Year in review: Trojan superstars bring in well-deserved recognition, from the arts to science to sports
USC 2016 | Seventh in a nine-part series running through Dec. 31
As everyone knows, Trojans are faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous and ambitious. Its nice when the outside world notices. Here are 11 bona fide Trojan superstars of 2016.
Good morning, Pulitzer Prize!
In April, USCs Viet Thanh Nguyen captured the nations top literary prize, putting the 45-year-old English and American studies professor on an equal footing with John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Harper Lee all prior winners of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The accolade came in recognition of Nguyens critically acclaimed debut novel, The Sympathizer. Constructed as a confession by a South Vietnamese captain spying for the Viet Cong, the satirical narrative swerves giddily from the chaotic fall of Saigon to a refugees pratfalls in Hollywood. Philip Caputo, opining in The New York Times Book Review, calls it an absurdist tour de force that might have been written by a Kafka or Genet.
In September, USC cultural historian Josh Kun was officially branded a genius when he was named a 2016 MacArthur Foundation fellow. Known informally as genius grants, these prestigious prizes come with a whopping $625,000 no-strings-attached purse. Kuns scholarly output an assortment of books, curated exhibitions and live concerts is wildly creative. From old-time Jewish-music album covers to menus from long-gone L.A. eateries, Kun leaves no artifact unturned in the service of public humanities his mission of sharing the riches of pop culture with a wider audience.
Seeing is believing
At a White House ceremony in May, USCs Mark Humayun received the nations highest award for technological achievement: the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. President Barack Obama presented the iconic medallion to the USC ophthalmologist and biomedical engineer, citing his strides in bridging medical science and engineering to reverse blindness. Humayun has more than 100 patents under his belt. His most dazzling invention: the Argus II implant, the only FDA-approved retinal prosthesis system capable of restoring useful vision to patients with certain blinding diseases.
Game design pioneer Tracy Fullerton was chosen Woman of the Year in Los Angeles Magazines Readers Choice sweepstakes. As chief of USCs Game Innovation Lab, Fullerton oversees one of the worlds top-ranked academic pipelines to the booming industry. In a field dominated by men, Fullerton has engineered a stunning gender-equity course correction. A 2012 study found only 11 percent of game designers were women. But under Fullertons charge, female students in USCs graduate videogame design program have outnumbered male peers for the past three years.
Out of Jeopardy!
In February, Sam Deutsch made USC history when he became the first Trojan to win the Jeopardy! College Championship. A junior majoring in political economy, Deutsch was the fifth USC student to reach the tournament since it began in 1989. When he clinched the top prize and $100,000 in prize money Jeopardy! clue crew staffer Sarah Whitcomb Foss 98 discretely flashed a Trojan victory sign. The proud USC alumna came over and whispered in Deutschs ear: Its about time!
Terrestrial space explorer
In November, Barack Obama bestowed on Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations highest civilian honor. Among the worlds most influential living architects, Gehry graduated from USC in 1954 and is now the Judge Widney Professor of Architecture on his alma maters faculty. Among his many L.A. landmarks are Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Binoculars Building (formerly Chiat/Day) in Venice. His international landmarks include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Dancing House in Prague. At 87, Gehry continues to pioneer exciting spaces with projects like the 51-mile L.A. River revitalization.
Bound for Oxford
In November, Oscar De Los Santos 15 became USCs 10th Rhodes Scholar. The self-described child of Mexican immigrants, anti-hunger advocate and political organizer moved to Phoenix last year to work as an English and social science teacher to at-risk sixth-graders. He currently manages public policy for Arizonas food bank network. I feel a deep sense of moral urgency to do all the good I can for all marginalized people, says the L.A. native, who majored in political science at USC. He plans to study public policy and theology at Oxford.
De Los Santos wont be alone, either. Fellow Trojan Jung Kian Ng MS 14, a USC Viterbi School of Engineering alumnus from Malaysia, will be joining him as USCs 11th Rhodes Scholar. Look for Ngs story in January on USC News.
A poetic laurel
In January, USCs Dana Gioia began his two-year tenure as California Poet Laureate. As the official state advocate for poetry and literature, he set himself the goal of visiting each of Californias 58 counties. By mid-December, he had reached 24 counties. Gioia is former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Since 2011, he has been the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at USC. A prolific poet, essayist, anthology editor and librettist, Gioias latest volume, 99 Poems: New & Selected, was released in March.
Poetic laurel, part deux
In April, USC grad student Safiya Sinclair won the prestigious 2016 Whiting Award for Poetry. The $50,000 award is given to emerging authors who demonstrate a promise of great work to come. Past Whiting Award winners include novelist David Foster Wallace and Anthony Marra 08. Born in Jamaica, Sinclair is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at USC Dornsife. Her debut collection of poetry, Cannibal, came out in September.
In November, USC Thornton composer Andrew Norman landed the 2017 Grawemeyer Award. For composers, thats bigger than a Pulitzer, and it comes with a $100,000 check. Past winners include Esa-Pekka Salonen and John Adams. Norman received the prize for his Grammy-nominated orchestral work, Play, inspired by the experience of videogaming. Earlier in the year, the USC alum (BM 02, MM 04) and current faculty member received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was appointed director of the L.A. Phils Composer Fellowship Program for high schoolers. In October, he was named 2017 Composer of the Year by the Musical America organization.
In February, freshman long snapper Jake Olson received the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion award, presented annually by Uplifting Athletes to a college athlete who made a difference in the rare disease community. Olson, who lost his vision to eye cancer at age 12, earned a spot on the Trojan football squad last year. At the April 16 spring game, he snapped on a pair of field goal attempts, both without a pass rush, earning a standing ovation from 20,000 fans in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.