USC Annenberg to break ground on new building, launch $150 million fundraising drive

Wallis Annenberg Hall

Rendering of Wallis Annenberg Hall (Northwest view)

USC Annenberg is ushering in a new era of digital media education, communication and production with the groundbreaking of a visionary new building and the launch of a $150 million fundraising initiative.

On Nov. 8, 2012, the University of Southern California will welcome trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of USC Annenberg to campus for a ceremony marking the beginning of the initiative, which will invest in new generations of students and scholars exploring and developing the digital future.

Funds raised will pay for capital projects to enhance Wallis Annenberg Hall – labs, studios and technology – as well as student scholarships, fellowships, chaired professorships and funding for start-ups led by students and faculty. The initiative is part of the broader Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multi-year effort to raise $6 billion for the university’s academic, community and capital priorities.

“Wallis Annenberg stands among USC’s most generous and steadfast supporters, as well as the university’s longest serving trustee,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias.  “As journalism continues to evolve, her landmark gift will help keep USC on the field’s cutting-edge, while ensuring that our students have access to world-class facilities.”

Plans for the new 88,000-square-foot, five-floor building, scheduled to open in the fall of 2014, call for a technologically transformative jewel in the center of USC’s campus. Designs were drawn to reflect the transparency and collaboration that drives USC Annenberg’s educational philosophy. (See a fly-through video of the new building here.)

“USC Annenberg is widely recognized as a world leader in journalism and communication,” said USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. “This new facility, and the initiative, will enable us to expand our innovative teaching, research and service, and spark a new era of creativity among our faculty and students in this new digital age.”

Beyond the university’s iconic Gothic flourishes on the exterior, the ultramodern interior will feature a four-story atrium with a rooftop skylight and multistory digital media tower showcasing student programming along with online social media and live broadcast news. The atrium itself is designed to encourage informal conversation and gatherings as well as formal events. Leaders envision the space as an area for the USC community to convene and share ideas with guest lecturers, faculty and students.

At the heart of the building will be a fully converged, 20,000-square-foot newsroom, looking onto Childs Way, that will tear down the silos that now separate broadcast, print and web journalism. A state-of-the-art content management system will allow students to share and publish from multiple sources to any medium, enabling students to embrace and lead the new era of digital journalism. The transparency and collaborative energy will power students’ choices as they build the foundations of their future careers.

The nucleus of the operation is a 360-degree assignment desk that will run the day-to-day work of USC Annenberg’s student news organizations. While still operating independently, the news organizations – and solo student journalists – will have the ability to seamlessly share audio and video on multiple platforms from a single newsroom. A media halo of digital screens above the assignment desk will provide a live stream of breaking news, along with online news and RSS feeds.

Studios in the newsroom will be multipurpose. A television studio with multiple sets, including anchor desks and a green screen, will operate alongside a separate radio studio equipped with broadcast-quality cameras so that radio programming can be used online or on TV as well. A third studio, designed for vodcast, will allow students to stream professional-quality audio and video directly to the web.

Beyond the newsroom, all of Wallis Annenberg Hall will feature up-to-the-minute technology that is scalable and flexible as new innovations become available. The building will be loaded with full WiFi and 4g wireless capacity, including at least 110 hotspots and no dead zones. There will be more than a thousand Ethernet connection points.

Digital monitors throughout the building will stream student programming and instruction material in classrooms.

The philosophies of sharing and collaboration permeate every space in the building. A central media database, unique for an academic environment, will encourage sharing and analysis by communication and journalism faculty, students and scholars, no matter where they are.

Faculty and students will be able to work together in all kinds of physical spaces – multi-purpose rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, open study areas, a laptop lounge and computer lab, and research and learning labs. Eleven “drop-in” student collaboration areas will foster impromptu meetings and conversations. There will be a full-service café and an auditorium seating 160.

“As we move further into the 21st century, it is clear that the education of journalists will require a facility unlike any that now exists,” said Wallis Annenberg, chairman of the board of the Annenberg Foundation. “This building will give talented students and faculty the opportunity to experiment with emerging tools and invent journalism and communication models for the digital future. The future of journalism will be shaped at USC.”

Planning for the building was initiated by a $50 million lead gift from the Annenberg Foundation at the direction of Wallis Annenberg, who is also the foundation’s president and CEO. Besides being the longest serving trustee on USC’s Board of Trustees, she has been a lifelong advocate for the essential role journalism plays in enriching society and sustaining democracy. The Annenberg Foundation and the Annenberg family have contributed a total of $350 million to USC, beginning with Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg, who founded USC Annenberg in 1971.

The new construction, on the west side of Pertusati Bookstore, will supplement the school’s current operations in its existing building on Watt Way.

The School’s $150 million fundraising initiative will help build out the new facility as well as earmark a $30 million endowment for student scholarships, including need- and merit-based scholarships, graduate fellowships, internships and residencies and study-abroad stipends. Administrators will also set aside $30 million for an endowment for faculty, research and teaching – including chairs and professorships and research centers. Finally, $20 million will go toward innovation and start-up funding, changes in flexible technologies and interdisciplinary projects and collaborations.

