• The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-a-Chicken

  • Class of '62

    Terry Gilliam

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

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Terry Gilliam '62

Head yell leader, fraternity member, political science major: It’s not the background you’d expect for an acclaimed animator, screenwriter, film director, and member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

Terry Gilliam '62’s real training ground was as editor of and prolific cartoonist for Fang, Oxy’s now-defunct humor magazine. In its pages--and in the stories his fellow Fang staffers and Swan Hall inmates tell--one can see the origins of such visionary films as Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, and The Cabinet of Doctor Parnassus. “But I don’t encourage anyone to go into filmmaking,” Gilliam told Occidental magazine in 2009. “Spot welding would be better.”

 

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Fanny Hagin Mayer '23

The daughter of missionary parents, Fanny Hagin Mayer ’23 spent her formative years in Japan. She returned to the states for high school, but she never forgot Japan and the culture she grew up in.

So when the English major found herself bored in the States after completing her degree at Occidental, she enlisted in the occupation forces as a civilian and returned to Japan in 1947. There, she taught at various universities and was named professor of English literature at Sophia University in Tokyo. All the while, she translated stories. She eventually translated and collaborated on over 40 collections of Japanese folktales. Her magnum opus, entitled Ancient Tales in Modern Japan: An Anthology of Japanese Folk Tales, contains nearly 350 folktales. Of the 350 stories, more than half were translated into English for the first time. Published in 1985, the anthology has become the foundation of Japanese folktale scholarship and remains a cornerstone of the field.

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Edward Schlag '53

Some of the brightest minds in science have worked under Oxy chemistry major Edward Schlag ’53.

They include three Nobel laureates and more than two dozen recipients of prestigious Alexander von Humboldt research fellowships. A physical chemistry professor at Munich Technical University, Schlag is a research pioneer in chemical spectroscopy via tunable lasers. Many of his students honored Schlag at a symposium at the Germany Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and he was recognized again at the 2009 national meeting of the American Chemical Society for his research in ZEKE spectroscopy. Much sought after as a lecturer, Schlag has taught in universities around the world, including Caltech, Yale, and Cambridge.

  • Oxy’s youngest Pulitzer Prize winner

  • Class of '96

    Andrea Elliott

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

  • Reclaiming the American Dream

  • Class of '48

    Richard Cornuelle

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Andrea Elliott '96

In high school, Andrea Elliott ’96 knew what she wanted to be: a newspaper reporter.

“I was a disastrous athlete,” she says. “I never made the lead in the school play. But writing came easily to me.” In 2007, she won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, for a series of articles in the New York Times about the life of a Brooklyn imam in post-9/11 America. Raised bilingual, the daughter of an American lawyer and a Chilean clinical therapist, the ECLS major and former Occidental Weekly staffer finished first in her class at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and worked at the Miami Herald before joining the Times in 2003. Says Oxy friend and fellow Times staffer Kareem Fahim ’93, “She becomes so involved in her stories that it’s fun to get caught up in that, to watch her develop her thinking.”

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Bill Davis '80

Bill Davis '80 was burned in effigy during his first job.

Not a promising beginning for the young manager of KALX radio, the chaotic Berkeley public radio station where a DJ once overdosed while on the air. But the Oxy English major attracted the attention of National Public Radio executives during his 10-year stint at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., which he turned into one of NPR’s most popular member stations. Davis has spent the last decade as president of Southern California Public Radio, the parent company of KPCC, the public radio station once based at Pasadena City College. KPCC’s audience has tripled in size during his tenure, and once again he heads one of the country’s most-listened-to public radio outlets--one that has won more than 230 regional and national journalism awards.

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Richard Cornuelle '48

Though often remembered as an early libertarian, Richard Cornuelle '48 defied conventional political definitions.

Frustrated by conservative indifference to social problems and liberal reliance on the federal government for solutions, Cornuelle published a series of books on his belief in social action, starting with Reclaiming the American Dream in 1965. Pollster George Gallup later called the influence of the book “the most dramatic shift in American thinking since the New Deal.” Cornuelle also formed several nonprofit organizations, including United Student Aid Funds to help send impoverished students to college. Six years after the program’s inception, USAF was helping 48,000 students attend 674 colleges. He also founded the Center for Independent Action, which trained previously unemployable workers and helped them find jobs. After graduation from Oxy, Cornuelle studied with the prominent free-market economist Ludwig von Mises at New York University, whose students later founded the modern libertarian movement.

