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Carnegie honors USC President Nikias with Academic Leadership Award

The Carnegie Corporation of New York honored USC President C. L. Max Nikias today with its Academic Leadership Award. Nikias is the organization’s first awardee in Southern California.

The foundation established in 1911 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie bestows the accolade every other year, which comes with a $500,000 grant to further academic initiatives. The award is granted to a select number of university presidents “demonstrating vision and outstanding commitment to excellence and equity fulfilling their administrative and managerial roles with dedication and creativity.”

“The contributions of C. L. Max Nikias, both as provost and president of the University of Southern California, have been phenomenal,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation. “Under his leadership, the quality of the student body and of the faculty continues to reach new heights. Today, USC ranks among the nation’s and indeed the world’s most outstanding private research universities. This award recognizes not only the excellence President Nikias has affected, but also his vision of boosting global engagement and scaling up various community initiatives. What has impressed me as a former provost and president is that he has been able, in a relatively brief period, to establish 77 endowed faculty chairs. We are very proud of USC’s progress under and look to its continued success in the future.”

Historic initiatives
Since becoming president in 2010, Nikias has led the Campaign for the University of Southern California, one of the largest fundraising efforts in the history of higher education. That has allowed the university to expand financial aid and provide $300 million annually in merit and needs-based aid. Twenty-three percent of USC’s undergraduate student body is Pell Grant eligible, representing one of the largest proportions of low-income students among premier private research universities in America.

The university has also finished or is in the midst of a dozen major construction projects, including the $700 million USC Village, a 15-acre expansion of its University Park Campus featuring retail, residential and recreational spaces.

“I am deeply humbled to receive this prestigious recognition, which I accept on behalf of our entire university community,” Nikias said. “I take great pride in all that the Trojan Family has achieved together, be it through widening access for deserving students, recruiting transformative faculty or engaging with the communities that surround our two campuses. This award reminds us that our work can make a lasting difference, and inspires us to remain focused on the responsibilities of a global research university.”

Nikias has pledged the grant money to undergraduate scholarships for low-income students, the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative and the Discovery and Global Scholars program.

USC NAI is an intensive program serving public school students from the university’s neighborhoods. To date, 871 South Los Angeles students have graduated from the NAI program and gone to college.

Discovery Scholars are undergraduates who create exceptional new scholarship or artistic works, and Global Scholars are undergraduates who have participated in international programs and have completed a meaningful capstone project related to their experiences.

Offering congratulations
In congratulating Nikias on this honor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “It’s wonderful that USC, under C. L. Max Nikias’ leadership, has brought this prestigious award to Southern California for the first time. Over and over again, the university has proven itself a force for good in local communities as well as in global academia. I’m especially thrilled that the accompanying grant will fund, in part, needs-based undergraduate scholarships and contribute to USC’s heralded Neighborhood Academic Initiative.”

Joining USC in 1991, Nikias has been a professor of electrical engineering and the classics, a director of national research centers, a dean and provost.

The other 2015 honorees are Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University; Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University; and Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Previous winners of the award include John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford University; Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; Don M. Randel, president emeritus of the University of Chicago; Robert J. Birgeneau, president emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley; Richard H. Brodhead, president of Duke University; Jared L. Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University; and Scott S. Cowen, president emeritus of Tulane University.

By Eddie North-Hager

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