Jack Munushian, a scientist, educator and leader who played a major role in the development of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, died May 28 of heart failure at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 81.
“To an extent few people realize, we at the Viterbi School live in a house that Jack built,” said USC Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos. “Our eminence in computer science and distance education grows directly out of his hard work and foresight.”
Educated as a physicist, Munushian became a part-time lecturer at USC’s engineering school in 1957 � a job he took while holding management positions at Hughes Aircraft Co. and Aerospace Corp.
He joined the USC faculty as a full professor in the fall of 1967 and was an emeritus professor at the time of his death.
Munushian wrote a successful proposal that made USC part of the Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP), a major research program funded jointly by the Army, Navy and Air Force.
“There were only a dozen U.S. universities that had JSEP in the early 1960s and this enabled the engineering school to get on the research map,” said William Steier, a USC professor of electrical engineering.
Munushian had a vision for a new way to educate engineers by using television. He persuaded the Olin Foundation to help the engineering school establish the Instructional Television Network (ITV) in 1972 and used his ties with Hughes, the Aerospace Corp. and other Southern California aerospace companies to make ITV successful.
State of the art for its time, ITV beamed graduate lectures directly from USC to numerous specially equipped classrooms located at aerospace company offices and factories throughout Southern California. This arrangement enabled working engineers to continue their education without interrupting their careers, a concept that continues today in the USC Viterbi School’s Distance Education Network (DEN).
In 1988, when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers awarded its highly coveted Major Educational Innovation Award to Munushian for his ITV achievement, the USC Viterbi School had recorded more than 50,000 ITV enrollments.
“The school of engineering has awarded thousands of M.S. degrees to part-time students who took their classes largely or entirely by television,” wrote USC professor George Bekey in a letter supporting Munushian’s nomination for the award. “Let me emphasize that the success of this system would not exist were it not for the vision of this one man.”
“We no longer use television,” said DEN executive director Kelly Goulis, “but we still rigorously honor Jack Munushian’s insistence that distance education be in every respect on a par with instruction on campus.”
Though trained as a materials scientist, Munushian organized USC’s department of computer science, now one of the USC Viterbi School’s largest and strongest departments, and served as its first chair from 1972 to 1976.
Bekey paid tribute to Munushian’s skill and subsequent modesty in putting the new unit together and in creating a home for it with a new building, the Henry Salvatori Computer Science Center. “I saw him take it from idea to reality and then quietly step aside. Jack worked in the background and did not seek the limelight,” Bekey said.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Munushian received a B.S. in physics from the University of Rochester in 1948 and a Ph.D., also in physics, from UC Berkeley in 1954. He was a resident of the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Funeral services will be held Thursday, June 2, at 11 a.m. at St. Gregory Armenian Church, 2215 East Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.
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