  • Changed the face of American theater

  • Class of '53

    Ming Cho Lee

  • Helped shape the theory of plate tectonics

  • Class of '59

    G. Brent Dalrymple

  • Darling of L.A.’s indie music scene

  • Class of '09

    Ramona Gonzales

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Ming Cho Lee '53

If Ming Cho Lee ’53’s father had his way, Lee would have become an accountant.

Instead, Lee majored in speech and became one of America’s greatest set designers, winner of the National Medal of Arts and mentor to a new generation of scenic artists (including Tony winner Heidi Ettinger ’73). Since 1962, when Joe Papp hired him as New York City's Public Theater’s resident set designer, Lee--a teacher at the Yale School of Drama for more than 40 years--has literally changed the face of American theater and opera. Under the influence of his award-winning work in theaters across the country, stage design has moved from poetic realism to a more abstract, presentational approach. “I find teaching as invigorating as doing Shakespeare,” he told Occidental magazine in 2003. “I would not want to live without Shakespeare.”

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G. Brent Dalrymple '59

G. Brent Dalrymple ’59’s geochronology research in a tarpaper shack led to the formulation of the modern theory of plate tectonics.

In 1963, after the geology major was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey, he and two colleagues built a mass spectrometer-dating lab in a shack outside of their office to test the idea that rocks might show when Earth’s magnetic pole switched from north to south. Two years later, they presented evidence of magnetic polarity reversal for the last 3.5 million years. Princeton geophysicist Fred Vine used that data to show that the record of ocean-floor reversals matched the pattern of magnetic reversals–the basis for the modern theory of plate tectonics. In his long career--first at the USGS and later as a professor and dean of Oregon State University--Dalrymple also studied the evolution of volcanoes and lunar geology. In 2003, he was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for science and engineering researchers.

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Ramona Gonzales '09

By the time she graduated, Ramona Gonzales '09 had recorded her debut album, started touring, and had her song chosen for a movie soundtrack.

The movie, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller, was a critical success and helped to launch Nite Jewel’s first tour, where they played shows in dance clubs and rock joints all over Europe. That year, the L.A. Times named Gonzales one of five “Queens of L.A.’s lo-fi scene,” signaling her firm arrival into the often-transient world of indie music. Nite Jewel (Ramona Gonzales’ nickname and project) has since been profiled in Rolling Stone, Elle and on Pitchfork.com for her debut album Good Evening, which was acclaimed by culture critics and indie music connoisseurs, and in 2012 she released her follow-up album One Second of Love to favorable reviews. The philosophy major attributes her music’s unique depth to the interdisciplinary approach to learning she took from her Oxy education. Nite Jewel was an official showcase selection at 2012’s SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas.

  • Taught generations of aspiring journalists

  • Class of '46

    Ted Tajima

  • First president of Hampshire College

  • Class of '39

    Franklin Patterson

  • Where she leads, others will follow

  • Class of '68

    Marsha Evans

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Ted Tajima '46

Ted Tajima ’46’s enthusiasm for teaching belied the difficulties in his past.

Because they were of Japanese descent, Tajima’s sister and parents were interned during WWII, and Tajima’s hopes of becoming a journalist were dashed by racism. Still, “Mr. T” taught journalism to others without a trace of bitterness. During his tenure at Alhambra High School, which began in 1946, the school’s weekly student newspaper earned 26 All-American awards from the National Scholastic Press Assn., and Tajima was named Outstanding Journalism Teacher of the Year by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. in 1969. Despite his success, the early days of racism haunted Tajima. “Our experience has been to prove we’re American, and I’m still trying to prove it,” he said of himself and his sister in 2005.

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Franklin Patterson '39

Franklin Patterson ’39 was a writer, an innovator and even a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, but above all else he was an educator.

Patterson, a firm believer in enabling students to educate themselves and developing their independence in order to help them become responsible citizens, was once quoted as saying, “education is not equal to time spent at college.” But he would make sure that time spent at college would be educational. He helped write the New College Plan, resulting in the formation of the experimental, alternative education college Hampshire College. The history and government major began his teaching career as a professor at Tufts University, teaching political science; he went on to become the first president of Hampshire College, was the first director of the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs, and also taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While at Oxy he was a member of the debate team and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

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Marsha Evans '68

Just before Commencement, amid anti-war protests, Marsha Evans ’68 announced her post-graduation plan: She was joining the U.S. Navy.

