USC News

Menu Search

Being Jewish in the West

Barry Glassner, Director of the Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life

Photo by Irene Fertik

USC’s new Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life focuses on contemporary issues in Jewish life in the western United States, setting it apart from programs that look at Judaism from a historical or religious perspective.

Ever since the Diaspora scattered Jews across the globe, the notion of “Jewish culture” has been a little hard to pin down. There are Eastern European Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Ethiopian Jews and – oh, yes – American Jews.

But what is an American Jew?

An eclectic group of scholars has set out to try to define that slippery concept, with particular emphasis on the West. To speed their efforts, the university has established an interdisciplinary research center – the Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life – whose mission is to explore the evolution of the Jewish community in the Western United States.

In doing so, USC is carving out an unusual niche for itself, says institute director Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the university.

“There are many excellent Jewish study centers at American and other universities,” he says, “but their focus is mainly on historical and religious research. Our priorities are current issues, with emphasis on the West.”

“There are now more than 922,000 Jews in California alone,” adds economist Morton Owen Schapiro, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, who is one of the institute’s founders. “Their number in the Western United States has tripled since 1970.”

However, most studies of American Jewish life have concentrated on New York and the northeastern states, where half of all U.S. Jews still live. But, Schapiro and Glassner say, there is a distinctive Western Jewish identity, different from Eastern and Midwestern Jews.

Jews have played a vital role in shaping the politics, culture, commerce and character of this region. Using the institute as a think tank, researchers and community leaders can now begin the interesting task of analyzing the ongoing contributions of American Jews to West Coast arts, business, media, literature, education, politics and law.

The institute is also slated to study the relationships between the area’s Jewish communities and other groups, such as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Arab Americans. Some other proposed activities include community-based inter-ethnic dialogue groups coordinated by institute-affiliated researchers, a summer undergraduate study and internship program, publication of scholarly and popular books and journals, and special programs and interdepartmental events to educate USC undergraduates about the American Jewish experience.

Created in collaboration with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the new institute will work closely with USC’s Hillel Jewish Center.

When the institute was first proposed, university officials were amazed at the groundswell of support among faculty. About 50 USC professors signaled their interest in getting involved with the project.

That really shouldn’t be so surprising, organizers say, since fully a third of USC’s deans and faculty are Jewish, and so is 10 percent of its student body.

The institute’s core faculty is composed of USC and HUC scholars from more than a dozen disciplines, including Rabbi Susan Laemmle, USC dean of religious life; Warren Bennis, professor of finance and business economics; Solomon Wolf Golomb, professor of mathematics and electrical engineering systems; Selma Reuben Holo, director of USC’s Fisher Gallery and Museum Studies Program; Michael Renov, professor of cinema-television; Morton Owen Schapiro, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and vice president for planning; and Ruth Weisberg, dean of the School of Fine Arts.

Negotiating Peace in Ireland

George Mitchell

Sen. George Mitchell spoke at USC in October, as part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Introducing Sen. George J. Mitchell to a Bovard Auditorium audience last October, President Steven B. Sample called him “the man most credited with bringing about the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.” And for the next 30 minutes, Mitchell shared the challenges he faced in his efforts to facilitate the agreement between the British and Irish governments that resulted in a peace treaty between the two opposing countries signed on Good Friday, 1998.

Mitchell said negotiating the treaty was “by far the longest and most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken.” While there may be further conflicts, he said, he believes the organized political crimes of the past few decades will not continue.

When Mitchell retired from the U.S. Senate in 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed him as his special adviser and secretary of state for economic initiatives in Ireland. Mitchell has worked for two years as chairman of the peace talks.

The President’s Distinguished Lecture Series, inaugurated in 1996, brings prominent men and women to USC to discuss significant issues of the day.

Man vs. Virus

Michael Lai

Molecular biologist Michael Lai has spent nearly three decades studying these tricky little parasites.

Are viruses alive? After more than 25 years of studying the tiny disease-carrying microbes, Michael Lai thinks so.

