USC launches School of Advanced Computing
The new school, a key feature of USC President Carol Folt’s Frontiers of Computing “moonshot,” will act as a nexus for advanced computing research and education across the university.
USC President Carol Folt launched the university’s first new school in more than a decade: the USC School of Advanced Computing, a cornerstone of her $1 billion advanced computing initiative. The school seeks to educate all students, regardless of their major, in the ethical use of computing technology as part of the president’s Frontiers of Computing initiative.
Gaurav Sukhatme — a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering, and executive vice dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering — was appointed by Folt as the school’s inaugural director.
“Gaurav is a visionary with exceptional talent whose work is on the cutting edge of the explosive growth in technology and computing,” Folt said. “He is the ideal choice to lead this new, innovative school.”
Rooted in an interdisciplinary approach, the School of Advanced Computing, a unit of USC Viterbi, will serve as the hub for advanced computing research and education at USC. Here, engineers, scientists and professionals — from disciplines spanning the arts and humanities, business, health, sustainability and other areas — will harness the power of advanced computing to tackle society’s most pressing issues, from climate change to public health, with ethics at the core. Students from all USC schools will be able to take classes there.
► RELATED: Q&A with Director Gaurav Sukhatme of the USC School of Advanced Computing
The school is the keystone of the president’s USC Frontiers of Computing “moonshot,” a more than $1 billion initiative that supports ethical advancement in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing. The initiative was envisioned by Folt, who jumpstarted the effort with a university gift of $260 million from the Lord Foundation of California. This was aimed at advancing and expanding computing research and education across the university in a strategic, thoughtful way to transform USC’s future. In a letter announcing Sukhatme’s appointment, Folt said the initiative allows the Lord gift to have “a long-lasting impact and to be game-changing for our students and faculty.”
Frontiers of Computing intersects with other presidential moonshots such as health affairs, which encompasses health, economics and policy sciences, and biomedical research. The sustainability moonshot comprises the university’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and invigorate research across biological, chemical, earth, environmental and medical sciences; business and engineering innovation; and policy. Reimagining athletics is designed to provide best-in-class athletics programs for student-athletes on and off the field and includes revamped facilities.
FRONTIERS OF COMPUTING
See the full collection stories about USC’s Frontiers of Computing initiative.
Lastly, USC is rising as a prominent, competitive institution for world-class scientists and engineers; the development and innovation of drug therapies, devices and technologies; and the recruitment of students — a moonshot dubbed “USC Competes.”
The ranks of faculty at the new School of Advanced Computing are expanding. Thirty new faculty members will be appointed in priority areas by 2025; another 60 will have been recruited by 2030. While enhancing the educational and research opportunities attractive to undergraduate and graduate students, the addition of faculty will expand USC’s portfolio of intellectual property and widen its network of collaborators across academia and industry.
Under Frontiers of Computing, the university aims to provide all students with knowledge of advanced computing that informs their areas of study, regardless of discipline, with a high awareness of the benefits and implications of technology and ethical development.
“Because of our long history of achievement in computing at USC, our world-class scientists who are experts, entrepreneurs and inventors have a unique opportunity to give our students in all disciplines the awareness, knowledge and skills in computing that will change the world as we know it,” said Provost Andrew T. Guzman. “At USC, because of our extensive expertise in advanced computing, every student, regardless of what they are studying — humanities, law, business, education, film, to name a few — will be well-positioned for success.”
The launch of the School of Advanced Computing, the university’s 23rd school, comes at an auspicious time in the history of computer science and computer engineering, said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of USC Viterbi.
“The extraordinary advances in computing in recent years are revolutionizing our understanding and exploration of new phenomena, from the physical and chemical realms to the biological and social domains, paving the way for innovative solutions to grand challenge-like problems,” said Yortsos.
Yortsos also credited Folt as the catalyst who brought it all together, set the course and pushed it across the finish line. “The new School of Advanced Computing would not have been possible without President Folt’s innovative and creative vision,” Yortsos said. “It’s another bold step by the president to unite our strengths across the university to put us into a more globally competitive position.”
Folt offered her gratitude for all those who had joined her in making this possible, including Yortsos and Dean Geoffrey Garrett of the USC Marshall School of Business, who have been partners from the start.
“The beauty and the strength of this entire initiative,” Folt said, “is that it truly is a collective vision coalescing from participation from the hundreds of faculty across disciplines.
“This is yet another example of how USC, with its breadth and depth of talent, can come together to build groundbreaking programs,” Folt said.
“With this incredible team, this is only the beginning, and there is much more to come,” Folt said.
USC School of Advanced Computing: An intellectual nexus
Among its goals, the new school will drive ambitious cross-university initiatives in areas of education and research involving advanced computing, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and, more generally, data science.
The school’s academic offerings will include world-leading education programs in advanced computing for students and professionals across all disciplines and educational backgrounds. Additional programs, including graduate education programs in data science, will equip professionals in diverse fields, from health care to finance, to make informed, ethical data decisions.
“Software pioneer Marc Andreessen famously said a decade ago that software is eating the world. I would say that, in fact, computing is eating the world,” said Sukhatme.
“In this pivotal moment, the School of Advanced Computing signals USC’s mission to provide a digital backbone for education across the university and to pursue advanced research in all aspects of computing,” Sukhatme said. “From the design of new paradigms for artificial intelligence and machine learning to explorations in science, medicine, business, policy, law, the humanities and the arts — it is a tremendous honor and privilege to lead this initiative.”
A new flagship building opening this summer on the University Park Campus will enhance the school’s capabilities and offerings. The Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall, a 116,000-square-foot LEED Platinum-certified facility boasting open-plan labs and a state-of-the-art auditorium, will serve as a centralized hub for the USC computer science community and other experts from numerous disciplines across the university.
A bold plan
Operating as a “school-within-a-school” under USC Viterbi, the School of Advanced Computing consists of the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science, the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Division of Computing Education, which will incorporate the Information Technology Program.
- The new Division of Computing Education will provide advanced computing literacy to students with limited experience in computer science and engineering. It will comprise the existing Information Technology Program (which will be renamed) and a new, interdisciplinary graduate educational program in data science.
- New academic entities, called “Advanced Computing Affinity Groups,” will leverage strengths in advanced computing-related interdisciplinary activities across the university. Members of the affinity groups may have a primary academic home outside of the school.
- Funding from the Lord Foundation of California will support the hiring of up to 30 new faculty members in computer science and computer engineering, including members of the new affinity groups.
Building upon the individual departments’ long-standing reputation for excellence in research and education, the School of Advanced Computing will partner closely with USC Viterbi’s two powerhouse institutes, the Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey and the Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista.
USC School of Advanced Computing director’s deeply rooted ties
Sukhatme’s ties to USC are deeply rooted, extending back to his early days as a graduate student at the university. Sukhatme joined USC as a graduate student in 1991, received his PhD in computer science in 1997 and became a tenure-track professor in 2000.
A seasoned senior administrator, he brings a wealth of experience from previous leadership roles at the university, serving as the executive vice dean of USC Viterbi since 2017.
Between 2012 and 2017, he served as chair of the USC Department of Computer Science during one of its most rapid phases of expansion, which included the hiring of 20 new faculty, the launch of a new data science program and the restructuring of undergraduate and graduate programs.
Sukhatme is an internationally recognized expert in networked robotic systems, with a focus on environmental monitoring. He is a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and an Amazon Scholar.
In September, he was installed as the USC Donald M. Alstadt Chair of Advanced Computing at the naming ceremony of the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science.
► RELATED: Q&A with Director Gaurav Sukhatme of the USC School of Advanced Computing