“There was this collective gasp” at the senior women’s lunch, she remembers. “I created an amazing stir.” Evans has created an amazing stir ever since, becoming only the fifth woman to attain the rank of rear admiral. After a 29-year Navy career that included stints as a presidential aide, a White House Fellow, and as commanding officer of the Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco, the diplomacy and world affairs major went on to head the Girl Scouts of the USA and serve as president and CEO of the American Red Cross and acting commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

  • Laid the groundwork for viral videos

  • Class of '73

    Stephen L. Casner

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

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Alfonso Perez '47

The son of Mexican immigrants, Alfonso Perez ’47 won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal as an Air Force bombardier in World War II.

What he was proudest of, however, was his 33 years of service to special education students in public schools. As the first Mexican-American to be appointed a high school principal in Los Angeles, Perez, who majored in physical education at Oxy, turned Widney High School into a national model of public education for the handicapped. By the end of his tenure, Widney had been transformed from what Perez called “a holding place” for the disabled to a school that mainstreamed up to a third of its students. The Alfonso B. Perez School for special education students was named in his honor after his 1980 retirement from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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Stephen L. Casner '73

Next time you watch a YouTube video or use Skype to call someone, thank Stephen L. Casner ’73.

He helped create Real-time Transport Protocol, an Internet format that makes possible real-time streaming audio and video data between devices. The International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium awarded the Oxy mathematics major its 2011 leadership award for his role in the creation of the RTP and his contributions to the multimedia industry. At USC’s Information Sciences Institute, he co-designed and implemented protocols and software for some of the earliest experiments with “packet voice” using the ARPAnet. Now at Santa Clara-based Packet Design, Casner is applying some of the same techniques to network performance measurement and routing analysis.

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Ben Coombs '59

Ben Coombs ’59 went broke the first time he ventured into financial planning.

“We knew how to spell financial planning, but nobody knew how to do it,” says Coombs, today a much-honored pioneer who helped define a field that has more than 55,000 certified practitioners. After following his father into insurance sales, the psychology major became a member of the first graduating class to receive certification from the College of Financial Planning in 1973. By 1987, he was advising high-level corporate executives and had founded Petra Financial, specializing in asset management. Petra Financial quickly became a household name for professionals in the field. Appointed president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (today’s Financial Planning Association) in 1985, Coombs created a residency program to encourage and support younger financial planners. He was honored with the FPA’s P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award for service to the profession in 2005.

  • Helped found one of the world’s first gay rights organizations

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

  • Translator of indigenous languages

  • Class of '18

    William Cameron Townsend

  • Trailblazer in the federal courts

  • Class of '87

    Jacqueline Nguyen

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James “John” Gruber '53

James “John” Gruber ’53 was an Oxy sophomore when he and boyfriend Konrad Stevens joined the 6-month-old Society of Fools.

At Gruber’s suggestion, the group changed its name to the Mattachine Society--known today as the first modern gay-rights organization. “All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, or repression. Just the freedom to open up … really, that’s what it was all about,” said Gruber, an ex-Marine studying English on the G.I. Bill. After working in radio and founding a motorcycle club, Gruber fell in love with teaching and enjoyed a long career as a high school and college teacher. At his death in 2011, he was the last surviving original member of the Mattachine Society.

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William Cameron Townsend '18

As a missionary hoping to empower the indigenous peoples of Latin and Central America, William Cameron Townsend ’18 traveled, and where he traveled he translated.

Townsend believed that if an indigenous population was given the ability to organize themselves through study of the Bible, it would help them to achieve self-esteem and dignity. He eventually was able to establish schools to train translators to become teachers, promoting literacy and enabling a self-sustaining system of education in these small populations. During a brief period of living in the United States, he founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a training school where young people learned necessary linguistic skills in order to eventually work with him in Latin and Central America. Over the last 60 years, the SIL has analyzed 1,724 languages and is currently working on 1,053 more. During his lifetime, he lived in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia and translated the New Testament into over 150 languages.

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Jacqueline Nguyen '87

Even when she was a federal prosecutor known as the “Smiling Assassin,” Jacqueline Nguyen ’87 worked weekends in her family’s North Hollywood doughnut shop.

It’s the place she and her family rebuilt their lives after fleeing South Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975, and a measure of how far she has come. The Occidental English major is the first Vietnamese-American woman to be appointed to the state judiciary, to serve as a federal judge, and to be appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. “Judge Nguyen has been a trailblazer,” President Barack Obama ’83 said in announcing the nomination to the Ninth Circuit. “I’m confident she will serve the American people with fairness and integrity.”

