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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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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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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Graphic novel puts prescription opioid addiction in the spotlight

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New Graphic Novel Heightens Awareness of Prescription Opioid Addiction

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New Graphic Novel Heightens Awareness of Prescription Opioid Addiction
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“Jackie’s Pain,” the USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ latest health literacy publication, explains the risks of prescription opioid addiction.

The comic-book-style graphic novel is the 11th publication in the popular health literacy series created by longtime faculty member Mel Baron, PharmD ’57, and producer Gregory B. Molina, combining health information with dramatic storytelling and illustrations. Published in both Spanish and English, the booklet was designed to be distributed in the community at safety-net clinics, health fairs, pharmacies and other locations.

It tells the story of Jackie, whose adult son Luis becomes addicted to opioids after finding old prescription painkillers that Jackie had not discarded after recovering from knee surgery.

Jackie begins going to a support group for parents of addicted children as well as meditating to manage stress. She learns how to use naloxone in case her son has another overdose, and encourages him to try a support group.

Written and directed by Gabriela Lopez de Dennis, illustrated by Los Angeles graphic design firm TinyTeam LLC and designed by Soap Studio Inc., the graphic novel covers fentanyl, sharing opioids prescribed by a doctor, and how to safely dispose of unused or expired opioids. It also addresses what naloxone is and how to use it, getting help for opioid use disorder, and safer ways to get relief from pain.

Timely information about drug-related dangers

The graphic novel comes at a time when the number of drug overdose deaths has quintupled since 1999, and increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

“We hear a lot of questions from parents about what to look for as far as opioid addiction and the booklets are extremely well made,” says Elaine Di Simone, outpatient/substance use disorder program director at Clinica Romero, a federally qualified health center where trained community leaders called promotoras are distributing the publication to local, at-risk populations. “These are very helpful for our parents of our youth program.”

Numerous experts on pain management and addiction, preventive medicine and health literacy–including Baron, Jennifer B. Unger, PhD, Siddarth Puri, MD, Aurora Geysimonyan, MPH, Edward Padilla, Melissa Durham, PharmD and Gene Lang, PharmD–served as script consultants.

“Especially today with so much misinformation, we want the appropriate information to reach the public,” Baron says. “Packing expert advice in an entertaining format helps ensure the public health message gets through. Our graphic novels fulfill a vital need by reaching underserved communities and educating patients about drug-related dangers. It’s part of what pharmacy is all about.”

The project was supported by the USC Mann School, UniHealth Foundation, USC Good Neighbors Campaign, L.A. CARE Health Plan, Keck Medicine of USC, and Beit T’Shuvah, a residential addiction recovery center whose leadership, staff and clients provided insights and contributions to the development of the publication.

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How USC-led innovation can solve global challenges

With nearly $1 billion in actively funded research, USC is among the nation’s leading institutions for innovative, impactful discovery. Leading that effort is Ishwar Puri, who arrived at USC in 2021 and was recently promoted to senior vice president for research and innovation.

In the two years since his arrival, the university has continued to build on its research successes, winning major federal grants for research and innovation in computing, biomedical device and drug therapy development, medical research, as well as collaborative research projects with local governments and organizations that solve social problems and policy issues.

Puri has been charged with increasing interdisciplinary partnerships and speeding up discovery in an era of increasingly tech-dependent, rapid scientific inquiry. We spoke with the internationally recognized scientist and engineer about some of the past year’s major accomplishments, what might be in store for 2023 and how USC-led innovation can solve global challenges.

Congratulations on your new title. The most notable change is the addition of innovation under the umbrella of research. What does that new area of focus represent, practically?

Thank you, but really the story isn’t about me — it’s about USC President Carol L. Folt’s vision for the university since she arrived. During her time at USC, our sponsored research has increased at 7% annually, which would put us close to doubling that figure by 2028 or so. Money isn’t everything; it is trumped by impact. So, Dr. Folt has asked us to work toward audacious moonshots in areas such as computing and health. She has tasked us with improving our impact on society by developing innovative solutions for complex problems.

Money isn’t everything; it is trumped by impact.

