Executive vice dean of Viterbi School dies at 48

John O’Brien, executive vice dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, died on Friday. He was 48.

O’Brien became an assistant professor of electrical engineering at USC in 1997.

“[O’Brien’s] lasting legacy will be that he helped establish in the school a remarkable culture of collaboration and inclusion, one based on character and ethics, respect and understanding, selflessness and kindness, service and commitment, and the constant pursuit of excellence,” Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos wrote in a memo to the USC Viterbi faculty and staff.

O’Brien received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 1999, the U.S. government’s highest award for scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers.

He also developed electrical engineering courses for Viterbi, such as EE 509 Electromagnetics for Semiconductor Photonics and EE 599 Advanced Quantum Mechanics.

“John’s passing is a tragic loss for me and for all of his colleagues at USC,” Professor Dan Dapkus told USC News. “He was also a wonderful mentor to his students -— demonstrating and expecting excellence — yet always available to share his knowledge and insights. Working with him has been a high point in my career at USC.”

O’Brien had earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1993 and 1996, respectively. O’Brien also received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Iowa State University.

A funeral service will be held in Des Moines, Iowa on an unspecified date, while a Viterbi event celebrating O’Brien’s life will be held on campus in the next few weeks.