• First female military chaplain

  • Class of '64

    Dianna Pohlman Bell

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

  • Developed the talking baby for E*Trade

  • Class of '94

    Tor Myhren

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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.

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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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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.

  • Takes lunch with Hollywood A-listers

  • Class of '81

    Lorrie Bartlett

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

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

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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.

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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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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.
 
 

  • Went Into the Woods with Sondheim

  • Class of '72

    Joanna Gleason

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

  • Changed the face of American theater

  • Class of '53

    Ming Cho Lee

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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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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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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.”

  • White House advisor and Stanford economist

  • Class of '76

    Kathryn Shaw

  • Trailblazer in the federal courts

  • Class of '87

    Jacqueline Nguyen

  • Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

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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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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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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.

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

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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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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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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.”

  • Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

  • Shaped Japan’s relation with the world

  • Class of '31

    Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi

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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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Fanny Hagin Mayer '23

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

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

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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.

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

  • Class of '09

    Stephen Bent

  • Gives voice to the unheard

  • Class of '93

    Angelica Salas

  • Colombian conservationist and educator

  • Class of '70

    Jorge Orejuela

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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.

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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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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.

  • Four-time Olympic fencer

  • Class of '45

    Maxine McMasters Mitchell

  • Supervises San Francisco

  • Class of '00

    Carmen Chu

  • Maker of Champions

  • Class of 1902

    Dean Cromwell

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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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Carmen Chu '00

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

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

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Dean Cromwell 1902

For almost four decades The Dean, as he was affectionately known, inspired hyperbole among American sports writers.

“Sculptor of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history,” Dean Cromwell led USC’s track and field teams to 12 NCAA titles and 34 individual titles from 1909 to 1948. A multi-sport athlete at Oxy  – he competed in track and cycling and played baseball and football – Cromwell’s prowess led the Helms Athletic Foundation to name him Southern California Athlete of the Year in 1901.

Later nicknamed “Maker of Champions,” Cromwell ‘s Trojans teams dominated intercollegiate track and field during his four decades at the helm. He was an assistant coach with Team USA at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics, and head track coach at the 1948 Games. “He was one of the turn-of-the-century men who made Los Angeles a symbol of growth and accomplishment,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of Cromwell, who died in 1962. “Cromwell caught the imagination by fashioning championship teams at an obscure school….Cromwell made his indelible contribution to the Los Angeles-that-grew with the national acclaim accorded his champions.” Cromwell is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

  • Reclaiming the American Dream

  • Class of '48

    Richard Cornuelle

  • Pro quarterback and distinguished statesman

  • Class of '57

    Jack Kemp

  • Oxy’s youngest Pulitzer Prize winner

  • Class of '96

    Andrea Elliott

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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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Jack Kemp '57

At 5’10”, Jack Kemp ’57 was supposed to be too small to be a pro quarterback.

But the pugnacious physical education major refused to listen. By the time he retired in 1969, he had led the Buffalo Bills to four division titles and two AFL championships. His second career began on the long flights between games, reading works by major economists and philosophers. Kemp went on to serve nine terms in Congress, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and was Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate in the 1996 presidential race. But his greatest legacy was his pioneering advocacy of tax cuts to stimulate the economy--an issue that has become a central tenet of Republican philosophy.

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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.”

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • Olympic photo finish

  • Class of '53

    Bob McMillen

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

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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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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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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.