Ishwar Puri

Innovation can take many forms. It can be through entrepreneurship, licensing to corporate entities and also thinking in a different way. If you think of sustainability, it’s not just about climate change research or providing solutions for electrification or other forms of renewable energy. Sustainability is about finding the kind of human solutions that will take us away from fossil fuel consumption. It’s finding environmentally friendly ways to eliminate or reduce waste. These are human problems, social science problems, health problems. That is where innovation comes in.

Practically, we are developing a partnership model of innovation and entrepreneurship. We are working with all our schools to help each of them flourish. We help them take their best examples and accelerate these through central means, including the Alfred E. Mann Institute, which is now part of the Office of Research and Innovation.

You mentioned an emphasis on research and innovation that is impactful. What are some examples of USC research that made an impact in 2022?

Due to the depth and breadth of expertise at USC, researchers across the university conduct impactful research every day. One example is our world-leading work in Alzheimer’s disease research. Publications (such as a recent one from Paul Thompson, Arthur Toga and Julie Zissimopoulos) have greatly expanded our collective knowledge of the causes and potential solutions for neurodegenerative cognitive diseases. In other areas, Kristina Lerman and Emilio Ferrara from the USC Information Sciences Institute examined the effects of polarization on social media users. Gale Sinatra co-authored a piece for The Conversation that examined how Hollywood perpetuates myths that fuel science skepticism. And earlier this year, Sergey Nuzhdin partnered with AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles to open a massive 6,000-square-foot seaweed lab that will help grow the blue economy. These are just a few examples; there are countless others.

How is USC looking to expand its impact in 2023?

The president’s view is that if we’re really going to have an impact, it must be through partnerships. USC has very strong local community partnerships in environmental health, for instance. We’ve also started to form partnerships with area universities, notably with UCLA and Caltech, on grant proposals that combine the strengths of each institution to address complex challenges. In fact, USC is the lead partner of the new National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Hub: West Region, a consortium of engineers and scientists from top research universities in the Western United States. And because we are committed to developing a diverse talent pipeline, we are partnering with minority-serving institutions and community colleges through outreach activities and other partnerships. The president has insisted on and successfully developed a culture of collaboration among university leaders.

That emphasis on collaboration applies within the university as well?

Yes. Take entrepreneurship for example. When you think of entrepreneurship in the university setting, you typically think of the classic tech transfer model: Do some research, and then commercialize it. But the real talent at USC lies in the sheer number of our potential entrepreneurs. We have business-minded undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and faculty members, and to support them we must meld research with experiential learning, where different parts of the university come together.

We do amazing discovery research. But maybe it’s not just the researcher who takes that work to fruition as a solution. Instead, it is a partnership with students, postdocs and others.

Ishwar Puri

We do amazing discovery research. But maybe it’s not just the researcher who takes that work to fruition as a solution. Instead, it is a partnership with students, postdocs and others. In partnership with the provost and the senior vice president for health sciences, the Office of Research and Innovation now works with deans to develop programs that take advantage of internal partnerships in different areas of the university. We cannot afford to segment or sector different areas because they are synergistic. The future lies in partnership and collaboration.

Speaking of the future, if you were a young researcher, why would you want to be at USC?

It really comes down to three things: excellence, scale and opportunity. Undoubtedly, USC offers excellence and hence we are a great attractor of talent. USC also offers scale. Where else in the world can one go to collaborate with leading scholars in communications, technology and cinematic arts? Not many other places. That school of schools model, and the scales of those schools, coupled with our excellence in health sciences, technology, humanities and the arts is a great launch pad for a young person’s career. In addition, the president’s expansive research vision for the university — increased partnerships; investments in internal support programs like internal grants, startups and mentoring; and her moonshots — provides young researchers with incredible opportunities to rub shoulders with experienced academics who have been in the business for a while and contributes to everyone’s success.

These all combine to make USC a very exciting place to work. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be at USC and work with brilliant researchers across disciplines. This truly is an exceptional place with unrivaled talent and leadership.

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Trojan trailblazer has blended professional dreams with marriage and parenthood

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.

USC Annenberg School of Journalism Dean Willow Bay recently read a dismaying Wall Street Journal article about a gender pay gap among male and female college graduates that develops within three years of graduation.

