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Developing Future Leaders

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Interim USC President in Conversation with Dean Guzman

By Anne Bergman 

Interim USC President Wanda Austin shared leadership lessons from her four-decade career, from the private sector to higher education, during a recent USC Gould School of Law “Conversations with the Dean” event, led by Gould Dean Andrew Guzman
While Austin’s background is in math and engineering, her story of being a first-generation college student who thrived in academia, resonated with Gould students, faculty and staff. Austin also related how her experiences as an executive
president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, a leading architect for the nation’s national security space programs, have shaped her approach to her current job at the helm of the university.
Austin earned her doctorate in systems engineering from USC and her association with the university continued as an adjunct faculty member and a trustee. She was tapped in August 2018 to lead USC after C. L. Max Nikias stepped down.
On developing one’s own leadership philosophy, Austin noted that “it takes practice, effort, honesty – holding up a mirror to yourself – and surrounding yourself with people who are good at [things outside of your skill set].”
She also elaborated on facing difficulties and challenges as a leader. “It’s important to be willing to talk about failures. What do we need to do?  What do we need to change?”
Since assuming the top role at the university, she has invested considerable time speaking with members of the USC community and established the President’s Culture Commission, which brings together a diverse group of individuals from across both USC campuses. The commission has already begun meeting. “We’re taking on some tough topics,”
she said. “We’re talking about wellness. We’re talking about ethics. We’re talking about making sure people have equal access and that people are treated fairly.”
Guzman wanted to know what has been Austin’s most rewarding part of her role so far.
“Hearing the success stories of the students who didn’t think they would have the opportunity to go to college but are having a phenomenal experience here. That energizes me. We are really developing diverse and driven future leaders for our world,” she said.
When asked about providing advice for the next university president, Austin said “number one is to listen.  USC is a place unlike any other.  Bend over backward to be inclusive and thoughtful in decision making… people are passionate about USC.”
She added, “I want us to deliver on our promise of trust, ethical values, and integrity.”
Established in 2006, the “Conversations with the Dean” speaker series, brings high-profile attorneys, civic leaders, and business pioneers to the law school to share their experiences. Past guests have included CPK founder and Gould alumnus Larry Flax (JD 1967) and Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.



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