambascia is no stranger to being a ‘first’

 

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

 

As the first woman of color to hold the position of president of the USC Academic Senate, Tracy Poon Tambascia is no stranger when it comes to being a “first.”

The courage to do difficult things is a skill that the USC Rossier School of Education professor inherited from her parents. They relocated from Hong Kong and immigrated to Southern California when Tambascia and her siblings were young. Her parents didn’t yet speak English, and they hadn’t lined up jobs prior to their arrival.

Title IX logoStraddling those two worlds — Hong Kong and the U.S. — “very much shaped my upbringing,” Tambascia said.

She and her siblings would emulate their parents’ bravery as the first in their family to go to college. Tambascia attended Occidental College, where she studied psychology. At the time, she did not know what it meant to be a first-generation college student. “After the fact that there were things that I didn’t understand,” she said.

But Tambascia did not let the unknown damper her pursuit of knowledge. She earned her master’s degree in psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, and her EdD in educational leadership from USC Rossier, where she now teaches courses on topics such as student affairs, governance and finance in higher education, and international higher education policy.

USC Title IX trailblazer sees legislation’s impact beyond athletics

Title IX is often remembered for how it transformed student athletics. But Tambascia recognizes there is much more to the landmark legislation and wishes there was a broader understanding of it.

[Title IX is] really about ensuring equitable access to education. And that, I absolutely celebrate.

Tracy Poon Tambascia, USC Rossier

 

“It’s not just about the equal number of teams, women athletes or funding and scholarships,” she said. “[Title IX] is very importantly about preventing assault and harassment, but it’s really about ensuring equitable access to education. And that, I absolutely celebrate.”

Tambascia believes she has greatly benefited from Title IX as she has carved a path in higher education with many achievements, from her 2014 Professor of Color Recognition Award from the USC Undergraduate Student Government to her 2020 Distinguished Faculty Service Award from the USC Academic Senate.

And while Tambascia says she is not one to have heroes, she has certainly had mentors — especially women in key positions who hired her and believed in her throughout her journey. She also draws inspiration from women who lead universities as presidents and provosts.

The strength these leaders have is particularly encouraging, she notes, “because it’s not easy to be a leader in higher education as a woman” — something she knows firsthand as president of the USC Academic Senate from 2021-22.

Staying true to herself is key to USC Title IX trailblazer

During her term, Tambascia further honed her leadership skills, all the while staying true to her own method of leading, one that prioritizes listening and observing, as well as bringing in the voices of others. It is an approach that has worked for Tambascia throughout her career, but which she says has been questioned at times — especially by men. She recalls having been told to be more assertive or to push harder — attributes often identified as masculine and believed by some to be the correct way to lead. Tambascia says she is showing people around her that there are indeed other ways to lead effectively.

Reflecting on her year at the helm of the USC Academic Senate, Tambascia cites the challenges of leading during a time when many were focused on COVID-19 concerns and gave less attention to challenges looming further ahead. As a result, one of the projects Tambascia focused on, the Faculty Fellows Program, will be launched this year under the support of a new president of the USC Academic Senate. The program includes two initiatives, one which will look at junior and mid-level faculty, their generational differences, expectations and needs, and the other to help prepare faculty to take on leadership roles, with a curriculum developed by their peers to help them understand university finance, compliance, administrative structures and policy.

When thinking about her purpose and why she committed to a career in higher education, Tambascia points to her experience as a first-generation college student. Supporting student success is at the heart of what she does, especially those who might feel marginalized or who have had limited access to the knowledge capital necessary to succeed in college — those students who are trailblazers in their own right.

“I think we’re here to serve and support students’ success,” she said. “That’s our job regardless of where we work, what division or what department.”

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