The school told us that USC students have a “distinct advantage” whether they are entering the job market or moving on to graduate school, “through the Schools’ global reach, state-of-the-art facilities, opportunities to conduct original research or develop creative works, and opportunities for networking and mentorship within their respective industries.” Nowhere is that advantage more clear than in the Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, a program that bridges art, computer science and business. At the heart of this ambitious curricular effort is the confidence that multidisciplinary approaches and broad collaboration uncover new ways to examine old problems and create disruptive innovations. The fields of design, computer science, and venture management all have specific, insider languages, so the academy starts with a core curriculum of “team-taught interdisciplinary courses” to bridge these gaps and allow students to “think seamlessly across multiple disciplines, and to apply a vast array of relevant technologies and techniques toward innovative problem solving.” All students study the fundamentals of design, computer programing, sound and audio, and business software. In this way, students can collaborate in every aspect of each other’s projects. During their second and third years, students continue with the core curriculum while focusing on two curricular emphases (technology, audio design, visual design, venture management, and communications). This allows students to personalize their education, and, as a result, students will carve out a niche of specialty within this intimate academic group. They also gain advanced skills in “2-D graphic design, including typography, and motion graphics; 3-D design in both actual and virtual spaces.” And with the help of high-powered computer software and hi-tech 3-D printers, students work with advanced coding and rapid prototyping. In their fourth and final year, students enter “The Garage,” the academy’s lab and collaborative space. With members of the faculty as well as outside mentors and industry leaders, teams of students develop self-directed projects that utilize all of the manufacturing and computer technology the lab has to offer.
USC has advanced research equipment and laboratories that, according to the university, “often rival those found in professional settings. From our fMRI scanner to motion capture stages to computer and multimedia labs, students find they have all the resources they need without ever leaving campus.” Two distinctive research programs, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) allow students to conduct research in the top labs with USC’s world-renowned faculty. Any student on the USC campus can apply for SURF funding “to pay for travel, equipment, living expenses, fees, or other costs related to the research effort” in conjunction with a faculty member’s summer research project, and SOAR provides funding for students who want to work as a research assistant for USC faculty members during the academic terms. Through these programs USC students can gain access to any of these diverse resources, like the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, the Space Sciences Center, or the USC Stevens Center for Innovation.
The Institute for Creative Technologies combines computer science, psychology, interactive media and other academic fields in a number of different labs to “[explore] and [expand] how people engage with computers through virtual characters, video games, simulated scenarios and other forms of human-computer interaction.” The Academy Award-winning developers in the Graphics Lab have been developing new ways of rendering photo-realistic “people, objects and environments.” Their light stage is capturing and storing a vast library of objects for programmers to manipulate, while a “low-cost 3D display system with form factor . . . for displaying 3D images in 3D” could make interactive holograms a home and office staple. Other labs examine medical virtual reality, computer simulations of human interaction, and virtual humans that “use language, have appropriate gestures, show emotion and react to verbal and non-verbal stimuli.” In addition to the potential for SURF and SOAR funding opportunities, the Institute For Creative Technologies offers a huge number of internships in different labs. These opportunities give student researchers direct interaction with the research team and provide mentorship opportunities. The institute also “offers a ten-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences.” Because of the interdisciplinary mission of the institute, “students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications,” find a home in this project-based program. The undergrads who are selected are teamed up with research staff, faculty, and other students in labs “focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences.” The program also includes seminars and social events, and students prepare a final written report to present to the institute along with their final project. And the best part: The experience is funded by the National Science Foundation.
USC offers research opportunities in the form of study abroad, service learning, leadership opportunities, conservatory and creative projects. And students aren’t limited to assisting in faculty research. Directed Research “is student-proposed, faculty-supervised research” available in every academic field from theatre to Slavic languages. Students can count their directed research as elective credit, or, depending on the major, student-directed research may be a requirement for graduation. This offers students control over their research topic while benefiting from the mentorship of a USC faculty member. Students who conduct original research are also eligible to become Discovery Scholars, a distinction the university grants to recognize “students who excel in the classroom and display the ability to create exceptional new scholarship or artistic works.” The commendation is an official honor from the university and looks great on a résumé or academic CV.
The McNair/Gateway Scholars program provides resources for “low-income and first-generation college students as well as students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups” to pursue grad school and a career in academia. McNair Scholars receive stipends and scholarships as well as “mentorship experiences, graduate school preparation, research training, career development, and a series of academic skill-building initiatives.” Scholars start the program by taking a research methods class to prepare them for advanced research, and they participate in the college’s Summer Research Institute and receive academic advising throughout the school year from professors and USC PhD students. These students are carefully groomed for academic success, and the college strengthens its network of academics and industry experts around the world.
The university operates a program with similar aims for students who are looking into careers outside of academia. “Through the First-Generation Mentors program,” the university tells us, “first-generation college students can take advantage of academic and career guidance from alumni who were first-generation students themselves.” And this program isn’t just a casual meeting over coffee or a few email correspondences. Students and mentors commit to a one-year relationship and meet every month for a professional activity. The career center also holds two to four events, which students and their mentors are required to attend, to help cultivate these relationships. After they graduate, the mentee becomes a mentor in the program.
The school tells us that the faculty at USC are “leaders and innovators in their respective fields.” They are “Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, Emmy and GRAMMY award winners and numerous members of the National Academies. They receive more than $645 million in annual research funding and continue to push the forward edges of medicine, science and technology, and the arts and humanities.” Success doesn’t go to their heads though. “Most of my professors insist that we call them by their first names,” a fine arts major tells us. And a kinesthesiology major says, “The professors are very passionate about their field of study and always incorporate their personal experiences. The academics at USC are taken very seriously.” Overall, students report professors “make the subject matter come alive” and make themselves “very available” outside the classroom. “My academic experience at USC is fabulous,” gushes an aerospace engineering major. “I would not choose any other school.”