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Marshalling His Forces

Chacko photograph reprinted with Permission of the Daily Breeze, � 1999

A prestigious academic prize will take this stellar biology and gerontology double-major to Oxford University – and beyond.

JACOB CHACKO. Remember that name. Few who know him would be surprised if the 21-year-old USC senior should go on to restructure Medicare or be named Surgeon General.

An academic superstar, a volunteer activist and a student-athlete – Chacko recently topped his already staggering list of achievements by becoming one of 40 undergraduates nationwide selected for a prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

He is only the third Trojan ever to win the coveted award, for which he competed with 900 other elite students. The prize – akin to the Rhodes Scholarship – lets American college graduates continue their studies in the United Kingdom. Created in 1953 to honor U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the British scholarship is worth about $50,000.

AS VALEDICTORIAN from top-ranked Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, the California-bred Chacko had his pick of Ivy colleges, but opted to attend USC as a Trustee Scholar in the elite baccalaureate/ M.D. program that guarantees admission to the Keck School of Medicine. As an undergraduate, he won dozens of awards for leadership and scholarship, most recently being named Mr. USC by the Order of the Torch honor society.

And now the Marshall, which takes him to Oxford next fall. Characteristically, Chacko is more excited about how his achievement benefits others than how it betters himself.

“The honor that the Marshall Scholar-ship brings the institution is great,” he says. “I’m proud to bring that to USC. It’s my way of thanking USC for everything it’s given me.”

Now in his last semester, Chacko looks back on his college years with satisfaction. “People told me USC is a good school despite the location,” he recalls. “But I soon realized USC is a great school because of the location. We’re not an ivory tower; we’re integrated with the community.”

Chacko has lived that philosophy, tutoring schoolchildren through USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, helping to organize a leadership academy for Foshay Learning Center, and recently creating a weekend soccer camp for local kids. On campus, he has served as a resident advisor for three years.

At the same time, Chacko has managed to excel academically. With a double major in biology and gerontology, a minor in health policy and management, and a near-perfect 3.97 GPA, Chacko has been offered admission to the nation’s best medical schools. He hasn’t made a final decision, but “my top choices are USC or UCLA,” he says. The Keck School is pulling out all the stops to woo Chacko back when he returns from England, offering him a full scholarship.

THIS REMARKABLE young man possesses qualities beyond academic excellence.

There’s his athletic fervor. Until he was sidelined in his junior year by a knee injury (“I tore my ACL – that’s anterior cruciate ligament,” explains the doctor-to-be), Chacko was a starting forward and midfielder on the USC men’s soccer team. Currently recovering from knee surgery last November, he has no intention of hanging up his cleats.

“I want to play in Oxford,” he says. “I’ve got nine months to get back in shape.”

Chacko attributes his successes in large measure to the support of his tight-knit family. Both parents were important role models. His father runs an engineering firm, while his mother is an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente.

“With her being a doctor, I got my interest and early exposure to medicine,” he says. “With my dad being a CEO, I got my policy-making interest.”

Chacko doesn’t take role models lightly. He is deeply conscious of his own performance in that capacity. His brother David is now a high school senior applying to colleges.

“I’m doing my absolute best to convince him to come to ’SC,” says the older Chacko. So far, his influence has been profound. David plays soccer, dreams of becoming a physician and ranks as an academic superstar. “He’s done way better than I’ve ever done,” says the proud big brother. “Maybe he’ll win both a Rhodes and Marshall.”

Heads up, USC recruiters.

– Diane Krieger

To Accompany, Please a Crowd

Photograph of Horne and Katz by Dan Avila

A TRIBUTE, A FAREWELL, a homecoming – this recital was all three rolled into one. On Oct. 10, Thornton School faculty, students and friends gathered in Bovard Auditorium to celebrate the memory of Gwendolyn Koldofsky – the pioneering accompanist and founder of USC’s program in keyboard collaborative arts – who died in 1998.

