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USC faculty honored with Guggenheim Fellowships

Alan Willner and Brighde Mullins
Alan Willner and Brighde Mullins were selected from 3,000 applicants in the 88th annual competition.

USC professors have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships that recognize their proven records of accomplishment and provide them with material aid to continue their work.

The fellowships went to Alan Willner, professor of electrical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering; Brighde Mullins, director of the Master of Professional Writing (MPW) program at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; and Stanya Kahn, adjunct faculty at the USC Roski School of Fine Arts.

As prestigious “midcareer” awards, Guggenheim Fellowships support a scholar’s work for a set block of time, between six and 12 months. The actual amount of the grant varies, but it comes with no special conditions and is intended to allow as much creative freedom as possible, according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

“Through his development of revolutionary optics technologies, professor Willner’s scholarly influence extends beyond our institution by responding to global challenges in communication and data management,” said USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Elizabeth Garrett. “Professor Mullins, too, transcends the ordinary through her innovative approach to storytelling, which often explores uncharted territory and poses questions that inspire critical inquiry. As Guggenheim fellows, they both have influenced the way we live in and experience the world, while earning them a place in the uppermost ranks of their professions.”

The fellows were among 181 scholars, artists and scientists selected from 3,000 applicants in the 88th annual competition. Winners were chosen on their achievements and exceptional promise.

Willner, holder of the Steven and Kathryn Sample Chair in Engineering at USC Viterbi, is one of the world’s leading innovators in optics and photonics. His research helps tackle issues arising from the skyrocketing amounts of data that are available at our fingertips.

At some point in the near future, the amount of accessible data will overwhelm our ability to make effective use of it, Willner said. The Guggenheim Fellowship will support his proposed research “in using high-speed optics to assist electronics and potentially make the problem significantly more manageable.”

USC Viterbi dean Yannis C. Yortsos said: “Alan continues to impress us all with his wonderful accomplishments. We are very proud that he calls the USC Viterbi school his home.”

Mullins, an accomplished playwright, will use the fellowship to spend the fall semester researching and writing about Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry in the United States. Mullins will research sites in Boston, Mass., where Wheatley wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773.

“The Guggenheim Fellowship gives me the energy to go back to the page; it’s a huge vote of confidence,” Mullins said. She also will interview scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose lecture on Wheatley was her inspiration.

“We are thrilled that Brighde’s extraordinary writing talents will be further supported and nurtured through this prestigious fellowship,” said USC Dornsife dean Howard Gillman. “She has been instrumental in leading USC Dornsife’s MPW program and guiding students toward new levels of excellence in their own work.”

USC Roski’s Kahn also was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Kahn is an interdisciplinary artist working primarily in video, with a practice that includes performance, writing, sound design, drawing and digital media. Her solo and collaborative works have been widely displayed, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Sundance Film Festival.

“It is a tremendous honor to provide our students with the opportunity to study with someone of Stanya’s caliber,” said USC Roski dean Rochelle Steiner. “Her accomplished career and practice is an asset to the Roski School of Fine Arts, and she enables our students to consider and explore the role of digital media in their own creativity.”

An awards ceremony will take place on May 9 in New York City.

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USC faculty honored with Guggenheim Fellowships

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