Revamped USC Hotel Garden provides fresh produce to campus restaurants

Keith Shutta in USC Hotel Garden

Keith Shutta, a USC executive chef, uses herbs and vegetables from the teaching garden behind the USC Hotel for his dishes. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Revamped USC Hotel Garden provides fresh produce to campus restaurants

The university grows fruits, vegetables and herbs — sustainably — in an unexpected oasis just off of Figueroa Street.

September 21, 2023

By Grayson Schmidt

Just around the corner from the bustle of Figueroa Street, in an alley behind the USC Hotel, chef Keith Shutta picks a ripe cherry tomato off the vine and pops it in his mouth. As he scans the rest of the tomatoes on the vine, he chews a bit before he tilts his head back and smiles.

“Oh, you can’t beat that,” he says. “You can taste the sweetness, the acidity — it tastes like how a tomato is supposed to taste.”

Assignment: Earth logoThe urban setting of USC’s University Park Campus is the last place someone would expect fresh-from-the-vine produce, and Shutta cherishes every bite. It’s an experience that he — as a USC executive chef — has been waiting for.

These tomatoes are part of the revamped USC Hotel Garden, which features dozens of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Compared to its predecessor, which grew produce hydroponically — using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil — the new garden uses significantly less water. As part of USC’s commitment to cut water usage 20 percent by 2028, outlined in one of USC President Carol L. Folt’s “moonshots,” the new garden is a sustainable way to provide produce for campus restaurants, cafes and bars.

“Any time a chef has an opportunity to have a garden, you can’t pass it up,” Shutta says.

USC Hotel Garden origins and early design

The original USC Hotel Garden launched in 2016 to provide fresh produce to campus restaurants and catering services. That hydroponic garden featured 60 towers, with a weekly yield of 700 produce items from just a portion of the towers.

Chef Keith Shutta looks at plants in the USC Hotel Garden
“Any time a chef has an opportunity to have a garden, you can’t pass it up,” Keith Shutta says.

“Originally, it was phenomenal to look at, with the 60 towers in rows,” said Dirk De Jong, assistant vice president of USC Hospitality and USC Hotel.

“People wanted to host events in the garden, or even just see what we had built because they were interested in the hydroponic towers.”

In March 2020, the hydroponic garden was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but De Jong said other reasons like low output and high water usage also contributed to the garden’s closure.

When USC campuses opened back up to students in the fall of 2021, De Jong said, this presented a great opportunity to create a completely new organic garden with chef and farmer input.

De Jong noted that when Folt arrived at USC in 2019, “one of the first places she wanted to see was the garden, and she’s been championing its return.”

USC Garden 2.0

To design the university’s revamped garden, USC partnered with Farmscape, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in sustainable urban gardens. From there, USC Hotel replaced the space where the hydroponic towers sat with a wooden patio fitted with 15 planters of various sizes filled with locally sourced organic soil.

Original hydroponic garden
The original hydroponic garden launched in 2016; its replacement uses significantly less water.  (Photo/Jorge Negrete/USC Design Studio)

“When we used to have the towers, we couldn’t grow stuff like this hydroponically, or at least it was difficult because it’s such a small seedling,” Shutta said. “Now that we have the actual plants in actual soil, we can grow a lot more.”

The garden launched this summer, but USC Private Events & Conferences will host an official reopening Oct. 12.

As part of the upgrades, USC Hospitality also redesigned the space to be even better suited for outdoor events at the garden. The event space at the USC Garden can comfortably accommodate 60 people for a seated lunch or dinner or up to 100 people for a reception.

For the spring/summer season, the garden will feature three citrus trees — mandarin, oro blanco grapefruit and cara cara orange — along with two passion fruit vines, scallions, heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, zucchini, shishito and jalapeño peppers, Swiss chard, bronze fennel and English lavender. A separate herb garden yields basil, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and chives.

Some of the fall crops will stay the same, with the new additions including kale; sugar snap peas; butter, romaine and Little Gem lettuce; and various root crops like radishes, turnips and carrots.

“We’re trying to work a season or semester ahead, so by the end of November we’ll have our spring menu set and by the end of spring we’ll have the fall menu ready,” De Jong said. “It’s our way of ensuring the freshest produce aligns with our seasonal menus.”

Creating a healthier, greener campus and community

Aside from providing produce and cutting down on water usage, the USC Garden also shows what’s possible when people care about their food. There’s a certain pride that comes with growing your own food in your own backyard, and both Shutta and De Jong hope this shows what can be accomplished in the most unlikely of settings.

