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USC faculty members named University Professors and Distinguished Professors

The very selective awards recognize significant accomplishments by leading scholars in their fields.

USC University Professors
Estela Mara Bensimon, Yang Chai, Steve Kay and Shrikanth Narayanan, clockwise from top left. (Photos/Andrew Zinn, Phil Channing, Noé Montes, Gus Ruelas)

USC faculty members Estela Mara Bensimon, Yang Chai, Steve Kay and Shrikanth Narayanan have been named University Professors, and Susan Forsburg, Sherman Jackson, Behrokh Khoshnevis, Mahta Moghaddam and Pedro Noguera have been named Distinguished Professors.

“These exceptional faculty members have brought great distinction to the university,” USC Provost Charles Zukoski wrote in an email sent Tuesday to the university community. “Recognizing each of them is an honor for President [Carol L.] Folt and me.”

Both recognitions are awarded very selectively. The University Professor distinction is awarded by the president based on multidisciplinary interests and significant accomplishments in several disciplines. The Distinguished Professor distinction is awarded by the president to those whose accomplishments have brought special renown to USC.

USC’s new University Professors

Estela Mara Bensimon is the Dean’s Professor in Educational Equity in the USC Rossier School of Education. She is also the director of the Center for Urban Education, which she founded in 1999. Her research has focused on improving the academic outcomes of students of color. She has worked with numerous institutions of higher education to take steps to address the structural disadvantages that students of color face when they enter college.

She is an elected member of the National Academy of Education. She has previously served as the president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) and in leadership positions in the American Education Research Association (AERA). She has been presented with the AERA Social Justice in Education Award and the ASHE Distinguished Service Award.

Yang Chai is the George and MaryLou Boone Professor of Craniofacial Molecular Biology in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. He is also the associate dean of research and the director of the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology in the Ostrow School of Dentistry. His research focuses on molecular regulatory issues during early craniofacial development.

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His work has been noted for its contributions to novel bioengineered treatment strategies for patients suffering from debilitating malformations of the head and face.

Steve Kay currently serves as the director of the MESH (Medicine, Engineering, Sciences and Humanities) Academy and the director of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, and is a Provost Professor of Neurology, Biomedical Engineering and Biological Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He held the position of dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2015. He is a leading expert on the genetics and genomics of circadian rhythms.

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society. He was named by Thomson Reuters as one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” from 2014 to 2017 and has been cited in Science magazine’s “Breakthroughs of the Year” three times since 1997. In 2009 he was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2011 he was awarded the American Society of Plant Biologists’ 2011 Martin Gibbs Medal for his pioneering work in plant sciences.

Shrikanth Narayanan holds the Niki and C. L. Max Nikias Chair in Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He is the director of the Signal and Image Processing Institute of the USC Viterbi Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and holds joint appointments as a professor in computer science, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, pediatrics and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. He was also the inaugural director of the Ming Hsieh Institute and a research director for the Information Sciences Institute at USC. He is known for his interdisciplinary research on the fundamental and applied aspects of speech processing.

He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the Acoustical Society of America, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the International Speech Communication Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

USC’s new Distinguished Professors

Susan Forsburg is a USC Dornsife professor of biological sciences. She was formerly a Gabilan Distinguished Professor in Science and Engineering. Her lab focuses on chromosome duplication and its contribution to genomic stability, utilizing a combination of techniques and methods from molecular biology to cutting-edge microscopy. Because the loss of genome integrity has a deep impact, her research has contributed to our understanding of how the deregulation of cell division contributes to the growth of cancer cells.

She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, and an elected member of the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2011, she was recognized with the Evans Award from the American Society of Microbiology to honor her contributions to the advancement of women in microbiology.

Sherman Jackson is the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture, and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity in the USC Dornsife College. Jackson, who teaches classical Islamic Studies, including law, theology and intellectual history, focuses his research on the realities of modern Islam in the West, especially Muslim communities in America.

Jackson is a co-founder, core scholar and member of the Board of Trustees of the American Learning Institute for Muslims, an academic institution where scholars, professionals, activists, artists, writers, and community leaders come together to develop strategies for the future of Islam in the modern world. He has been named among the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.

Behrokh Khoshnevis is the Louise L. Dunn Professor of Engineering, and professor of civil and environmental engineering, astronautics, and aerospace and mechanical engineering at USC Viterbi. He is the director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies and director of the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at USC. He is active in CAD/CAM, robotics and mechatronics related research projects that include the development of novel Solid Free Form, or Rapid Prototyping, processes (Contour Crafting and SIS), automated construction of civil structures, development of mechatronics systems for biomedical applications (e.g., restorative dentistry, rehabilitation engineering, haptics devices for medical applications) and autonomous mobile and modular robots for assembly applications on earth and in space.

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering. Additionally, he is a fellow of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and the Society for Computer Simulation, and a senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineering. His automated construction invention, Contour Crafting, was selected in 2006 as one of the top 25 best inventions from more than 4000 candidate inventions by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the History Channel’s Modern Marvels program.

Mahta Moghaddam is the holder of the Ming Hsieh Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering at USC Viterbi. She has developed approaches and algorithms for quantitative interpretation of multichannel radar imagery based on analytical inverse scattering techniques applied to complex and random media.

She is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering. She is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Beginning in January, she is serving as president of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society, one of the largest societies within IEEE.

Pedro Noguera is the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of USC Rossier. Noguera is an education researcher, former public school teacher and sociologist whose 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.

Noguera is an elected member of the National Academy of Education and the Phi Delta Kappa honor society, and this year was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves as an adviser on education policy to state officials in New Mexico, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. He also served as a trustee for the State University of New York as an appointee of the governor. He recently received awards from the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at NYU for his research and advocacy efforts aimed at fighting poverty.

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