In Memoriam: USC President Emeritus, Steven B. Sample, 75

The visionary educator led the university from 1991 to 2010 and helped launch it into the ranks of the nation’s elite research institutions


Steven Browning Sample, who served as USC’s 10th president from 1991 to 2010 — a time of remarkable transformation at the university — died March 29. He was 75.

During Sample’s 19-year tenure as president, the university ascended the national academic ranks. USC became a highly selective undergraduate university, recruited many nationally prominent faculty, created a global presence, completed what was at the time the largest fundraising campaign ever in higher education and built partnerships in the communities surrounding USC’s campuses.

“Generations from now, those studying the history of our university will quickly find themselves learning the remarkable story of Steven Sample,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias.

During Sample’s tenure, USC rose dramatically in the college rankings, the number of freshman applicants more than tripled and the student body grew increasingly diverse. Recognizing USC’s ambitious community partnership programs, Time magazine/Princeton Review named USC “College of the Year 2000.” During his presidency, endowed chairs and professorships rose from 152 to 403, USC faculty member George Olah won USC’s first-ever Nobel Prize — for chemistry in 1994 — and faculty member Elyn Saks won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.

Sample, a tenured professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was a man of many talents — an electrical engineer, musician, inventor, outdoorsman, author and teacher. Sample’s book, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and was translated into five languages.

A member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Sample invented and patented several devices, including digital appliance controls and touch pads, used in more than 300 million microwave ovens and other home appliances worldwide.

— Sue Vogl and Lynn Lipinski