“We want to show that you don’t need a whole lot of space,” De Jong said. “This is not a large area we’re in, but we’re still able to produce a good amount of food, as long as it’s done the right way.”

“We’re not UC Davis with a lot of land, but I think we can still showcase that you don’t need to be in an agricultural area to grow things.”

For Shutta, the garden is a way for others to see fresh produce as he and other chefs do.

“If you grow your own produce, not everything is going to have a perfect shape or look like it does in the store,” Shutta said.

“It may look phenomenal, but it tends to be watery and tastes processed. But when you go to something like a farmers market, a tomato may have a blemish or something like that, and people think there’s something wrong. No, that’s real growing — that’s real food.”

Contact USC Private Events to plan a future event in the garden.

Dance festival sends a kinetic love letter to hip-hop

Hip Hop 50: H.O.P.E.

A portion of the theatrical production H.O.P.E. will be featured during the second installment of Hip Hop 50, on Sept. 30. (Photo/Jackson Xia)


Dance festival sends a kinetic love letter to hip-hop

The “Hip Hop 50” series — presented by the USC Kaufman School of Dance and USC Visions and Voices — will mark hip-hop’s 50th anniversary with a three-part celebration that kicks off Wednesday.

September 18, 2023

By Rachel B. Levin

Aug. 11, 1973, is widely regarded as a pivotal day in the emergence of hip-hop.

At a back-to-school party in a South Bronx community room, DJ Kool Herc famously used two record turntables to extend the “breaks” (percussive interludes) of soul and funk songs — an innovation that gave rise to hip-hop’s musical signature.

Hip Hop 50: d. Sabela grimes
USC Kaufman Associate Professor d. Sabela grimes curated the three-part “Hip Hop 50” series. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Kaufman School of Dance)

His aim? To make the dance floor erupt with energy.

Dance has been a foundational element of hip-hop since this critical moment. “There’s no party without dance first and foremost,” said d. Sabela grimes, an associate professor of practice in the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

Far more than just a diversion, hip-hop dance is also a window into understanding the social and cultural forces that created hip-hop and continue to drive it.

But as hip-hop’s 50th anniversary is celebrated across the country this year, dance has not often been at the forefront.

“Nationally, there seems to be a tendency to celebrate rap music or hip-hop music a little bit more than other cultural elements,” said grimes. He and his fellow hip-hop faculty members “wanted to have a more dance-focused celebration of hip-hop history,” he said.

That impulse prompted grimes to curate “Hip Hop 50,” a three-part series of free, on-campus events (reservations required) commemorating 50 years of hip-hop dance and exploring its impact as a global phenomenon.

‘HIP HOP 50’: USC Kaufman and Visions and Voices are planning a series of panels, dance workshops and performances to mark the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Find details and RSVP on the Visions and Voices website.

The festival of panels, dance workshops and performances — which has installments on Sept. 20, Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 ­— is being presented by USC Kaufman in partnership with USC’s arts and humanities initiative, Visions and Voices, and is co-sponsored by the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs and La CASA.

“Hip Hop 50” will offer the USC and greater Los Angeles communities a gathering point “to share their love [for hip-hop] and physicalize how deeply they’ve been impacted by hip-hop,” said grimes. “‘Don’t tell us — show us.’ That’s the power of what we get a chance to do.”

Knowledge reigns supreme

The first “Hip Hop 50” installment on Sept. 20, which will take place at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, is centered on celebrating hip-hop dance scholarship.

DJ Lynnée Denise, a visiting professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who studies the dynamic interplay between DJs and dancers in hip-hop culture, will present a “musical essay.” E. Moncell Durden, a USC Kaufman associate professor of practice, will co-lead a panel discussion on the recently published Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies with the book’s two editors, Imani Kai Johnson and Mary Fogarty.

Hip Hop 50: E. Moncell Durden
USC Kaufman Associate Professor E. Moncell Durden will co-lead a Sept. 20 discussion of the recently published Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies. (Photo/Cheryl Mann)

The book — which includes a chapter by Durden and covers everything from movement vocabularies to the influence of hip-hop dance on global culture — is “the most expansive and comprehensive compendium of hip-hop dance studies to date,” said Julia Ritter, dean of USC Kaufman.

Ritter explains that there hasn’t previously been such a comprehensive anthology because academic dance departments have historically been slow to embrace hip-hop as a scholarly subject.

Dance forms like hip-hop that originate in disenfranchised communities of color “don’t find their way into institutions and academies as readily as Eurocentric forms do,” Ritter said. “This is what we’re trying to push against” by spotlighting hip-hop dance scholarship at the festival, she added.

