As part of President Carol L. Folt’s senior leadership team, Christopher Manning will reinforce the university’s commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging.
Christopher Manning, an experienced leader and advocate for diversity in higher education, has been named USC’s first chief inclusion and diversity officer, President Carol L. Folt announced Monday. He will report directly to the president and begin his new role on March 1.
Manning joins USC after serving as both an assistant and an associate provost for academic diversity for nearly five years at Loyola University Chicago. During his tenure at Loyola, he also spent many years teaching and conducting research on the histories of marginalized populations.
“Chris has a strong track record of collaborating with administration, faculty and student leaders to effectively create practices that promote inclusion,” Folt said. “He brings the passion of a former student activist along with decades of scholarship to bear on the issues of campus diversity, and we are delighted he will be leading our efforts.”
As part of Folt’s senior leadership team, the chief inclusion and diversity officer will have the support and the resources to build a framework for strategies, programs and initiatives that reinforce USC’s commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging and to address ongoing challenges of discrimination and bias. Manning also will lead the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and work collaboratively with faculty, staff and student leaders across USC to deliver sustained, measurable improvements in educational and organizational environments.
In addition, he will take an active role in several of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives spearheaded by Folt already underway at the university, including the President and Provost’s Taskforce on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Department of Public Safety Community Advisory Board.
Manning chosen as USC’s chief inclusion and diversity officer after extensive search
Manning’s appointment comes after a search committee headed by Provost Charles Zukoski and Senior Vice President for Human Resources Felicia Washington sought extensive feedback from the USC community, which helped both to define the role and guide the four-month national search process.
“The empowerment of underrepresented people has motivated my entire career, and I want to be part of a mission-driven, social justice-oriented environment. That is why I am excited to join USC,” Manning said. “The experience of transforming protest into policy will inform how I approach this new role, which requires building trust and credibility.
“My philosophy — that the future of higher education lies at the intersection of diversity, student success and innovation — is in perfect alignment with President Folt’s strategic vision.”
“I want to be part of a mission-driven, social justice-oriented environment.”
Manning spent much of last year in San Diego, where he completed a yearlong leadership fellowship with the American Council on Education at San Diego State University, gaining a broader understanding of university leadership, operations and culture.
At Loyola, Manning became the first assistant provost for academic diversity in 2016. He evaluated the campus climate and created practices to promote inclusion as he sought input from students, faculty and staff. Identifying barriers to student success and the retention of diverse faculty were among his top priorities.
He recruited and developed 13 faculty diversity liaisons and provided equity and inclusion training across the university. He organized 10 workshops a year on topics such as avoiding implicit bias in hiring, navigating difficult conversations about race in the classroom, microaggressions and diversifying new hires. He created identity-based networking and professional development events focused on faculty who were people of color, women and LGBTQ. His initiatives built a foundation for faculty support and success that contributed to a 14% increase in diverse faculty hires.
Manning also helped create a course for the core curriculum to teach students how to reflect on their biases and interactions with others.
Christopher Manning brings scholarship, love of the arts to USC
Manning also has a strong connection to the arts. He was a professional Latin dancer and the executive director and founder of the nonprofit dance company Inspiration Dance Chicago, which offered free youth and adult Latin dance training in Chicago.
In addition to administrative experience, Manning brings significant scholarship to the position. Manning has been an associate professor of history at Loyola since 2008, teaching subjects such as Black history, the civil rights movement, Black politics and 20th-century American history.
He earned his PhD in history from Northwestern University, where he also earned his master’s in history. Manning earned his undergraduate degree in history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. There, as he completed his honors thesis titled: “Cajuns, Catholics and Klansmen: An Analysis of the Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Louisiana, 1917-1926,” Manning also organized a march of the city’s three universities to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
The poet and performer wants his art and his own experiences as a Black, queer undergrad to help guide underrepresented members of the USC student community.
As part of an effort to address populations at risk of gender-based harm, USC Student Health’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services office has recently recruited established educator and advocate Edwin Bodney as a violence prevention specialist. Bodney’s role is to work specifically in the LGBTQ+ community and is funded through a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services.
Edwin Bodney wants to listen.
USC Student Health’s new LGBTQ+ campus advocate and educator noted that he’ll be teaching workshops and developing programs for the USC student community, too. But first and foremost, he said, “USC students should come to me if they want someone to listen.
“So many of us walk around the world feeling unheard or invisible or silenced,” he added, “and I try to illuminate each person I engage with.”
The 30-year-old, who self-identifies as queer, is also a notable poet, performer and former host of L.A.’s Da Poetry Lounge who uses his work to make others feel heard. He answered a few questions for USC News.
What was your own experience as a queer undergrad college student?
I wasn’t as self-aware and spent a lot of my college time in survival mode, which isn’t an isolated experience for our community. I went to design school before getting my education degree. In art school, everyone is pretty gay, because that’s where all of us weirdos go and congregate. So that was comforting, but my issues were navigating class and race, which we know is really one and the same.
I was one of the only Black people in my classes, and I wasn’t around people who understood what it’s like to not have money. None of my identities take precedence over another. Intersectionality is about the compound experience. All of my work is intersectional. Having that awareness and being able to transform it into empathy allows me to listen better and anticipate the needs of others.
Research shows that members of the LGBTQ+ community experience gender-based harm at higher rates than other populations. How will your work at USC Student Health address this disparity?
Is it gender-based harm or power-based harm when it comes to this community? Gender is different and more fluid in the queer community. So, it’s more about a power-based dynamic. Traditionally, it’s man beats woman. It’s not so black and white in our relationships. All of us who are not trans have to do a better job advocating for trans folks because oftentimes they cannot pass through society unseen and are targeted for violence.
There is disproportionate harm done to the LGBTQ+ community, higher for femme and even higher for trans because society devalues the feminine. We need to shift the narrative of what it means to be femme and how important femininity is in the world.
It’s important to always be having these conversations. And I’m someone who can jump into the conversation as opposed to having to learn about the conversation first. I’m not speaking just from my education but my own experience, too. That makes me an asset as someone who is queer and Black, especially in an affluent environment like USC where most of the students don’t look like me. For those who can see themselves in me, they had to fight damn hard to get to USC.
The Advocate profiled you in 2018 for leading difficult conversations about racism within the LGBTQ+ community. How do you use your poetry and art as activism?
In my poetry, I really enjoy being vulnerable. I try to navigate my experience with people in a very direct and tender way, with more intimacy and honesty. I don’t think there’s enough of that in the world, and I want to contribute to a new narrative. Honesty in poetry and performance is a free power that doesn’t impose on others or take agency from them. It’s something I try to do in my poetry, my performance and my teaching style.
Why is it important to have a member of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services staff focused on the LGBTQ+ student community?
LGBTQ+ students don’t feel as safe or as represented as they’d like to be on campus at many campuses. To see somebody in my position, who comes from a life not so distant from theirs, is incredibly important in cultivating safety or bravery in general. I see that person who is speaking about their experiences and sharing themselves unapologetically. I hope that what the students leave with. I hope our LGBTQ+ students feel not just support but seen and amplified by folks in power or agency.
For example, I talk about when I finally got a gay doctor and how remarkable it was. I could come in and feel like I didn’t have to explain myself or define who I am first. It’s great to come into a space and see someone who, in a way, is you. I hope that my queer students and trans students on campus feel that way when I’m advocating for them and cultivating space for us.
How can USC students learn more about you or connect with you?
I’m the only person with this name in the world, so they can Google me to find my performances. If students care to, they can follow me on social media. It’s mostly me and my cat, Myko, arguing with each other, and I post a poem here and there. You can also reach out to me through USC Student Health’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services office.
The grant from the California Office of Emergency Services, with partnering organization YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, also provides for training and dedicated time from a Department of Public Safety officer to better serve the needs of this community. The program is part of a larger consortium group, the Coordinated Campus Response Team, which meets regularly to infuse best practices of care into existing frameworks of health care delivery.
Kim, an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the private and public sectors, will become USC senior vice president and general counsel in July.
Beong-Soo Kim, a leading attorney with over two decades of experience in the private and public sectors, including the better part of a decade at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in L.A., has been named senior vice president and general counsel of USC, President Carol L. Folt announced Tuesday.
Kim led the nation’s largest federal white-collar prosecution section before moving to Kaiser Permanente, where he’s spent nearly six years. As vice president in the national legal department, he is responsible for overseeing all major litigation and investigations, as well as the health plan and payor operations legal team. Kim will join USC on July 1.
“Beong’s diverse and high-level legal expertise, mission-driven approach to taking on challenges and commitment to public service made him our clear first choice,” Folt said. “He will be an important addition to the USC leadership team and an asset to our entire university community.”
New general counsel has rich legal background, including teaching at USC Gould
Kim, whose father attended graduate school at USC, was born and raised in Woodland Hills and grew up watching Trojan football games. In high school, Kim furthered one of his lifelong passions and studied the cello with the late Eleanore Schoenfeld, a legendary professor at the USC Thornton School of Music. Though he moved to the east coast to attend college, Kim said his life story exemplifies USC’s broad impact on residents of Southern California.
“It is a privilege to join this remarkable institution, which touches the lives of so many people throughout Southern California and the world,” Kim said. “USC’s mission has never been more vital and relevant, and I am tremendously excited about working with President Folt and other stakeholders to move that mission forward.”
After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies, he went on to earn his master’s in political theory at the London School of Economics as a Rotary Foundation Scholar the next year. He returned to the U.S. to work for the New York City mayor’s office for a short time before realizing that his true path was law school. He graduated cum laude with his JD from Harvard Law School in 1999 and completed a clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York. Kim returned to Harvard as a teaching fellow before heading back to California in 2001 to join Munger, Tolles & Olson as a litigation associate.
Two and a half years later he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in L.A., where he eventually became chief of the major frauds section, criminal division. There, he supervised 36 prosecutors and directed the investigations of complex criminal matters including health care fraud, securities and investor fraud, government fraud, theft of intellectual property and embezzlement.
“When you lead a large group of lawyers, you learn the importance of listening,” Kim said. “It’s important to have a clear vision but it’s also important to listen to people, and that’s what really promotes better decision-making.”
In 2007, during his time at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Kim also taught at USC, designing and co-teaching a weekly seminar on “Sentencing Law, Policy and Practice” at the USC Gould School of Law.
Kim left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012 to become a partner at Jones Day in L.A., where he expanded his skill set to include crisis management, internal investigations and high-profile complex litigation. Two and a half years later he moved to Kaiser, where he said despite the enormity and complexity of the organization, he was able to navigate his role due to Kaiser’s unifying mission. This became particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s such an important lesson for any complex organization, that if you can mobilize resources around one common shared vision, you’re going to be able to respond so much more effectively,” Kim said.
Beong-Soo Kim connects with community during uncertain times
Kim’s positivity and calmness during the pandemic didn’t only show up in his professional life. The accomplished, lifelong cellist has started making a name for himself around his Pasadena neighborhood for his “porch concerts” that he began around the same time as the safer-at-home orders. One Saturday morning he brought his cello outside onto his porch to practice, and before he knew it, neighbors started listening from their homes, lawns and the sidewalks.
“There was just so much anxiety and fear in the air,” Kim said. “I really wasn’t expecting anyone to even take notice, but I thought as long as someone was walking by, music is a way of just reaching out and making a connection.”
The endeavor soon turned into a family activity, with his wife joining on piano, his 13-year-old daughter on the violin and his 8-year-old son — though also a pianist — acting as sort of the band manager and videographer.
“He’s mostly behind the scenes turning pages for my wife,” Kim said with a laugh.
During the pandemic, Kim has found a way to help connect his neighborhood and his family — and that’s what he said he plans to do with everyone he works with at USC.
“In my experience, great in-house lawyers don’t just provide advice and then walk away,” Kim said. “It takes a village to build a robust legal and compliance culture, and that’s why one of the most important things I’ll be doing is getting out during the pandemic and connecting with all the key stakeholders and constituencies at the university.”
USC’s Office of the General Counsel is responsible for addressing legal issues arising out of the activities of the university, Keck Medicine of USC and other USC-owned entities. The office consists of in-house attorneys, including several specializing in health law, and support staff partnering with outside law firms.
Maria Saravia loves how her job at Keck Hospital of USC helps protect patients and health workers alike.
Patients on the COVID-19 floor of Keck Hospital of USC recognize her friendly face. She’s not a doctor, nurse or therapist, but Maria Saravia is just as important to their care.
Saravia visits their room to disinfect surfaces, remove trash and freshen bed linens. She’s been an environmental services worker in Keck Medicine of USC hospitals for nearly two decades, and she takes pride in her role — especially during the pandemic.
“I find my job rewarding because I empathize with the patients,” she said. “My job is to make sure their rooms are clean. By doing that and making sure everything is taken care of, I feel like I’ve done my part to help out.
“Even though I might not know them, I’m doing my part to help out with the virus.”
“I’m doing my part to help out with the virus.”
The 56-year-old single mother of three cleans and sanitizes the COVID-19 ward six days a week, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. She starts each day the same way: Her N95 respirator and safety glasses go on first. Then she slips on her gloves, shoe covers and cardinal-and-gold scrub hat.
She dons all that protection to keep herself safe, of course. But it’s also for her parents, who are in their late 80s. They live with Saravia and her three adult daughters in Boyle Heights, not far from USC’s Health Sciences Campus.
“In the beginning, we were worried, just because it is her floor where the [coronavirus] cases started and where they are bringing all the patients,” said her youngest daughter, Michelle Montiel, 20. “But as of right now, we see how hardworking she is and how happy she is to be doing this for the patients. We’re really proud of her, and we’re supporting her.”
USC hospital worker brings joy and pride to her cleaning work
Born in El Salvador, Saravia came to the United States in her early 20s. She joined USC’s environmental services team 18 years ago and has been a dedicated employee ever since — first at USC Norris Cancer Hospital, then Keck Hospital of USC.
Although she sometimes struggles with English, she fights language barriers and strives to connect with every person she visits.
“Sometimes they reply, sometimes it’s just a nod or a wave,” she said. “I still try to communicate with them, even if it’s just a simple ‘Good morning.’”
Just like front-line health workers, Saravia sees pain and suffering. Recently, one interaction with a patient who had COVID-19 has weighed on her.
