Read on to learn about some of the highlights of the 2021-22 academic year at Occidental.

Pre-health Program Participants Rise to the Challenge of COVID
Re-imagined Obama Scholars Program Still Committed to the Public Good
The Oxy Campaign For Good Surpasses Its Goal With One Year Remaining
Top Warner Music Executives Offer Insight, Advice
Alumni Gift to Fund Equity and Justice Training Program
$2.5 Million Gift Creates John Stauffer Chair of Chemistry
First-year Humanities Initiative Tackles Social Justice Issues 

Pre-health Program Participants Rise to the Challenge of COVID

The ongoing success of Oxy’s pre-health program was celebrated on April 29, 2022, with a dinner on the Hameetman Career Center patio. The event included a traditional pinning ceremony for 12 graduating seniors and alumni who have been admitted to medical school and health profession programs. Many of the honorees received multiple offers from top-ranking medical schools such as University of California, San Francisco, UC San Diego, Duke University, Keck School of Medicine of USC and the University of Hawaii.

In addition to future physicians, these Oxy graduates are going on to become veterinarians,  physical therapists, nurses, physician assistants and optometrists. Those pursuing allied health fields have been accepted to competitive programs such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Washington University in St. Louis.

Current students and recent graduates were most impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic, which canceled not only in-person learning opportunities but also in-person clinical shadowing opportunities. “These students demonstrated courage, strength and resilience," said Kat Wang, director of pre-health advising. “Many of them adapted to the challenge and become COVID-19 test-takers, contact tracers or mental health counselors to combat the pandemic in their communities.”

The hard work of this cohort is evident, as the admission rate for Oxy’s medical school applicants for 2022 programs is an impressive 72% (vs. the national rate of 41%), and 28% of accepted students received full scholarships.

Pre-Health Student Association President Sherin Aboobucker Sidiq ’22, a biochemistry major from Peoria, Ariz., remarked that Oxy's tight-knit community helped her and her premed peers weather the online learning during the pandemic. “Even as our paths diverge,” she said, “I hope that the sense of community and belonging we have created can continue to thrive long into the future.”

Oxy’s Office of Pre-Health Advising (OPHA) supports students and alumni interested in pursuing careers in medicine, allied health and the biotech industry. It provides guidance and highlights opportunities as students select academic courses and engage in co-curricular activities such as research, volunteering and clinical patient interactions.

Re-imagined Obama Scholars Program Still Committed to the Public Good

Five years after its launch, the Barack Obama Scholars Program has been re-imagined to make it available to more students based on their undergraduate performance and interests. Unchanged is the program’s emphasis on empowering exceptional students committed to the public good, perpetuating the principles President Barack Obama ’83 has advanced throughout his life, and its focus on first-generation students, veterans, and community college transfers.

This fall, seven new Obama Scholars began the prestigious leadership training program. The group encompasses a wide range of academic majors—including diplomacy and world affairs, economics, English, politics, and urban and environmental policy—and “truly represents the living legacy of President Obama,” says Hector De La Torre ’89, co-chair of the Obama Scholars Advisory Council.

The decision to start recruiting Obama Scholars from among current Oxy students, rather than incoming first-years, reflected a unanimous consensus among the program’s advisory committee and Occidental President Harry J. Elam, Jr., according to De La Torre, who now heads Gasol Foundation US, a national nonprofit dedicated to children’s health and wellness. “We all agreed that this transition would open up the opportunity to be an Obama Scholar to any student on campus who demonstrates the abilities and desire to provide public service in whatever academic field they are in,” he says.

“A program this accessible and interdisciplinary—there really is nothing like this elsewhere.”
— Sara El-Amine ’07, Advisory Council co-chair

In line with President Obama’s stress on equal opportunity access to community organizing, “we realized we may be missing some of the best and brightest people, particularly people of color, who maybe hadn’t had access to the same advantages as their peers,” says Advisory Council co-chair Sara El-Amine ’07, a progressive senior strategist who was one of the architects of the Obama grassroots movement.