In addition to exploring hip-hop dance theory, the Sept. 20 event will also include hip-hop dance practice. Active hip-hop dance workshops will be open to all attendees — no prior dance experience required.

A heartfelt homage

The second installment of “Hip Hop 50,” which takes place in McCarthy Quad on Sept. 30, will be a dance-focused birthday party for hip-hop that celebrates kinetic innovation. Some of L.A.’s most respected hip-hop dance artists and community dance organizations will perform their own tributes to hip-hop, as will USC Kaufman students.

“We’re asking the performers that we invited to come to this party to give us a kinetic love letter to hip-hop,” grimes said.

Tiffany Bong is an assistant professor of practice at USC Kaufman whose community-based, cultural education company UniverSOUL Hip Hop will perform at the event. The group’s offering will be a snippet from their theatrical show “H.O.P.E.,” which debuted in June at the Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center at Vista Del Mar.

The show — a mashup of choreographed and freestyle house, hip-hop, krump, locking and breaking, along with spoken-word storytelling — explores hip-hop dance as a vehicle for cultivating joy within struggle. Bong conceived the show during the pandemic as a way of restoring hope in a time of loss and hardship, particularly among communities of color.

Hip Hop 50: Tiffany Bong
USC Kaufman Assistant Professor Tiffany Bong conceived of H.O.P.E. during the pandemic. (Photo/Cheryl Mann)

“One of the things I realized was so important in the process of hip-hop is that it’s a practice for cathartic release, so that we’re not holding these emotions in our bodies,” Bong said, adding that the hip-hop cypher (the circle where freestyle dancers gather) offers a “safe and healing, restorative place … to tell our stories through movement.”

Attendees of the birthday party are invited to witness the performances and join the cypher with the special guests, which will also include b-girl Nancy “Asia One” Yu, street dance ensemble Versa-Style Legacy and freestyle/street dance artist K’niin.

The power of community

The third and final “Hip Hop 50 event” on Oct. 4, held at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, will celebrate collaboration and community within hip-hop dance.

“[From] the beginning … hip-hop has been able to bring communities together, especially communities that were disenfranchised,” said Daria Yudacufski, executive director of Visions and Voices.

Shamell Bell, a USC alumnus and lecturer of somatic practices and global performance at Harvard University, will discuss street dance as a form of grassroots political action that can unite and empower BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

Hip-hop dance as a collaborative art is also a focus: Musician Ahmad DuBose-Dawson and dancer Yoda Jones will lead Everything Raw, an event inspiring improvisation and cross-pollination between artistic forms. A live band playing spontaneous music will provide the soundtrack for attendees to dance alongside USC Kaufman students and faculty. Students from the USC Thornton School of Music are invited to sit in with the band, while students from the USC Roski School of Art and Design are invited to contribute to live painting and art making.

“Hip-hop is rooted in improvisation, coming out of Black musical styles like blues, jazz, soul, R&B, funk and gospel,” said Jason King, dean of USC Thornton. “The opportunity for students to jam together and to come together and to collaborate across schools, under the banner of this form that hip-hop has opened up in our culture, that’s really exciting to me.”

The celebration continues

“Hip Hop 50” is one of several hip-hop-themed Visions and Voices events happening this fall. On Oct. 19, New York-based Ephrat Asherie Dance, a company that focuses on African American and Latinx street and social dances, will perform in Bovard Auditorium. Their show “UNDERSCORED” will feature five generations of New York City club dancers, ages 28 to 80, showcasing breaking, hip-hop, house, vogue, waacking and hustle.

“This performance does a beautiful job of acknowledging the broader history of hip-hop, especially amongst LGBTQ+ people and women,” said Yudacufski. “When you watch the show, all you want to do is dance.”

“These events are our attempt to pay some degree of tribute to the massive influence and massive legacy of hip-hop on the world, on the country, on L.A., and on USC and our students.”

— Josh Kun, vice provost for the arts

On Dec. 2, Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought), the co-founder and lead emcee of the hip-hop musical group the Roots, will join King in Bovard Auditorium for a conversation about Trotter’s forthcoming book, The Upcycled Self: A Memoir on the Art of Becoming Who We Are.

In the spring, the Cypher Summit Block Party on Mar. 2, led by Bong, will celebrate women in hip-hop. The event, held at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center during Women’s History Month, will feature performances by the Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective and USC Kaufman artist-in-residence Toyin Sogunro, as well as an intergenerational panel discussion and a participatory sisterhood cypher and closing dance party.