The piece was a cold dose of reality at a time when many are celebrating advances in gender equity during the 50th anniversary year of Title IX.

“Let’s celebrate how far we have come, but let’s be really clear on identifying the gaps that still persist and find ways to address those gaps,” Bay said. “How do we get to true equality and equity when we see pay gaps on the basis of gender emerge virtually immediately upon graduation from college? I think the future is bright for gender equity, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Bay, who was born in New York City, attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate then went on to earn her MBA from the New York University Stern School of Business.

“It was very clear to me after leaving college and entering the world of work that college was the most equitable environment that I would probably ever be in,” she said. “We were such a Title IX-governed culture in higher education.”

Title IX trailblazer recalls impact of Billie Jean King

Bay doesn’t remember exactly when she first became aware of Title IX but said, “I have a funny feeling that Billie Jean King was involved.” King served as a major advocate for the passage of the legislation the year before the trailblazing tennis icon defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match that captured the nation’s attention.

“She was such an early heroine of mine,” Bay said of King. “My very early feminist education was shaped by her professional journey.”

Title IX logoKing’s World Team Tennis doubles partner Julie Anthony served as another role model for Bay. Anthony, a family friend of Bay’s who earned a doctorate while competing on the women’s pro circuit, eventually became a sports psychologist for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

“She left tennis, got married, kept her name and sent an important message to me as a young woman that you could blend all these interests,” Bay said. “She turned them into very different but equally rewarding professional experiences and showed me that you could retain your own identity as you added marriage and parenthood to your set of roles.”

In 1995, Bay married Robert Iger, currently CEO of The Walt Disney Co., and together the couple has four children and five grandchildren. As they raised their family, Bay continued her high-profile career in television.

She was with ABC News, reporting and anchoring for the network’s Good Morning America Sunday and serving as a correspondent for Good Morning America and World News Weekend, until she was wooed away to anchor a pair of shows for CNN in the late 1990s.

Bay became the first woman to co-anchor CNN’s daily financial news program Moneyline. She also anchored Business Unusual and Pinnacle, the network’s weekend business news programs.

For NBC, Bay co-hosted NBA Inside Stuff through much of the 1990s and later served as a freelance correspondent for NBC’s The Today Show and MSNBC.

Despite her high-profile success, Bay said she “of course” has faced gender-based discrimination during a career “that had a lot of different twists and turns.”

“I worked in sports, I worked in news and I worked in financial news, which were not always the most hospitable spaces for women of my generation,” she said. “But those jobs also led me to remarkable colleagues and allies and certainly led to opportunities to succeed and flourish and thrive.”

Title IX trailblazer leads school in which 3 out of 4 students are women

Bay came to USC Annenberg from her post as senior editor and senior strategic adviser of what is now known as HuffPost and was a special correspondent and host for Bloomberg Television. She spent three years as director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism before becoming the school’s first female dean in 2017.

“As the dean of a school with a 72% female student body, I am grateful not to have to fight for the rights of a majority of my students on a daily basis,” she said. “I appreciate the [Title IX] enforcement measures that we have in place to make sure we don’t backslide in our progress toward a truly equitable world. That’s no small thing to be able to say that.”

Bay is confident that Title IX will continue to be key in providing women with equitable education and sports opportunities.

“We would not have made progress toward equitable outcomes the way we have without Title IX,” she said. “We would not have the rich college sports programs for men and women the same way we do today, and we would not have the majority of college graduates be female without Title IX. There are so many outcomes that we are experiencing today that have enriched our society in immeasurable ways.”

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USC Viterbi’s Azad Madni receives National Academy of Engineering’s Gordon Prize


Azad Madni Receives NAE’s 2023 Gordon Prize

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Azad Madni Receives NAE’s 2023 Gordon Prize

For second year in a row, a Trojan receives top award in engineering education
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For the second year in a row, a faculty member from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering was awarded the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.

This year, the recipient of this prestigious honor, which recognizes the introduction and cultivation of “new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders,” is Azad M. Madni, a systems engineering pioneer, holder of the Northrop Grumman Foundation Fred O’Green Chair in Engineering and University Professor of Astronautical Engineering.

