When President Steven B. Sample steps down in August, only a handful of students — past and present — will have ever interacted with him directly. But even those who never met Sample recognize his influence on their time at the university, and those who did meet and work with him say Sample’s successor will have big shoes to fill.
Sample, who announced his retirement Monday, acknowledged that his interaction with the student body was limited. He said he connected with students mostly through his class, The Art and Adventure of Leadership, which he co-taught with Marshall professor and management expert Warren Bennis.
“My big interaction with students is my teaching,” Sample said. “And the whole university is built on the relationship between this student and this professor … Each year I have known a group of students intimately, where I was the real professor … That was more important in terms of my understanding our student body than simply going to a lot of receptions.”
Students who have taken Sample’s class said Sample inspired with his strong leadership skills and direct nature.
“He would talk about being a leader and being free, and he said, ‘Don’t limit yourself. Think free and you’ll come up with an answer that’s original,’” said Ashwin Appiah, Undergraduate Student Government treasurer and a senior majoring in computer science and business administration who took Sample’s class last year. “Those kinds of stories where he refers back to his experiences really made us put things into perspective and look at things differently.”
Other students said they would remember more than just Sample’s teaching.
“I was raised a Trojan my whole life, and when I was in high school, I took my grades so seriously and I thought I would be going to an Ivy League school, and I considered USC that caliber,” said USG President Holden Slusher, a senior majoring in business administration who took Sample’s class last year. “I don’t know if I would have chosen to go here if he hadn’t made USC as prestigious as it is now.
The same leadership skills Sample taught in his class guided the school’s climb to the top of the academic realm — the change students said impacted them the most.
“If he hadn’t done the things he’s been doing for the last 15 years, I don’t think I would have even considered coming to USC,” said Kevin Flynn, a senior majoring in civil engineering. “Good academics, a great athletics program; [USC] seemed to have things you could find separately at several schools but not all together at one school.”
Tony Jercinovich, the former vice president of USG and a 2008 graduate, echoed this sentiment.
“Where USC was 19 years ago and where it is now is a very different place in terms of its academic rigor,” Jercinovich said. “I wouldn’t have applied there. He started doing merit scholarships, and I was fortunate enough to be a Presidential Scholarship recipient, and that was a major factor in my decision to go there.”
Nick Hamada, president of the Interfraternity Council and a senior majoring in international relations, also said Sample’s academic push directly affected his decision to attend USC.
“He had a tremendous effect on me before I even became a student at this university,” Hamada said. “I remember being a senior in high school, and one of the things that really jumped out at me about USC was its emphasis about pursuing multiple academic paths. It’s neat because on the one hand he’s trying to build a world-class research university, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have an appreciation for liberal arts education. He’s a renaissance scholar himself.”
Hamada, who also took Sample’s class, said he also respected Sample’s leadership style and qualities.
“What you see is what you get. He’s very candid, he’s very open, he’s very honest,” Hamada said. “I was astounded by the candor and the honesty, and I think that’s how he can build trust and get people on with his position and inspire people.”
Students agreed that, when Sample steps down in August, the next president will face a tremendous task.
“He’s a visionary in everything he does,” Slusher said. “Whoever comes here will have large shoes to fill … It’s going to be hard to replace Dr. Sample.”
Sample will be missed, students said, and his years at USC will leave a lasting impression on the school.
“It’s a fitting end because we’re starting a new chapter in USC history with the opening of the new campus center, and with a new president taking charge of that, we’ll be going to a new generation,” Appiah said.