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Model mentors

Professors Redekopp: father Larry, left, and son Mark (Photo/Courtesy of USC Viterbi)

USC Viterbi School of Engineering mentoring has an unusual dimension: like father, like son.

Professor Larry Redekopp, a member of the Department of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering for 42 years, won a Mellon Undergraduate Mentoring Award earlier this year.

His son, Mark Redekopp MS ’01, became an associate professor of engineering practice two years ago following near-perfect ratings by students and winning the 2010 USC Viterbi Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.

Redekopp senior, who’s enjoying a rare summer without research or teaching, praised the academic culture of USC Viterbi and its dean: “I find Yannis [Yortsos] to be the most protective, supportive and even enthusiastic dean when it comes to mentoring and cheering for undergraduate study support,” he said. “He’s been very forthright and outspoken as a backer of quality undergraduate education.”

The school’s Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life also provides support for those serving as mentors.

“The students see this as an institutional positive,” Redekopp explained. “Leadership values need to be a tangible element for them.”

Redekopp’s own mentoring builds on this foundation, and he believes in treating students as colleagues.

“I see the student as a co-learner,” he said. “And the return is your personal satisfaction as you see the student develop and grow.”

Others have observed Redekopp’s mentoring in action and admired what they saw. Professor Geoffrey Shiflet wrote Redekopp’s nomination for the Excellence in Teaching Award, which he won in 1979, 1980, 1986 and 1991.

“For many of the 40-plus years he has taught at USC, Larry served as one of the two go-to undergraduate advisers in the then-Department of Aerospace Engineering. He took the time to listen to individual student concerns and guide students through the labyrinth of university rules and regulations to help them achieve their academic goals. … I’ve been teaching at USC for about 30 years and throughout that period I have been hearing from students who recount how Larry, with both advice and instructional guidance, has influenced their lives. Most amazing to me is how he can meet students years after they have graduated and still remember their names and details of their discussions in his office.”

Shiflet also noted that as a result of Redekopp being a repeat winner of the award, USC Viterbi created “the unofficial Redekopp Rule [no one can win the Excellence in Teaching Award more than once] in recognition of the fact that otherwise he would be a regular repeat winner.”

Realizing that mentoring begins in the home, Redekopp recalled offering words of wisdom to son Mark, his brother and sister.

For his part, Mark Redekopp did not recall a specific mentoring moment with his father. “But I was really glad he was around when I needed to understand calculus,” he said.

The younger Redekopp, who joined the USC Viterbi faculty after receiving his Master of Science, has been teaching at the school since 2002 and is now finishing up his PhD while teaching computer analysis to undergraduates.

“He has had a very significant role as instructor and course developer for several of our required electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate courses,” noted the announcement of his appointment as associate professor. “He has been a leader in developing new course content for freshmen and sophomores, as well as upper-level undergraduate capstone design courses.”

What’s his approach to teaching?

“You have to care about the students,” he said. “And you have to be perceptive, to understand student response. It can’t just be you talking.”

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