Five performers, all former students of Koldofsky, took to the stage in their mentor’s honor. Opera diva Marilyn Horne, whose return to Bovard was the only local stop on her farewell tour; Thornton School violin professor Donald McInnes; pianists Jean Barr and Martin Katz; and soprano Ruth Golden. The program included a set of English songs, performed by Golden and Katz; Brahms’ Two Songs for Alto Voice, Viola and Piano, performed by Horne, McInnes and Katz; and a five-song set of French pieces, performed by McInnes and Barr.

Longtime musical partners Horne and Katz closed the Sunday afternoon concert with a bang. “The legendary mezzo-soprano sang Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs with great fire and lyric point,” wrote a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, and was accompanied on piano by Katz, “probably the prime example today of the utterly focused and fearlessly interactive collaboration that Koldofsky espoused.”

– Inga Kiderra

Old Letters

Kindergartners wrestling with the alphabet will hardly be surprised that it hails from a place called the Gulch of Terror. But Egyptologists were flabbergasted to discover limestone inscriptions on a wall in this forlorn desert west of the Nile. The writings, in a Semitic script, date back to about 1900 B.C. – that’s three centuries earlier than any other known use of the alphabet. “This is fresh meat for the alphabet people,” said USC religion professor Bruce Zuckerman in a
New York Times article on the find.

Sporting Life

Preliminary renderings of the events center show the exterior design harmonizing with other University Park Campus buildings. The main entrance leads to an open courtyard dominated by a full-sized statue of the Trojan warrior mounted on Traveler.
Renderings by Mikio Kimoto Berliner

Culture and athletics overlap in the planned 12,000-seat USC events center that’s scheduled to open in 2002.

IT WAS JESS HILL’S and John McKay’s dream. And it’s becoming Mike Garrett’s and Steve Sample’s reality.

A 12,000-seat arena to host USC sports, like basketball and volleyball, as well as major university happenings, like commencement, large concerts and major theatrical engagements.

“Is this a great day for USC or what?” exclaimed an exuberant President Steven B. Sample at the October press conference announcing the decision to fund-raise for a $70 million campus events center. “Think of it: people will be able to cheer on their fellow Trojans at a game one weekend, and attend a Broadway musical in the same facility the next weekend.”

USC athletic director Mike Garrett is charged with raising the money to build the versatile, multipurpose facility that falls, in terms of seating capacity, between the Staples Center and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Slated to be ready by January 2002, the arena is expected to host as many as 125 events annually, including concerts, plays, pageants, cultural events, NCI playoffs and high school championships – plus, of course, Trojan basketball games and volleyball matches.

THE MAIN EVENTS: The arena itself will seat 12,000 spectators. Planners are exploring a flexible design that will permit the house to shrink down to 5,500 seats when a smaller venue is desirable.

THE NEW FACILITY is an outgrowth of USC’s carefully considered strategic plan to enrich the undergraduate experience.

“We are an urban residential university with more than 10,000 students living within a half mile, night and day,” says vice president for student affairs Michael L. Jackson. “They need sports, recreation and cultural events.”

In competing with the nation’s top universities to get the very best students, USC must consider the total package – research and academic programs, residential living and recreation, Jackson says.

The university has already made many strides in these areas: research now attracts more than $300 million in annual funding; a revamped general education program makes it easier for undergraduates to work toward minors or double majors; and USC is investing well over $100 million in immediate residential improvements.

“Now it’s time for the fun part,” Jackson says. “Great facilities like the events center are a big part of that.”

Garrett agrees. And, he adds, “athletically, it will be a huge boost to recruiting in our basketball and volleyball programs. It will give us the best home-court advantage we’ve ever had.”

Witness USC’s success in signing up Narbonne High’s power forward Ebony Hoffman – one of this year’s top women’s basketball picks. The assurance that this center would be opened by 2002 was pivotal in attracting her, athletic officials say.

THOUGH IT was only announced in October, the planning for the events center is coming together at a brisk pace, says Carol Dougherty, senior financial director for the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the point-person for events center planning, design and construction. Planning team members have met with hundreds of USC decision-makers as well as faculty, alumni and student groups, developing a concrete program that addresses everything from parking concerns to handicapped access, food service and groundkeeping.