Madni, who was also elected to the NAE in 2021 is recognized for his work that the NAE said, “defined the field of transdisciplinary systems engineering and created the transdisciplinary systems engineering education (TRASEE(TM)) which fosters out-of-the-box thinking while enhancing retention and recall of concepts and facts through innovative storytelling and role-playing approaches.”

Through TRASEE, said the NAE, Madni “transformed USC’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program by incorporating content from complementary disciplines in the curriculum” and also redefined the teaching approach by “combining storytelling with pedagogical principles from the learning sciences.”

Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said: “We are thrilled that our distinguished colleague Azad Madni received the 2023 NAE Gordon Prize. Azad has pioneered systems engineering as a fundamentally transdisciplinary field encompassing socio-technical and human-centric aspects. His recognition by the National Academy is fitting, well-deserved and exhilarating. It underscores the strong legacy at USC Viterbi from its early roots in systems architecting pioneered by Eb Rechtin to today’s ground-breaking work in transdisciplinary systems engineering. We are equally thrilled to have the NAE Gordon Prize awarded for two consecutive years to USC Viterbi faculty, reflecting the outstanding work done at USC in engineering education innovation.”

Madni described why he believed engineering education needed to evolve. He said educational programs needed to move away from “stove-piped curricula” or what he calls “disconnected islands of concepts and facts.” He explained that the field of transdisciplinary systems engineering (TSE) he founded, “exploits the convergence of engineering with other disciplines to address complex, socio-technical problems that cannot fully be addressed by engineering alone.” This means integrating concepts from disciplines such as cognitive psychology, biology, economics and decision-analysis into engineering coursework. In addition, he leverages “principles of storytelling” from entertainment and the arts, and role-playing from simulations and gaming environments to enable students appreciate the nuances and understand the different perspectives of problems.

“Virtual worlds,” said Madni, “provide an inexpensive, flexible and safe environment to evaluate the performance of systems operating in potentially hazardous environments.”

Madni, whose research is in the fields of aerospace and defense, wanted to make sure that leaders had the requisite competencies to “make decisions without complete information, understand human cognitive limitations and biases and work to overcome the biases.” And as much as he wants students to become engineers who embrace change, he is urging engineering educators to do the same.

Madni, is a fellow or life fellow of 10 professional science and engineering societies, including AIAA, AAAS, IEEE, INCOSE, IISE and the Washington Academy of Sciences. He has received several prestigious awards and honors from the U.S. government, the aerospace industry, professional societies and commercial organizations. Just recently, he was also awarded the 2023 IEEE Simon Ramo Medal for exceptional achievements in systems engineering and systems science.

Madni’s Gordon Prize will be celebrated at USC in May 2023.

Last year’s 2022 Gordon Prize award was given to Jenna P. Carpenter, Campbell University; Thomas C. Katsouleas, University of Connecticut and former dean of the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; Richard K. Miller, Olin College of Engineering; and to Yortsos, the USC Viterbi dean, for the 2009 founding of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP), now part of more than a hundred engineering schools worldwide.

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Making smarter stoplights to get traffic moving

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Gridlock Warrior

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Gridlock Warrior — Ketan Savla is designing computational solutions to improve the flow of traffic in congested cities. “Smarter” stoplights may be just around the corner.
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It’s the peak of morning rush hour in Los Angeles, and USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor Ketan Savla is thinking about traffic. He’s stuck in the queue of cars headed north on Vermont Avenue waiting to cross the intersection at Exposition Boulevard. Traffic is so backed up that the line of idling vehicles extends south for about half a mile, all the way to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

As his Toyota Prius inches toward the stoplight, he’s frustrated — but imagining solutions. “If only the traffic lights at those intersections were timed [to be] consistent with traffic demand in different directions,” he muses.

Savla’s research is aimed at turning this daydream into reality. He’s developing novel ways to make traffic-control infrastructure like stoplights and freeway onramp meters more responsive to citywide traffic fluctuations, with an eye toward preventing these kinds of bottlenecks.

