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President Folt outlines ‘moonshots’ including computer, health sciences initiatives

In her first in-person State of the University speech, she lays out her blueprint for the university’s future.

President Carol L. Folt has outlined an ambitious agenda for USC, featuring four “moonshots” that include a dramatic investment in the “Frontiers of Computing” and expansion of the university’s health sciences efforts.

In the first of two State of the University speeches, Folt outlined what she called “USC Futures” – a plan that focuses on making USC the top choice for students, faculty and staff who seek purpose-driven work and establishing the university as the international standard-bearer for collaborative learning and discovery.

“That is the future,” she told the crowd of faculty and staff members gathered in Bovard Auditorium on April 14.

The speech was Folt’s first in-person State of the University address since she came to USC in July 2019; the 2020 and 2021 speeches were delivered online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

USC Futures consists of four major initiatives: Frontiers of Computing; the health sciences expansion; making USC the destination for the best and brightest change agents; and continued investment in USC Athletics.

“If we do these well, we will put USC on a path to even greater leadership and success in the next five to 10 years,” she said.

Transforming health sciences

The university’s health sciences work — including research, medical training and clinical practice — makes up about half of the university’s people and resources, Folt noted, adding that USC’s health programs already are recognized for excellence and innovation. Keck Medicine of USC treats the most complex and, often, most critically ill patients. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — staffed by USC physicians — is the only top five children’s hospital in the nation whose patients are predominantly insured by government programs such as Medi-Cal.

No other university has this constellation of resources and schools and breadth that we have here to create a healthier society for the future.

The transformation will expand health sciences work across the university, including not only the health-related schools but also the architecture, business, cinema, communication and journalism, engineering, and public policy schools, as well as the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“No other university has this constellation of resources and schools and breadth that we have here to create a healthier society for the future,” she said.

Accelerating advanced computing

The president also introduced Frontiers of Computing, an initiative to accelerate advanced computing and its impact on the world.

USC will use a $261 million gift from the Lord Foundation to build on its already strong presence in the computing and high-tech innovation spaces, she said.

Like health sciences, this project will also build on USC’s unique strength, breadth, location and scale.

She noted that Los Angeles’ tech industry is already the fourth largest in the United States and that USC must be at the center of this innovative ecosystem. USC will do this by collaborating with education and industry partners and increasing its existing presence in Silicon Beach, home to more than 500 tech and startup companies.

“They need talent,” she said. “The potential here is mind-boggling.”

Making USC the destination

A third moonshot, “USC Competes,” is designed to make the university a national leader in accessibility, affordability and debt reduction and attract the top students in every field. The university is actively raising funds to increase scholarships and aid.

Folt noted that USC’s largest feeder school is the Foshay Learning Center, a public high school near the University Park Campus. “That’s a real point of pride to us,” she said.

The university also must continue to invest in faculty and staff to ensure that it recruits and retains “the best of the best.”

Importance of athletics to the Trojan Family

Folt also underscored the importance of athletics, noting that the university’s sports programs, student athletes and coaches bring together students, alumni and the community in ways that nothing else does.

She added that sports and related enterprises are among the fastest-growing areas of commerce, media and job generation. USC-hosted athletic events bring an estimated $400 million in revenue to local neighborhoods, she said.

“Our goal in athletics aligns with our emphasis on building the right kind of culture across USC,” she said, “a culture that puts high ethics and strong values at the core of everything we do — in the classroom, on the playing field, in the laboratory, everywhere.”

A time of change and challenge

Folt opened her speech with her thoughts on two historic events in the past two weeks: the conferring of posthumous degrees on USC’s Nisei students — the Trojans of Japanese ancestry who were removed from school and sent to detention centers during World War II — and the dedication of the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs. The building had been named for a previous university president who espoused racist views, sympathized with Nazis and promoted eugenics.

A university doesn’t get to rewrite its history, but we do have the power to telegraph to the world who we are and what we aspire to be, now and in the future.

“A university doesn’t get to rewrite its history, but we do have the power to telegraph to the world who we are and what we aspire to be, now and in the future,” she said.

She noted the university’s continued focus on sustainability and repeated the university’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025, adding that 17,000 students had enrolled in sustainability-related courses last year.

She again thanked all faculty, staff and students for their perseverance during the pandemic, and while she celebrated the fact that “We are back!” she noted that the pandemic isn’t over and encouraged everyone to continue to maintain COVID-19 safety protocols.

‘A hot place’

Folt noted that the number of applications to USC remains strong: Graduate and professional applications are up nearly 350% over 20 years and undergraduate applications are up nearly 150%.

“This is a hot place to come to,” she said. “A lot of people want to be here.”

She noted the success of the Trojans who are already here:

  • USC’s research grants increased significantly, despite the pandemic.
  • The university is in the top 20 for federal research dollars.
  • For the first time, the university joined the “billion-dollar club” for external research funding.

And she pointed out other Trojan wins over the past year: four Oscars, 17 Emmys, 13 Grammys, seven Fulbright scholarships and 21 medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

During a question-and-answer session after the speech, Folt noted that new policies on remote and hybrid work for USC employees would be forthcoming. Developing those policies has been challenging given the range of jobs within the university, she said, but it’s also an opportunity for the university to make other changes, including reducing the number of private offices or parking.

“There will be a big difference,” she said.

When asked to talk about what today’s students are looking for, she described them as purpose-driven, practical and ambitious: “Everyone,” she said, “has a big dream.”

She also described them as impatient — perhaps because they have only four years here.

“If you don’t have impatience,” she said, “you’re not going to make any change.”

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President Folt outlines ‘moonshots’ including computer, health sciences initiatives

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