USC Academic Honors Convocation: President Carol Folt with student honorees

President Carol Folt (center) and Provost Andrew T. Guzman (front right) pose with student honorees at Tuesday’s Academic Honors Convocation. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)


USC Academic Honors Convocation recognizes scholarly standouts

Leading faculty members and students are honored at the university’s premier academic event.

April 04, 2024 By USC News staff

USC’s standout scholars — faculty members and students — were in the spotlight Tuesday night at the university’s Academic Honors Convocation. The annual event highlights the fact that USC is, above all else, a community of scholars.

USC President Carol Folt told the crowd in the Town and Gown ballroom on the University Park Campus that she is inspired by all the students and faculty who are “expanding that personal search for meaning to include something very important: benefiting humanity.”

“I’m looking at a roomful of multihyphenates,” she said.

She went on to talk about three of the outstanding scholars being honored, noting the broad range of their work and expertise: “We have an undergraduate who helps care for refugees in the Mexico and the Middle East; a PhD student addressing online misinformation and toxicity, who’s coming up with solutions society needs; and a Grammy-nominated faculty member giving generations of musicians the backbeat for their own beautiful music.”

Vice Provost for the Arts Josh Kun presented Professor Robert Townsend of the USC School of Cinematic Arts with the USC Associates Award for Artistic Expression. Townsend, a director, writer, producer and actor, exclaimed “Yes!” when his name was called, and then danced his way up to receive his award. (Folt joked later that she wanted all honorees to make their way to the stage in the same manner.)

The ballroom was filled with faculty, students, families and guests, while some honorees attended remotely. Among those were Giancarlo Ceja, the first Trojan in more than a decade to receive a Luce Scholarship, intended to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. Ceja is currently in Australia, studying how the climate crisis affects marginalized communities, and will continue his work as an intern at the White House this summer.

USC Academic Honors Convocation: President Folt with faculty
President Carol Folt poses with faculty members during Tuesday’s Academic Honors Convocation. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Also attending remotely was Lisa Tchitchkan, who is one of USC’s two 2024 salutatorians as well as a Phi Beta Kappa honoree. She helped create Trojan Health Interpretation Services, a volunteer organization that trains medical translators and assists patients in overcoming language barriers that can hinder health care.

Tchitchkan’s fellow salutatorian, James D. McColl III, attended in person. A passionate advocate for his USC and Los Angeles communities, McColl has founded two nonprofit organizations: the USC Theater Showcase Group, which raises money for local arts programs, and USC PROS, which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs.

USC’s 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, was also recognized. Tabassum, who is graduating with a major in biomedical engineering a minor in resistance to genocide, has studied how technology, immigration and literacy affect the type of medical care people receive. She has also been an advocate for the community through her service with the Muslim Student Union and the Mobile Clinic at USC.

Gaurav Sukhatme, the director of the new USC School of Advanced Computing, was presented with the Provost’s Mentoring Award. USC Provost Andrew T. Guzman praised Sukhatme for his strategic approach to mentorship that has led to a more inclusive faculty within the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“He has helped double the number of women on the computer science tenure track and has helped researchers at USC’s Information Sciences Institute embrace their roles as teachers,” Guzman said.

The provost also presented faculty lifetime achievement awards to retired faculty members Alexander M. Capron, Kelvin J. A. Davies, Edward E. Lawler III and Jean Chen Shih, whose work he said contributed to “our university, our community and our world.” Guzman joked that the first two had worked with him — but that wasn’t a requirement to receive the honor.

When all the awards were presented, Folt said she felt “incredible pride” in the students and faculty who were honored. She said she feels inspired and filled with “hope and belief” that the world will be a better place because of the scholarship, dedication and creativity of USC faculty and students.

The complete list of faculty and students honored Tuesday follows.

Faculty members honored at USC Academic Honors Convocation

Distinguished Professors: Awarded very selectively to those whose accomplishments have brought special renown to USC.

