USC to announce two donations totaling $100 million

USC on Friday plans to announce two donations totaling $100 million that will fund a new institute for cancer research and a high-tech building for journalism studies.

USC trustee and alumnus Ming Hsieh, whose Pasadena company, Cogent Inc., helped pioneer automated fingerprint identification, is giving $50 million. His donation will support nanomedical research — a field that works at the atomic and molecular level — to develop drugs and other therapies for cancer treatment.

The other $50 million is from the Annenberg Foundation to USC’s School for Communication & Journalism, which bears the Annenberg name because of significant previous donations to the school from the family’s media business fortune. The latest gift will pay for a new 90,000-square-foot building with studios and newsrooms for the digital age, officials said.

The donations, details of which were released to The Times in advance, are to be announced during Friday’s inauguration of USC’s new president, C.L. “Max” Nikias.

Both donors said their gifts were aimed at showcasing the ways in which technology is changing academia and industry.


Wallis Annenberg, who chairs the Annenberg Foundation and is a USC trustee, said in a statement that journalism students and faculty should be able “to experiment with emerging tools and invent the newsrooms, online media and broadcast studios of the future.”

Hsieh, who earned engineering degrees at USC, said in an interview that he wanted the institute that will be named after him to connect medicine and engineering. “We need better technology to help people fight against cancer because cancer has a lot of mystery to it and many untouched frontiers to explore,” he said.

Although he allowed his gift to be linked to USC’s presidential inauguration, Hsieh said it actually marks the 30th anniversary this week of his arrival in the United States from China and is intended to show his “appreciation for the opportunities of America.” As a youth, Hsieh missed school for 10 years when his family was sent to work on a remote rice farm during the Cultural Revolution.

Hsieh’s company, Cogent, is being sold to 3M Co. in a deal worth about $943 million. In 2006, he donated $35 million to USC’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

Education experts said the recession has made it tougher for colleges nationwide to land such large gifts, although some have come through in recent years. “They are not as frequent as they once were, but they are not unheard of,” said Rae Goldsmith, a vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Despite their size, the latest donations are topped by several others to USC over the years. The largest was $175 million four years ago from alumnus and “Star Wars” creator George Lucas for a new film school building.

In 1993, Walter Annenberg, the late publishing magnate and U.S. diplomat who was Wallis’ father, donated $120 million to USC’s communications programs. With the latest gift, the Annenbergs have given USC a total of $350 million, making them the university’s largest overall benefactors.