• America’s first lady of gastronomy

  • Class of '31

    M.F.K. Fisher

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

  • Outspoken policymaker

  • Class of '59

    Velma Montoya Thompson

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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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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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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.

  • Went Into the Woods with Sondheim

  • Class of '72

    Joanna Gleason

  • Gives voice to the unheard

  • Class of '93

    Angelica Salas

  • Takes lunch with Hollywood A-listers

  • Class of '81

    Lorrie Bartlett

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Joanna Gleason '72

Joanna Gleason ’72 was bitten by the acting bug when she saw her first Broadway show as a 12-year-old.

The musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying knocked her socks off, and she thought, “This is the thing that will save me from the nightmare of the teenage girl peer-pressure thing. If I can be good at this, it’s something they can’t all do.” The speech and drama major has been more than just good: She won a Tony Award for best actress in a musical (Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods), several Drama Desk awards for outstanding featured actress, and a Theatre World Award for her 1977 Broadway debut in the musical I Love My Wife. Her films include Mr. Holland’s Opus and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. She has also appeared on such TV shows as “The West Wing” and “The Practice.”

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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.

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Lorrie Bartlett '81

Lorrie Bartlett ’81 learned long ago not to take no for an answer.

The first black agent--male or female--to head the talent department of a talent and literary agency, Bartlett was just a kid when her father--then mayor of the L.A. suburb of Monrovia--convinced Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca not to pull the company’s dealerships out of the small Los Angeles suburb. As senior talent agent at Hollywood mega-agency International Creative Management, the diplomacy and world affairs major represents A-list actors such as Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Colombiana) and Josh Duhamel (Transformers). She began her career at the William Morris Agency (now WME), and was snapped up by the Gersh Agency, where she represented actors and musicians such as Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.

  • Represents “Peanuts” and popcorn and Cracker Jack

  • Class of '86

    Shawn Lawson-Cummings

  • The Triple Threat

  • Class of '64

    Bill Redell

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

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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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Bill Redell '64

One of college football’s last great “triple threats,” Bill Redell could do it all: pass, run, kick, and play defense.

As a player, Redell was attending USC on a scholarship when Vic Schwenk, his high school coach, convinced him to transfer to Oxy in 1962. He ended up an All-American, starring on both sides of the ball as a quarterback (1,567 yards passing, 1,583 rushing), as a defensive back (seven career interceptions), and kicker (36 of 43 extra-point attempts). Drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the AFL’s Denver Broncos, Redell spent six years in the Canadian Football League, leading the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup title in 1967. After years as a college assistant, he became a head coach at the high school level. In 1991, he built the football program at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village from scratch to national prominence. A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Redell, 71, was named Oxy’s football coach in May. Redell is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.
 

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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.

  • Olympic photo finish

  • Class of '53

    Bob McMillen

  • Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

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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.

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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.

  • Popularized the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement

  • Class of '49

    Guy Carawan

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

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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.

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Herbert Cornuelle '41

Ohio native and Oxy commerce and finance major Herbert Cornuelle ’41 didn’t get his first glimpse of Hawaii until 1942, when he was a young U.S. Navy ensign.

Eleven years later, he took a position as vice president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Co.--and just five years later was named president of the company still known the world over as Dole. After a detour to the mainland in 1963 to become executive vice president and later president of United Fruit , Cornuelle found his way back to the Aloha State, where he worked in real estate development and related activities for the rest of his career.

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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.

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

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

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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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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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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.

  • Captained the USA national rugby team

  • Class of '90

    Dave Hodges

  • Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

  • Laid the groundwork for viral videos

  • Class of '73

    Stephen L. Casner

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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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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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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.

  • Poet honored with a postage stamp

  • Class of 1905

    Robinson Jeffers

  • Helped shape the theory of plate tectonics

  • Class of '59

    G. Brent Dalrymple

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

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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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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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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.

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

  • Colombian conservationist and educator

  • Class of '70

    Jorge Orejuela

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

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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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Jorge Orejuela '70

Orejuela is Colombia’s leading conservation expert. Trained as an ornithologist, he has dedicated three decades to conservation education, protected-area management, and sustainable-development research in an effort to preserve Colombia’s biodiversity.

The biology major is currently a professor of environmental sciences at Colombia’s Universidad Autónoma de Occidente. Orejuela has established several national parks and nature reserves, and is the founder and director of the Cali Botanical Garden, which is a leading research center containing important flora ecosystems. He is the founder of Colombia’s leading private conservation agency, the Environmental Area of the Fundación para la Educación Superior. His own field research was sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for 10 years. In 2007, he received the National Geographic Society Buffet Award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation for his outstanding leadership in the field and his role as a conservation advocate and educator.

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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.

  • First president of Hampshire College

  • Class of '39

    Franklin Patterson

  • Oxy’s youngest Pulitzer Prize winner

  • Class of '96

    Andrea Elliott

  • First female mayor of Bloomington, Ind.

  • Class of '55

    Tomilea Radosevich Allison

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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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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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Tomilea Radosevich Allison '55

Tomilea Radosevich Allison '55 is remembered as the mayor who brought Bloomington into the 21st century as a thriving city.

The sociology major emphasized the importance of private and public partnerships for economic health, and she took initiatives to bring in investors and businesses. During her three terms, she procured $57 million in investments for the city, creating thousands of jobs and revitalizing Bloomington’s downtown. She also emphasized the role of the city in environmental activism, taking initiatives to improve city-wide recycling services and encouraging responsible hazardous waste disposal. In 2006, she was inducted into the Monroe County Hall of Fame, and she was named “Sagamore of the Wabash” by then-Gov. Evan Bayh, a title given for distinguished service to the state. She is currently a peace activist.