The facility’s likely location will be on the southeast corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Besides being the playing and practice site for USC’s men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams, the new center will contain coaches’ offices, an auxiliary gym, a gift shop, food concessions and a full-service restaurant.

While the size – 12,000 seats – is good for most concerts, both pop and classical, says Dougherty, the planning team is exploring the possibility of a flexible design that would permit the house to shrink down to 5,500 seats when a smaller venue is desirable.

“We are very close now to going into the architectural process,” she says. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late summer, assuming fund-raising goes as expected. “So far, we’re doing extremely well,” she adds. “We fully expect to reach the $70 million goal by end of summer.”

The events center is one of seven new facilities recently approved by the Board of Trustees. Within the next five years, the university plans to add a science and engineering center, a performing arts center, a student center, and an internationally themed residential college on the University Park Campus. Also approved are a neurogenetic research facility and a health-care center on the Health Sciences Campus.

– Diane Krieger

University of Smart Children

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS: This photo from the 2000 Time/Princeton Review College Guide captures the essence of USC’s changing student population.

Smarter, more ethnically diverse and more international, the Class of 2003 is setting a new standard for USC undergraduates.

USC freshmen are better than ever. That ain’t just hype. It’s a quantifiable fact.

Fall registration figures indicate the Class of 2003’s average high school GPA was 3.8 – a full decimal point higher than the previous year’s 3.7 average. The new students’ test scores are equally impressive. Average SATs for incoming freshmen jumped from last year’s 1243 to 1272 for the Class of 2003.

“A one-year, 29-point SAT gain for a class this size is highly unusual,” notes admissions dean Joseph P. Allen.

The freshman class is also more select. Out of 24,650 applicants, only 37 percent were offered admission. That’s the lowest rate in USC’s history, and a sharp drop from last year’s 45-percent admission rate.

Ethnic diversity remains high: of 2,828 entering freshmen, 46.5 percent are minorities. Other striking attributes of the Class of 2003:

More than three-fourths indicated that USC was their first-choice institution. That’s the highest percentage ever recorded at USC in this vital marker of campus popularity.

The proportion of out-of-state students rose to 40 percent – evidence of USC’s expanding nationwide appeal.

International student enrollment rose 57 percent last year, up from 94 to 148. Among four-year institutions, only Boston University and New York University have higher levels of international students.

Recruiters credit these leaps to a heightened awareness of USC since Time Magazine/Princeton Review dubbed the university “College of the Year 2000.”

“The real payoff to working at one of the hottest schools in the country is in the classroom,” says Letters, Arts and Sciences dean Morton Schapiro. “Every year, teaching our undergraduates becomes more challenging and rewarding.”

– Meg Sullivan

Keck Bucks the Trend

WHILE CALIFORNIA medical schools graple with declining admission and enrollment of under-represented minority students, the Keck School of Medicine seems immune to the disease. The number of under-represented minorities admitted to the Keck School jumped from 46 in 1998 to 59 in 1999, a 28 percent increase. The number who actually enrolled grew from 14 to 24, a 71 percent jump. Meanwhile the science GPA of the entering class rose form 3.48 to 3.60.

The improvement is hardly serendipitious. “We actively recruited students, kept in touch and encouraged them to choose USC,” says associate dean of admissions Erin Quinn, accounting for the upswing. “The admissions committe is committed to a diverse class, and we worked together to admit an excellent class.”

Alicia Di Rado

A Salon for L.A. Intelligentsia

Illustration by Matthew Martin

A USC-based humanities institute draws academics, artists and writers together for meetings of the West Coast’s best minds.

WHERE DO L.A. intellectuals go for a lively discussion? The wisecrack answer may once have been “New York,” but not anymore. When celebrated author Susan Faludi wanted to stage a trial-run for her national book tour, she headed over to the USC Faculty Center for a meeting of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.

“If this ends up a disaster, I’ll cancel the book tour,” joked the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, speaking at a gathering of the elite 36-member institute. Her talk came only days after her latest effort – Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man – made the cover of Newsweek.

Faludi’s appearance was nothing un-usual for the salon designed, in the words of co-founder and Los Angeles Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman, “to promote the cross-fertilization of intellectual life in L.A.”