  • Ricky N. Bluthenthal
  • Sofia Gruskin
  • G. K. Surya Prakash
  • Gale M. Sinatra

University Professors: Awarded based on multidisciplinary interests and significant accomplishments in several disciplines.

  • Dana P. Goldman
  • Petros Ioannou
  • Peter Kuhn

Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award: Awarded to a very select number of retired faculty at the annual Academic Honors Convocation, the USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes eminent careers and notable contributions to the university, the profession and the community.

  • Alexander M. Capron
  • Kelvin J. A. Davies
  • Edward E. Lawler III
  • Jean Chen Shih

Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award: Founded in 1897, Phi Kappa Phi is the oldest interdisciplinary honor society at USC.

  • Christina Dunbar-Hester
  • Nada M. Elbuluk
  • Joan Flores-Villalobos
  • Nayan Shah

Provost’s Mentoring Award: The Provost’s Mentoring Award honors an individual faculty member whose investment in and generosity toward the academic and professional success of other USC faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students or undergraduate students demonstrate exemplary mentoring.

  • K.R. Subramanyam
  • Gaurav S. Sukhatme

USC Associates Awards: The USC Associates Awards are the highest honors the university faculty bestows upon its members for distinguished intellectual and artistic achievements and for outstanding teaching, both in and out of the classroom.

Creativity in Research and Scholarship

  • Viktor Prasanna
  • Nomi Stolzenberg

Excellence in Teaching

  • Antonio Elefano
  • Jo Marie Reilly

Artistic Expression

  • Patrice Rushen
  • Robert Townsend

Students honored at USC Academic Honors Convocation

Class of 2024 valedictorian and salutatorians: At USC, it is the custom to name one student to serve as the university valedictorian and one or more students to serve as university salutatorian. The USC selection process recognizes the very highest levels of academic achievement, but it is also more holistic and takes into consideration service and leadership as well.

  • Valedictorian: Asna Tabassum
  • Salutatorians: James D. McColl III, Elizabeth Tchitchkan

Phi Kappa Phi Student Recognition Award: Founded in 1897, Phi Kappa Phi is the oldest interdisciplinary honor society at USC. It recognizes scholarship and awards prizes annually to graduate and undergraduate students for creative and scholarly achievements.

  • Sinan Kircova
  • Amelia Marvit
  • Nations
  • Chenchen Zhao

Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Awards: Devoted to liberal learning in arts and sciences, Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776, presents two undergraduate awards to honor creativity, scholarship and leadership in faculty-student community relations.

  • Bryneé A. Evans
  • Laura R.J. Findlay
  • Gaveen Godage
  • Sarra Hussien
  • Elizabeth Tchitchkan

Rockwell Dennis Hunt Award: Awarded to an alumna or alumnus of USC who is pursuing a graduate or professional degree at the university and who is most representative of the Trojan Family’s traditions and values.

  • Natalie Khalil

University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award: Awarded to three graduate teaching assistants — from diverse areas such as the natural sciences and engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts — who have exhibited consistent excellence in the classroom and thus symbolize the university’s dedication to the education of scholar-teachers.

  • Yael Findler
  • Katerina Giannoutsou
  • Tiara Wilson

PhD Achievement Award: Awarded for doctoral student achievement.

  • Mohamad Awada
  • Ravi R. Bhatt
  • Julie Jiang
  • Yingyi Lin
  • Romi Ron Morrison
  • Maritza E. Salazar

Truman Scholar: A highly competitive and prestigious scholarship for college juniors who have outstanding leadership potential, plan to pursue careers in public service, and wish to attend graduate school in the U.S. or abroad to prepare for their careers.

  • Michael T. Solomon

Schwarzman Scholar: The Schwarzman Scholars program is designed to prepare its graduates to build stronger relationships between China and a rapidly changing world and to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st Century.

  • Amina Shafeek-Horton

Luce Scholar: The Luce Scholars Program is a national fellowship program in 1974 to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society.

  • Giancarlo Ceja