“These events are our attempt to pay some degree of tribute to the massive influence and massive legacy of hip-hop on the world, on the country, on L.A., and on USC and our students,” said Josh Kun, USC’s vice provost for the arts, professor in the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and chair in cross-cultural communication.

‘Unity, Prosperity & Culture’ celebrated with food, fellowship during USC Latinx/e Heritage Month kickoff

Latinx/e Heritage Month: Serving food at viewing party

Attendees load up their plates with Salvadoran pupusas from Delmy’s Pupusas and other food during Friday’s Latinx/e Heritage Month viewing party. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)


‘Unity, Prosperity & Culture’ celebrated with food, fellowship during USC Latinx/e Heritage Month kickoff

Trojans share personal stories and pay tribute to those who support their academic dreams.

September 15, 2023

By Greg Hernandez

USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences junior Galilea Marquez joined her friends Friday in quickly pulling several high-top tables together so the group could feel connected during the USC Latinx/e Heritage Month kickoff event.

Latinx/e Heritage Month logo 2023“Conviviality is such a big part of Latino culture,” Marquez said, cutting into a Salvadoran bean and cheese pupusa covered with salsa and pickled cabbage. “Getting together, sharing food, it feels like us.”

Marquez and her group were among the more than 175 people who gathered at Tommy’s Place for a lunch of Mexican and Salvadoran food. The meal was served before the screening of a virtual program featuring a dozen Trojan students, faculty, staff and alumni sharing their thoughts around this year’s theme of “Unity, Prosperity & Culture.”

During the program, graduate student Jose Lozano of the USC Rossier School of Education paid tribute to his grandmother, who immigrated to the United States alone from Jalisco, Mexico, at the age of 12 and built a life for herself. He said she is a big reason why he has pursued higher education and why he celebrates the heritage month.

Latinx/e Heritage Month: Jose Lozano
During the virtual event, USC Rossier graduate student Jose Lozano explained that immigrant grandmother is a big reason why he has pursued higher education — and why he celebrates the heritage month. (USC Photo)

“Growing up with my grandmother, I was able to hear stories about her home back in Mexico,” he said. “I was able to get some of that culture embedded within myself, and it’s how I live today.”

Lozano said he has been “thrilled” to be able to interact with so many other Latino Trojans “because that means that we are representing our culture.”

“When a [heritage] month like this comes up, we’re celebrating those who have sacrificed so much to be here and for us to get education,” he said. “I think that is really great that we are celebrating, that we are able to come together as a culture and unite and just be really a family.”

Latinx/e Heritage Month: Celebrating ‘an unbreakable bond’

That sacrifice was also celebrated during the program by Keck School of Medicine of USC graduate student Karla Padilla Leon, who is originally from Tijuana, Mexico. She moved to San Diego as a girl with her parents specifically so she could get a quality education and one day attend USC.

Latinx/e Heritage Month: Karla Padilla
As a girl, Karla Padilla and her parents moved from Tijuana to San Diego specifically so she could get a quality education and one day attend USC. (USC Photo)

“It is always so inspiring to see other Latinos thriving here and pursuing what they’re most passionate about,” Padilla said. “Because of my background, I feel very connected to my culture. And I love to see celebrations like these that honor our beautiful heritage.”

USC staff member and alumna Lizette Zarate said during her remarks that diverse communities share “an unbreakable bond” with a “rich tapestry of traditions, languages and histories that make our story so vibrant and unique.”

“Strength lies in our unity and that we are all connected by shared experiences and aspirations,” said Zarate, USC’s program director for K-12 educational partnerships. “Love is the thread that weaves together our stories. It is a force that drives us to support and uplift one another.”

What it means to be Latinx/e

The name of the heritage month at USC was changed this year from Latinx Heritage Month to Latinx/e Heritage Month to reflect a decision earlier this year by the Latine Student Assembly to stop using Latinx in its title. Students felt that the term Latinx was outdated and left out native Spanish speakers.

In his video, USC Rossier Dean Pedro Noguera reminded the audience that Latinos have been in California since even before the founding of the United States. He encouraged people to use the heritage month as a moment to reflect on what it means to be Latinx/e.

“How do we continue to lift up our community, particularly now through education?” Noguera asked. “How do we ensure that future generations will be able to continue to have a life in this country where they cannot only contribute, but they can thrive?”

“How do we ensure that future generations will be able to continue to have a life in this country where they cannot only contribute, but they can thrive?”