Created last year, the USC-sponsored institute hosts twice-monthly luncheons that attract celebrated authors, academics, artists, museum curators and filmmakers to the pub at USC’s Faculty Center. Fellows schmooze over wine for half an hour before sitting down to a modest lunch enlivened with a brief talk by afellow or an invited guest.

“We say: ‘You have 20 minutes – what are the ideas you’re wrestling with?’ ” explains USC history professor Steven Ross, the institute’s other co-founder and author of Working Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America.

This is the place to hear UCLA theater professor Robert Israel discuss his set designs for new productions of Fidelio at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and I Capuleti e I Montecchi at the Los Angeles Opera. Or to get Los Angeles City Li-brarian Susan Kent’s spin on the future of libraries. Or to listen to cult expert Robert Jay Lifton untangle the twisted logic behind Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for releasing poison gas in Tokyo’s subway.

“L.A. is a major cultural center – we’ve got the Getty, MOCA, the Huntington, LACMA, USC, UCLA and Caltech – but the problem is, all these institutions lead isolated lives,” says Ross. “We’re trying to create a climate that brings together an eclectic mix of people.”

Glancing around a recent gathering, you couldn’t help but be dazzled by the select crowd. There was syndicated columnist and author Arianna Huffington (Picasso: Creator and Destroyer) kibitzing in the pub courtyard with author, filmmaker and USC cinema-TV associate professor Todd Boyd (Am I Black Enough for You? Popular Culture From the ’Hood and Beyond). Stephanie Barron, LACMA’s senior curator of modern and contemporary art, whispered at a table with Kenneth S. Brecher, the executive director of the Sundance Institute. Novelist Mona Simpson (Anywhere But Here) fretted over the fate of the American magazine with USC creative writing professor Carol Muske-Dukes (An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems) and writer-performer Sandra Tsing Loh (Depth Takes a Holiday: Essays From Lesser Los Angeles).

THE LOS ANGELES Institute for the Humanities – which meets the first and third Friday of the month – is modeled on New York’s Institute of the Humanities, founded roughly 25 years ago by a group of East Coast intellectuals, including Susan Sontag. The New York group also meets at a large, respected and centrally located urban campus – New York University.

“It’s the glamorous gathering place for academics and non-academic intellectuals,” says Jocelyn Baltzell, who served as associate director of the New York institution for a decade before agreeing to serve in the same capacity for the USC-based group. “We’re the upstart competitor.”

– Meg Sullivan

The Anatomy of Fear

Photograph Courtesy of USC News Service

A USC neuroscientist discovers where fear resides in the brain and takes steps toward preparing an eviction notice.

IF CONQUERING fear is the beginning of wisdom – as Bertrand Russell wrote – then we’re on the threshold of becoming a wiser species.

Scientists from USC and the Université de Bordeaux recently identified the brain circuit where memories of fear are evaluated and expressed. Their discovery points the way toward possible treatment of panic attacks, phobias and other anxiety disorders.

The demon’s lair, it turns out, lies within the amygdala, a large structure deep inside each cerebral hemisphere. “In the presence of threatening stimuli, the amygdala signals to the prefrontal cortex, triggering the expression of fearful behavior,” says USC neuroscientist Richard F. Thompson, co-author of the study published in the British journal Nature.

Thompson and his colleagues tested their theory by observing laboratory mice into whose prefrontal cortex tiny electrodes had been implanted. Whenever the mice heard a chime, the sound was followed by an electric jolt. The study animals soon learned to associate the tone with the impending shock and would freeze in fearful an-ticipation. At the same time, the researchers detected changes in the electrical im-pulses measured by the electrode. After the study animal’s amygdala was surgically removed, however, both the freezing behavior and the altered neuronal activity disappeared.

The experiment has direct bearing on the study of human fear. While a mouse’s brain is far smaller than a human’s, Thompson notes, it has essentially the same structures and operates similarly.

“The prefrontal cortex acts as a kind of ‘executive office,’ controlling other parts of the brain,” he says. It decides how you will react. The amygdala stores memories of fear, codes them into signals and transmits those signals to the frontal cortex for action.