“Viruses are very intelligent. They can think. They do things that we do not expect. They adapt to the environment. They change themselves in order to survive,” says Lai, a professor of molecular microbiology and im-munology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Viruses that cause infection in humans hold a “key” that allows them to unlock normal molecules (called viral receptors) on a human cell surface and slip inside. Once in, they commandeer the cell’s nucleic acid and protein-making machinery so that more copies of the virus can be made.

Lai has long probed how these tricky parasites work. He has been especially interested in RNA viruses, which carry their genetic blueprints in what scientists have long considered a “flimsy coin.” Because of the way RNA is copied, it is more prone to mistakes in the genetic code and, unlike DNA, the new copy of RNA is never proofread and corrected.

Recently, Lai has shifted much of his research efforts to the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C, an RNA virus that attacks liver cells, spreads mainly through blood products and intimate sexual contact. Some four million Americans are believed to be chronic carriers of the virus, and about 20 percent of these will go on to develop more serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and cancer.

The virus was only identified in 1989, and there’s still much about it that is unknown. “Receptors are an important part of the story of how viruses cause infection,” Lai says. “But we don’t know what receptor hepatitis C uses to get into the cell.”

What’s more, no one knows how to grow hepatitis C in the lab. That means that any research on how the virus replicates in cells is incredibly difficult.

However, Lai and his research group have managed to study the function of some of the viral genes. They have discovered that one of the hepatitis C viral proteins binds to a few key players in the human immune system, members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family.

Lai suspects that this may help explain how the virus is able to escape the im-mune system’s attack and so can develop into a chronic infection in many patients. It may also explain how the virus damages the liver and causes hepatitis.

After all these years, studying viruses’ shifty ways continues to leave Lai with a sense of amazement. Part of this comes from their ability to shuffle genes as deftly as some genetic engineers can.

“Viruses can pick up pieces of cellular genes or incorporate their genes into the cell’s genome,” he says. “That means that evolution occurs all the time in viruses. It’s a very dynamic process – that’s why I always feel that the viruses are alive.”

•Eva Emerson

Honey, was that the USC Logo on the Space Shuttle?

Tens of thousands of Trojans probably wondered if their eyes were playing tricks on them as they watched the evening news early last November.

But it was no illusion. While astronaut/ senator John Glenn may have been the center of attention inside the space shuttle Discovery, back in the baggage compartment, USC ruled.

The spectacular view from the opened cargo bay doors, with Earth shimmering in the background, is often seen in televised images from shuttle flights. This time, though, the onboard camera also captured a great big USC logo emblazoned across a large white cylinder.

The eye-catching cylinder contained the Solar Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker-3 instrument package, designed and assembled at USC’s Space Sciences Center to measure the sun’s extreme ultraviolet (EUV) radiation. The goal was to learn more about the photochemistry produced by the sunlight absorbed in the atmospheres of planets, comets and other celestial bodies, according to project manager Donald R. McMullin.

The shuttle also carried a complementary package from the University of Arizona to measure the EUV light reflected by the planet Jupiter. Together, the Arizona and USC instruments measured what goes into the giant planet’s atmosphere and what comes out.

• Bob Calverley

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Prof. Michael A. Arbib
Photo by Irene Fertik

Neuroscientists are looking at “mirror neurons” – found in both primate and human brains – as a possible missing link in the evolution of language.

You’ve heard the old saying, “Monkey see, monkey do.” New research now indicates that the two activities are intimately linked – and that seemingly mundane insight may offer a stunning explanation of the origin of human speech.

Long before their throats were capable of speech, pre-human primates had the brain power to process gestural communication. So say computer scientist/biologist Michael A. Arbib and the University of Parma’s Giacomo Rizzolatti.

Indeed, the scientists claim they’ve identified the neural circuit responsible for the ancient gestural communication system used by our earliest ancestors. The team published its findings in a recent issue of the journal Trends in Neuroscience.

The communication system depends on so-called “mirror neurons.” Located in the premotor cortex, just in front of the motor cortex, these cells represent, according to Arbib, a mechanism for recognizing the meaning of others’ actions.

