A Tribute to Excellence and Equity: The John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity

From Topeka to the White House, Slaughter lifted others as he climbed.

John Brooks Slaughter at the Pullias lecture in 2019.

USC Viterbi’s recently renamed John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity is undergoing a transformation that transcends mere nomenclature. With its new name, the center now has a story that embodies a quest for diversity, excellence and equity, and that honors a man whose life was a testament to the very ideals it champions.

Slaughter, the first Black director of the National Science Foundation, passed away on December 6, 2023, at the age of 89, just months after the center’s naming ceremony at USC Viterbi’s Epstein Family Plaza. His groundbreaking career included becoming the first Black president of Occidental College and the first Black chancellor of the University of Maryland. In 2010, he joined USC Viterbi as a distinguished professor of engineering, with a joint appointment at the USC Rossier School of Education.

“We are here to forever link USC engineering with an engineering education legend,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said at the naming ceremony.

Slaughter’s remarkable journey, which began in 1934 against the segregated backdrop of Topeka, Kansas, is a testament to perseverance and ambition, culminating at the White House, where in 2015 he was honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering.

The John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity, formerly known as the Minority Engineering Program, has been pivotal since its inception in 1975, and Slaughter played a crucial role in its evolution. His commitment went beyond titles, as he actively engaged with students, fostering a sense of unity and purpose.

“The renaming is a declaration that his life’s work will continue, and it’s a recommitment to his vision,” said center director Traci Thomas Navarro.

Two significant donations will further the center’s commitment to continue Slaughter’s work. Linnie Haynesworth’s vision is to see the center’s outreach expand to an even wider array of students through her generous donation. Meanwhile, Tom Grosvenor’s remarkable $3.5 million gift will enhance resources, programs and staffing, fostering a more inclusive environment.

“It is my hope that our support of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity will expand their impact on the lives of diverse students and enable them to participate in and experience life as a USC engineering student more fully,” said Haynesworth, a member of USC Viterbi’s Board of Councilors and former sector vice president and general manager for Northrop Grumman.

“Supporting Viterbi’s John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity matches perfectly with my hopes of helping to create a diverse society that supports equal opportunities for all its citizens,” said Grosvenor.

In February 2014, during a poignant talk on campus for a USC Dornsife series titled “What Matters to Me and Why,” Slaughter emphasized that diversity alone isn’t enough; equity and excellence are paramount.

As the John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity takes its place at USC Viterbi, it stands as a lasting tribute to a man whose journey embodied the spirit that propels the field of engineering forward.

“To have the center named after me is greater than any honor I’ve ever received,” Slaughter said.