Trustee Andrew Viterbi Ph.D. ’62 and his wife, Erna, have added to their rich legacy of philanthropy at USC with a generous gift to boost scholarship in engineering and genocide studies.
The namesakes of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the Viterbis will support two areas of the university especially important to them, designating $10 million for USC Viterbi and $5 million to USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.
The couple’s gift comes as USC Viterbi celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Viterbis’ original $52 million naming gift in 2004. Their gift also provides significant support for USC Viterbi’s $500 million initiative, which aims to bolster endowment funds for faculty chairs, research, student scholarships, academic programming and capital projects.
Directed from the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, the gift will create one endowed faculty chair, four early career chairs and five graduate student fellowships at USC Viterbi.
“Andrew and Erna Viterbi stand among USC’s most ardent champions, and this generous gift reflects their long-standing 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 co-founded Qualcomm, one of the foremost developers of wireless telecommunications products and services. He wrote 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.
USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos called Andrew Viterbi an “engineering legend,” noting that Viterbi’s technology touches millions of lives. “With their latest gift, the Viterbis are reaffirming their staunch commitment to engineering education and research by helping ensure that the school is able to recruit and retain world-class faculty and students,” Yortsos said.
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 United States 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 married soon after. In 1962, he earned his Ph.D. in digital communications from USC.
Prior to co-founding Qualcomm, Viterbi co-founded 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 philanthropic organizations around the world, including serving on the Board of Councilors of the USC Shoah Foundation. Together with her husband, she has given generously to educational institutions, health sciences research, veterans’ causes and arts organizations. The couple resides in San Diego.