• Advisor to Nixon, he outpolled Reagan

  • Class of '47

    Robert Finch

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

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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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Ben Affleck '95

In a house not far from the Oxy campus, Ben Affleck ’95 and longtime friend Matt Damon wrote the script for Good Will Hunting.

The film, directed by Gus Van Sant, made the pair the toast of Hollywood, garnering them the Oscar for best screenplay in 1998. Affleck’s classes in Middle Eastern studies at Oxy helped prepare him to play CIA agent Jack Ryan in the 2002 blockbuster The Sum of All Fears, and again as producer, director, and star of Argo, winner of the 2013 Oscar for best picture. He has headlined many other movies, from 2001’s Pearl Harbor (produced by Todd Garner ’88) to independent films including The Company Men (2010). His recent turns as writer-director of Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2009) helped set the stage for his latest success.
 
 

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Eleanor Helin '54

For more than 30 years, Eleanor Helin ’54 protected Earth from rogue asteroids.

Helin credited Professor Joe Birman with inspiring her to take up the study of geology, which eventually led to her pioneering career as an astronomer searching for near-Earth asteroids. At a time when few women entered the sciences, Helin landed a job at Caltech as custodian for its meteorite collection, which in turn led to her work at the country’s first lunar laboratory. By 1970, she was a participant in the Palomar Observatory’s Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey, and in 1995 she helped launch JPL’s Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking group. A 1998 inductee into the Women in Science and Technology Hall of Fame, Helin is credited with discovering or co-discovering 872 asteroids and several comets.

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

  • Social media en español

  • Class of '05

    Zaryn Dentzel

  • Documentarian, television and film director

  • Class of '68

    Jesus Salvador Treviño

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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.

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Zaryn Dentzel '05

Zaryn Dentzel ’05 combined his passions for organizing people and the Spanish language to create the largest social media network in Spain.

Dentzel double-majored in Spanish literature and diplomacy and world affairs after being drawn to Oxy after sitting in on a DWA class taught by Larry Caldwell. While at Oxy, he participated in the Occidental-at-the-United Nations semester, was involved with student government and created Student Event Services, which sent out notices for parties and campus events via a listserve. Though the service was disbanded by then-President Ted Mitchell, Dentzel credits his interest in networking technology to this experience. After graduation, he went to Spain and founded Tuenti, an invitation-only social network with 14 million users, responsible for 15% of all Spanish Internet traffic. Though Dentzel spends most of his time as CEO interviewing potential hires and networking with venture capitalists, he prefers working with Tuenti’s design teams, remarking, “Thank God I took Spanish at Oxy.”

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Jesus Salvador Treviño '68

Jesus Salvador Treviño ’68 documented the historic East L.A. high school walkouts by 15,000 Chicano students in the spring of 1968 with a Super 8 camera.

That was the opening act in a career that has spanned documentaries (Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement), features (Raices de Sangre) and scores of TV directing credits (from “Star Trek: Voyager” and “ER” to “Resurrection Blvd.” and “Bones”)–-not to mention two collections of short stories and a memoir. While the Oxy philosophy major has never forgotten his roots, his approach to storytelling is universal: “Resurrection Blvd.,” he says, is “a story that involves Latinos, but fundamentally it’s good drama, a good story, and good television.”

  • Developed the talking baby for E*Trade

  • Class of '94

    Tor Myhren

  • Where she leads, others will follow

  • Class of '68

    Marsha Evans

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

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Tor Myhren '94

Tor Myhren ’94 does not own a television.

That’s kind of odd, considering he is president and chief creative officer of Grey New York, the North American flagship of the world’s fifth-largest ad agency. But Myrhen, an English major and kinesiology minor, has transformed the old-school, conservative firm with such creations as the E*Trade talking baby. In 2010, Grey New York won 16 of 18 account pitches. “His creative judgment is outstanding,” says Mark Waller, chief marketing officer for the NFL, a Grey client. Ironically, Myhren got his first agency job with no advertising experience at all. “I really got my first advertising job from the short stories and poetry I had written at Oxy,” he says. “I guess that proved to my boss at the time that I could at least write.” Myhren successfully flexes his creativity in other domains as well: he just completed his first feature-length documentary, City Lax, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival.

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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.

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Alphonzo Bell 1895

The son of an early Southern California real estate developer, Alphonzo Bell 1895 originally intended to become a minister but went into the family business when he inherited some land.

With the proceeds from his new subdivision, he built a 200-acre estate in Santa Fe Springs, complete with tennis courts (Bell won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the 1904 Olympics). A 1921 oil strike on the property made Bell a millionaire and an inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil! He then invested heavily in Westside real estate and developed Bel-Air Estates. Although his 1925 proposal to move Occidental to Bel-Air came to naught, Bell served as chairman of the College’s board from 1938 to 1946.

  • Reclaiming the American Dream

  • Class of '48

    Richard Cornuelle

  • Captained the USA national rugby team

  • Class of '90

    Dave Hodges

  • Knows how to juggle more than work and social life.

  • Class of '09

    Stephen Bent

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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.

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Dave Hodges '90

Dave Hodges ’90’s original plan was medical school, with football on the side.

Then he switched to political science, thinking about law school. Then he found rugby, or what he calls “the sports thing.” Hodges was capped 54 times playing for the USA Eagles men’s national rugby team, notched 27 games as team captain, and played professional rugby abroad from 1997 until 2005. At age 36, Hodges retired from the Lianelli Scarlets of Wales to pursue a coaching career stateside. In 2007, he was named head coach of the Denver Barbarians (one of America’s oldest rugby clubs) and is currently forwards coach of the Eagles. In 2009, he was named Player of the Decade by Rugby Magazine.

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Stephen Bent '09

What began as a childhood hobby and morphed into a teenage obsession has become a dream come true.

Bent first began toying with juggling as a child, and, after seeing a performance by the neo-vaudevillian juggling troupe the Flying Karamazov Brothers at 13, his interest became a passion. He wrote a letter to founding Karamazov member Howard Jay Patterson, asking how he could become a member of the group. Patterson replied with a list that included continuing to study the trombone, and, in later correspondence, to learn how to sing. Bent went on to major in music with an emphasis in trombone, joined the Oxy Glee Club and created his own a cappella group. He delved into the juggling world, practicing three to four hours a day as well as performing at school and other events. When Patterson retired, he let Bent know there was an opening in the Karamazovs. Even though he was a senior at Oxy, Bent joined the juggling troupe, which lead to “the craziest year of my life (so far).” According to Patterson, “he’s the future of the group.” Patterson may have been onto something: Bent is now the musical director of the group and has also served as an arranger, composer, and vocal coach.

  • From 1600 Campus Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

  • Class of '83

    Barack Obama

  • Earned her wings as a WASP

  • Class of '33

    Lauretta (Beaty) Foy

  • Outspoken policymaker

  • Class of '59

    Velma Montoya Thompson

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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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Lauretta (Beaty) Foy '33

Although she was a stand-in for movie stars such as Loretta Young, English major Lauretta (Beaty) Foy ’33 wasn’t just another pretty face.

When World War II broke out, she became a test pilot for the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), flying fighter planes and bombers destined for combat. She didn’t give up her wings after the war ended. In 1947, Foy won the Powder Puff Derby, an annual coast-to-coast air race. She cut back on flying only after her husband, Bob Foy, died in a plane crash in 1950. But in the early 1960s she became a certified helicopter pilot and instructor. Her teaching paid an unexpected dividend: In 1993, when raging fires threatened her hilltop home in the Santa Monica Mountains, a former student swooped in via helicopter and rescued Foy.

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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.

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • The James Dean of disability studies

  • Class of '68

    Paul Longmore

  • Four-time Olympic fencer

  • Class of '45

    Maxine McMasters Mitchell

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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.

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Paul Longmore '68

Punching a keyboard with a pen he held in his mouth, it took historian Paul Longmore ’68 M’71 10 years to write his first book.

Then he burned it--a protest against federal policies that discouraged disabled professionals from working. With his arms paralyzed and spine curved by a childhood bout with polio, “In every school and every job, I’ve been the first with a major disability,” he said. A specialist in early American history and the history of people with disabilities, the Oxy history major was a pioneer in the field of disability studies at San Francisco State, winning major prizes for his advocacy and teaching. “I once heard Paul introduced as the James Dean of disability studies,” one colleague said. “That captures the combination of intellectual, rebel, and down-to-earth man he was.”

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Maxine McMasters Mitchell '45

“If you’re winning, don’t change your tactics,” Maxine McMasters Mitchell ’45 used to say.

She knew what she was talking about: The physical education major represented the United States in four Olympics (’52, ’56, ’60, ’68)–the longest Olympic career of any Oxy athlete. Although her highest Olympic finish was fourth, Mitchell won four titles in fencing at major championships, including an individual first in the 1955 Pan American Games and a foil-team first at the 1967 Pan Am Games. Besides her athletic prowess, she was known for her sense of humor. After her first gender-verification test at the 1968 Olympics, Mitchell quipped to Sports Illustrated: “I have four children and eight grandchildren. I wondered what I was going to tell them. ‘Call me grandpa?’”

  • Represents “Peanuts” and popcorn and Cracker Jack

  • Class of '86

    Shawn Lawson-Cummings

  • Poet honored with a postage stamp

  • Class of 1905

    Robinson Jeffers

  • No man left behind

  • Class of '45

    Thomas H. Tackaberry

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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.

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Robinson Jeffers 1905

One of America’s best-selling poets, Robinson Jeffers 1905 was featured on the cover of Time, turned the Greek tragedy Medea into a Broadway hit in 1947, and was honored with a stamp in 1973--11 years after his death.

First published in 1938, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers was reprinted so many times that Random House lost track of sales. His critical reputation has subsequently declined--a result of his vocal anti-war views and a shrinking audience for narrative poetry in the classical style. Still, “It is hard to see how anyone can read Jeffers’ best poetry and not perceive greatness,” David Rains Wallace wrote in praise of the Stanford University Press’ 2000 edition of his collected poems. “His narrative verse rivals Wordsworth’s or Byron’s. It is electrifying; the skin prickles.”

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Thomas H. Tackaberry '45

Thomas H. Tackaberry '45 never backed down when servicemen were under fire.

It was Sept. 9, 1952, and in the Chorwon province in North Korea, Captain Tackaberry had spotted a United Nations patrol that had become disorganized after its commander was killed in action. Despite the barrage of heavy automatic weapon fire, Tackaberry oversaw the withdrawal of the patrol and remained behind until he was sure that the men were safe. His heroic actions earned him his first Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military award granted for “extreme gallantry and risk of life.” Tackaberry went on to receive two more Distinguished Service Crosses for leading defensive operations and extracting soldiers while under heavy assault in Vietnam, where he served as commanding officer of the 2nd Airborne Battalion and later the commanding officer of the 196th Infantry Brigade. After his active duty abroad, Tackaberry served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg from 1974 to 1976 and then as commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg from 1979 until his retirement in 1981. The Los Angeles native is among the top 50 most decorated U.S military personnel and is remembered for his bravery on the ground and in the air.

  • Received an Oscar for lifetime achievement

  • Class of '53

    George Stevens Jr.

  • Brought Presbyterian values to Hollywood

  • Class of '18

    Louis Hadley Evans

  • Popularized the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement

  • Class of '49

    Guy Carawan

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George Stevens Jr. '53

George Stevens Jr. began working in the family business as a teenager, on his father's iconic film Shane.

After Oxy, he joined the crews of some of his director father George Stevens' other famous films, such as Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank. By his mid-20s, he was directing episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock" and "Peter Gunn." But he left Hollywood behind after meeting newscaster Edward R. Murrow, heading for Washington, D.C. to work for the U.S. Information Agency. After relocating to D.C., Stevens founded the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center Honors, wrote acclaimed miniseries and a Broadway play, directed documentaries, penned books and executive produced films. Stevens has earned 15 Emmys, two Peabody Awards, the Humanitas Prize and eight Writers Guild of America awards--and now an honorary Oscar. "It's awfully nice when good surprises come along," he told the Los Angeles Times

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Louis Hadley Evans '18

Louis Hadley Evans ’18 originally turned down the job that made his career.

A star athlete and Glee Club president at Oxy, he served in the Navy during World War I. Ordained after the war, Evans led congregations in North Dakota, California, and Pennsylvania before being called to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1941--a call he initially rejected. Over the next 12 years, he transformed Hollywood into the country’s largest Presbyterian church, inspiring hundreds of young people including Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Author, co-founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and summer pastor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Evans was profiled by Time magazine and named one of “America’s Twelve Outstanding Religious Leaders” by Life.

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Guy Carawan '49

The year was 1960, and the song was “We Shall Overcome.” Guy Carawan ’49 sang, and the rest of the country united under its message.

At the time, singing at a conference held by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the mathematics major would have no idea that his organization’s favorite folk song would become the song that the American Civil Rights Movement would rally around. Then working at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Carawan and his colleagues arranged the lyrics and music of “We Shall Overcome,” which has its roots in gospel and slavery and was already a popular protest song. When he took over as musical director at Highlander, he was invited to North Carolina for the meeting that would launch “We Shall Overcome” into popularity. The students attending the conference took the lyrics and message of “We Shall Overcome” back to their communities, where it spread until it was heard all over the world. A lifetime lover of folk music, Carawan would spend the rest of his time at Highlander performing for and inspiring civil rights activists around the country.

  • Reported from the heart of red Russia

  • Class of 1907

    Bessie Beatty

  • Changed the face of American theater

  • Class of '53

    Ming Cho Lee

  • Two-time Pulitzer winner

  • Class of '80

    Steve Coll

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Bessie Beatty 1907

When her classmates were preparing for graduation, Bessie Beatty 1907 was covering a Nevada miner’s strike for the Los Angeles Herald.

Early training on the Aurora and the Occidental, predecessors of the modern Weekly, lured her into daily journalism. In 1917, she traveled to Russia to cover the Russian Revolution for the San Francisco Bulletin. Based in St. Petersburg, she witnessed many of the most significant moments of the revolution, which she described in her book, The Red Heart of Russia. She subsequently became a foreign correspondent in Europe, a writer for MGM Studios, and director of the National Label Council to promote union-made goods. She finished her career as the host of the most popular women’s radio show in the country.

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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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Steve Coll '80

After graduating from Oxy with a double major in history and English, one of Steve Coll ’80’s first jobs was writing marketing materials for power tools.

It was an unlikely beginning for the newspaper reporter, foreign correspondent, Washington Post managing editor, and New Yorker staff writer who has won two Pulitzer Prizes. In 1990 he shared the Pulitzer for explanatory reporting for a Post account of the regulatory activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He won the 2005 Pulitzer in general nonfiction for his book Ghost Wars, a detailed account of the rise of Osama bin Laden. He is currently president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy organization. His new book, Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power, scheduled for publication on May 1, prompted Newsweek to say, "In truth we haven’t seen it yet, so we can’t tell you much more than that we want to read anything Coll writes..."

  • From “Clear Skies Ahead” to “It’s All Inside”

  • Class of '84

    Janet Dhillon

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

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Janet Dhillon '84

Corporate legal whiz Janet Dhillon ’84 is the executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary for J.C. Penney, one of the country’s oldest department store chains.

Dhillon came to the company after serving as the top lawyer and chief compliance officer for Phoenix-based US Airways. In 2008, while at the airline, Dhillon was named one of the 10 most influential lawyers in Arizona by AZ Business magazine. After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in history from Oxy, Dhillon stormed UCLA Law School, graduating first in her class. She honed her legal chops at New York City-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the country’s most powerful law firms.

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George E. Alcorn '62

What’s on the surface of Mercury and other planets?

We’re able to find out, thanks to George E. Alcorn ’62. He created the imaging X-ray spectrometer, a device that helps scientists explore the chemical composition and geologic history of planets millions of miles away. For this achievement, the Oxy physics major and two-sport letterman was presented with NASA’s Inventor of the Year Award. The spectrometer is just one of more than 20 inventions and at least eight domestic and international patents that Alcorn created. Alcorn worked at companies such as IBM before coming to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 1978, where he has headed the office of commercial programs and served as deputy project manager for space station advanced development.

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Janette Sadik-Khan '82

Thanks to Janette Sadik-Khan ’82, in 2009 New Yorkers were able to do what few had ever done: walk down the middle of Broadway in the middle of the day.

As New York City’s transportation commissioner, Sadik-Khan is credited with transforming the car-clogged streets of Manhattan. Hundreds of miles of new bike lanes, strategic street closures, fewer traffic fatalities, and the surreal sight of lawn chairs in Times Square are all the products of her leadership. A political science major at Oxy, she worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and was a senior vice president of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff before her appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007. The scope and speed of her achievements have led many to hail her as a brilliant innovator and visionary.