University of Southern California

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Message to USC Ambassadors – November 2018

The spirit of our Trojan Family shines even brighter during times of adversity, and I was so heartened to see how we came together in the wake of the Thousand Oaks shooting and the devastating fires that have broken out across California.  So many members of our community live in areas that have been impacted, while nearly all of us have a loved one, family member, or friend who suffered loss.  Our support resources worked quickly to reach out to those who were affected, while others have continued to contact us as the scope of the disaster became clearer.  The result has been a collective response marked by compassion, caring, and love.  There is still difficult work to do, but we will face it together as Trojans.

USC Shoah Foundation strengthens

This year’s Shoah Foundation gala was a wonderful tribute to the institute’s mission, as well as the vision of its founder, USC Trustee Steven Spielberg, and his wife, Kate Capshaw.  Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were recognized for their longstanding dedication to humanitarian causes and their support of veterans, while educator Ivy Schamis received special recognition.  On the day of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Ms. Schamis was teaching her Holocaust studies class.  To this day, she stands as a model of courage and compassion in the face of hatred and intolerance.

The USC Shoah Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and recently unveiled its expanded home on the top floor of USC’s Leavey Library.  The new office covers the entire fourth floor, doubling the space for the USC Libraries and USC Dornsife to work collaboratively to advance the foundation’s mission.  The institute contains 55,000 testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, making it the world’s largest visual history archive of its kind.

Empowering women entrepreneurs

Earlier this month, more than 500 women entrepreneurs gathered at USC to share ideas, network, and learn from each other.  The daylong event—known as the Athena Summit—drew a number of speakers, including Gwyneth Paltrow, actor and CEO of GOOP.  Dean Willow Bay of USC Annenberg interviewed Ms. Paltrow, and I had the privilege of speaking to the group, as well.  This was another example of USC schools coming together to create a very special event, as the program relied on the efforts of USC Marshall and its Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, as well as our Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  In my remarks, I noted that USC is a particularly appropriate host: this year, USC Marshall became the first major U.S. school to reach gender parity in its full-time M.B.A. program.

Trojans of esports

The Los Angeles Times recently featured an excellent story on USC’s new varsity esports program.  USC alumni co-founded the League of Legends team, which is the most public face of a larger organization known as the Esports Union.  The initiative derives from the university’s renowned game design program, which brings together talent from both our School of Cinematic Arts and Viterbi School of Engineering.

Change at USC

Regarding our ongoing efforts to promote culture change at the university, we formally launched the President’s Culture Commission, which is comprised of students, faculty, and staff, representing a broad range of perspectives.  Meanwhile, the Task Force on Workplace Standards and Employee Wellness recently provided well-considered ideas for culture improvement at USC.  Following one of its initial recommendations, we will conduct a university-wide values assessment.  We will share the results with our entire community, and this process will help us identify where we should focus our efforts moving forward.  We will continue to post our progress at

My husband, Wade, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.


Wanda M. Austin
Interim President