— Pedro Noguera, USC Rossier dean

USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning took to the stage at Tommy’s Place to welcome the crowd and thank the organizers. He joked about how difficult it would be to compete with the delicious food, which included taco plates and aguas frescas from MX 30-30 and a selection of pupusas from Delmy’s Pupusas.

Manning remarked that among that “diverse array of gifts” that Latino people bring to the campus and the nation are “a strong work ethic, valuing the family, centering faith and celebrating a wide range of colors, cultures and national origins.”

Latinx/e Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 with a proclamation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson; in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month, through Oct. 15.

Sept. 15 is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

Friday’s event kicked off a monthlong celebration at USC, which will conclude with an outdoor closing event featuring special guests, music and food at Founders Park on Oct. 11. Check the USC event calendar for a full list of events.

Proposed building offers a blueprint for improving community health


Proposed building offers a blueprint for improving community health

The Discovery and Translational Hub, a seven-story building proposed for the USC Health Sciences Campus, seeks to unite interdisciplinary research teams to fast-track discoveries and address the health concerns of adjacent communities.

September 12, 2023

Rachel B. Levin

In medicine, the process of turning a laboratory discovery into a new drug or treatment can be long and complex. It can take years — even decades — for ideas born in a research lab to be developed into medicines and procedures that directly help patients in hospitals and clinics.

And it can be longer still before the most cutting-edge therapies become accessible to those in medically underserved communities.

But a new building proposed by USC has the potential to become a catalyst for a novel approach to research and development — one that promises to not only accelerate the pace of medical breakthroughs but also boost health equity.

USC Discovery and Translational Hub: labs
In the Discovery and Translational Hub, collaborative lab spaces would allow biologists studying cells and tissues to work alongside computational scientists doing large-scale data analysis. (Illustration/Courtesy of the SmithGroup)

The seven-story, 202,000-square-foot building, called the Discovery and Translational Hub (DTH), is planned for a central location at the USC Health Sciences Campus. USC has submitted an application for the building’s approval to the city of Los Angeles. The project will be up for preliminary approval at the city Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 12, before being considered by the City Council on a date to be determined.

The opportunity for scientific and community collaboration is baked into the hub’s design.

The first floor of the building would enable members of USC’s neighboring communities to participate in clinical trials addressing their most pressing health issues. On the upper floors, collaborative lab spaces would allow biologists studying cells and tissues to work alongside computational scientists doing large-scale data analysis. These multimodal teams would join forces with health care providers at the adjacent Keck Hospital of USC to translate research findings to clinical contexts.

Steven Shapiro, senior vice president for health affairs who oversees Keck Medicine of USC and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, explained that these research partners can “cross-fertilize” each other’s understanding of disease. Their proximity at the Discovery and Translational Hub and the use of powerful new tools such as artificial intelligence would enable USC scientists to use big data to gain new insights, develop novel hypotheses and quickly test them to “bring potential therapeutic opportunities to patients more rapidly than ever,” Shapiro said.

We’re going to be making advances that will help our communities live healthier lives.

Tom Buchanan, Keck School of Medicine

The treatments developed at the Discovery and Translational Hub won’t just be available faster, they’ll also be more precisely matched to the unique needs of surrounding communities. Community input would help determine which diseases become research priorities.

“The DTH is focused on themes of interdisciplinary and team science to address real-world health problems that are informed by our community health priorities,” said Tom Buchanan, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine, vice dean for research and director of the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI). Buchanan worked with Steve Kay, USC Provost Professor and director of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, to spearhead the hub’s conception. “We’re going to be making advances that will help our communities live healthier lives,” Buchanan said.

Targeted therapeutics

A major thrust of the work proposed for the hub would be creating innovation in precision medicine, which tailors disease prevention and treatment to each individual’s genetics, environment and lifestyle. Teasing out why some populations are at higher risk than others for certain diseases can aid the development of culturally specific treatments and prevention methods.

“Clinical trials have historically been conducted with Caucasian populations,” said Michele Kipke, a professor of pediatrics at Keck School of Medicine and associate vice president for strategic health initiatives, who oversees community engagement programs at SC CTSI. “It’s so important that we engage underrepresented populations in these clinical trials [at the Discovery and Translational Hub] because that is how to ensure that we develop targeted treatments and deliver personalized care to all.”

For the past two years, SC CTSI and USC University Relations have partnered to hold more than 100 meetings with community stakeholders in the Health Sciences Campus’ neighboring Eastside communities of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, as well as in the South Los Angeles community adjacent to USC’s University Park Campus. At schools, churches, nonprofits and chambers of commerce, the two teams have talked to residents to explain the proposed hub project, invite feedback on its planning and listen to the community’s top health concerns.

