USC Price and USC Viterbi Schools launch new executive education certificate in global space and defense


June 17, 2021

The USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, in partnership with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), announced the creation of the Executive Program in Global Space and Defense. The official signing of the partnership occurred on June 15, 2021 at Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall on USC’s University Park Campus.

(Pictured L-R, standing) Rear Admiral Victorino G. Mercado (ret.), Lieutenant Colonel Reid Wynans, Candace House Teixeira, Riki Ellison, Frank Zerunyan, and Navy ROTC Commanding Officer Colonel Sean M. McBride ; (L-R Seated): Dean Yannis Yortsos and Interim Dean Dana Goldman (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

The executive education program sets out to educate aspiring senior leaders from the military, government and innovation communities about the intersection of public policy and engineering, which are too often separate within the complex and growing field of defense security.

Alumni Riki Ellison (USC Dornsife ’83), the founder and chairman of MDAA, brought the idea to USC in early 2021. It wasn’t long before Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School, connected with Candace House Teixeira, USC Viterbi’s associate dean of corporate engagement and programs. They began working with Dana Goldman, interim USC Price dean, as well as Frank Zerunyan, USC Price professor of the practice of governance and director of executive education programs.

“Usually we engineer, innovate, create technology, and then public policy gets involved,” said Teixeira, who will be co-creating the certificate’s curriculum and faculty appointments with Zerunyan. “But we could be having this collaboration earlier. In fact, I often hear this from our students in government and the military. This new program will give us the opportunity to get students and experts together in a single room from the very beginning and explore the bigger picture.”

MOU being signed at table in Lewis Hall
Memorandum of Understanding signing (L-R): Riki Ellison, Dean Yannis Yortsos, Interim Dean Dana Goldman, and Professor Frank Zerunyan (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

While the Executive Program in Global Space and Defense will prepare participants to tackle the challenging security issues of today, it has deep roots in Los Angeles’ history.

“Right after World War II, the defense industry surged in our backyard,” said Zerunyan, who also serves as the director of USC’s ROTC program. “If not for this industry and the jobs it provided, the economic development of Los Angeles County would have been very different.”

“Viterbi and Price solidified their presence in the early 1900s,” Zerunyan added. “As the decades continued, our complementary expertise and academic exploration added to Los Angeles’ community building in the 1950s and beyond, especially as local industries expanded. Hosting this new certificate program at the University of Southern California reaffirms the intersection of defense technology, community and governance at our county’s core and reflects our central mission: the development of human beings and society as a whole.”

Starting in September 2021, enrollees from across the country will participate in the seven month course that features expert USC Price and USC Viterbi faculty with guest speakers from current and former senior defense officials, military leaders and experts in defense policy, strategy, operations and innovation.

Deans from Viterbi and Price laugh together after MOU signing
(Pictured L-R): Dean Yannis Yortsos, USC football coach Clay Helton, Frank Zerunyan, Interim Dean Dana Goldman, and Riki Ellison (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Ellison, who is also a former USC championship scholar-athlete, shared his excitement about the partnership, saying, “I knew I wanted to attend USC when I was 12 years old. Since then, I’ve realized that dream and am on to the next. I studied policy myself, and I know the frequent struggle of putting new engineering tools into the field. That’s where the certificate comes in, and the education it brings along with it. We’re going to empower the best of the best  to be the best across relevant fields to create a powerful intersection of top engineering studies alongside the policy they’ll need to enable real action in making our world safer.”

The hybrid online/in-person structure will include at least two residency sessions on USC’s campus to expand invaluable networking opportunities for professional development. At the course’s culmination, participants will produce a capstone that tackles real-world defense challenges.

“There’s nothing more complex than the challenges of missile defense and the policy issues at home and worldwide,” said Rear Admiral Victorino G. Mercado (ret.), MDAA’s academic innovation liaison to the project and former assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities at the U.S. Department of Defense. “Future senior leaders will need to know how to make very informed, strategic choices when billions of dollars are at stake, and those decisions will be highly consequential to the defense of our nation. It’s great to see USC and MDAA get together on this topic. The time for this certificate is now.”

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