For more information about the Campaign for the University of Southern California, visit For more information about USC Annenberg, visit

Communication by Design: The story behind Wallis Annenberg Hall


Rendering of the Newsroom. Directly adjacent to the forum, the two-story professional multimedia newsroom brings USC Annenberg’s print, broadcast and online student news outlets into one common space for the first time.

A whole new way to communicate is under development at USC Annenberg, in the form of an 88,000-squarefoot, five-story building in the heart of campus with a design that connects people, fosters creativity and accelerates the school’s path into the future.

As media and communication shift more and more to the center of modern life, we have continuously worked to place ourselves at the center of that shift,” says Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. “This new facility will help us realize our ambition: Just as communication is at the center of modern life, USC Annenberg is at the center of communication and journalism—and at the center of campus!”

“We took Dean Wilson’s directive to heart,” says lead architect Dan Benjamin of the firm Harley Ellis Devereaux. “He wanted the building to be designed with space that connects rather than contains.”

The new facility’s learning spaces will include a blend of unique “huddle” spaces, movable walls, learning and research labs, and other features to foster future-oriented conversations and blue-sky thinking. Flexible furniture and meeting areas, drop-in space for visitors, and state-of-the-art production studios will create environments to turn these plans into action.

“In the spirit of the culture of innovation and experimentation, we’ll have spaces that are more conducive to random interactions and cross-fertilization, rather than having things separating off,” says Vice Dean Larry Gross, director of the School of Communication and one of the key members of the project team. “We’ve been trying for a village square kind of environment.” The core of the vision was prompted by Wallis Annenberg, whose long-standing commitment to openness, transparency and technology defined the spirit of the design. Equipped with today’s most revolutionary technology, the new facility also will help the school adapt to a pace of technological innovation that seems to have permanently shifted into overdrive.

Relief for a crowded learning environment

The current home of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, designed by noted architect A. Quincy Jones and built for $3 million in the 1970s, was intended to accommodate only 100 graduate students. With a focus on collaboration and open discussion, the school grew organically, establishing new areas of scholarly inquiry and developing a unique combination of educational opportunities.

Along the way, the student population grew to 2,200 graduate and undergraduate students pursuing degrees in world-renowned communication, journalism, public relations and public diplomacy programs.

Renovations to the existing building have attempted to keep up with the pace of change, but can no longer do so.

“The original building was built before the personal computer was invented, and certainly before the integration of information technologies into everything we do,” explains Gross. “The fields of communication and journalism are at the high end of engagement with technology, so this changes things.

“At the simplest level, we’re out of space,” Gross continues. “We don’t have room for the faculty, for the research projects, for the activities. … We’re bursting at the seams. We have to expand, and we’ve taken this opportunity to build from the ground up.”

Converging factors of design

In preparing for the expansion, USC Annenberg turned to DEGW, an international planning and programming company that has helped innovative firms such as Google and Nokia determine how to create dynamic new space. DEGW held a series of workshops and interviews with USC Annenberg faculty, staff and students to assess what was—and was not—working in the existing building. They found that despite the school’s focus on collaboration and community involvement, portions of the current facility actually stifle interaction.

DEGW translated their findings into a set of guiding themes: Innovation, Versatility, Collaboration and Transparency. With this direction, the architects at HED took over, designing the new building’s centerpiece as a ground-level public forum—a meeting place and common area modeled on the ancient Greek assembly places known as “agora.” For inspiration, the project team visited a variety of similar spaces around the country, including MIT’s Media Lab, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, the Kennedy Forum at Harvard University and studios at Bloomberg News and Politico.

“The atrium connects all floors of the building, and then we have some walls within the atrium that are emphasized to make a connection between floors,” Benjamin says. “Vertical and horizontal surfaces connect in a way where visitors will be asking, ‘Is that part of the wall or part of the ceiling?’ We’re really responding to the idea that spaces connect.”

All-in-one media center

Directly adjacent to the Forum, the architects have placed a cutting-edge, collaborative multimedia newsroom, bringing USC Annenberg’s print, broadcast and online student news outlets into one common space for the first time. It will be centered around a converged assignment desk where editors will monitor multiple sources to produce the day’s news. A state-of-the-art broadcast studio, professional-quality control room, and suites of editing bays and flexible production spaces round out the media center.

“What we’re realizing as time moves on is everybody—not just the journalism students, but our PR, communication and public diplomacy students too—is using more and more technology and multiple platforms, and more and more social networks, in their academic work and in their professional work,” says Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism.

“It’s very visible from Childs Way,” she continues about the news lab windows, which will look out onto the sidewalk of a primary campus thoroughfare, next door to the University Bookstore. “So it’s going to have the same feel as some of the TV studios in New York City. People walking to the student center will be able to see into the assignment desk, with all of our media labs together for the first time—it’s really going to be exciting.”

A 21st-century media school Beyond the first floor, Benjamin and his team devised a careful layering of intimate and public spaces that stimulate blending of people and ideas.