ANXIETY DISORDERS are expressions of one’s memories of fear. “Nearly all our fears are learned fears,” says Thompson, who is director of the USC Program in Neural, Informational and Behavioral Sciences. “Why are you afraid when you’re alone in the dark and hear footsteps behind you? You have learned to be afraid.”

And how do we unlearn fear? “If we could find a drug or genetic treatment that would stop the amygdala from signaling to the frontal cortex, then we could effectively treat anxiety disorders,” Thompson says.

– Bob Calverley

Strung Out in Los Angeles

Forget L.A. as world entertainment capital. The city may soon wind up a major hub for -get this – string theory. “USC already has a strong group of ‘stringy’ physicists,” noted a recent Los Angeles Times story on the hot theoretical discipline that postulates the universe is made up of 11 dimensions, woven together from tiny vibrating loops of string. “Our goal is turn Los Angeles into a center for theoretical physics – focusing on string theory,” USC physicist Itzhak Bars told the Times , commenting on a plan to link Caltech and USC in a new Center for Theoretical Physics.

Cross-Cultural Law 101

Photograph by Carl Studna

A USC political scientist combats ignorance about folk ways where it matters most – in law enforcement and the courts.

IN INDIA, patting a child on the head is considered humiliating. In the Hmong tradition of “marriage by capture,” a girl must feign resistance when her groom carries her off to consummate their union. Turning up the sole of one’s foot is a grave insult in Thailand. Among Afghanis, kissing a young boy’s genitals is a harmless mark of paternal affection.

Who knew?

Alison Renteln JD ’91 did, and she thinks the American legal community should also get wise to such folkways. So the USC political scientist has taken it upon herself to educate them.

“People act in a way that appears in-comprehensible but makes sense when you understand their cultures and laws,” Renteln recently told a class of 31 veteran law enforcement officers.

Since 1993, she has been offering a unique four-hour class at USC’s Delinquency Control Institute, which provides continuing education courses for police officers. As one of the nation’s leading authorities on cross-cultural legal issues, Renteln also frequently speaks at law schools to raise awareness among future attorneys. She’s even pressing the state to establish a cultural competency requirement for trial and appellate judges.

“We’re all Americans, so we should pay attention to our similarities, not our differences,” she says. “But to do so ignores the very real rights of immigrants.”

RENTELN FIRST became interested in the conflict between ethnic folkways and the American legal system in 1985, when a suicidal Japanese immigrant was charged with first-degree murder after drowning her two children in Santa Monica Bay.

The mother, Renteln discovered, was actually doing what was considered the humane thing: “According to Japanese culture, it would have been more cruel to leave children behind with no one to look after them than to take them into the afterlife,” Renteln says.

Her pupils aren’t always receptive to such ideas.

“I don’t see any difference between this and claiming that you came from a bad home – it’s just an excuse,” complained an officer from the Northern California community of Hillsborough at a recent seminar.

Excuse or not, Renteln coun-ters, by inadvertently stumbling over cultural land mines, police jeopardize the trust and respect of the people they are trying to protect.

“As the country gets increasingly diverse, it’s incumbent on the justice system to become culturally competent,” says Peggy Hora, a San Jose Superior Court judge and the past dean of the California Judicial College, which trains all of the state’s new judges. “We need people like Alison to show us the way.”

– Meg Sullivan

Mistaken Cultural Identities

CROSS-CULTURAL CLASHES can be found at the root of white-collar crimes, hunting and fishing violations, sexual harassment, kidnapping, rape, child abuse and even murder, says Alison Renteln, who has examined hundreds of such cases over the past decade. Ignorance about foreign customs can lead to errors in an investigation, unjust verdicts that tend to get overturned, wasted court time and much unnecessary suffering, Renteln says.

Take the 1994 case of three Sikh children suspended from their San Joaquin Valley elementary school for wearing kirpins – the requisite ceremonial daggers of their faith. The daggers violated a policy against carrying weapons to school, the district claimed. A federal district court upheld the suspension, but the 9th Circuit Court later overturned the decision, ordering the kids back to school with their kirpins slightly altered for safety. In the interim, the youngsters had missed nine months of school.

