The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences kicked off its $750 million fundraising initiative with a gala on March 9 that drew some 350 friends, administrators, faculty and students to the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
USC Dornsife Dean Steve A. Kay described the college as a place where students and faculty can turn their dreams into reality.
“To dream widely, to use resources at hand wisely, to make those dreams a reality,” he said, “that’s what USC Dornsife is all about.”
Generating vital funds to support student scholarships and fellowships and endowed faculty chairs as well as departments, programs and infrastructure, the initiative is part of The Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort to secure $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC’s academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and world.
Referring to USC Dornsife as “the beating heart of the university,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias pointed to the college’s central role in creating knowledge in traditional as well as emerging disciplines across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.
“A great research university needs a great college,” Nikias said. “It needs a great college to nurture interdisciplinary exchanges, not only within its own community but also among its professional schools. USC Dornsife does that, and it does it beautifully.”
Kay shared that his overarching goal for the initiative is to promote even more cross-school and cross-disciplinary research and learning at USC Dornsife, and, in so doing, to build what he calls “the world’s first truly modern university.”
“In this truly modern university, everything is ‘rocket science,’” Kay said. “Our faculty and students come together — across disciplines, across schools, across continents, across laboratories, libraries and art galleries — to create, transmit and translate knowledge for the good of humankind.”
Debuting at the event was a video featuring some of USC Dornsife’s brightest faculty, students and alumni, who talked about their work at the intersections of disciplines ranging from history, economics and sociology to environmental studies, evolutionary biology and neuroscience.
Among those who appeared in the video were Truman Scholar Travis Glynn, an international relations major with four minors, whose dream is to secure a post as a foreign service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Provost Professor Scott Fraser, an expert in biological sciences and biomedical engineering, who came to USC Dornsife to pursue his dream of building a new kind of microscope that will enable people to watch as a few stem cells transform themselves into a living, beating heart.
Jana Greer, chair of the USC Dornsife Board of Councilors, called the launch a game-changing moment.
“We have the opportunity to push USC Dornsife to bold new heights through enlightening, cutting-edge research in the sciences, in global studies, in the humanities,” she said. “I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
Celebrants also heard presentations by students who are making an impact in three key areas where USC Dornsife intends to change the world — sustainability, health and community.
Reid Lidow, who has a double major in international relations and political science, described his participation in a USC Dornsife Problems Without Passports trip that explored not only how long the planet’s Arctic ice can be sustained, but also governance and the forging of transnational partnerships that can endure long after the ice disappears. The experience inspired Lidow to travel to Burma and North Korea to conduct independent research.
Neuroscience PhD candidate Glenn Fox provided insights on his work using the brain-imaging resources of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education’s recorded testimony of Holocaust survivors to study the neural foundations of gratitude. Fox is among the first to study the bases of gratitude in the brain, and he hopes that his project will serve as a vehicle for enhancing and promoting goodness in the world.
Sociology major Jasmine Torres shared her story of growing up near the University Park Campus and dreaming of attending USC, and how entering the foster care system threatened that dream. Against all odds, she made it to USC Dornsife, where she is currently studying educational attainment among youth in foster care and giving back to the community by working as a volunteer tutor for children at local elementary schools through USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project. Torres said her dream is just being at USC, but now she plans to continue her research and help foster youth realize their potential and earn their college degrees.
Kay noted that these examples demonstrate how USC Dornsife is educating, enriching and empowering its students to be the next generation of thinkers and leaders.
Comprising some 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, nearly 800 faculty and an extended family of more than 66,000 living alumni, in addition to more than 30 academic departments and programs and dozens of research centers and institutes, USC Dornsife is the university’s largest, oldest and most diverse academic unit. The college was renamed in March 2011 thanks to a $200 million gift — the largest single gift in the university’s history — from longtime USC supporters and international philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife.
“We’ve come so far, but with momentum, you have to feed it in order to keep it going,” Dana Dornsife said. “I would look at any donor and say, ‘This is where your funds will have a huge impact — not just today, but for the future, and not just for our students who choose to come to the college, but really for the world.’”
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