Rizzolatti first noticed mirror cells several years ago in an experiment to determine which neurons fire whenever a monkey grasps an object. Many neurons in the premotor cortex became active when a monkey performed a single task, say tearing or grasping. But the mirror neurons were special – they also fired if the monkey witnessed another monkey (or a human!) making the same moves.

Arbib calls this mechanism the pre-requisite for speech.

“For communication to succeed, both the individual sending a message and the individual receiving it must recognize the significance of the sender’s signal. Mirror neurons are thus the missing link in the evolution of language. They provide a mechanism for the sharing of meaning.”

Do humans have a similar system? Using positron emission tomography (PET) scans to study human subjects as they executed and observed certain hand movements, the researchers did indeed find a similar neural circuit located in Broca’s area – the part of the human brain believed responsible for speech.

These findings support the theory that human speech evolved from an ancient gestural communication system rather than vocal communication evolving directly, as some scientists have speculated.

Analysis of fossil skulls suggests that, as the primate brain evolved, it was building a language mechanism even before there was a larynx capable of articulating speech. While monkeys and other non-human primates continue to lack the vocal hardware needed to articulate speech, they do have the brain circuits needed for simple communication.

“Monkey vocalizations are limited to calls and screeches, but they are able to communicate via a repertoire of oral-facial actions” such as tooth chattering and lip smacking, Arbib says. “The interesting point is that it is the oro-facial gestures, not the vocalizations, that link to the monkey’s ‘pre-Broca’s area.’ ”

Arbib and Rizzolatti are now charting the evolutionary steps that led from mirror neurons to human language.

A Creek Runs Through it

Architecture Professor Robert Harris
Photo by Debra DiPaolo

Robert Harris and a group of undergraduate architecture students spent a semester studying how Culver City could make better use of Ballona Creek. Culver City officials still refer to it as “that dam concept.” Scornful as that may sound, local politicians were actually delighted with USC architecture professor Robert Harris and his students’ scheme to capitalize on the city’s location along the banks of Ballona Creek.

So much so that council mem-bers last month adopted some of the plan’s key concepts, such as damming the creek – a paved branch of the Los Angeles River that’s dry for most of the year.

“It’s time for Culver City to take a leadership role in saying this resource can’t be wasted, and Dr. Harris and his students have helped us think about what that could be,” said Culver City mayor Sandra Levin.

The proposal was the outgrowth of a class project for Architecture 402, a required undergraduate course for majors. The dozen students enrolled in the course dug up the history of Ballona Creek, researched other cities on waterways (Paris, Venice), canvassed Culver City residents, consulted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and extensively walked, poked and photo-graphed the creek and its environs.

The vision they ended up with is less reminiscent of St. Petersburg than San Luis Obispo.

“While the students wanted to orient more of the town’s life around the river,” Harris says, “they realized that too much development would never be appropriate since the creek is adjacent to numerous residential neighborhoods.”

So they settled for making the creek, which was once the community’s life blood, a civic focal point once again.

The area’s first human inhabitants – Los Gabriel-enos, the Gabrieleno Indians – used to hunt and camp along the arroyo.

Later, Thomas Ince de-cided to establish his Culver Studios there, so that he could use the picturesquely meandering Ballona Creek as a backdrop for movies. But the stream lost a good bit of its charm in 1935, when the U.S. Corps of Engineers decided to line it with concrete in res-ponse to perpetual flooding problems.

“Instead of feeling the presence of water, what you see now is concrete walls with a somewhat scruffy bottom,” says Harris, a longtime champion of the Los Angeles River.

“There’s a bike path. But it could be so much more. It’s a wasted linear park.”

Among other things, the students called for adding restaurants and specialty stores by the creek; establishing parks along its shores; supplementing the bike path on the north side with a corresponding bike path on the south side; and studding the concrete embankment with planted trees, flowers and grasses.

