• Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

  • Four-time Olympic fencer

  • Class of '45

    Maxine McMasters Mitchell

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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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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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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?’”

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

  • Oxy’s youngest Pulitzer Prize winner

  • Class of '96

    Andrea Elliott

  • First female military chaplain

  • Class of '64

    Dianna Pohlman Bell

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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.

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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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Dianna Pohlman Bell '64

When the Rev. Lt. Dianna Pohlman Bell ’64 was assigned to the Orlando Naval Training Center in 1973, she set a new precedent for women in the military’s religious services.

“But I had never been the housewife type,” she says. Shortly after her graduation from Occidental, the music major found that her love of God was quickly overshadowing her love of the French horn. She followed her sense of duty to the U.S. Navy, which had courted her for service even before her ordination. Her first assignment was counseling the newest recruits at the base, providing them with the crucial support and moral guidance they needed. Since 1973, more than150 women have been admitted to the Naval Chaplain Corps; they owe a debt of gratitude to Pohlman Bell, who blazed the trail.

  • Shaped Japan’s relation with the world

  • Class of '31

    Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

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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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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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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.
 
 

  • San Francisco County Superior Court judge

  • Class of '64

    Lillian Sing

  • Gives voice to the unheard

  • Class of '93

    Angelica Salas

  • The LAPD’s best homicide detective

  • Class of '49

    Pierce Brooks

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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.

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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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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.”

  • Olympic photo finish

  • Class of '53

    Bob McMillen

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

  • Class of '09

    Ramona Gonzales

  • Wrote U.S. Military Code of Conduct

  • Class of '40

    F. Brooke Nihart

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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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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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F. Brooke Nihart '40

“I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life.” So begins Article I of the Code of Conduct, written by F. Brooke Nihart ’40 in 1955.

During  the Korean War, concern over brainwashed POWs revealing military secrets led the Marine Corps to devise a formal code of honor for all uniformed personnel. The man chosen to write the new code of conduct was Nihart, the decorated war veteran of World War II and Korea. His words remain largely intact today, with just a few minor revisions. After his graduation from Oxy, he joined the Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the battlefield during the Battle of the Punchbowl in North Korea in 1951. In 1972, Nihart became the deputy director of the Marine Corps museums, writing extensively on military history for journals and books. At Oxy, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta and competed in baseball, football, swimming, and water polo for the Tigers.

  • No man left behind

  • Class of '45

    Thomas H. Tackaberry

  • Two-time Pulitzer winner

  • Class of '80

    Steve Coll

  • First president of Hampshire College

  • Class of '39

    Franklin Patterson

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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.

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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..."

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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.

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

  • Colombian conservationist and educator

  • Class of '70

    Jorge Orejuela

  • Where she leads, others will follow

  • Class of '68

    Marsha Evans

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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.

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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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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.

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

  • Two-time Olympic gold medalist

  • Class of '43

    Sammy Lee

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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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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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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.

 

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

  • Represents “Peanuts” and popcorn and Cracker Jack

  • Class of '86

    Shawn Lawson-Cummings

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

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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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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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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.

  • Trailblazer in the federal courts

  • Class of '87

    Jacqueline Nguyen

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

  • Reclaiming the American Dream

  • Class of '48

    Richard Cornuelle

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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.”

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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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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.