Time and again, residents have reported that diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease top their list of concerns. Accordingly, Buchanan said, “We’re going to be hiring talent to expand our abilities to do research in those areas.”

The conversation between USC and the community about the Discovery and Translational Hub’s development would be ongoing.

Community commitment

Providing service to surrounding communities is nothing new for the Health Sciences Campus. It currently offers more than 100 community programs to youth and families that support job training, workforce development and college readiness.

“What’s new is the opportunity to actively and purposefully engage with USC researchers on improving the health of the community [and] also on how community impact can help improve long-term medical care,” said David Galaviz, USC’s associate vice president for government and community relations.

It’s going to be right in our backyard.

Rosie Rodriguez, East Los Angeles College student

Rosie Rodriguez, a student at East Los Angeles College who recently completed an internship at USC University Relations, has been involved with several of the community meetings. She noted that fellow community members expressed interest in participating in clinical trials for their health concerns. In the past, research held outside the immediate area has been difficult for them to access, as many local residents rely on public transport and cannot afford to travel far.

The Discovery and Translational Hub would be a game-changer: “It’s going to be right in our backyard,” said Rodriguez.

That’s just one of the many examples of support that the community has voiced for the hub. To date, USC has received nearly 50 public commitments from community leaders, including letters of support and public testimony.

Breaking new ground

The hub would leverage the most advanced technological tools and forward-thinking approaches to tackle health care challenges, putting innovative therapies within the community’s reach. This would include everything from regenerative medicine, which aims to restore lost functions such as vision or memory; to synthetic biology, which has the potential to reprogram cells or create whole new organs; to wearable technologies that allow health care to be delivered remotely to patients’ homes.

“This is just such an exciting time in biomedical research,” Shapiro said. “We’re really on the verge of understanding the molecular basis of disease, leading to new cures.”

Pushing the boundaries of medicine at the hub would involve not only the researchers at the Health Sciences Campus, but also scientists in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

In developing plans for the Discovery and Translational Hub, Buchanan said, “We’ve really spent a lot of time bringing the whole Trojan Family that’s focused on health, especially health at the discovery and translational level, to the table.”

Large amounts of sedentary time linked with higher risk of dementia in older adults

Dementia risk: sedentary illustration

Researchers found that the risk of dementia significantly increases among adults who spend over 10 hours a day engaging in sedentary behaviors like sitting. (Illustration/iStock)


Large amounts of sedentary time linked with higher risk of dementia in older adults

Researchers at USC used machine learning to explore the links between sedentary behavior and dementia, finding that the total time spent sedentary matters for brain aging.

September 12, 2023

Nina Raffio

Adults aged 60 and older who spend more time engaging in sedentary behaviors like sitting while watching TV or driving may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a study by USC and University of Arizona researchers.

Their study showed the risk of dementia significantly increases among adults who spend over 10 hours a day engaging in sedentary behaviors like sitting — a notable finding considering the average American is sedentary for about 9.5 hours each day.

The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, also revealed the way sedentary behavior is accumulated over the course of the day didn’t matter as much as the total time spent sedentary each day. Whether spent in extended periods spanning several hours or spread out intermittently throughout the day, total sedentary behavior had a similar association with dementia according to study author David Raichlen.

Once you take into account the total time spent sedentary, the length of individual sedentary periods didn’t really matter.

David Raichlen, USC Dornsife

“Many of us are familiar with the common advice to break up long periods of sitting by getting up every 30 minutes or so to stand or walk around. We wanted to see if those types of patterns are associated with dementia risk. We found that once you take into account the total time spent sedentary, the length of individual sedentary periods didn’t really matter,” said Raichlen, professor of biological sciences and anthropology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Researchers used data from the U.K. Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database of participants across the United Kingdom, to investigate possible links between sedentary behavior and dementia risk.

As part of a U.K. Biobank sub-study, over 100,000 adults agreed to wear accelerometers — wrist-worn devices for measuring movement — for 24 hours per day for one week. The researchers focused on a sample of approximately 50,000 adults from this sub-study over the age of 60 who did not have a diagnosis of dementia at the start of the study.

The researchers then applied a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the large dataset of accelerometer readings and classify behaviors based on different intensities of physical activity. The algorithm was able to discern between different types of activity such as sedentary behavior versus sleeping. The accelerometer data, combined with advanced computing techniques, provided researchers with an objective measure of the time spent engaging in different types of sedentary behaviors.

