$5 Million Gift From Andrew and Erna Viterbi Endows USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Chair

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 9:00am

USC Trustee Andrew Viterbi PhD ’62 and his wife, Erna, have given $5 million to USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education. It is the largest gift the Institute has received since it became part of USC in 2006.

Directed from the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, the gift will endow the Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director Chair at USC Shoah Foundation, which will amplify efforts to share testimonies of Holocaust and genocide survivors around the world. USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen D. Smith will be installed as the inaugural holder of the chair.

The Viterbis’ gift puts USC Shoah Foundation’s fundraising initiative over $72 million—nearly half of its $150 million goal.

The Viterbis are also giving $10 million to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, which will create five endowed faculty chairs and five graduate student fellowships at USC Viterbi. 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Viterbis’ original $52 million naming gift to the school in 2004.

“Andrew and Erna Viterbi stand among USC’s most ardent champions, and this generous gift reflects their longstanding commitment to investing in people,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Through these endowments, the Viterbi School and Shoah Foundation can support transformative faculty and talented students, helping them to advance research that will benefit our world for generations to come. We remain deeply grateful for the Viterbis’ continued confidence.”

Andrew Viterbi cofounded Qualcomm, one of the foremost developers of wireless telecommunications products and services. He created the now-legendary Viterbi algorithm, which has applications in a large number of fields, including wireless and satellite communications, data recording, speech recognition and search engines.

“Over the years, my wife and I have seen the university taking enormous strides, and we want to help increase that momentum by supporting research and other academic initiatives at USC,” Viterbi said about the couple’s most recent gift.

Steve A. Kay, dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, noted that the gift will spur growth at USC Shoah Foundation, which is housed at the college. “This outstanding gift from the Viterbis will enable Dr. Smith to expand the institute’s educational reach and develop further strategies for optimizing the use of the vast information contained in the Visual History Archive,” Kay said.

“USC Shoah Foundation plays a crucial role in educating our society about the past, while working tirelessly to prevent these atrocities from occurring in the future,” said Erna Viterbi, a longtime member of the institute’s Board of Councilors. “Dr. Smith has done extraordinary work at the institute, supporting innovative technologies and fostering interdisciplinary research partnerships. My husband and I are very proud to provide him with resources that will help him further the institute’s vital mission.”

The Viterbis’ story embodies the spirit of Andrew’s favorite quote, Per aspera ad astra—a Latin phrase that translates to “Through hardship to the stars.” While still children, both Erna and Andrew fled Europe to the U.S. with their families before World War II due to growing anti-Semitism. Seeing his parents struggle to support their family, Andrew dedicated himself to his education and won a scholarship to MIT, which sparked his interest in communications and coding theory. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the school in 1957, and he and Erna soon married. In 1962, he earned his PhD in digital communications from USC.

Prior to cofounding Qualcomm, Viterbi cofounded Linkabit, a digital communications company. He also served as a professor at UCLA and then at the University of California, San Diego, where he is now an emeritus professor. At USC, he holds the Presidential Chair in Engineering and serves on USC Viterbi’s Board of Councilors. He has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2000.

Erna Viterbi has held leadership roles at philanthropies around the world, in addition to avidly supporting USC Shoah Foundation. Together with Andrew, she has given generously to educational institutions, health sciences research, veterans’ causes and arts organizations. The couple resides in San Diego, California.

These two initiatives support the larger Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort that seeks to raise $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC’s academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and world. Three years after its launch, the campaign has raised more than $3.4 billion.