“We were having a whole conversation, and it seemed like the patient was getting better,” Saravia said. “But when I went in to work the next day, I found out that the patient had passed away. It really resonated with me because he was really young. He seemed like he was healthy and ready to return to his family. I thought of my daughters.”
A strong bond with coworkers motivates USC hospital cleaner
Other days are happier. She received a card from the family of a patient who recovered from the coronavirus. They thanked Saravia for her hard work keeping the hospital clean and sanitized. The small gesture filled her with pride.
She gets similar tokens of appreciation from the nurses, physicians and other health workers. Sometimes they buy her lunch or hand her a gift card to a coffee shop. Sometimes it’s just a simple “Thank you.”
“My sisters and I, we’re just really proud of her.”
“I’ve worked at the hospital for so long and with these medical professionals for so long that I’m just really thankful to be able to help them out and keep them safe, just by making sure the rooms and offices are clean,” Saravia said.
Her family loves seeing the recognition she gets.
“My sisters and I, we’re just really proud of her to be working on this floor right now,” Montiel said. “She’s really empathetic and willing to do whatever it takes.”
He dreamed of finding a home at USC. Now, as a project specialist at Keck Medicine of USC, he’s focused on giving back to the community that helped him get this far.
On a quiet and gloomy afternoon, Eduardo Ibarra walked the pathways of the neighborhood he grew up in.
The lack of noise in Ramona Gardens was unusual. There were no kids playing on the playgrounds. The stoops didn’t have the familiar sound of conversation between neighbors. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tightly knit community is felt through the eerie silence.
The community is home to many longtime residents who have weathered many storms in the history of the beloved housing project. The same folks who looked out for Ibarra as he was growing up now look to him for care.
“We have a lot of seniors here that are high risk,” said Ibarra, 26. “The goal is to keep them safe and provide food for them and other essentials.
“They are scared. These are strong people but, right now, they are scared.”
Growing up next to the USC Health Sciences Campus, Ibarra’s dream was to find a way into USC. The opportunities growing up in the neighborhood were few and far between.
“USC meant a lot,” Ibarra said. “Ever since elementary school, it was my dream school.”
USC project specialist gives back to community during COVID-19
Ibarra got his opportunity through the Hire LA’s Youth Summer Employment Program, an initiative between USC and the city of Los Angeles. The program — which provides local youth an opportunity to get real-world, professional experience — opened the door.
Eduardo Ibarra, right, and other volunteers deliver food to the residents of Ramona Gardens. (USC Photo/Saul Garcia)
“I was at Legacy LA,” a community based non-profit organization focused on youth development, Ibarra said. “I just finished high school, so I was interested in getting a summer job.“
The Hire LA’s Youth program connected him with Keck Medicine of USC. “I worked hard, and a full-time opportunity became available,” he said. Ibarra jumped at the opportunity, and in January became a project specialist in the Keck School of Medicine’s Department of Preventive Medicine.
Ibarra understands that he is an example for many that live in Ramona Gardens, a place he still calls home. The COVID-19 pandemic has given Ibarra the opportunity to give back to the community. He is volunteering his time to deliver meals to those that are at high risk and the most vulnerable in his neighborhood.
“It feels great working here [at USC]. I feel like I’m an example of what opportunities are available,” he said. “This is my way of giving back.
“Being from the community, a lot of people know me and I’m grateful to be in a position to help through this tough time.”
Help us tell the stories of USC COVID-19 heroes
During this challenging time, we’re sharing stories of Trojans who are going above and beyond to help each other and the community. If you know about someone whose story we should tell, send us an email at email@example.com.
There are more than 2,400 people waiting for a liver organ transplant in California, according to the data collected by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
That number is just a small portion of the more than 110,000 candidates nationwide waiting to have their life-changing organ transplant surgery.
A few years ago, Tony Herrera’s sister who suffers from lupus, was in need of a kidney donation. After speaking with other family members, Herrera wanted to help his sister by being her donor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a match.
“When we went through the process, we were not a match. But, there was a program called the paired exchange program, where you donate to someone else so that you’re loved one could get a kidney and that’s the route that we took,” Herrera said.
As a kidney donor, Herrera became a part of the third-largest paired exchange that benefitted 28 people in need of an organ transplant. From that moment, he was hooked. He learned more about the need for living donors for the University of Southern California Liver Transplant Program and decided to donate again. This time with part of his liver as an altruistic donor.
“You get a lot out of it and you do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do,”
“You get a lot out of it and you do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do,” Herrera said.
Dr. Yuri Genyk is a surgeon and the director of the program. He knows all too well how donors like Herrera are rare, but needed. There are thousands of patients on the waitlist for a liver transplant and each year in Los Angeles about 200 patients die waiting, Dr. Genyk said.
“You have complete restoration of liver volume and liver function after a liver donation and that’s why this option of living donations is so appealing and appears to be relatively safe in the short and long-term,” Dr. Genyk said.
Herrera’s liver fully-regenerated in the months after his surgery. Recently, he got a chance to see the impact his initial kidney donation made on one woman’s life.
“As a result of my donation, she was able to see her daughter walk down the aisle, and to me? That’s very rewarding. It’s the gift of life. I think you asked me a question, ‘What would be my limit on how many times I would donate?’ It’s tough to say. But, at this point, if I had the opportunity to make another donation? I would absolutely do it again,” Herrera said.
Herrera is one of 47 people in the United States to donate two organs for two separate people, according to United Network for Organ Sharing. Now, he is hoping that by sharing his story, more people will be inspired to give the gift of life.
JaBari Brown brings his dedication to service to a new role as culture facilitator
From the moment he first saw the University Park campus as a prospective undergraduate student in the mid-’90s, JaBari Brown knew he wanted to be part of the USC culture. “It was just one of those things where, I could see myself here,” he said.
In addition to helping countless students navigate their USC experience, Brown has been involved in the wider university community for years, earning him the respect of his peers. He represented USC Annenberg on USC Staff Assembly for two terms, and in late 2018, he was elected as the first president of the newly established USC Annenberg Staff Council.
“JaBari’s colleagues across USC often refer to him as ‘The Mayor,’ and you can’t walk across campus without him without being stopped multiple times,” said James Vasquez, USC Annenberg’s associate dean for operations. “JaBari is the best of what USC embodies.”
This year, he took on another important role as a culture facilitator in what is being called the USC Culture Journey. The university-wide initiative seeks to co-create USC’s values, align the supportive behaviors that bring those values to life, and shape opportunities to improve systems, processes, and culture. The process began last October when faculty, staff, and students participated in a values poll. The initial results of that poll are now being shared and reflected up through university-wide and school-specific town halls, discussion sessions and foundation workshops that aim to capture the community’s feedback.
Brown, Vasquez and Senior Associate Dean for Administration Debra Lawler are serving as USC Annenberg’s culture facilitators throughout this phase, which seeks to identify what is working well at USC and what needs to change.
“We are taking this cultural journey very seriously,” Brown said. “The individuals who were involved in these scandals represent less than .001 percent of everybody who works for the university. I take pride in the fact that the majority of us are following the rules and being good stewards of students’ academic journeys.”
A San Diego native, Brown says his commitment to helping others began even before he came to USC. “One of the things that’s been consistent for me is volunteering and service,” he said.