After an average of six years of follow-up, the researchers used inpatient hospital records and death registry data to determine dementia diagnosis. They found 414 cases positive for dementia.

Then, the team adjusted their statistical analysis for certain demographics (such as age, sex, education level, race/ethnicity, chronic conditions and genetics) and lifestyle characteristics (physical activity, diet, smoking and alcohol use, self-reported mental health) that could affect brain health.

Total time spent sedentary each day drives dementia risk

While high amounts of sedentary behavior were linked with increased risk of dementia, the researchers found that there were certain amounts of sedentary behavior that were not associated with dementia.

“We were surprised to find that the risk of dementia begins to rapidly increase after 10 hours spent sedentary each day, regardless of how the sedentary time was accumulated. This suggests that it is the total time spent sedentary that drove the relationship between sedentary behavior and dementia risk, but importantly lower levels of sedentary behavior, up to around 10 hours, were not associated with increased risk,” said study author Gene Alexander, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Arizona and Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

We were surprised to find that the risk of dementia begins to rapidly increase after 10 hours spent sedentary each day, regardless of how the sedentary time was accumulated.

Gene Alexander, University of Arizona

Raichlen said, “This should provide some reassurance to those of us with office jobs that involve prolonged periods of sitting, as long we limit our total daily time spent sedentary.”

The study builds on their previous research, which used self-reported health data to investigate how certain types of sedentary behavior, like sitting and watching TV, affect dementia risk more than others.

“Our latest study is part of our larger effort to understand how sedentary behavior affects brain health from multiple perspectives. In this case, wearable accelerometers provide an objective view of how much time people dedicate to sedentary behavior that complements our past analyses,” Raichlen said.

More research is needed to establish causality and whether physical activity can mitigate the risk of developing dementia, the authors said.

About the study: In addition to Raichlen and Alexander, other authors of the study include Daniel H. Aslan, M. Katherine Sayre, Mark H.C. Lai and Rand R. Wilcox of USC; Pradyumna K. Bharadwaj, Madeline Ally and Yann C. Klimentidis of the University of Arizona; and Silvio Maltagliati of the Université of Grenoble Alpes, France.

The study was supported by grants P30AG072980, P30AG019610, R56AG067200, R01AG064587 and R01AG072445 from the National Institutes of Health and funding from the state of Arizona, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Celebrating the newly named Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science

USC Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science sign

Applause greets the sign bearing the new name of the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Celebrating the newly named Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science

The naming gift is part of the university’s ambitious Frontiers of Computing initiative, the largest and most comprehensive academic initiative in USC history.

September 08, 2023

By Caitlin Dawson

Almost 50 years since its inception in 1976, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s computer science department celebrated the unveiling of its new name on Friday: the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science. 

As the sounds of the USC Trojan Marching Band filled the air, more than 150 well-wishers gathered at USC Viterbi’s Epstein Family Plaza to commemorate the Thomas Lord Foundation’s transformative naming gift and a new endowed chair of advanced computing.  

The department will be housed within the newly announced School of Advanced Computing, a unit of the Viterbi School of Engineering. A new, LEED platinum-certified building for computer science at USC, the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall, is scheduled to open in the spring.  

Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science: Carol L. Folt addresses crowd
USC President Carol L. Folt addresses the crowd at the naming event. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Addressing the audience of faculty, staff and students, USC President Carol L. Folt said the ceremony marked a “seminal moment” in the launch of USC’s historic and largest university endeavor. The naming gift is part of Frontiers of Computing, a $1 billion-plus, multiyear initiative that further advances USC’s leadership in computing research and education.  

Folt said the initiative aims to “create a digital backbone to integrate advanced computing into all of the university’s schools, and into every student’s life in a personalized way.” Most importantly, said Folt, it will be “deeply connected with ethics and humanity.” 

She thanked the Lord Foundation of California for its generosity and the two visionary leaders who made it possible: Thomas Lord and Donald M. Alstadt.  

“We are here, plain and simple, because of the generosity and the confidence of the Lord Foundation of California,” said Folt. “They believed in USC’s capacity to solve great challenges and, in 2019, gifted USC more than $260 million. With that remarkable gift began the path that we’re formalizing today.”   

Plans for the initiative include recruiting cross-discipline faculty in advanced computing; developing new programs in AI and data science for all USC students; creating a center for quantum information sciences; boosting innovation in Silicon Beach; and advancing Viterbi’s “crown jewel” institutes, the Information Sciences Institute and the Institute for Creative Technologies.  

“Every school at USC will be a part of this effort,” Folt said. “That’s a big dream. But before we get there, we have to start today, with our computer science department.”  

