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Commencement Clips

“Sometime this morning, between the strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ and the conferring of degrees, the 9,352 students graduating from USC will rise from their chairs to applaud one man who can’t rise from his,” began the front-page May 10 Los Angeles Times “Metro” story on this year’s valedictorian. The profile of Cyprus-born Kemal Demirciler, who was paralyzed by a diving accident three weeks before his freshman year was to begin, lead the coverage of Commencement 1996. Demirciler’s perfect 4.0 grade point average “hardly begins to tell the story” of the 28-year-old electrical engineering major, said president Steven B. Sample.”He truly captures the strength of the human spirit.” KABC-TV news carried president Sample’s full introduction as he recounted Demirciler’s story during extended commencement coverage. Other local broadcast stations, including KNX-AM, KFWB-AM and KTLA-TV also covered the ceremonies, as well as the City News Service. And the Associated Press carried USC News Service photos to press across the country. The Los Angeles Times ran its own follow-up photo in its May 11 “Metro” section. In addition, community papers and minority press covered USC’s commencement from local angles. The South Bay Daily Breeze profiled USC’s youngest graduate this year – 18-year-old Bronwyn Pollock – in a front-page “Metro” story.�

Silicon Seniors

A USC program to link Southern California seniors with teenagers in distant locations over the Internet was featured in the May 1 Los Angeles Times. “There are seniors giving advice to younger people on every topic you can imagine,” said professor Michael Cody of the Annenberg School for Communication. “People are socially isolated,” said Pamela Wendt of the Leonard David School of Gerontology. “This lets them be connected once again.” Wendt’s and Cody’s program was also featured in the Daily Breeze and the Outlook.��

Rock of Ages

“Research Increases Peking Man’s Age by 100,000 Years” read the headline on the front page of the May 1 Los Angeles Times. The story covered the work of earth scientist Richard Ku, who used the most sophisticated dating techniques yet employed to determine the age of the limestone deposits in which the fossilized bones were found. “There is a revolution in the techniques of these measurements,” said Ku. “It is a couple of orders of magnitude more sensitive than the older ways.” F. Clark Howell, a noted UC Berkeley authority on human origins, called the new research “terrific.” The story also ran in the New York Times, and in other newspapers via the Associated Press and United Press International, in Europe by Agence France-Press and on science news Internet sites. Voice of America interviewed Ku in Chinese for broadcast to Asia, and media in Asia carried the story in both English and Chinese. Local Chinese media, including the China Times and the International Daily News, also covered the findings.�

* “We’re finding evidence of vitamins’ potentially good effects on heart disease,” said cardiologist Howard Hodis in the May/June issue of Modern Maturity. The article, titled, “Can vitamins help the heart?” chronicled Hodis’ study that provided the first direct evidence linking vitamin E supplements to a slowing of coronary heart disease’s progression. Modern Maturity is the nation’s largest circulation magazine, reaching 22.5 million households.

* Can swimming in Santa Monica Bay make you sick? Yes, according to the first epidemiological study of the problem, conducted by School of Medicine professor Robert Haile for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project. Urban runoff carries trash, fertilizers, gasoline and animal feces from city streets into the Los Angeles County storm drain system, which empties the untreated runoff into Santa Monica Bay at numerous outlets. People who swim near the outlets have a 1 in 25 chance of developing symptoms such as fever, gastroenteritis, earache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sore throat. The story ran front-page above the fold in the May 7 Los Angeles Times, again on the front page of the “Metro” section in the May 8 Los Angeles Times and in the May 8 Daily Breeze, in addition to other papers and on most local broadcast media.

* In a May 6 Los Angeles Times profile of 10-year-old Norwalk artist Alexandra Nechita – whose abstract paintings have already been sold by her agent for five figures – artist and dean of the School of Fine Arts Ruth Weisberg expressed concern over the commercialization of the youngster who came from Romania as a toddler. “This kind of phenomenon immediately commodifies a young person’s creativity, and I find that troubling,” said Weisberg. “There is a talented young person at the center of this whose gifts could be damaged by all this exploitation.”

* The May 6 Downtown News ran a feature on USC’s Street Law program, which sends volunteers from the Law School into local high schools to give brief lessons in criminal, family, civil and constitutional law. “I’m just taken aback by the quality of young people that you find in the inner city where people assume the worst and we have found among the best,” law student and Street Law coordinator Tom Fagan said. A feature about the program also ran in California Law Student, a magazine distributed on the campuses of California law schools.