Lack of cultural sensitivity can also prove expensive. A group of Gypsies in Spokane, Wash., sued the city’s police department after officers conducted strip-searches on unmarried women suspected of fencing stolen property. According to Romani tradition, a girl touched below the waist by a man is considered unfit to marry, Renteln explains. The case was settled in 1997 for $1.43 million.

In Print

The Spanish Miracle
Beyond the Prado: Museums and Identity in Democratic Spain
by Selma Reuben Holo Smithsonian Institution Press, $34.95

THE LAST TIME Selma Holo had set foot in Spain was 1975 – just six months after Franco’s death. Returning on a 1994 Fullbright fellowship, the USC art historian was unprepared to find a nation so utterly transformed.

The so-called “Spanish miracle” had healed the scars of a bloody civil war and 40-year dictatorship, leaving behind a vital, full-blown democracy. “Everyone acted and talked as if they had never known any other way of life,” Holo observed.

Looking beyond the ob-vious social changes, the director of USC’s Fisher Gallery noticed what she notices best – the museums. They had proliferated, in striking variety. Nowhere is Spain’s political and cultural renaissance more evident than in its museums, argues Holo in her new book, Beyond the Prado: Museums and Identity in Democratic Spain.

“The museums offered me a way, a methodology, for understanding the new Spain,” says Holo, who also heads USC’s elite Museum Studies Program. “These cultural institutions have helped create a profoundly democratic nation – one in which ethnic and regional diversity, once suppressed, is not only tolerated but celebrated and openly marketed.”

TAKING A BROAD view of Spain’s museums, Holo’s book offers case study after case study attesting to the Spanish miracle.

Witness the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The decision to hire an American architect – USC alumnus Frank Gehry – to design this world-class Spanish museum was no accident. No less bold was the decision to situate the new museum in the heart of the Basque country – a region long ravaged by separatist movements, state-sponsored oppression and, after Franco’s death, a period of political terror.

“Spaniards have rejected the politics of vengeance. They have found a way to balance memory and forgetting,” she says.

Another remarkable testament to the nation’s fine balance between memory and forgetting is the Extremaduran and Ibero-American Museum of Contem-porary Art. Formerly a Francoist prison, it is now an art museum. Where nonconformists were once sent for punishment, they are now sent for exhibition.

The military museums also remain, preserving memories of Franco and his victory in the Spanish civil war. Their walls are hung with idealized images of the late dictator.

“I was stunned until I realized how truly phenomenal this is,” Holo says. “A democracy allows it. In a democracy, even awful things can be said.”

– Inga Kiderra

by Percival Everett Greywolf Press, $22.95

Praised by the New York Times Book Review for his “omnivorous intelligence and wordplay,” English professor Percival Everett creates a most unlikely hero in his new novel. Baby Ralph is a genius, mute by choice yet able to read philosophical tracts. Everyone wants a stake in this infant prodigy, including a fiendish psychiatrist, a not-so-sweet Nanna, even military intelligence operatives. As the kidnapped wunderkind becomes the subject of a nationwide chase, he ponders theories of literary form and comes to conclusions only a tot could dream up.

The Fuzzy Future: From Society and Science to Heaven in a Chip
by Bart Kosko Harmony Books, $25

Binary logic sees the world in black and white. Fuzzy logic, the most explosive scientific concept since chaos theory, sees the world in shades of gray. Electrical engineer Bart Kosko foresees how fuzz will shape every aspect of life in the digital age – how we vote, pay taxes, view abortion, have children and more. “Suppose we replace your brain with a computer chip,” asks Kosko. “Would your digital brain house a digital mind? Or would your mind use fuzzy logic?”

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity
by Sarah Banet-Weiser University of California Press, $17.95

Communications scholar Sarah Banet-Weiser takes a hard look at hotly contested but enduringly popular American ritual, zeroing in on the Miss America pageant in particular. Drawing on cultural criticism, ethnographic research and interviews with contestants and officials, the author depicts the beauty pageant stage as a place where concerns about national identity, cultural hopes and desires, and anxieties about race and gender are crystallized and condensed.

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