Engineering a better world for all humanity  

In his speech, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos envisioned this gift’s potential for USC.

“By establishing the Frontiers of Computing initiative, the Lord gift will help seed the continuous growth of the many inspiring new initiatives in the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science and other exciting components in advanced computing,” Yortsos said.

Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science: (From left) USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, USC President Carol L. Folt, the Lord Foundation’s Fred McCorkle and Paul “Mickey” Pohl and USC Professor Gaurav Sukhatme
(From left) USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, USC President Carol L. Folt and the Lord Foundation’s Fred McCorkle and Paul “Mickey” Pohl stand with USC Professor Gaurav Sukhatme, who received the Donald M. Alstadt Chair of Advanced Computing. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Yortsos said he believes that today’s “extraordinary technological revolution,” would have been “warmly embraced” by Lord, Alstadt and their colleagues.

Today, computer science at USC boasts a student population of more than 1,800 undergraduate students, 3,600 master’s students, and 400 doctoral students taught by more than 90 faculty members. Since 2022, 21 new faculty members have been recruited.  

Pointing to a bright future, Yortsos said about 40% of USC’s computer science undergraduate students are women, an astounding statistic, and rare among U.S. higher education institutions.

Yortsos paid tribute to trailblazing USC computer science professors past and present, including Seymour Ginsburg, legendary computer science and original co-founder of computer science at USC; Len Adleman, co-founder of RSA cryptography and DNA computing; George Bekey, leading roboticist and early advocate of technology ethics; Shang-Hua Teng, a two-time Gödel Prize winner for his work in theoretical computer science; and Maja Matarić, who pioneered socially assistive robotics or “robots that care.”

An honor and a privilege  

The gift also creates a new endowed chair, the Donald M. Alstadt Chair of Advanced Computing, which was awarded to Gaurav Sukhatme, a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering, and USC Viterbi executive vice dean. 

Sukhatme, an Amazon Scholar and recipient of many national awards for his achievements in networked robots, thanked the Thomas Lord Foundation for their “extraordinary generosity,” and Folt and Yortsos for their “steadfast support.” 

Those of us studying computer science then believed that it would change the world. Boy, were we right.

Gaurav Sukhatme, USC Viterbi

Sukhatme, an expert in underwater robots, recalled joining USC as a graduate student in August 1991 to study AI and robotics. “Those of us studying computer science then believed that it would change the world. Boy, were we right,” he said. “We just had no idea how much it would change the world.” 

“I am thrilled that our newest school at USC is called the School of Advanced Computing,” said Sukhatme, “signaling to the world our mission to ensure that the school provides a digital backbone for education and research across the university.” 

A great American story

Folt invited special guests retired Marine Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle and Paul “Mickey” Pohl, who served together as directors on the foundation’s board, to the stage.  

“This is a great American story in so many ways,” said Pohl, recounting the Lord Corp.’s humble beginnings.

In the early 1920s in Erie, Pa., patent lawyer Hugh Lord invented a way to bond rubber to metal. The company he founded, the Lord Manufacturing Co., became a national leader in mechanical noise and vibration control, solving many challenges facing the automotive and aviation industries.  

In 2019, the sale of the corporation yielded over $1 billion to support research institutions chosen by Thomas Lord, Hugh’s son and successor, and his successor, Donald Alstadt. 

Pohl, a lawyer and decorated veteran, said Lord and Alstadt’s “extraordinary philanthropic vision” was an example of “socially responsible capitalism at its best, with the added benefit of having the wisdom to pair with great American universities.”  

I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.

Paul “Mickey” Pohl, Thomas Lord Foundation

Pohl closed by thanking the Trojan community: “I thank you on behalf of all the past trustees with what you have accomplished here, and I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.” 

Also speaking at the celebration was Lavanya Sharma, a junior with majors in computer science and business administration and minors in cybersecurity, digital forensics, and technology law.

Sharma said she was thrilled to be at the forefront of such game-changing innovation.  

“This department fosters the development of students who are not only technically-minded but also conscious of the world they live in – in other words, being multifaceted and intersectional is encouraged because it makes us better engineers,” Sharma said.  

Her final message to the audience: “Let’s launch computing into the next frontier together, and take our first step today.” 

At the close of the ceremony, Nenad Medvidovi?, chair of the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science; Suzanne Nora Johnson, chair of the USC Board of Trustees; and McCorkle joined the speakers onstage to formally unveil the new name amid resounding applause.  

This story originally published on the USC Viterbi website.

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