After volunteering with Reading Literacy Learning, a nonprofit founded by his father that gives brand-new books to San Diego kids, he is now on the organization’s board of directors. He also worked as a camp counselor at Troy Camp for three years while an undergraduate, and also has been the staff advisor to the USC Special Olympics Club for the past four years.
“I’ve seen firsthand how involvement with kids from your community can have an impact on their lives,” he said.
The summer after his senior year of college, Brown worked as a student orientation advisor at USC. Shortly thereafter, he left for a position at Loyola Marymount University working in continuing education — but he says he missed direct contact with students. After a little less than two years at LMU, when he had an opportunity to join student services at USC Annenberg, he jumped at it.
Starting as an academic advisor, Brown has taken on increasing responsibility over the years, and is now managing the entire undergraduate advising office.
“One of the things I think has been consistent at USC Annenberg throughout my experience is the care and dedication all of the faculty and staff show when serving students,” he said.
As both an alumnus and a longtime staffer, Brown says the campus scandals of recent years have taken their toll on USC’s institutional culture. “The things that went on were infuriating,” he said. The only way we are going to be able to move forward is by admitting that these things shouldn’t have happened — and we’re committed to them not happening again.”
Along with his fellow culture facilitators Lawler and Vasquez, Brown trained for the role in December and January, as he prepares to lead conversations, which will include town halls, discussion sessions, and foundation workshops. The campus-wide gatherings began in January; USC Annenberg’s sessions will begin in February. All USC faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate and earlier participation in the poll is not a prerequisite.
“I gladly accepted this role,” Brown said. “I’ve never wanted to sit on the sidelines — I like to get involved and share my voice, and also make sure that the voices of my colleagues and friends are heard, as well.”
That, he believes, will be one of the first steps to helping redefine and strengthen the culture of the university.
A collaboration between theater and medicine leads to an innovative empathy program for LAC+USC staff
Astrid Heger, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, was looking for a way to teach empathy, kindness and caring that did not involve panels of talking heads or dreary online assignments. She was fed up with those. The answer, she discovered, was theater.
“When people get up out of their chairs and are acting together, nobody in the audience is on their phones,” said Heger, who is also the founder and executive director of the Violence Intervention Program at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. “They can see themselves in the situations being portrayed and you can have real learning. This way of learning should be driving us as a university.”
Four years ago, Heger had a dinner with Brent Blair, PhD, who directs USC’s Institute for Theatre & Social Change, that planted the seeds of a program called ACT Together that debuted at two adult primary care clinics at LAC+USC in 2017. The staff of those clinics work with some of the nation’s most vulnerable patients, and often suffer from caretaker fatigue. The clinics see patients whose physical illnesses frequently coexist with mental illnesses and addictions, and poverty often complicates their ability to follow medical recommendations.
Brent Blair brings to this project his years of experience using theater to help marginalized and oppressed communities. (Photo/Chris Shinn)
Josh Banerjee, MD, who was then the medical director for the clinics, had a fellowship from the California Health Care Foundation that came with a charge to develop an innovative solution to a health care problem. Banerjee knew the problem he wanted to tackle: medical providers at the clinics feeling powerless, voiceless and burned out.
Blair, a professor of theater practice, has spent his professional life using theater to help marginalized and oppressed communities find solutions to difficult problems. Heger introduced Banerjee to Blair, and then provided funding for the project.
Blair hired actors — some from marginalized communities — to play the roles of patients. Doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and hospital social workers were recruited to work with the actors to develop six scenes that illustrated some of the tough situations the clinicians frequently face.
“We showed an ‘anti’ model of how things should not be done,” Blair said. “All the scenes were carefully designed and scripted for failure.”
One scene had a doctor recoiling in horror at the sight and smell of a patient’s badly infected leg wound. Another involved a woman who had suffered physical abuse being unable to show her scars to medical staffers because her abuser remained in the examining room. Another detailed how financial paperwork runarounds caused a patient to miss his appointment.
The scenes were presented differently by which the audience members, the clinic employees, were asked to step in and replace the actors and medical personnel originally doing the scenes. They were told to use their experience and wisdom to bring about better outcomes. The original actors and medical personnel performed the same scene repeatedly, giving the opportunity for several audience members to try different solutions.
“When doctors, nurses and medical staff get up and act instead of talk, they have body memory that lasts into their practice,” Blair said. The result is that employees feel seen and heard. “They feel better when they are on the medical floor the next day.”
Four times a year, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) — which operates the clinics — measures employee engagement with surveys and Banerjee knew the clinics’ mid-range scores could and should be better. They had tried retreats, team-building exercises and public recognition for staff members, all without much success.
The average for positive employee engagement for all DHS units was 3.69 out of a perfect score of 5. The score for the clinics Banerjee oversaw was 3.64. It’s difficult to raise scores by even one-tenth of a point, and Banerjee had an ambitious goal to raise the number to 3.75 during the six months the ACT Together program ran. Impressively, the clinics’ score went up to 3.81 during that time.
Survey questions specifically about ACT Together revealed approval ratings of 95 percent.
Banerjee has given credit to Heger’s support, and to Blair’s skill as a director.
Blair says that even when there is no intervention that neatly solves the problem in a scene, the audience has changed from being passive to feeling active, useful and engaged.
Since the program’s inception, Blair and Banerjee have done presentations on the project for the California Health Care Foundation and LAC+USC, and are planning to co-author a medical journal article about it. Banerjee is now the associate medical director for transitions of care at LAC+USC, and he and Blair are in discussions about expanding the program across the DHS.
Dr. Lefebvre is an orthopaedic surgeon at the USC Hand Center at Keck Medicine of USC.
Her specialties include the treatment of hand and wrist injuries, arthritis and post-traumatic reconstruction. Dr. Lefebvre has a special interest in brachial plexus injury, peripheral nerve disorders and microvascular reconstruction of the upper extremity. Here are some fun facts about her that you won’t find on her resume.
She’s a musician, a lover of nature and a fan of the arts.
“When I’m not working, I love to spend time hiking, playing my violin and baking. I also enjoy visiting museums in Los Angeles — the Getty is a favorite — and going to the beach.”
Fall season in New England sweeps her off her feet.
“Much of my family lives in the Northeast, so I love to travel there to visit. New England in the fall is one of the most beautiful places in the world!”
Understanding is the key to successful care.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is helping patients understand their anatomy and diagnosis. When the patient and I have a common knowledge base about what’s being treated, we can make informed decisions together and move toward wellness.”
Her expertise involves many different specialties.
“Hand and wrist surgery is fascinating because it involves so many topics. Every day, I draw on principles from orthopaedic and plastic surgery, vascular surgery, microsurgery, rheumatology, pathology and infectious disease.”
This advancement could change hand and wrist surgeries.
“My current areas of research focus on peripheral nerve injury as well as hand and wrist trauma. I think we’re still just beginning to understand peripheral nerve repair and reconstruction after injury. It’s an exciting, developing field that I think has big advancements on the horizon.”
She approaches each patient with kindness and respect.
“I try to approach all patients with kindness and respect. Every patient has a unique way that their hand, wrist or nerve issue impacts their life. I think it’s important to consider each patient’s individual wellness goals.”
The continual education from being at an academic medical center keeps her at her very best.
