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A Source of Pride

Andrew J. and Erna Viterbi have given $52 million to USC, lending a name that has become a legend in information theory, telecommunications and entrepreneurship to the university’s School of Engineering.

“We are deeply grateful to Andrew and Erna Viterbi for this extraordinary gift, which will forever associate USC’s engineering school with one of the most illustrious engineering names of our times,” said USC President Steven B. Sample in announcing the gift.

“As an academic, an entrepreneur, a corporate leader, an alumnus of this university and a member of our board of trustees, Andrew Viterbi has demonstrated intellectual dexterity, creativity and spirit in every arena,” Sample said.

“The Viterbis’ gift to USC will serve as a powerful catalyst for bold research and innovation in an engineering school that is experiencing a rapid ascent.”

Engineering Dean C.L. Max Nikias said, “To have our school bear the name of the creator of the Viterbi Algorithm and the co-founder of Qualcomm Corporation will be a source of tremendous pride for our faculty, students and alumni. His is one of the most brilliant careers in engineering history – and he is a USC alumnus, one of our own.”

Nikias said the $52 million gift would increase the endowment of the school, ranked No. 8 nationally by U.S. News and World Report (and No. 4 among private institutions) and “help strengthen our position among elite engineering schools by broadening our fields of excellence and by recruiting and retaining excellent faculty and students.”

Viterbi, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from USC in 1962, said: “My wife and I believe our contribution here will do more to further engineering and engineering education – goals we have supported through our entire 45-year marriage – than anywhere else. We are impressed by the extraordinary strides the school has taken and want that progress to continue and accelerate.”

As a researcher and professor of electrical engineering, Viterbi worked in information theory and is best known for the algorithm published in the late 1960s that bears his name. It allows rapid and accurate decoding of a multitude of overlapping signals.

Today the algorithm is embedded in hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide. Viterbi also pioneered techniques to allow dense populations of cell phones transmitting Viterbi algorithm-coded signals to avoid interfering with each other.

Viterbi and colleagues developed one such system: Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA, the technology standard for most cell phones in North America. The Viterbi Algorithm is also used in rival cell systems.

“He is a true pioneer,” Nikias said. “The cell phone technology he created touches millions of lives every day.”

Viterbi Algorithm applications extend beyond cell phones to voice recognition programs and even DNA analysis. For these and other scientific achievements, Viterbi has been honored by membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is a recipient of the Shannon, Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell awards, three of the top honors in communication technology, as well as other awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and from foundations in Europe.

Early in his career, Viterbi held academic appointments at UCLA and then UC San Diego.

“As an academic, he was and is outstanding,” Nikias said. “He would be a star on the faculty of any engineering school in the world. And, in fact, he has accepted our offer to join our faculty here, which is a major gift in and of itself.”

Viterbi will be a professor of electrical engineering systems and hold the Presidential Chair of Engineering.

Viterbi’s entrepreneurial acumen is equally outstanding, Nikias said. He is a co-founder of Linkabit, a telecommunications consulting company, and a co-founder of cell phone giant Qualcomm.

Qualcomm is now a Fortune 500 corporation with its stock price computed into the Standard and Poor 500 index. The company is noted for technological innovation (it holds more than 1,000 patents) and recently has been recognized by Industry Week as one of the “100 Best Managed Companies” and by Fortune as one of the “100 Best Companies in America to Work For.”

The Viterbis’ gift is the largest ever to name an existing school of engineering, and it brings the school almost to the halfway mark in its recently announced $300 million fund-raising initiative.

It is the sixth multimillion-dollar school naming gift to come to USC under the administration of President Sample, following donations to the Keck School of Medicine of USC (1999, $110 million), the Thornton School of Music (1999, $25 million); the Rossier School of Education (1998, $20 million); the Marshall School of Business (1997, $35 million); and the Leventhal School of Accounting (1995, $15 million).

The Viterbi School currently has 23 faculty who are members of the National Academy of Engineering, the fourth-highest total among the nation’s private universities. With more than $135 million in annual research expenditures, it consistently ranks in the top three nationally in funding per tenured faculty member.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is the only school in California, and one of only four in the nation, to house two active National Science Foundation-supported Engineering Research Centers, the Integrated Media Systems Center and the Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Center.

In 2003, USC also became the site of the Department of Homeland Security’s first Center of Excellence. The center leverages USC’s expertise in natural disasters, system safety and nuclear threats.

Two existing centers within USC’s School of Engineering – the Integrated Media Systems Center and the Information Sciences Institute – will contribute research in advanced computer modeling and cybersecurity.

 

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