Moving forward, the College has set an endowment goal of $15 million for the program. Occidental is more than halfway toward that milestone, including a recent $1 million anonymous gift from longtime supporters who hope to inspire others to give to the program.

The Oxy Campaign For Good Surpasses Its Goal With One Year Remaining

Fueled by support from foundations and individuals—and a second fruitful Legacy Gift Challenge—The Oxy Campaign For Good propelled over the $225 million mark in April, just days before the Inauguration of President Harry J. Elam, Jr. As of June 30, 2022—the close of Oxy’s fiscal year—more than $231.2 million has been raised in gifts and commitments to the campaign, including $39.6 million in the last 12 months. Gifts to the Oxy Fund, which supports the College's current operations, raised more $5 million.

Among other notable campaign achievements:

  • On April 20, Day For Oxy generated $1,517,161 from 2,104 donors over the 36-hour giving window, surpassing its donor goal of 2,022 gifts.
  • The second annual Legacy Gift Challenge secured 28 newly documented planned gifts totaling $7.7 million.
  • Nearly two out of five alumni (37.5 percent) have made at least one gift to Oxy since the start of the campaign. A goal of 38 percent alumni participation was set prior to the start of the campaign.
  • Almost $4 million has been raised toward a goal of $6.4 million in new gifts to create the Edgerton-Occidental Merit Scholarship Program, a $9.6 million endowed fund that will make it possible for talented middle-income California students to attend Occidental for the same cost as attending the University of California. Initial funding for the scholarship challenge comes from a $1.6 million gift from trustee Louise D. Edgerton ’67 M’69 and her husband, Brad, matched by $1.6 million from the College’s quasi-endowment. Raising funds for student scholarships is the campaign’s top priority.

Top Warner Music Executives Offer Insight, Advice

Three top executives from Warner Music Group (WMG)—CEO Steve Cooper ‘68, President of TV & Film & Live Theater Charlie Cohen '78, and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig R. Kallman P'25—provided insights and advice on careers in the rapidly evolving music and entertainment industry in a March 28 panel discussion in Choi Auditorium moderated by President Harry J. Elam, Jr. 

All three executives agreed that the only constant in the business is change. “The method of delivery to the consumer is constantly evolving and changing,” said Cohen, a diplomacy and world affairs major at Oxy. If your organization remains static “you are already digging your own grave,” agreed Cooper, who graduated with honors in economics. “You literally have to be able to start looking over the horizon if you want to be successful in the long haul.”

In terms of practical advice, both Cohen and Kallman urged students to take advantage of the Oxy network, and all three urged students to persevere. “A lot of people give up way too easily,” Cooper said. “In all instances, there’s something to be said for brains combined with persistence. You can learn a lot more from rejection than acceptance.”

Though the music business is not an easy one, all three agreed that it’s worth it. “No day is the same—it’s really an exciting environment,” Cohen said. “I feel lucky. For me, music was the calling,” Kallman added. “It’s fun to go to work,” Cooper said.

At the end of the event, students and alumni introduced themselves to the trio, asking questions and learning more about two new WMG internships available to Oxy juniors and seniors. The event was co-sponsored by the Hameetman Career Center and the Occidental College Alumni Association.

Alumni Gift to Fund Equity and Justice Training Program

A $300,000 gift from a 1990s graduate of Occidental will fund the creation of a new justice, equity, inclusion and diversity (JEID) training and professional development program in support of Occidental’s Equity & Justice Agenda and broader JEID goals.

The purpose of the new JEID program is twofold: to give the Oxy community the skills and knowledge needed to support the success of marginalized and minoritized students, and to support all students to successfully engage with an increasingly diverse world, says David Carreon Bradley, vice president for equity and justice.

Lan Chu, a professor of diplomacy and world affairs and an affiliate faculty member in East Asian studies and Latin American and Latino/a studies, was named as faculty director for equity and justice in November 2022. In her new role, Chu will work closely with the vice president for equity and justice to help carry out the mission of the office specifically as it relates to academic affairs.