“There are open spaces that are always in concert with the more individualized spaces,” Benjamin says. “For example, you may be entering an office through an open work area, or entering the classrooms through the atrium.”

Mobile furniture pieces and rooms with movable boundaries also will create new pathways to inspire fresh thinking.

Taking a cue from the physical, the school’s virtual infrastructure will be equally open and flexible. A state-of-the-art media storage and distribution network will allow students to collaborate in new ways, blend interactive media and instantly share their stories with the world.

A move toward gothic

Given that the facility will be constructed on prime real estate at a key campus intersection, Benjamin and his colleagues have been working to maintain the traditional “vocabulary” of the campus, blending elements of Romanesque and neo-Gothic architecture to create a new signature look for the campus.

As for melding this structure with its much more contemporary contents, “We are trying to emphasize the verticality of the main interior space—the Forum—because Gothic buildings emphasize verticality,” says Benjamin. “Gothic started out as religious architecture, with the intention of raising your eyes to the sky.”

Apart from the building’s ability to encourage attention upward, the architectural interplay between the exterior’s evocation of the past and the interior’s focus on the future is especially appropriate for the study of communication and journalism, Dean Wilson says. “We hear from many sources—our peers, our external partners, our broader community—that it’s important to preserve the traditional values of integrity, ethics, responsible journalism and scholarly analysis while we stretch our work in innovative, interdisciplinary, unpredictable ways,” he says. “This building serves as a physical embodiment of those dual imperatives.”

Groundbreaking scheduled

On Nov. 8, 2012, USC will welcome trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of USC Annenberg to campus for a ceremony marking the beginning of the initiative. Funds raised will pay for capital projects to enhance Wallis Annenberg Hall – labs, studios and technology – as well as student scholarships, fellowships, chaired professorships and funding for start-ups led by students and faculty.

Plans for the new 88,000-square-foot, five-floor building, scheduled to open in the fall of 2014, call for a four-story atrium with a rooftop skylight and multistory digital media tower and a fully converged, 20,000-square-foot newsroom that will allow students to share and publish from multiple sources to any medium. Television, radio and direct-to-Web vodcast studios will each be multipurpose and allow publishing to multiple platforms.

Join us at 11 a.m. at the new building site, on the west side of Pertusati Bookstore on Childs Way, as we celebrate the groundbreaking. An all-school lunch will follow, set in Founders Park.

RSVP (code: AnnenbergLunch)
USC map (type “Parking Lot 5″ for exact location)

Alumna Jacki Wells Cisneros establishes $1 million endowed scholarship

Alumna and donor Jacki Wells Cisneros

When alumna Jacki Wells Cisneros and her husband, Gilbert Cisneros, won the Mega Millions lottery in 2010, they vowed to give back to their church and alma maters. They have followed through with that pledge by establishing the $1 million Wells Cisneros Scholarship at USC Annenberg, which will be given to promising students who have been admitted to one of the School’s undergraduate programs.

“We are extremely proud and grateful that a member of the USC Annenberg family has chosen to give back to her School in such an impactful way,” Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. “The scholarships will help us tremendously in our ongoing efforts toward greater ethnic diversity in our classrooms. Jacki and Gilbert are touching the lives of unending future generations of Trojans through their philanthropy.”

Gilbert and Jacki CisnerosAward recipients must demonstrate strong interest in the field of journalism, communication, public relations or public diplomacy. Extra consideration will be given to students who are of Latin-American descent, from the state of California and who have a demonstrated financial need. The $25,000 scholarship is renewable each year, provided that the students achieve standards set by the faculty and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

“Gilbert and I both really value education,” Wells Cisneros said. “Latino students have a lower graduation rate in college, and we feel it’s often because of financial reasons. We want to allow them to take finances out of the equation so they can get the education they desire.”

The couple also hopes to extend their generosity beyond financial aid to the students—they want to be mentors as well.

“It’s not about, ‘Hey, here’s some money,'” she said. “We’ve been in the situations these students will be in and want to be here for them. We can share our experiences, knowledge and hopefully help them make good life decisions.”

Cisneros added that his wife would be an especially helpful resource to a student interested in broadcast journalism because she has years of experience in the field. She is a long-time newswoman who finished her shift at NBC even after finding out that she and her husband won the $266 million jackpot.

“I can’t imagine not working,” she said. “It’s a foreign concept to me. I’m too young to retire.”

The first Wells Cisneros Scholarship was first awarded to a student entering in the 2011-12 academic year, and another recipient will be added the following year. Because the Wells Cisneros Scholarship is endowed, the USC Annenberg School will be able to have two recipients on a permanent basis.

“Meeting that first student will be so cool,” Wells Cisneros said. “I’m excited to watch him or her grow and develop. Being able to fund scholarships like these really make us feel like we’re making a real difference.”

The Cisneroses have also made financial contributions to numerous other institutions, including The George Washington University (Gilbert’s alma mater), the California Chicano News Media Association, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, St. Hillary Church in Pico Rivera and the Newman Catholic Student Center at GW.