“Keck Medicine has a dynamic and engaging learning environment. Attending academic conferences regularly, collaborating with colleagues on research and working with medical trainees keeps me on top of new developments in our field and on my toes every day.”
Keck Medicine is her home.
“The multidisciplinary collaboration within our USC Hand Center is one of a kind. My physician, nursing and therapy colleagues within our subspecialty are outstanding. We collaborate on patient care, educational initiatives and research to advance our field. Keck Medicine fosters collaboration, which makes us all better at what we do and helps us provide the best care possible to our patients.”
USC alumna Alma Burke is known for her warmth and her connection with the community. She has sung the national anthem at Dodger Stadium twice. She sang it again at an L.A. Galaxy match, with her athletic idol David Beckham standing behind her.
She also has a tougher side that will put student safety above all else. Her 24-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department included front-line duty in vice, narcotics, counterterrorism and homicide investigations — sometimes working undercover.
Now, Alma Burke is leaving her post as a sergeant II with the LAPD and joining the USC Department of Public Safety (DPS) as their first Latina assistant chief. Both her empathy and her law enforcement instincts earned her the job after an intense national search.
“Being here just fits,” Burke said. “I was a first-generation college student, and here at USC, I became a first-generation grad student a few years ago. I find myself surrounded by incredible minds. I’m humbled.”
New Latina assistant chief went from Santa Ana to South L.A.
Growing up in Santa Ana, Calif., Burke saw the damage crime could do to a community.
“It’s changed a lot, but when I was growing up there was a lot of crime, a lot of poverty,” she recalled. “My parents still live there. They refuse to move. It’s home.”
Now a married mother of two adult daughters, Burke remains deeply connected to her parents. That bond never broke, though it was strained when Burke headed for college at California State University, Long Beach, decades ago.
“You can change a generation through the kids you touch, and you can change adults through children.”
“My parents would have been happy if I had just graduated from high school,” she said. “For my dad, it was more like, ‘What are you going to do with that college degree?’ I think once I made it to college, my dad realized I was moving ahead. He became more supportive. I think, culturally, they want women to just get married and have children. I told them early on: That’s not what I’m going to do.”
After graduating from the Los Angeles Police Academy, Burke investigated violent narcotic offenders and worked undercover in vice and prostitution. As a detective, Burke investigated sexual assaults in the special victims unit and then homicides in South L.A. Counterterrorism also fell under her purview.
“All those jobs built me,” she said. “I learned how to talk to people when I worked vice. You learn what they want and why they want it. I remember when I started to learn about human trafficking, running into 12- and 13-year-olds and realizing this wasn’t just about prostitution. This was about saving lives. Even when I had to interview serial killers, I was peeling back the layers, understanding why they did what they did.”
She currently heads the largest female law enforcement organization in California, devoted to helping officers of all genders reach their potential and deal with the trauma they encounter on a daily basis. Much of her time — on and off duty — is spent connecting with kids, the community and law enforcement.
Building a connection between kids and cops
“You can change a generation through the kids you touch, and you can change adults through children.” That outlook has driven Burke’s efforts, especially when she helped lead the Community Safety Partnership program in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
“I was assigned to Jordan Downs, which at one time was the murder capital of Watts. I said, ‘Let’s find something that helps us connect with the community, especially the kids.’”
Burke’s search led her to Rockets in the Projects, which taught aeronautics to 30 kids under the leadership of Frank Miuccio, MIS director at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
The faces of those kids, watching rockets soar into the sky, is a vivid memory. Burke’s mission, however, is often closer to the ground.
“If you get out of your police car, ask the kids, ‘How was school today?’ and you’ll get much closer,” she said. “I’ve seen officers buy shoes for kids. I’ve had kids from Jordan Downs tell me they want to be police officers when they grow up.”
University groups contributed to choice of first Latina assistant chief
When asked why Burke was chosen in a highly competitive hiring process, USC DPS Chief John Thomas was quick to answer.
“Alma has a proven record of collaborating with communities of color in creative and innovative ways to make them feel safer.”
“We didn’t make this decision alone,” he said. “Students, our cultural centers, the Undergraduate Student Government, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, Campus Wellness, our Latinx groups — they had input into this process. Alma has a proven record of collaborating with communities of color in creative and innovative ways to make them feel safer. I want to invest in building better relationships with our Latinx and black students and neighbors.”
Burke said she’ll hit the ground running, employing her longstanding relationships with groups and community leaders around USC and South L.A. “They’re ready to work with USC,” she said. “That part comes easily to me.”
Though Burke smiles often, her expression changes when asked what she wants USC students to know. She responds with sincerity and seriousness: “Their safety is a priority to me. I care how you feel, on and off campus. What can I do to help?”
Yaniv Bar-Cohen calls it like he sees it, not how he wants to see it.
It’s a personality trait that has served him well in his work as a pediatric heart rhythm specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where most days include high-stakes patient diagnoses and treatment decisions made under extreme pressure.
It’s also served him well in his past year as USC Academic Senate president as he dealt with the fallout from the discovery of misconduct and mismanagement at the university.
“Solutions don’t come unless you face the problems,” Bar-Cohen said. A clear-eyed, honest examination of an issue should lead to the best decision, not the most convenient one.
While sweeping conflicts under the rug can maintain an illusion of harmony, it’s often short-lived. Bar-Cohen sees a benefit in having those difficult conversations and believes that universities like USC are well-suited to teach people how to converse during conflict.
“If we as a university can’t figure out how to have conversations where all sides are presented, where every view is listened to without making things personal, then I don’t know who can,” he said.
Walking the Walk
A March 19 forum for faculty, staff and students put his thinking to the test. Partnering with leaders of the undergraduate and graduate student government bodies as well as USC’s Staff Assembly, Bar-Cohen and the Academic Senate pushed to create an opportunity for open dialogue amongst the university community.
A key goal for the four leaders was to create a safe space for sharing and listening to one another. The university administration, including interim President Wanda M. Austin, were invited as guests and listeners, not as opposition.
Chief among Bar-Cohen’s worries that day was that the forum would devolve from a civil dialogue to an angry rant session. It never did, thanks in part to setting expectations at the beginning and the skillful moderation of the student, faculty and staff leadership. He hopes that there will be more forums like this in the future and that more people will attend and feel free to speak out.
“I want to tell [the USC community] that you can talk about how we can make these things better and people will listen to you,” he said. “That’s how it begins … learning how to communicate openly in an ongoing fashion about how to make USC a better place.”
Bar-Cohen will leave his role as president in July, but he hopes that the forum will live on and provide people with a consistent place to be heard. His dream? To create a place where people are both listening and moving forward.
“We are all part of trying to make USC better together,” he said. “This is the time to figure out what we want to be as a university.”
Words of Encouragement
For those who feel skeptical about culture-change efforts afoot at the university, Bar-Cohen has a message that stems from the changes he’s already seen: “Good times are ahead. I really do believe that.”
Though he acknowledges that the university has a way to go in rebuilding trust among its faculty, he thinks the work of the President’s Culture Commission and the Working Group on University Culture is key to creating a space for open and honest communication.
The idea of an environment in which all members do the right thing out of a culture of caring, rather than compliance, excites Bar-Cohen the most. Part of his passion for improving USC goes back to his idea that universities must be places where civil discourse is not just taught but lived. In this way, he sees the role of the university as crucial to improving the world and the human condition. Creating a culture of caring and communication at USC is a first step toward a much broader goal.
“We have a responsibility to our planet to learn how and to teach others how to communicate,” he said.
When his presidency ends, Bar-Cohen will be busy with a new arrival. He and his wife are expecting a baby shortly after his term. He’ll stay on the Senate Executive Board as the immediate past president and advise his presidential successor, Rebecca Lonergan. He’ll also return full-time to his practice at CHLA, his research on fetal pacemakers, and his work as co-director of the Consortium for Technology and Innovation in Pediatrics.
The former vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will oversee more than 300 employees responsible for everything from recreational sports to nearly 1,000 student organizations.
Veteran university administrator Winston B. Crisp has been named USC vice president for student affairs, USC President Carol L. Folt announced Wednesday.
An expert in student development, Crisp formerly served as vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He will join USC on Aug. 16.
“I am excited that Winston will be bringing his expertise and enthusiasm to USC,” Folt said. “Our students are sure to benefit from his vision for campus life and his deeply caring approach to student affairs. He is a compassionate and creative leader and always places students first.”
“I owe everything — my entire career and everything I’ve been able to accomplish — to the fact that I’ve been able to access higher education when nobody else in my family had beforehand.”
Crisp will oversee a USC Student Affairs staff of more than 300 employees who serve about 20,000 undergraduate and 27,500 graduate and professional students. The division is responsible for overseeing everything from student services to recreational sports, as well as the university’s nearly 1,000 student organizations. Its revitalized residential college program extends the learning experience beyond the classroom for first-year undergraduates by building strong connections with residential assistants and faculty.
Crisp said his approach to student support and services was greatly shaped by his experience as part of the first generation in his family to attend college. USC emphasizes increasing access to higher education for first-generation students. About one in six USC students has parents who didn’t go to college.
“I owe everything — my entire career and everything I’ve been able to accomplish — to the fact that I’ve been able to access higher education when nobody else in my family had beforehand,” he said.
Student affairs staff strive to support students as they figure out the path to their future, he said. The team’s role is to make students feel welcome and keep them safe and healthy. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Crisp worked tirelessly to create a sense of belonging among students and to give them tools to succeed at the university and in life.
“Every single student that comes to the campus — without regard to what adjective you can put in front them — is supposed to have the same opportunity to figure out their dream, create a vision for themselves and to learn and grow as much any other student,” he said.
Emphasizing the need for healthy, happy students at USC
He also focused on well-being. As the nation’s universities grapple with growing mental health issues among their students, Crisp led a mental health task force that assessed the scope of needs for UNC-Chapel Hill students and provided important recommendations on new policies and programs. Today’s students, he said, face unprecedented levels of stress, and he expects to continue to emphasize mental well-being at USC.
“If students are not healthy, if students are not able to focus, then what they’re here for — which is to learn in and out of the classroom — is not going to happen effectively,” he said.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, Crisp was known for his close relationship with students. He often provided pizza during study breaks and helped new students settle in. He also achieved a following among students on Twitter using the handle @ViceCrispy.
“I got a lot of attention for that Twitter handle,” he said.
In addition to his work in North Carolina, Crisp has advised other universities on student affairs issues. In summer 2007, for example, while Crisp was associate dean for student services at UNC-Chapel Hill, he served as a volunteer on loan to Virginia Tech in the wake of its mass shooting.
Crisp earned his undergraduate degree at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., and his law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. He then joined the law school as its first assistant dean for student affairs and first associate dean for student services.
He said he believes USC is ready to create a new chapter for itself and for higher education as a whole.
“I come in with no expectations other than that this is a brilliant community of brilliant people that is poised to do tremendous things,” he said. “I hope that my talent and experience will be a fit that will help the university in terms of where it’s going, and that it will help students experience USC in the way that they dream about.”
USC Board of Trustees selects internationally recognized biologist and former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chancellor to lead the university into new era.
Noted life scientist, teacher and academic leader Carol L. Folt will become the University of Southern California’s 12th president, the USC Board of Trustees announced today.
Formerly chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Folt brings decades of experience in academia to USC, launching a new era for the 139-year-old university. She will take office as USC’s new president on July
The first woman to lead UNC, she was known for advancing student access and affordability, promoting research, discovery and academic excellence at the university, and steering the campus toward greater accountability.
“As I have come to know Dr. Folt and how she thinks, it is clear that USC has chosen a brilliant, principled leader with clarity of purpose and integrity to lead the university forward and upward,” said Rick Caruso, chair of the USC Board of Trustees. “Ours was a global search, and we spoke to over a hundred diverse and world-class candidates. Dr. Folt stood out from the very beginning as a courageous and compassionate person who always places the well-being of students, faculty, staff and patients at the heart of all she does.
“She has a deep appreciation for the breadth and depth of USC’s mission, and I’m confident she will further strengthen the academic and athletic programs, professional schools and health sciences. Her experience, energy and dedication to these essential elements of USC are needed now more than ever. She is the right leader at the right time. She is a remarkable and accomplished woman.”
New USC president: Unanimous choice of search committee
Folt was the unanimous choice of USC’s 23-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee. The group presented Folt as a candidate after a seven-month national search shaped by the input of hundreds of USC faculty and staff members, students, alumni and other members of the Trojan Family.
She will assume leadership of the university from interim President Wanda M. Austin, an alumna and member of the USC Board of Trustees who has led USC since August 2018. Austin also served on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. Folt will continue work begun under Austin to promote positive cultural change and uphold the highest values of excellence, integrity and trust across USC.
“Dr. Folt is a seasoned leader who has an excellent track record of listening to others.”
“Dr. Folt is a seasoned leader who has an excellent track record of listening to others,” Austin said. “She clearly understands the value of reaching out across campus, and for standing strong for the character and principles of a university’s community. Her experience gives me great confidence that she will uphold a culture of integrity at USC.”
The search committee praised Folt’s broad-ranging academic experience and commitment to putting students at the center of her mission. During her time at UNC, the diversity of students grew and 20 percent of UNC students were in the first generation of their family to attend college. The university also attracted its most academically accomplished classes ever.
Watch Wednesday’s news conference introducing USC President-elect Carol L. Folt:
She developed the university’s first strategic plan and spearheaded a $4.25 billion fundraising campaign. UNC surpassed $1 billion in annual federal research expenditures for the first time in 2017. Folt also oversaw one of the nation’s top medical schools and served on the board of UNC’s integrated health care system. At the same time, she spearheaded new environmental sustainability initiatives, entrepreneurship across campus and an expansive effort to make the arts accessible to everyone at the university.
“Carol Folt’s entire career, as both a faculty member and leader, embodies a commitment to all aspects of academic excellence while always putting people first,” said Yaniv Bar-Cohen, president of the USC Academic Senate and professor of clinical pediatrics and medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “The search committee set out to find the very best leader for where our institution wants to go, and I believe we found the perfect match.”
