As President Steven B. Sample prepares to deliver his final speech as USC’s president, top administrators are anxious to see what incoming President C. L. Max Nikias will bring to the table.
In August, Sample will officially pass the torch to Nikias, who was unanimously chosen by the Board of Trustees to be the university’s next president.
Sample is leaving behind an impressive legacy. During his 19-year tenure, the quality of education and of student life at USC improved by leaps and bounds. The school shot up in the national rankings, the endowment grew significantly and USC’s presence increased around the country and world.
“He’s the man who came in 19 years ago and really communicated to the Trojan family, really made the Trojan family believe that not only they were good but they could become excellent,” Nikias said. “He’s the one that has shown the Trojan family that there are so many possibilities, that we could excel.”
But top administrators say they are confident the university’s growth won’t end with Sample, and many, including Sample himself, say there is a lot of work to be done.
“I’m never satisfied, that’s not my nature, but we’ve made enormous strides,” Sample said during a November interview with the Daily Trojan. “We still have lots of room to get better.”
The university Nikias will take charge of in August is an entirely different school from the one Sample entered almost two decades ago. USC does not need a dramatic transformation — it has already become an elite university — but the school can still grow and many have high hopes for the future.
Sample said he thinks Nikias could make great strides in research rankings and in recruiting the best Ph.D. students. Michael Jackson, vice president for Student Affairs, hopes Nikias will continue the transformation into a true residential university; Vice Provost for Undergraduate Programs Gene Bickers wants to see USC’s interdisciplinary focus continue to grow; and Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis Yortsos thinks it’s important that USC continue trying to up the ante.
“We need to continue on the path toward converting our residences to residential colleges where we have faculty families and students,” Jackson said. “We also need to renew our opportunities for students to participate in recreational programs and to improve the Lyon Center.”
Jackson said he also sees opportunities for development in online education and noted that the endowment could still be larger.
Yortsos said Nikias should build on Sample’s success.
“Max’s challenge will be not only to solidify USC’s position where it is now but hit the next level because there’s always a next level,” he said.
USC can reach this next level, Yortsos said, by being part of the next big thing.
“For instance, take the next Google that will come, whatever that is,” Yortsos said. “It would be very important for the school that its name be associated with the next big thing.”
Of all these goals, Nikias will perhaps be best prepared to tackle USC’s transformation into a residential university, with the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center set to open in the fall.
“[The campus center] is a physical construction that makes a big statement of how far the university has come in residential life and having first-class physical infrastructure,” Nikias said. “The campus center coming up is going to allow us to make the campus more residential on weekends. We’re making this more residential on weekends. When we talk about a residential university it isn’t just residential four or five days, it should be 24/7.”
The campus center is a huge step toward transforming the campus atmosphere, Jackson said, and it offers Nikias a great chance to continue developing campus life.
Nikias plans to start his tenure by launching a new fundraising campaign to help increase the school’s endowment, which is still relatively low given the number of students at the university. His initial focus also includes improving the quality of USC’s research, its Ph.D. students and the Health Sciences Campus.
Administrators said they are confident this summer’s transition will be smooth and say they are excited to see the university move forward under Nikias.
“We’re all going to be in exceptionally good hands moving forward,” Bickers said. “Their missions are very much in tune.”
“We’re excited,” Jackson said. “We’re sad to see President Sample go and clearly we celebrate his achievements and all that he’s done for us collectively and individually, [but] we’re excited to rally around Max Nikias.”
Nikias said he is humbled to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and is exited for the challenges that lie ahead.
“I feel very fortunate that I have worked so closely with [Sample], he’s been a great mentor to me and in many ways I learned from the master. And I feel that perhaps I’m one of the luckiest people in the area of higher education because not too many people would have had the opportunity that I did, not only to be part of the ride of the USC ascent but also to have the opportunity to work closely with President Sample,” Nikias said. “That is priceless.”