USC President Nikias honored for university’s diversity efforts

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association presents its 2016 Diversity Award

March 22, 2016 Eric Abelev

USC President C. L. Max Nikias was honored at Monday’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association Annual Conference and ECExpo, receiving the organization’s 2016 Diversity Award at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines.

The award is given to an organization or individual whose proactive efforts increase cultural, ethnic and gender diversity within the Electrical and Computer Engineering student body and among ECE faculty. Nikias’ recognition was based on his efforts to boost diversity across USC’s student population.

“We are pleased to recognize President Nikias’ leadership in recruiting a talented and diverse student and faculty body,” said Zhihua Qu, the association’s awards committee chair and chair of the ECE Department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “USC’s accomplishments establish a blueprint for creating greater diversity within electrical and computer engineering — and well beyond.”

Boosting aid, increasing diversity

As a result of focused efforts to boost financial aid and increase diversity campuswide, USC now ranks third among private American universities in total Pell Grant recipients. The university also ranks second among all private research universities in Latino students and third in African-American students.

“This recognition speaks to the important work our university has undertaken in increasing access for women, for underrepresented minorities and for those who come from challenging socioeconomic circumstances,” Nikias said, accepting the award in a ballroom filled with the nation’s foremost academic leaders in electrical and computer engineering.

Ultimately, the American research university, in order to succeed in its mission, needs to bring together the greatest minds, regardless of background.

C. L. Max Nikias

“Ultimately, the American research university, in order to succeed in its mission, needs to bring together the greatest minds, regardless of background. This is true for every academic discipline, and this is why diversity will always remain at the heart of what we stand for as an institution.”

Nikias was nominated for the Diversity Award by Stella Batalama, who chairs the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo), where Nikias earned both his master’s degree, in 1980, and PhD, in 1982.

“President Nikias has empowered people that historically did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education or to break down the barriers of gender and ethnicity in the STEM fields,” Batalama said in nominating Nikias. “This impact creates ripples stretching from the individual, to the department, to the school, to the university at large. This positive trend then carries into the greater community.”

Passing the torch

Nikias, who served as dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering from 2001-05, nurtured an environment that emphasized diversity. The torch has since been passed to USC Viterbi’s current dean, Yannis C. Yortsos, who has propelled the school to leadership in a number of diversity metrics. USC Viterbi currently ranks first for the most women in its graduate engineering programs. At the undergraduate level, women make up 35 percent of the school’s student body; the national average is 20 percent.

The school hosts a number of programs to encourage a climate of diversity and inclusion including Women in Science and Engineering program, the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Minority Engineering Graduate Association, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Queers in Engineering, Science and Technology (QuEST).

Prior to receiving the award, Nikias spoke to delegates during the daytime portion of the ECExpo about academic leadership in the 21st century. He drew on several lessons from the classics, in particular, Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, which he cited as one of the most important sources of inspiration that have shaped his own leadership style.