Challenging times are familiar to USC president-elect
Folt has deep experience leading a university through challenging times. When she became chancellor of UNC in 2013, she inherited a university grappling with highly publicized past academic and athletic irregularities. One of her first actions was co-commissioning an independent investigation to fully understand the scope of the issue, and she oversaw the implementation of more than 70 reforms — designed together with the faculty — to ensure the highest standards of accountability and integrity across the university.
At the same time, in partnership with the UNC Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students, she drove critical conversations about race, appointed a special assistant to the chancellor to focus on diversity and inclusion, and completed the removal of a Confederate monument from campus. As colleges nationwide grappled with sexual violence, Folt strengthened the university’s policies on sexual assault and spoke out strongly on the topic on panels at the White House and other universities.
“USC is a world-class global research university, and I am deeply grateful to the USC community and its leaders for giving me the privilege of serving as its president,” Folt said. “The lifeblood of every great university is its students, faculty, staff and alumni, and I am so looking forward to meeting with you and learning more about you. The opportunities and potential I see ahead for USC are extraordinary.”
“This is a moment of responsibility and opportunity, and we will seize them both.”
“Of course, I also am aware that our community is deeply troubled by a number of immediate challenges. I assure you that we will meet these challenges together, directly, decisively and with honesty and candor. This is a moment of responsibility and opportunity, and we will seize them both.”
Folt is no stranger to California. A native of Akron, Ohio, she headed west for college and attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, after transferring from Santa Barbara City College. She earned a degree in aquatic biology and a master’s in biology two years later, while working as a waitress to fund her education. Later, she obtained her doctorate in ecology at the University of California, Davis, and did postdoctoral work at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station of Michigan State University.
She began her career as a professor at Dartmouth College, where she was a faculty member in biological sciences and an academic leader — including as dean of faculty, provost and interim president. Folt’s research has focused on the effects of dietary mercury and arsenic on human and ecosystem health, salmonid fisheries management and restoration, and global climate change. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Folt is married to David Peart, an emeritus professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth. They have two adult children, Noah and Tessa.
Renee Almassizadeh has had a lifelong fascination with the languages, cultures and peoples of the Middle East region.
Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field and work experience at different think tanks, she joined the university as staff in 2015 to help get the USC Dornsife Middle East Studies Program off the ground.
What a difference nearly four years have made. The program has grown into a full-fledged USC Department of Middle East Studies. The freshman who enrolled during those early days are preparing to graduate as seniors. And Almassizadeh has seen her passion for all things Middle East expand into something even greater: a passion for higher education and its ability to transform students’ lives and help shape society.
It’s a dedication that has led her to work closely with students, and also to run for and win an election to represent staff interests on Staff Assembly. That her tenure as a staff leader occurred during a very challenging time at USC has only strengthened her commitment to the cause.
Voicing Staff’s Worth
If the past two years have convinced Almassizadeh of anything, it is that there is a need for a shift in USC’s culture.
She hears often from staff members that they feel under-appreciated by the university. Their reasons vary, she acknowledged, but it’s also a perception that she hopes is starting to shift, thanks to university-wide efforts to spark culture change efforts. She also points to Interim President Wanda Austin’s actions, including her public recognition of the important role staff plays: not just inpatient care at Keck Medicine of USC and in student lives on campus, but also through less visible but still critical functions like public safety, facilities management and civic engagement. It’s a point Almassizadeh often makes when speaking about staff.
“I see education as more of a holistic experience. Students spend more time out of the classroom than in it,” Almassizadeh said. They interact with staff for counseling, health care, library services, through affinity groups and others who help shape their experiences and provide guidance and support.
A Close-up View of Culture Change
Almassizadeh knows that her role as staff leadership on the President’s Culture Commission affords a close-up view to efforts to usher in large-scale improvements to how the university works that others don’t see. One of the biggest hurdles to the burgeoning culture change efforts underway now, she said, will be engaging with staff across units, schools and disciplines and convincing them to get involved.
As someone who thinks a lot of about staff concerns, Almassizadeh realizes that culture change has to happen not just at the macro- or university-level, but also within individual units and teams.
“You can have a really great manager and a really great day-to-day experience…and feel like you work within a good culture,” she said. But if at the micro- or team-level, the culture needs to be fixed, then it won’t matter if great things are occurring at the university level, because nothing will change day-to-day. Involving a deep bench of staff members will help ensure lasting change.
While she hears some cynicism or apathy from staff about the culture change efforts so far, she remains buoyed by what she’s seen so far.
“I’m truly optimistic that there are enough great people at all different levels and in all different capacities at this institution to create change,” she said. Our challenge will be to “bring as many people to the conversation as possible.”
Values are Key
The first thing tackled by the President’s Culture Commission has been the rollout of an online values survey by the Barrett Values Centre. The survey, which has been deployed by all sorts of organizations and even cities and countries, helps people identify their personal values, current organizational values and desired organizational values.
The results weren’t too surprising, but they have informed the way she thinks about her work. For example, a key value for Almassizadeh was the meaningful connections she forms with those around her, which make sense given her role in building relationships with the students who come to her office for counseling and advisement as well as the staff she represents.
Pausing to reflect on her values and how they manifest in her professional behavior was a powerful exercise and one that she hopes other staff members will embrace and find empowering.
“We have the opportunity to determine what we want the values of this university to be in the 21st century. Each of us can shape these values.”
Healthcare Administrator Knows Culture Change Starts With Him
Felipe Osorno knows that culture change initiatives can work.
He has seen it unfold at Keck Medicine of USC during the five years he has worked there. Now, the executive administrator for continuum of care operations hopes to share those successes and lessons learned through his participation in the Working Group on University Culture.
A key to successful culture change, according to Osorno? Communication is key.
When Keck Medicine began doing this sort of work in 2013, its aim was a culture encompassing a committed focus on employee engagement and patient experience. Critical to the effort was improving the flow of communication from employees on the front line of patient care all the way to the top.
Creating Space for Real Communication
About a year ago, Osorno said, Keck Medicine established a tiered huddle system throughout the organization. A technique growing in popularity among healthcare providers, tiered huddles have been found to bring dramatic improvements to patient safety and employee engagement. It works like this: front line staff kicks the process off by huddling up for a short meeting at 7 a.m. each day to talk about concerns or issues. Those concerns and issues are then escalated through management as the morning progresses, so that by 9:45 a.m., Keck Medicine’s executive team has a snapshot of any serious safety events, equipment downtime, or other challenges occurring in the system, as well as understanding key operating metrics throughout the organization.
The tiered huddle system keeps patient safety and experience at the forefront while engaging employees to make sure their voices are heard.
“We hear about issues in real time and are able to act a lot more quickly. Operational day-to-day issues are starting to flow up and down more easily. It also ensures we talk about what matters every day with a predictable cadence,” Osorno said.
It also allows for direct, face-to-face communication rather than relying on email, where messages can get lost in translation, something that happens not just in healthcare systems but in many organizations and individual departments and units.
“When we communicate often about the things that matter, people pay attention. But when there are gaps in information, people fill in those gaps and make assumptions about what matters and what doesn’t,” Osorno said.
HSC’s Different Perspective
While Keck Medicine’s culture change efforts may bring many insights to the budding university-wide effort, Osorno also sees one of his roles on the Working Group on University Culture as advocating for the distinct perspectives of those at the Health Sciences Campus, particularly those working within the Keck Medicine organization. That means reminding staff, faculty and students at University Park Campus about HSC’s dual focus on patients as well as students. For example, Keck Medicine of USC hospitals care for about 600 inpatients a day, and its clinics treat 3,000 patients a day. Focusing on their experience is at the center of Keck Medicine culture.