Perhaps the most audacious proposal calls for installing two inflatable dams in the culvert at either end of the city. During the rainy season, the dams would trap water that otherwise runs to the Pacific, creating a sort of canal. Similar dams are employed on less conspicuous stretches of the Los Angeles River.

“There might be boats and canoes,” says Harris. “It could be really wonderful.”

But wouldn’t damming the culvert put residents on either bank at risk for floods during heavy rains?

“If there’s a lot of water coming downstream, you can deflate the dams by pulling the plug,” Harris says. “The water would pass through and head for the ocean.”

City officials determined that any recommendations that threaten the residential character of the creek would be a hard sell to residents, but they were enthusiastic about ideas to improve the waterway’s appearance.

In all, the city council adopted seven long-range goals reflecting recommendations by Harris and his students. Those included making incremental improvements that “will facilitate eventual res-toration of Ballona Creek as a natural waterway and as a linear park.”

Council members also agreed in principle to create a network of open spaces for pedestrians and cyclists along the river. The council even decided to investigate the students’ most adventuresome recommendation – damming the creek.

Harris, at his most sanguine, sees the project as a testbed for what could happen elsewhere on the Los Angeles River.

“Right now it’s just a promise,” he says. “But this may ultimately prove to be a kind of demonstration for recapturing the opportunities of our waterways.”

• Meg Sullivan

Personal Best

Suzy Kim

Medical student Suzy Kim faces her daily challenges with strength and optimism.

One day at the beach was all it took to turn Suzy Kim’s life upside down.

A year ago, she was a third-year medical student at USC with a bright career ahead. Then a freak accident put her whole future in jeopardy.

On a visit to Laguna Beach in November 1997, while she was body surfing with friends, Kim was swept up by a wave and slammed headfirst into a sandbar. In the aftermath, she retained feeling in her lower body, but her spine had been badly injured and doctors predicted she would be a quadriplegic. When her mother died from cancer a short time later, Kim faced deep depression and an uncertain future.

But despair isn’t Suzy Kim’s style.

She tackled the dilemma as she would a marathon, throwing herself into a tough, painful regimen of physical therapy that continues to this day. Within months she had regained full use of her hands and arms and some use of the muscles in her back and abdomen.

She has learned to walk with braces and a walker. And in the fall, she returned to her studies at the School of Medicine.

She also found herself fighting her insurance provider. The company refused to cover the cost of her wheelchair. After a lengthy letter-writing and telephone campaign, Kim emerged victorious.

And she got more than a wheelchair for her efforts: she also gained valuable insight into the patient’s side of health care that, she says, will ultimately make her a better physician.

“It’s been a very eye-opening experience. I hope to help patients in that way, to be more of an advocate.

“I definitely gained a whole different perspective and new insight on what it means to be a doctor,” she says. “I wish that was something they taught in medical school, but unfortunately I think it’s something most people learn on their own.”

After a long – and painful – day in her wheelchair, Kim looks forward to her nightly workouts. Because she didn’t lose feeling in her lower body, she ends each day with aches and tingles akin to what you’d feel after riding in a car for 10 hours.

But she faces the daily challenges with stamina and optimism.

“It’s all relative,” she says. “My problem isn’t any bigger than anyone else’s problem. The way a person is defined is how she reacts to the situation. Sure, there are times when I want to dig a hole and disappear. But I’m not ready to go down without a fight.

“It’s not like I have a broken arm and there’s a clear-cut prognosis,” she says. “But there are people with similar injuries who are walking now. That’s the hill I’m climbing. It’s like I’m an athlete preparing for a race. I’m preparing for the day my body recovers.”

•Phil Davis

A Way with Words

Books Photography by Rick Szczechowski

Novelist Percival Everett, who joined USC’s English department this fall, has a shelf-full of books to his credit.

• An obese bureaucrat, the last woman capable of bearing a child in a post-apocalyptic age.
• A disillusioned hydrologist swept up in a violent Indian rights movement while fishing in Colorado.
• A 19th-century cowpoke traveling through frontier society.
• An embittered obstetrician vacationing in Oregon.
• Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and pleasure.

What do all these characters have in common?

They are all dramatis personae from the fertile imagination of Percival Everett, who joined USC’s English department faculty this fall, a faculty that includes such luminaries as fellow novelist T. Cora-ghessan Boyle and poets David St. John and Carol Muske-Dukes.

With nine novels and two collections of stories to his credit, Everett has developed a reputation as a wordsmith. One critic describes him as a lyrical writer, whose “stark and sometimes powerful prose” leaves a lasting impression. His 1994 book God’s Country drew measured praise from the New York Times: “[The novel] starts sour, then abruptly turns into Cowpoke Absurdism, ending with an acute hallucination of blood, hate and magic. It’s worth the wait. The novel sears.”

Heartening as such reviews are, they rarely lead to runaway sales. “I’ve never had a bestseller, and I’m not going to have one,” Everett augurs. “I watch our culture, and I see what sells. That’s not what I write. I do make demands on the reader.”

Maybe Everett’s serious writing hasn’t led to a vast audience, but it has brought such prestigious awards as the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature (for his 1996 story collection Big Picture) and the New American Writing Award (for his 1990 novel Zulus). He has served as a judge for, among others, the 1997 National Book Award for fiction and the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1991.

Born and raised in Columbia, S.C., Everett spent a childhood “filled with books,” he says. As an undergraduate at the University of Miami, majoring in philosophy and biochemistry, he discovered the writings of early 20th-century analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein held that most philosophical problems were semantic – misunderstandings caused by imprecise language.

“I was seduced completely by Wittgenstein,” Everett says. “He still informs my way of thinking. The root for me is matters of language.”

After Miami, Everett signed up for the graduate writing program at Brown University. His first novel – the widely praised Suder – followed closely upon graduation. A Brown professor sent Everett’s manuscript to an agent, who elicited quick enthusiasm from Viking Press. The book has since been reprinted by the Louisiana State University Press.

Everett began teaching his craft in 1985, as a visiting professor at the University of Kentucky. He has since been on the faculty of Notre Dame and UC Riverside.

Today, he lives with his wife, Francesca Rochberg – a professor of ancient history at UC Riverside – and two step-children on a small farm at the eastern edge of Moreno Valley. In this bucolic setting, Everett writes, or thinks about writing, every day. Consumed as he is with his muse, he has moments of doubt about the future of the novel. “It’s not a terribly old form,” he says. “It’s a little frightening to think that it wasn’t that long ago that it didn’t exist, and there might be a time when it doesn’t exist again.”

This, however, doesn’t deter him. “It makes my job as an artist more challenging,” he says. “If part of the mission of the artist is to expand the thinking of the culture in which he exists, I have my work cut out for me.”

•Ed Newton

In Print

Giving Harry Hell

Book Photography by Rick Szczechowski

Harry S. Truman and the News Media: Contentious Relations, Belated Respect by Franklin D. Mitchell University of Missouri Press, 1998, $34.95

The greatest crowd of spectators in Omaha’s history – an estimated 160,000 people – gathered June 5, 1948, to get a glimpse of Harry S. Truman as he marched through town in a parade. Yet when Life magazine reported on Truman’s “whistle stop” tour, it highlighted the “acres of empty seats” in the city’s 10,000-seat Ak-sar-ben auditorium, where Truman appeared later on.

“Of course the auditorium wasn’t full,” says USC historian Franklin Dean Mitchell. “Much of Omaha had already seen Truman earlier in the day.”

The slight is part of a pattern that, according to the Truman scholar, explains the Chicago Tribune’s infamous post-election headline: “Dewey De-feats Truman.”

In Harry S. Truman and the News Media, Mit-chell attributes what he calls “the greatest miscalled election in journalistic history” neither to a race too close to call, nor a fickle electorate.

“The 1948 upset was the result of a deliberate bias on the part of the news media against the man,” he contends, arguing that Time, Life and Fortune owner Henry R. Luce, newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick unleashed their considerable media might in an effort to break a 16-year Democratic lock on the White House.