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

  • Outspoken policymaker

  • Class of '59

    Velma Montoya Thompson

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

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Christopher G. Oechsli '75

Christopher G. Oechsli ’75 has $4 billion he needs to spend by 2020.

As president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, whose mission is to bring about “lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people,” Oechsli is responsible for spending the foundation’s endowment and ultimately closing its doors. Earlier in his career, he worked in private law firms in the United States, China, and Taiwan, and in 1985, Oechsli became the first resident visiting law professor from the United States in China, where he taught constitutional and commercial law at the East China Institute of Politics and Law in Shanghai. He graduated from Occidental with bachelor’s degrees in English and Comparative Literature and Asian studies.

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Velma Montoya Thompson '59

Velma Montoya Thompson ’59 is not afraid to speak her mind

As a member of the University of California Board of Regents in 1997, Thompson defied then-Gov. Pete Wilson by declining to vote against health benefits for partners of gay employees. The first to graduate from Occidental with a degree in diplomacy and world affairs, Montoya was a Marshall scholar who went on to receive a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA—one of the first Mexican-American women to do so. She worked at the RAND Corp. as an economist and served in the Reagan and Bush administrations as a member of the White House Coordinating Council on Women and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. She returned to her native California and taught at UCLA, Pepperdine University, and other colleges and universities.

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Kathleen Fraser '58

Kathleen Fraser '58 originally wanted to be a journalist. Instead, she found that poetry was a better medium for exposing the truth.

Encouraged to pursue poetry by a professor at Oxy, the English literature major went on to write for Mademoiselle magazine straight out of college. In 1964, she won the Frank O’Hara Poetry Prize from The New School, and the American Academy’s Discover Award; by 1973, she had published her first book of poetry, What I Want. She has since published over 15 books of poetry. In 1981, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts. She taught at San Francisco State University from 1972 to 1992, and during her time there she was the director of the Poetry Center. Her work, which has been described as “brutally honest,” “detail-oriented and bursting with images,” and “emotionally accurate,” has been featured in Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, and The Nation.

  • Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

  • Advisor to Nixon, he outpolled Reagan

  • Class of '47

    Robert Finch

  • Two-time Olympic gold medalist

  • Class of '43

    Sammy Lee

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Adam Holzman '81

Named by Keyboard magazine as one of the Top 10 Best Keyboardists in the World, Adam Holzman ’81 has been praised by the New York Times and the Washington Post for his “killer grooves.”

But the highlight of the philosophy major’s long musical career are the years he spent touring with Miles Davis, the legendary jazz musician. Davis, known for his high turnover rate for band members, kept Holzman on for five years and eventually promoted him to musical director of the band in 1988. Holzman and his keyboard performed on Davis’ Grammy award-winning album, “Tutu,” and he performed with Davis in over 200 live concerts. On working with Davis, he says “all of a sudden I had a better idea of how to squeeze a lot more out of a melody.” He currently performs all over the world with his critically acclaimed jazz-rock band, Brave New World.

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Robert Finch '47

When Robert Finch ’47 was elected California’s 38th lieutenant governor in 1966, he received 300,000 more votes than Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor.

It all began at Oxy, where Finch, a political science major, served as student body president and organized Young Republican clubs on a dozen local college campuses. As a congressional aide in Washington, he befriended freshman Rep. Richard Nixon; he went on to manage Nixon’s 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns. Finch turned down Nixon’s 1968 offer to be his vice presidential running mate, but accepted an appointment as U.S. secretary for Health, Education and Welfare. He later served the president as a senior adviser. In 1973, Finch returned to California to practice law, but remained involved in Republican politics until his death in 1995.

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Sammy Lee '43

As a boy, Sammy Lee ’43 was once confronted by neighbors who demanded that the Korean boy and his family move out.

He remembers a friend, a German immigrant, telling them, “One day, you’ll be proud the Lees were your neighbors.” Lee, a chemistry major and All-American diver at Oxy, went on to become the first Asian-American man to win an Olympic gold medal on the 10-meter platform, in London in 1948. At age 32, he became the oldest diver to win a gold medal, at the 1952 Olympics. A doctor and ear, nose, and throat specialist for 35 years, Lee also had a distinguished Olympic coaching career--his divers included gold medalist Bob Webster and silver medalist Greg Louganis.

 

  • Universal Studios tour guide makes good

  • Class of '77

    Cheri Steinkellner

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

  • Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

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Cheri Steinkellner '77

Wacky and funny and smart and fast.

