Message to USC Ambassadors – December 2018
I would like to begin this month’s letter with my warmest wishes for the coming year, and the hope that 2019 brings you and your loved ones health, happiness, and joy. The holiday season is always special at USC, as we spend more time with those close to us. At the beginning of the season, more than 700 students enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal at McCarthy Honors College. To mark the first day of Chanukah, I spoke at the lighting of the menorah, and we had a special ceremony at the heart of campus, near Tommy Trojan. Meanwhile, throughout the season, my husband, Wade, and I have been greeting guests at events, shaking hands, and receiving hugs in return. It has been a privilege to lead this community, and I thank you for your continued support as we head into a new year.
Visiting our Family of Schools
Since beginning my tenure as interim president, I have made a point of visiting some of the schools in our McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program. This pre-college enrichment program partners with sixth–twelfth grade students near our two campuses, and prepares them for college admission and college success. NAI has a remarkable 100 percent college acceptance rate, and a 99 percent college attendance rate.
As part of my outreach, I spoke to parents and students at the NAI Saturday Academy near our Health Sciences Campus. This was an opportunity to thank the parents for supporting their children, and for helping ensure that these young students receive the very best education they can to prepare for college. In my remarks, I described my own experience as a first-generation college student. Similar to the students in our NAI program, I was fortunate to have parents and teachers who believed in my potential—and it made a tremendous difference. In addition to the Saturday Academy, I visited students and teachers at 32nd Street Elementary and El Sereno Middle School.
Dana Gioia, the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Culture at USC, is drawing his tenure as California’s poet laureate to a close, and our local NPR affiliate interviewed him during one of his well-known road trips. (He visited every one of our state’s 58 counties at least once during his time as poet laureate). During the interview, Professor Gioia spoke of the importance of reaching younger people, and inspiring them to appreciate the power of poetry. “If you can reach one or two kids, help clarify their existence… maybe a couple of others you get to take their English classes or school more seriously… That is a huge victory.” His words capture the wonderful spirit he brought to his work as poet laureate.
Continuing on the subject of faculty accolades, the USC community recently celebrated a number of national academy inductees. Professor Yang Chai at our Ostrow School of Dentistry was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, while the National Academy of Inventors welcomed Professor Ellis Meng of our Viterbi School of Engineering and University Professor Michael Waterman of our Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. As an additional point of pride, Professor Meng became the first USC woman to join the National Academy of Inventors.
Trojans fight on!
Outside the classroom, we were all thrilled that USC men’s water polo won its tenth NCAA championship earlier this month. This marked the team’s 14th consecutive NCAA final and capped a remarkable 30-win season. Overall, this stands as USC’s 130th national title, as well as a special distinction for head coach Jovan Vavic. Under his guidance, the USC men’s and women’s water polo programs have earned 16 national titles—more than any USC coach in history.
Meanwhile, Caryl Smith Gilbert, USC’s director of track and field, was named 2018 USATF Nike Coach of the Year. This is a wonderful and well-deserved honor on her part. We all still recall the breathtaking 4×400 relay race that clinched the NCAA outdoor track and field championship for our Trojan women, as well as the gritty, come-from-behind final lap from Kendall Ellis. Whenever I mention that race in one of my speeches, the Trojans in the audience immediately cheer. Many raise their phones, and tell me they have it saved for quick viewing and sharing!
This is the love so many of us have for USC. May this love carry us through 2019. Wade and I wish you a very happy new year. As always, Fight On!
Wanda M. Austin