They were so successful in belittling Truman and his chances of being re-elected that they ended up blinding much of the mainstream press to the candidate’s mounting popularity in the late summer and fall of 1948.

“The book shows how truly vulnerable a president can be to a smear campaign,” Mitchell says. “But it also shows that the real victim of biased reporting is the press itself and the interests of the public. Had the campaign of vilification succeeded, the voters would have been cheated of what history now considers one of our top 10 presidents of all time.”

When Truman assumed the presidency after Roosevelt died a scant 82 days into his fourth term, the man from Independence won high marks for drawing World War II to a close. But shortly thereafter, the president launched a 21-point liberal agenda that infuriated the three media titans.

“Hearst, who operated a dozen big-city newspapers that reached 9.1 percent of the nation’s readers on a daily basis and 16.1 percent on Sundays, faulted FDR’s successor for continuing the New Deal and other FDR policies,” Mitchell says. The others followed suit.

The Chicago Tribune headline is the blunder that sticks in people’s memories because of a photograph taken on the day after the election. “Truman ensured that the erroneous headline would be immortalized by posing for photographers with a copy of the newspaper,” Mitchell says.

“The photograph’s circulation exceeded the Tribune’s limited, recalled edition by several million.”

•Meg Sullivan

Surviving Modern Medicine: How to Get the Best From Doctors, Family & Friends
by Peter Clarke and Susan H. Evans Rutgers University Press, $17

This how-to guide focuses on practical steps consumers can take to improve the quality of care they receive. Peter Clarke, professor of preventive medicine and communication, and Susan H. Evans, a research scientist at USC’s Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, identify the five areas critical to effective medical care: getting your doctor to pay attention, making the best and most informed medical decisions, seeking the right kind of support from family and friends, appreciating the caregiver and protecting choices in critical-care situations.

The English Department: A Personal and Institutional History
by W. Ross Winterowd Southern Illinois University Press, $19.95

W. Ross Winterowd brings 40 years of service in his discipline to this subject – a history of English studies in the university since the Enlightenment. “One curse of being in English,” he writes, “is the obligation to read impeccable, dull scholarly articles and impeccable, dull scholarly books.” He claims that humor, wit, and grace are compatible with sound scholarship and flawless reasoning – and he imbues this volume with all those elements.

The Exceptional Individual: Achieving Business Success One Person at a Time
by Peter Engel St. Martin’s Press, $22.95

Peter Engel, professor of entrepreneurial studies, is a former top Colgate-Palmolive executive who offers step-by-step advice and techniques for success. Engel contends there are no principles of business structure that ensure success, and that consultants who claim they have the answers are wrongheaded at best, fraudulent at worst. He maintains that excellence in business begins and ends with those rare individuals who are able to carry a new idea forward and get it realized.

The Tenderest Trojan

14-year old student Natasha Lewis
photo by Debra Dipaolo

Meet Natashia Lewis. A sophomore double-majoring in biology and chemistry: courageous, skillful, ambitious, she exhibits all the Trojan virtues.

Yadda, yadda. So what makes Lewis so special?

Oh, yeah. She’s only 14 years old – the youngest USC student on record.

At a time when others her age are making the dubious acquaintance of the Pythagorean theorem, Lewis is cozying up to quantum mechanics and chaos theory. As her peers-in-years stand poised at the threshold of the brave new world of high school, Lewis stands shoulder-to-shoulder in lectures, labs, discussions and exams with classmates old enough to vote, drink and go to war.

But she isn’t the least bit intimidated. This is a girl who, at the age of 12, scored 1300 on her SATs. It’s been obvious for years that she’s extraordinary.

“Everybody was pretty proud when I entered college, but it really wasn’t that much of a shock,” she says. “It was already expected.” Lewis’ academic gift was evident from the age of 2, when she could already recognize words and begin to spell. By 3, the toddler was reading at the second- or third-grade level. Enrolled in a highly gifted program at Walter Reed Junior High School in Studio City, Calif., Lewis sped through the curriculum. By age 11, she’d completed algebra. A year later, she had nailed trigonometry, pre-calculus, geometry and physics.

