Seven Win 2023 Alumni Seal Awards

Jim Tranquada Photo by Don Milici

A scientist/school board member, a young people's storytelling activist and a singing CPA are among this year’s recipients of the Alumni Seal Award, which will be presented by the Occidental College Alumni Board of Governors during Reunion Weekend, June 9–11.

Since 1965, the Alumni Association has paid tribute to inspiring alumni who represent the values and spirit at the core of the Oxy experience. Seal Awards are given annually in the categories of service to the community, professional achievement, service to the College, young alumni achievement, emeriti faculty and alumna/us of the year. 

This year’s awardees are:

Alumnus/a of the Year: Darshana “Darsh” Patel ’96

Darshana Patel, Ph.D. is a scientist and elected official  with professional experience in board governance, education policy, and project management working towards raising the level of local civic engagement. A biochemistry major at Oxy who earned her doctorate in biophysics at UC Irvine, her education combined with her biotech research at Genentech helped her develop a collaborative problem-solving approach. She has served as a trustee of the Poway Unified School District Board of Education since 2016 and is currently serving as president. She also serves as a delegate to the California School Boards Association, president of the San Diego County School Boards Association (SDCSBA), and as a member of the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs. Darshana has been awarded the SDCSBA First-Term Board Member of the Year in 2019, a 2022 City of San Diego Woman of Distinction, and named  2022 API Leader of Influence by San Diego Business Journal.

Erica J. Murray ’01 Young Alumnus/a of the Year: Richard Reyes ’12

Richard Reyes is the founder and executive director of The PLUS ME Project, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that uses the universal art of storytelling to help students feel empowered, find their voices, and achieve their dreams. He is a social justice advocate who believes every story matters and has shared his narrative of becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree with over 150,000 students across the country. As a storyteller, entrepreneur, and executive, Richard finds his passion in connecting and inspiring others through narrative and supporting youth from low-income communities to build confidence as they pursue their college, career, and life goals. A critical theory and social justice major at Oxy, Richard earned his master’s degree in educational foundations at Cal State LA.

Professional Achievement: Dan Karasic M.D. ’82

Dan Karasic, professor emeritus of psychiatry at UC San Francisco's Weill Institute for Neurosciences, is an international leader in creating transgender health programs. A member of the UCSF faculty since 1991, Dan served on the board of directors of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), was a co-author of WPATH Standards of Care Version 7, and lead author of the mental health chapter of the recently released WPATH Standards of Care Version 8.  He is a former chair of the American Psychiatric Association Workgroup on Gender Dysphoria and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Karasic has been an expert and consultant internationally on transgender health, including with the United Nations Development Programme. Recently he has been an expert witness with the ACLU and Lambda Legal in several cases on access to gender-affirming care for transgender people. A biology major at Oxy, he received his M.D. from Yale University and trained in psychiatry at UCLA.

Service to the College: Gail Ginell ’79

A native of Brooklyn who grew up in Thousand Oaks, Gail Ginell has balanced careers as an accountant, a parent of two sons, and more than 40 years of service to Oxy as a class secretary and class notes editor for Occidental Magazine. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Oxy in 1979, an MBA from UCLA in 1983, and her CPA after graduate school. Gail was an active parent volunteer in all her sons' activities, including school, sports, temple, and Boy Scouts. She continues as a volunteer in the local school district and community, serving on several committees and as a member of her temple chorale.  Gail is a musical theater fan and attends many shows each year with husband Cary, who writes reviews for local publications. She also loves to travel and is, in true Oxy fashion, a lifelong learner, which includes working as a group leader for Road Scholar, an educational travel company for adults.

Service to the Community: Margeau Valteau ’13

Margeau Valteau serves as the intergovernmental and tribal affairs specialist supporting tribal, state, and local government coordination for National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs under the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. In this role, she oversees consultation, collaboration, and relationship building with tribal nations in support of NNSA’s mission of enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. Previously Margeau worked as the assistant national tribal affairs advisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as FEMA's national joint information center lead tribal affairs officer, overseeing the agency’s coordination to support tribal nations during the COVID pandemic in 2020. An enrolled member of the Navajo (Dine) Nation from Window Rock, Arizona, Margeau was a urban and environmental policy major at Oxy., where she served as the College's first native American ASOC president.

Service to the Community: Ralph Benson ’64

An English major turned attorney, Ralph Benson spent more than 40 years as an activist dedicated to preserving open space and historic landscapes. Graduating from law school at UC Berkeley just before the first Earth Day, Ralph moved to Laguna Beach where he was active in the effort to create the Laguna Greenbelt. He co-founded a group called Village Laguna and authored an initiative that has kept Laguna Beach free of high-rise buildings. In 1978 he joined The Trust for Public Land where, as general counsel, executive vice president, and chief operating officer he played a leading role in building the Trust into one of the nation’s premier land conservation organizations. He subsequently spent 12 years as executive director of Sonoma Land Trust. In 2015, Inspired by their geographic and ecological similarities, Ralph founded and continues to co-direct the Chile California Conservation Exchange, connecting people in Chile and California working on water and coastal/marine issues, protected land and biodiversity. 

Honorary Alumni Seal Award for Faculty Emeritus: Linda Besemer

Linda Besemer, an American abstract painter celebrated for their stunning, optical works that upend commonly held notions of what makes a painting, has taught and painted at Occidental since 1987, currently as James Irvine Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History. Referencing critical theory, feminism, Queer/Trans theory, minimalism, decoration, and Finish Fetish, Besemer’s paintings question the forms and underlying signifying practices of modernism, abstraction, and two-dimensional illusion. Their work was featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial Exhibition and exhibited at The Corcoran Gallery of Contemporary Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other major venues. Besemer is also exhibiting internationally in Europe, Asia, and South America. Besemer is a recipient of a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, The George and Eliza Howard Foundation Grant in Painting, The Chuck Close Rome Prize in Painting from the American Academy in Rome, The Anonymous Was a Woman Fellowship, New York, and most recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship.