• Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

  • Taught generations of aspiring journalists

  • Class of '46

    Ted Tajima

  • San Francisco County Superior Court judge

  • Class of '64

    Lillian Sing

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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.

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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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Lillian Sing '64

Lillian Sing '64 brought her passion for activism to the San Francisco County Superior Court bench.

The psychology major has always been committed to community service and social work. Five years out of undergraduate study, she and other leaders in the Asian-American community founded Chinese for Affirmative Action to provide equal employment opportunities for the Chinese-American community. She founded the first Chinese-American bilingual preschool in San Francisco over 30 years ago, and in 1981, she became the first Asian-American judge appointed to the San Francisco Superior Court. In 2001, she was commended by the city and county of San Francisco for her pioneering advocacy on behalf of Chinese-Americans. In her over 20 years on the bench of the San Francisco Superior Court, she developed a reputation for evenhandedness and integrity, innovation in the courtroom and encyclopedic knowledge of the law.

  • Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

  • Supervises San Francisco

  • Class of '00

    Carmen Chu

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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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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.

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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.

  • Four-time Olympic fencer

  • Class of '45

    Maxine McMasters Mitchell

  • America’s first lady of gastronomy

  • Class of '31

    M.F.K. Fisher

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

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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?’”

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M.F.K. Fisher '31

A self-described “insatiable reader and scribbler,” M.F.K. Fisher ’31’s desire for the written word was eclipsed only by her hunger for food--all of it, whether animal or vegetable, cooked or raw.

The confluence of these two appetites helped make Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher America’s best-known and prolific food writer, and an icon to gastronomes everywhere. Her writing on the slow, sensual pleasures of the table seemed revolutionary to a buttoned-down, mid-century America. In a career spanning 60 years, Fisher’s prolific output included 15 books of essays, such as How to Cook a Wolf and The Gastronomical Me, novels, hundreds of stories for the New Yorker, as well as an English translation of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s classic book, The Physiology of Taste. Poet W.H. Auden called her “America’s greatest writer.”

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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.

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

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

  • Class of '84

    Janet Dhillon

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

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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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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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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.

  • Shaped Japan’s relation with the world

  • Class of '31

    Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi

  • Translator of indigenous languages

  • Class of '18

    William Cameron Townsend

  • From 1600 Campus Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

  • Class of '83

    Barack Obama

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Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi '31

Cultural ambassador, translator, and diplomat Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi ’31 played an important role in shaping Japan’s relations with the world after World War II.

A debater, football player, and political science major at Occidental, Shimanouchi–brought to the United States at age 3–returned to Japan to work as a newspaper reporter and staff member of the Society for International Cultural Relations, which led to a position with the Japan Institute in New York. Interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was repatriated to Japan in 1942. After the war, he had a long career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as director of overseas public relations, as official translator for the Japanese prime minister, as counsel general in Los Angeles, and finally as the Japanese ambassador to Norway.

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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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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.”

 

  • Brought Presbyterian values to Hollywood

  • Class of '18

    Louis Hadley Evans

  • Barrio Boy turned Chicano studies icon

  • Class of '27

    Ernesto Galarza

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

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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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Ernesto Galarza '27

A native of the tiny mountain village of Jalcocotán, Nayarit, Mexico, Ernesto Galarza ’27 came to the United States at age 8, speaking no English.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in political science from Occidental, and earned a master’s degree from Stanford and a Ph.D. from Columbia–the first Chicano graduate student at both. A civil rights and labor activist, scholar, teacher, and influential author, Galarza was a pioneer during an era when Mexican-Americans had few public advocates. Based on his own bitter experiences as a teenage farm worker, he helped build the first multiracial farm workers union, setting the stage for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Today he is regarded as one of the founders of the field of Chicano studies.

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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.

  • White House advisor and Stanford economist

  • Class of '76

    Kathryn Shaw

  • Changed the face of American theater

  • Class of '53

    Ming Cho Lee

  • Laid the groundwork for viral videos

  • Class of '73

    Stephen L. Casner

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Kathryn Shaw '76

Kathryn Shaw ’76 had a first-row seat on the confluence of economics and politics as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors.

From 1999 to 2001, the Oxy mathematics major advised the president not just on the economy, but also on proposed legislation and healthcare and job-creation policy. After her White House stint, Shaw returned to her first love—teaching. The Harvard-trained economist taught at Carnegie Mellon University for more than 20 years before becoming Stanford University’s Ernest C. Arbuckle Professor of Economics in 2003. Her research focuses on managing talent in high-performance organizations. Shaw co-developed the field of “insider econometrics,” in which internal company data is used to study performance gains from practices such as higher pay and teamwork.

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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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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.

  • The LAPD’s best homicide detective

  • Class of '49

    Pierce Brooks

  • Earned her wings as a WASP

  • Class of '33

    Lauretta (Beaty) Foy

  • Gives voice to the unheard

  • Class of '93

    Angelica Salas

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Pierce Brooks '49

When asked what his hobbies were, Pierce Brooks ‘49’s answer was short and to the point: “Catching felons.”

At age 41, Brooks already was reputed to be the LAPD’s best homicide detective when he headed the investigation of the kidnapping and killing of a fellow officer in 1963. It became his most famous case, immortalized in Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling account, The Onion Field (1973), and in the 1979 movie of the same name. Today, though, the Occidental political science major is perhaps best known as the man who pioneered the profiling and tracking of serial killers. Brooks is regarded as the father of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a national database for tracking serial killers that he first proposed in 1957. According to true-crime writer Anne Rule, Brooks “was one of the greatest homicide detectives of them all.”

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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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Angelica Salas '93

Angelica Salas ’93 gives voice to the millions of unheard, unrepresented illegal immigrants in the United States.

As executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Oxy history major helped lead the fight for reform of immigration policies, such as winning in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students, many of whom arrived as infants, and establishing day-laborer job centers. She turned her nonprofit from a tiny operation to a 30-employee education and advocacy organization that serves immigrants from all over the world. Salas’ passion for her job is also personal: She was 5 years old when her family came to the United States out of economic desperation.

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

  • Class of '09

    Ramona Gonzales

  • Oxy’s youngest Pulitzer Prize winner

  • Class of '96

    Andrea Elliott

  • Olympic photo finish

  • Class of '53

    Bob McMillen

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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.

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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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Bob McMillen '53

With less than 200 meters to go, it looked as if Bob McMillen ’53 had no hope of winning an Olympic medal. Then he started his kick.

Trailing at the back of the pack in the 1,500 meter final at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, McMillen put on a sudden burst of speed on the final turn, surging past leader Werner Lueg of Germany and almost catching Joseph Barthel of Luxembourg. McMillen took the silver in one of the most dramatic finishes in Olympic history, missing the gold by one-tenth of a second.

As an Oxy athlete, McMillen won an NCAA championship in the 1,500 and was a member of a distance relay team that set a new world record. “Bob was probably one of the most fun-loving guys who ever existed,” remembers teammate Phil Schlegel ’53. “But he had a switch in him when he was going to work out or run … and be the most concentrated, focused person.” McMillen is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

  • Received an Oscar for lifetime achievement

  • Class of '53

    George Stevens Jr.

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

  • Universal Studios tour guide makes good

  • Class of '77

    Cheri Steinkellner

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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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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.

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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.