Seeing that secondary school held little challenge for her daughter, Lewis’ mom, Vivian, successfully lobbied officials in Sacramento to grant the precocious eighth-grader a high school diploma and let her go straight to college.

Lewis had set her sights on USC. She had the grades, the scores and the diploma to get in. But she still needed to prove she had the maturity. “Before I would be allowed to enter USC, officials wanted me to do a year at another university to see how the socialization issues would go,” she says.

So last year she entered Cal State Los Angeles as a freshman, and ended up on the National Dean’s List, an honor reserved for the top half percent of the nation’s college students.

Even then, Lewis recalls, “there was still a lot of persuading I had to do.” But mother and daughter prevailed, and this fall Lewis got the green light to enter USC – with some provisos. University officials, for example, wouldn’t permit the 14-year-old sophomore to live on campus. Too young to drive, Lewis rides to school with her mother (or one of her aunts) from the family’s San Fernando Valley home. While Lewis attends classes, her mother (a substitute teacher) whiles away the time at the library, in one of Exposition Park’s museums or at a lecture on campus.

As for the wisdom-seeking wunderkind herself, she isn’t wasting any time. A full-time undergraduate, she plans to ultimately earn M.D. and Ph.D. degrees with the goal of becoming a medical research scientist.

Contrary to stereotypes about maladjusted prodigies, Lewis has had little difficulty fitting in socially as well as academically.

“Everybody treats me as any other student,” she says. “I have received a warm reception from everyone.”

Though life is more complicated for Lewis than for most 14-year-olds, she makes time to pursue normal youthful interests: she swims, plays the piano and violin, watches TV and likes to go to movies.

“It’s not like studying is all I do,” she says. “Nobody has forced me to do things I don’t want to do. I’m always my own age. I’m an average 14-year-old.”

• Diane Krieger


Film industry executive Richard W. Cook ’72, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group and president-elect of the USC Alumni Association, has joined USC’s Board of Trustees. Cook – a 28-year Disney veteran who began his career in 1970 as a ride operator at Disneyland – was president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution from 1988 to 1998. In that position, he oversaw the theatrical distribution of all motion pictures released under the Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures banners. He also served as president of worldwide marketing and distribution for the Walt Disney Co.

Neurosurgeon Michael L. J. Apuzzo has received the Olivecrona Award from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, presented to individuals who have made an important and influential contribution to the field of neurosurgery. Established in 1986 and named after Herbert Olivecrona, one of the fathers of modern neurosurgery, the Olivecrona Award is traditionally presented at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden’s national center for research and higher education in medicine. Its reputation is such that Nobel Prize laureates in medicine or physiology are selected by the Karolinska’s Nobel assembly. Apuzzo holds the Edwin M. Todd-Trent H. Wells Jr., Professorship in Neurological Surgery and is
professor of radiation oncology, biology and physics.

Sociologist Vern Bengtson, who specializes in intergenerational research and aging, has received the Earnest W. Burgess Award, the National Council on Family Relations’ top prize for research. This gives him a “triple crown” in gerontology, since in recent years he has nabbed his field’s two other big prizes, the Kleemeier Award, the Gerontology Society of America’s top honor (1997) and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Aging (1996). For Bengtson, receiving the award that is named after Earnest W. Burgess, the council’s founder and former president, has special meaning, because Burgess was his teacher at the University of Chicago as a graduate student. Bengtson is the AARP/University Professor of Sociology and Gerontology at USC.

Martin L. Levine, an expert on law and aging, has been named USC’s vice provost for faculty and minority affairs. In this position, he will work closely with the provost on faculty appointments, promotion and tenure, faculty policies, training and development programs, and the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities. Levine is the university’s UPS Foundation Professor of Law and Gerontology and holds joint professorial appointments in the USC schools of law, gerontology and medicine. As vice provost for faculty and minority affairs, he succeeds Barbara J. Solomon, who will return to her faculty role in the School of Social Work.

Being Jewish in the West

Top stories on USC News