“I’m designing algorithms to improve efficiency,” says Savla, who is the John and Dorothy Shea Early Career Chair in Civil Engineering and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. “I want to decrease the travel time that folks have when they commute.”

Easing traffic congestion is important to Savla because of the myriad ways it can benefit people (less road rage, more time for other pursuits) and the planet (fewer carbon emissions from tailpipes). Traffic efficiency “touches almost all aspects of our lives,” he says.

A cross-town conversation

“Smart” stoplights and freeway onramp meters are already in use in Los Angeles and many other cities across the country and the world. They employ cameras and magnetic sensors in the road to monitor the volume of cars in their immediate vicinities, and remote computers adjust green- and red-light times accordingly.

But these signals and meters typically don’t “talk” to one another about what’s going on blocks or miles away. “It’s a very myopic way of controlling traffic,” notes Savla — one he thinks can be smarter.

In a large metropolis like Los Angeles, which has upwards of 4,000 intersections and a dozen freeways, one traffic incident can cause slowdowns in multiple traffic streams. To make the roadways more resilient to disruption, “You need to look at what’s happening downstream and upstream,” he says. “You want to coordinate what you’re doing at all the intersections…because each has an impact on the other.”

Relaying information across such a sprawling network poses a complex computing task. That’s where Savla’s algorithms come in. These computations are designed to optimize the way a city’s computer software system handles the deluge of ever-changing data from traffic-control infrastructure and makes citywide decisions.

The following simulation illustrates the advantages of Savla’s “closed-loop” system, which changes traffic signal timings in response to real-time traffic, over an “open-loop” system, in which stoplights change at fixed times.

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7 USC Rossier faculty members among Education Week top public influencers


Seven USC Rossier faculty among RHSU Edu-Scholar’s public influencers for 2023
Dean Pedro Noguera and Professor Shaun Harper in the top 10
By Ellen Evaristo Published on January 5, 2023
Image: DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
USC Rossier Dean Pedro Noguera topped Education Week’s RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings for 2023. In addition, USC Rossier faculty are prominently represented on the list recognizing university-based scholars in the United States who did the most in the previous year to shape educational practice and policy.
Rick Hess, author of the blog Rick Hess Straight Up, regarding the list criteria said, “The intent is to spur discussion about the nature of constructive public influence: Who’s doing it, how much it matters and how to gauge a scholar’s contribution.”
Out of 200 educators, USC Rossier’s seven faculty are Dean Noguera, University Professor Shaun Harper, Professor Chris Emdin, University Professor Emeritus Bill Tierney, University Professor Emeritus Estela Bensimon, Associate Professor Morgan Polikoff and Professor Julie Marsh.
Dean Pedro Noguera’s (@PedroANoguera) research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts. While Noguera and Hess frequently collaborate and co-host the podcast Common Ground, the Edu-Scholar rankings are determined by metrics such as media mentions and citations.
University Professor Shaun Harper (@DrShaunHarper), one of our nation’s most respected racial equity experts, is a frequent commentator in national media and was recently appointed to the National Board of Education Sciences by the White House. Harper was also a member of the RHSU selection committee.
Professor Chris Emdin’s (@chrisemdin) unique approach to school incorporates hip-hop music and culture to transform science teaching. He is also director of Youth Engagement and Community Partnerships at the USC Race and Equity Center.
University Professor Emeritus Bill Tierney (@TierneyBill) is the founding director of the USC Pullias Center for Higher Education. Among his expertise includes higher education policy analysis, governance, and administration; and decision making in higher education.
University Professor Emeritus Estela Bensimon (@ebensimon) founded the USC Center for Urban Education (CUE) in 1999. Bensimon developed the Equity Scorecard, a process for using inquiry to drive changes in institutional practice and culture.
Associate Professor Morgan Polikoff’s (@mpolikoff) expertise includes K-12 education policy; curriculum, standards, accountability, and assessment policy; survey research in education; and the impact of COVID-19 on American families’ educational experiences.
Professor Julie Marsh (@julieamarsh) is co-director of the USC Rossier Center on Education Policy, Equity and Governance (CEPEG) and the faculty director at Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), an independent nonprofit research center.

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