That’s how composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt describes Cheri Steinkellner ’77, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning writer and producer of sitcoms (spending seven years with husband Bill behind the bar at "Cheers"), animated fare (co-creating “Teacher’s Pet” for the Disney Channel, which spun off a feature film in 2004), and now musical theater. The Oxy English major, former Universal Studios tour guide, and Groundlings member is in the midst of a second career, having dropped out of the business in the late-’90s to raise her three children. Today, she is fully re-immersed as the co-writer of the musical Princesses, the Tony-nominated musical Sister Act, and two new collaborations with Stitt: Mosaic and Hello! My Baby.

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Rosalind Wiseman '91

Tina Fey’s 2004 film Mean Girls is a comedy, but no one takes teen bullying more seriously than Rosalind Wiseman '91, who wrote the book that inspired the movie.

“I get really mad about people being bullied – boys or girls. And I felt like I could do something about it.” In that regard, Wiseman has succeeded. In the 10 years since the first publication of her New York Times bestseller, Queen Bees and Wannabees has sold more than 400,000 copies, and Wiseman has become the nation’s leading expert on bullying prevention and school violence. In 2011, she was invited to the White House as a principal speaker at the White House Summit on Bullying, and she has developed anti-bullying curriculums at schools all over the nation. The political science major began by teaching girls martial arts, and what started as a way to help victims fight back turned into a lifelong mission of helping girls take responsibility and preventing bullying at its core. Of her life’s work, she says, “I knew no matter what I did, I wanted to do something to make the world a more socially just place.”

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Harriett Allen '35

As a child, Harriet Allen ’35 and her family would often take trips into the desert. This early experience would lead to a lifelong love of the desert and to her extraordinary accomplishments in the field of desert conservation.

In 1954, the biology major was a founding member of the Desert Protective Council, created to protect expanses of land in California from mining. For eight years, she lobbied for the protection of several regional deserts, and her efforts were essential to the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. When then-President Clinton signed the bill in 1994, the Act protected more than 8 million acres of land from developers. Well-known parks including Joshua Tree National Monument, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Torrey Pines National State Reserve can all credit their preservation to Harriet Allen. She continued to take leadership positions in the Desert Protective Council and the Sierra Club and mentored generations of desert activists.

  • Supervises San Francisco

  • Class of '00

    Carmen Chu

  • From 1600 Campus Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

  • Class of '83

    Barack Obama

  • Represents “Peanuts” and popcorn and Cracker Jack

  • Class of '86

    Shawn Lawson-Cummings

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Carmen Chu '00

Carmen Chu ’00’s career as an elected official began with a tap on the shoulder in 2007.

She was crunching numbers in her cubicle in San Francisco City Hall, where she worked as deputy budget director, when Mayor Gavin Newsom stopped by. “Have you ever considered serving in public office?” he asked. Newsom offered Chu the District 4 supervisor position, and in February 2013 Chu completed her second full term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She is fully engaged in the responsibilities and rewards of elected office. “You work on a whole host of issues all year round, and you meet so many interesting people along the way,” the public policy major says. She is currently the elected Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee for the city of San Francisco.

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Barack Obama '83

President Barack Obama ’83 still complains about the “B” politics professor Roger Boesche gave him--but is quick to add that it was his favorite college class.

Although Obama transferred to Columbia at the end of his sophomore year, Occidental is, in his own words, where he grew up and where he began to notice a world beyond himself. “Barack was funny, smart, thoughtful, and well-liked,” remembers classmate Phil Boerner. It was at Occidental that Obama made his first political speech, during a campus protest against South Africa’s apartheid regime. “Oxy nurtured his transformation,” the Boston Globe said. “By the end of his sophomore year, he was on his way to becoming a self-assured, purpose-driven scholar plotting a career in public service.”

 

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Shawn Lawson-Cummings '86

From baseball to Charlie Brown, Shawn Lawson-Cummings ’86 has worked with a number of iconic American institutions.

A two-time NCAA heptathlon champion and nine-time All American, Lawson-Cummings designed her own major at Oxy—psychophysiology--and earned an MBA at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. From there she negotiated contracts with major sports clients for General Mills, which led to her “dream job” handling international corporate sponsorships and licensing for Major League Baseball. Most recently, she has served as the Head of Innovation and Market Strategy for Timex Group, working with IRONMAN, the New York City Marathon, and the New York Giants to secure sponsorships and create successful campaign strategies.