* Edward Schneider, dean of the School of Gerontology and executive director of the Andrus Gerontology Center, appeared on the May 3 CBS “Evening News with Dan Rather.” In a story on increasing life expectancy, which cited a new study by gerontologist Caleb Finch and preventive medicine expert Malcolm Pike, Schneider commented: “Many people will probably live into their hundreds in the upcoming decades! … We make it past that barrier of 80 or 90, we might make it to 100 or 110 and maybe even do it in good health.” Finch and Pike’s study was also reported in the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News.

* “Star-Studded Students,” a May U Magazine article, featured two USC undergraduates: Joey Lawrence, an undeclared sophomore who is in the new sitcom called “Brotherly Love” and Kenny Blank, a freshman film major who is in the established sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood.” “The students in my class are cool,” said Lawrence, who is dabbling in a range of subjects, including a few film and television courses. “There’s no competition, and sometimes they ask me questions because a lot of what we are learning is second nature to me.” Blank, who also composes music, described himself as “a workaholic.” “Instead of socializing, I like to write a piece of music or work on the computer. My social life is the show.” U Magazine bills itself as “The National College Magazine” with a circulation of 1.5 million.

* Why did a superhacker continue to try to break into government computer systems, even after multiple arrests? “I think it’s a personal challenge to be able to break into a computer system because you know you are set up against the very best…. Breaking into an operation like a government lab or a bank or a big corporation is really exciting and you know that you are up against minds just as sharp as yours,” explained School of Engineering professor Peter Danzig April 29 on CNN.

* “It’s the Mercedes syndrome,” economist Morton O. Schapiro said in one of the April 29 Newsweek cover stories on how tuition increases nationwide are affecting college enrollment patterns. Schapiro’s research, which shows wealthy students increasingly gravitating toward big-name national institutions, was prominently cited. “The most competitive kids want degrees from well-known schools with networks of graduates working everywhere in the world,” said Schapiro, who is dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The column later appeared in six newspapers across the country, including the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. Schapiro also was quoted in a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about foreign competition’s role in the downsizing of American companies. Describing trade competition as a plus, Schapiro credited Southern California’s employment boom “directly to increased international trade.” In yet another story, in the May 8 New York Times, he commented on efforts of Mount Holyoke College and other small liberal arts schools to lure students in today’s competitive higher education marketplace. “I think they can turn it around,” he said. “They are small, and they have a lot of money in the bank. If they emphasize their career connections, they will draw even more students.”

* According to an April 23 NBC “Nightly News” story, conditions at the Chernobyl nuclear plant today are in many ways worse than those that existed prior to the disastrous 1986 accident. Safety systems expert Najmedin Meshkati appeared on the segment, pointing out that America would not be immune from the radiation were another accident to occur.

* The April 22 Business Week cover story profiled C. Michael Armstrong, who led the recovery of Hughes Aircraft. “He has brought vision, cut costs, and executed a growth strategy,” commented Warren Bennis, head of the school of Business Administration’s Leadership Council. ”He has done a terrific job.”

In the same issue, Bennis commented on morale problems of workers subject to layoff anxiety while CEO compensation rises. “There’s a lot of rage out there,” said Bennis. ”Unless the private sector finds a way both to make money and reestablish a sense of trust in the workplace, we’ll continue to be in trouble. Worried workers do not engage in the kind of creative problem-solving that contemporary business requires.”

* The April 16 Hollywood Reporter noted the selection of veteran movie producer Frank Price to USC’s board of trustees. The trade paper also noted that Price is a councilor of USC’s School of Cinema-Television.

* The April 19 Los Angeles Times “Valley” Section cited studies by urban planners Peter Gordon, Harry Richardson and Genevieve Giuliano that pointed up the pluses of retrofitting. Gordon and Richardson determined that road and highway damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake cost businesses as much as $2 billion. Giuliano concluded that the dramatic growth of Metrolink ridership was short-lived. Giuliano “found that commuters quickly changed driving routes, travel schedules and destinations rather than switch to public transit or ride-sharing,” the story said.

* In Antarctica, tourism is booming, apparently to the detriment of the wildlife, according to an April 14 NPR report. And human endeavors all over the globe are taking a collective toll. The story reported on the work of biology professor Donal Manahan, director of the NSF-sponsored Biology Training Program in Antarctica, who is studying how animals live in the cold. The water is filled with life. But global warming is causing ice sheets to crumble and water levels to rise.

* Cinema-television professor David Belson was named one of Los Angeles County’s 100 most influential people in the high-tech industry in the April 1-7 Los Angeles Business Journal.

* “When I see gangs proliferating, then it tells me something is going really wrong with our society, our inner city,” sociologist Malcolm Klein said in a March 31 broadcast about street gangs on “20th Century with Mike Wallace” on the Arts and Entertainment Channel. Klein commented at length on the hour-long report about the origins and magnitude of gang violence in America. “In the early 1980s, it started to explode and after about 1985, it just went crazy,” he said.

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