Working in collaboration with the Intercultural Community Center, the Center for Teaching Excellence and other campus offices, Chu will facilitate the creation of an in-person, virtual and web-based curriculum to address such topics as cultural competency, bias mitigation and allyship. She also will be responsible for creating a comprehensive program evaluation and assessment process.

Occidental’s Equity & Justice Agenda, announced by President Harry J. Elam, Jr. in March 2021, outlines a series of initiatives to support the College’s goal to develop and maintain an educational environment in which all students, staff and faculty are welcomed and valued, where they can belong, thrive and excel.

The donor of the program start-up funds made it clear that Oxy's emphasis on excellence, equity, community and service—the cornerstones of the College's mission statement adopted in 1990 under the leadership of then-President John Brooks Slaughter—continues to have a lasting impact.

$2.5 Million Gift Creates John Stauffer Chair of Chemistry

A $2.5 million grant from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust of Pasadena will endow the new John Stauffer Chair of Chemistry to recognize exceptional professors who are acknowledged leaders in teaching, research and scholarship. The first holder of the Stauffer Chair, to be awarded to a tenured faculty member of full professor rank who is "an expert in the field of chemistry and nationally recognized in the field for his or her teaching, research, scholarship and publications," will be announced in spring 2023.

The award is the latest expression of support for Oxy chemistry from the Trust, which was established in 1974 by John Stauffer, executive vice president of the Stauffer Chemical Company. A $1 million challenge grant in 2007 made it possible for the College to create a $3.5 million permanent endowment to support chemistry and biochemistry students participating in its nationally recognized Summer Research Program. Since then, the endowment has made it possible for almost 200 students to engage in summer research.

The Stauffer Chair is the Chemistry Department's third endowed professorship, joining the Carl F. Braun Professorship in Chemistry (now held by Eileen Spain) and the Fletcher Jones Foundation Professor in Chemistry (currently held by Michael Hill). 

First-year Humanities Initiative Tackles Social Justice Issues

A $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund a three-year teaching and community-engaged initiative that will introduce incoming and first-year students to the problem-solving power of the humanities to advance health equity, migrant justice and freedom struggles.

Beginning in fall 2022, the interdisciplinary Humanities for Just Communities (HJC) program “will expose first-years to a wide array of conceptual, methodological, epistemological, and ethical tools from the humanities applicable to each year’s social justice theme and activated in their community-engaged project,” says Kristi Upson-Saia, David B. and Mary H. Gamble Professor of Religious Studies and co-principal investigator.

“Ultimately, the program aims to produce social justice leaders who understand the value and power of leveraging humanistic approaches, setting students on a path to take more humanities courses,” says Alexandra Puerto, associate professor of history and co-principal investigator. “It’s a natural fit for Oxy and its mission.”

Occidental is one of 12 liberal arts colleges nationwide to receive grants totaling more than $16.1 million as part of the Mellon Foundation’s new Humanities for All Times initiative. Mellon’s initiative seeks to address the decline in undergraduate humanities degree recipients and the rising undergraduate interest in social justice issues.

“The Humanities for All Times initiative underscores that it’s not only critical to show students that the humanities improve the quality of their everyday lives, but also that they are a crucial tool in efforts to bring about meaningful progressive change in the world,” says Phillip Brian Harper, Mellon Foundation higher learning program director.

Each year’s program will be built around a specific social justice theme. In fall 2022, faculty in Oxy’s English, history, media arts and culture, music, philosophy, religious studies and theater departments contributed courses built around the theme “Health, Illness and Dignity.” Future programs will address “Migration, Displacement and Cultural Resistance” (2023) and “Protest, Abolition and Freedom” (2024).

Over three years, it is expected that the HJC curriculum will enroll more than 500 students, involve at least two-thirds of Oxy’s humanities faculty, and engage hundreds more students and community members.

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