Wanda Austin at convocation
President’s Page

The Trojan Family Means Caring Mentorship

Taking time to encourage others is part of USC’s culture

February 15, 2019

Photograph of President Wanda Austin at convocation in robes
At convocation in January, President Wanda Austin welcomed new students who are just starting their Trojan journey. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Mentors instill hope. Sometimes a single conversation — words exchanged in a classroom or in a chance meeting while crossing campus — can have a profound effect on a person’s life, altering its course and redefining an individual’s sense of purpose. Mentors encourage others to discover their talents and passions, to push aside distractions and doubts.

At USC we have excellent mentors everywhere. Faculty in residence live alongside our students in residential colleges; they share meals together, serve as a sounding board and encourage students to think creatively. Through these faculty members, our students begin to envision their own adult lives.

Our students, meanwhile, are quick to step up as mentors as well. Troy Camp stands out as an excellent example: Through this student-run organization — and for more than 70 years — Trojans have mentored youth in south Los Angeles, building meaningful relationships throughout the academic year. Expanding on this in the summer, Troy Camp students take 200 elementary school students to the San Bernardino Mountains, where they bond during a weeklong camping experience.

I know firsthand how these moments can change a person’s life. When I was in seventh grade, my math teacher, Mr. Cohen, passed out a challenging problem, which I diligently solved. The next day, he singled me out and said, “Wanda, you’re good at this, and don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not.” He helped me believe in myself. This set me up for a lifelong career in STEM, and placed me on the path to ultimately pursue my doctorate at our USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

At USC Viterbi, I see the care and love with which our faculty support our students. Last year, at the Academic Honors Convocation, the university recognized the school’s Distinguished Professor Jay Kuo, who has mentored more than 200 PhD students, postdoctoral scholars and undergraduates, many of whom have found tremendous personal and professional success in their own lives.

The previous year, USC honored Professor Nandini Rajagopalan of our USC Marshall School of Business, who has a special knack for helping students integrate their personal lives with their professional aspirations. That same year, alongside Professor Rajagopalan, the university recognized Professor Christopher Sampson of our USC Thornton School of Music, who has spent so many hours working one on one with students, and who has made a point of attending their performances and connecting them with other leaders in the music industry.

Education, at its heart, prepares students to educate themselves throughout their lives. At the same time, it teaches them to give back, to nurture the next generation and to continue the progression of knowledge, creativity and intellectual thought. A commitment to this process — to mentoring those around us — makes USC special.