“I think there are several groups within USC that might identify more closely with their own organization rather than with USC as a whole,” Osorno said. While he sees a tendency for those working within Keck Medicine to talk about that organization’s culture rather than the USC culture, he also understands the need for university-wide standards.
“There are universal values that we can probably agree upon but translating these to [the university’s] different environments is part of the important work we have to do,” he said.
Opening Up to Culture Change
When asked what advice he would give to USC community members at the start of the culture change journey, he said to remember that it all starts with personal responsibility.
“If we as individuals don’t start behaving differently, how do we expect the university to be different?” he said. It’s especially true for those in management or supervisory positions, as they set the tone for the people who report to them.
Osorno sees culture as the sum total of the behaviors and actions that individuals take every day. The popular saying that “change begins with me” is more than just a feel-good maxim, it’s a principle that Osorno has seen hold true in cultural change efforts at Keck Medicine.
He encourages staff who haven’t gotten involved in the university’s culture change efforts to speak up, to volunteer to help, and more importantly, to live their personal values.
“Complaining is easy,” Osorno said. To bring about real improvements, he said, we have to decide to be part of the change.
USC Student Health’s new violence prevention specialist wants everyone at the university, even incoming freshmen, to understand the value of a safe campus for all.
Hyun Kyoung “Sarah” Hong has always been interested in helping others.
“In high school, I knew I was interested in psychology and psychiatry, listening and making connections with people,” said the Korea-born Hong, USC Student Health’s new violence prevention specialist, who attended school in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has “been an international student for more than half [her] life.”
It was after a friend — a fellow sorority pledge at the University of Michigan — was sexually assaulted that Hong was first introduced to the world of college violence prevention.
“I wanted to find a way I could be of help to my friend, so I began volunteering for the peer violence prevention program, which is similar to VOICE at USC,” she recalled. “It was there that I learned how to prevent violence and create a community of respect, and the power of peer-to-peer education. So, I am going to be really invested in VOICE.”
The value in assessing community health
After earning her undergraduate degree in biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience, Hong went on to receive both a Master of Public Health and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. She wanted to understand and impact the larger social systems that affect individual and community health and well-being.
“People think of public health as vaccines and food safety, but there is a social ecological model to prevention,” Hong said.
“There’s the individual making health decisions, but there’s also those who are close to you, your community and the greater society that affect your health decisions. It’s all interconnected.”
She cited a research study she helped conduct at Columbia that looked at how previous incarceration affected subjects’ willingness to stay on their HIV medication.
“One participant who identified as a black male, for example, said he didn’t want to carry his HIV medication because he was afraid law enforcement might mistake it for an illegal substance,” she said.
“There are multiple layers and variables to an issue, and you have to understand how the variables interact and address a problem that way.”
Act early and prevent campus violence
In the case of college sexual assault and misconduct, Hong approaches the problem with the larger cultural context in mind.
“If you ask any student what consent is, you’ll probably get an answer that’s at least 80% correct,” she said.
“It’s not a lack of information; it’s changing beliefs, and making sexual assault something we, as a community, disapprove of.”
She says it is critical to address the topic as soon as students arrive on campus.
“College is a time of discovery,” she said.
“It’s the first time many young people explore themselves and meet people like they’ve never met before, so it is important to establish a culture of respect, so they know they are safe to explore and grow.”
She will also work to support and sustain the Undergraduate Student Government’s bystander intervention training initiative, Trojans Act Now, through ongoing student leadership transitions and graduations.
Hong said she is optimistic that this generation is more receptive to a sex positive culture change than ever before.
“We live in a unique time in which the freshmen coming in are aware of things like social identities and are open to talking about these things,” she said.
“This generation also seeks evidence and statements that are backed up by facts, which I appreciate as a public health practitioner.”
She has spent more than two decades in healthcare operations, leading clinical and nonclinical teammates, patient experience, and providing ambulatory care for seniors and chronically ill patients for HealthCare Partners.
Enhanced journey for those who visit USC Student Health
As an expert in patient experience, Nguyen-Knowles is working to enhance the journey for every student who encounters USC Student Health.
“My goal is to ensure that every step of the patient experience is top of mind – from the minute a student accesses care to graduation,” she said. “I want our patients to feel that they can come to us without any barriers or challenges.”
Nguyen-Knowles has also been applying her extensive knowledge of access to healthcare to increase efficiencies in USC Student Health.
A dedicated medical advice nurse now assesses patient cases and provides medical advice via secure messaging or by phone, refill medications, and provides in-person visits to assist patients as much as possible. And a care model that engages multidisciplinary departments at every step in the patient’s journey is being employed to ensure smooth hand-off and care.
Childhood in Lebanon shapes Raffi Boghossian love of nursing
Raffi Boghossian saw a lot of things growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, during the height of a civil war. Out of those things grew a passion for nursing and service to others.
“I grew up in a war-torn country and all I saw were people in need,” explained the clinical director of the intensive care and telemetry units at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. “The only way we survived was by helping others, so it’s in my blood.”
Boghossian moved to the U.S. at age 16 and carried with him his passion for helping others. He worked as an emergency medical technician for 10 years before deciding to pursue a career in nursing. While studying at Western Governors University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, Boghossian’s passion for nursing grew. His compassion for helping those in need recently earned him the USC Choi Family Award for Excellence in Patient-Centered Care, which honors physicians, residents, nurses and staff for their dedication and commitment for delivering compassionate patient care.
“Patients are human beings and a lot of times medical professionals forget the human element because we get caught up with procedures”
Promoting to nursing management was one of Boghossian’s career goals, but he was concerned he’d lose the day-to-day patient interaction he enjoyed, so he promised himself that he would find a way to keep the interaction going.
“Patients are human beings and a lot of times medical professionals forget the human element because we get caught up with procedures,” said Boghossian, who began working at Keck Hospital of USC in 2007 and transferred to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in 2015. “I make sure I round every day to speak to patients and families. Sometimes I’m getting them an extra blanket or a cup of coffee; it’s just being there for them and meeting their needs.”
Theresa Murphy, RN, MSHA, chief nursing officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, said Boghossian consistently goes above and beyond in advocating for his patients and his astute clinical skills have surely saved several patients’ lives.
“On more than one occasion, he has jumped into the ambulance to provide critical nursing care when there would have been a delay in getting a critical care transport set up,” Murphy explained. “For many patients requiring tertiary or quaternary care, he has been the engine behind facilitating rapid transfer to a higher level of care at Keck Hospital of USC.”
New director of professionalism and ethics emphasizes collaboration, communication
USC needed a proven manager who embodies principle and character to fill the new role of USC professionalism and ethics director. Enter Mark Manley.
Manley brings more than two decades of experience in law enforcement to USC in his new position in the Office of Professionalism and Ethics. The office is a central hub for complaints and investigations into serious issues like workplace conflict, inappropriate behavior and discrimination.
In his new role, Manley will track ongoing investigations across the university to ensure they are resolved efficiently and equitably. The position poses the kind of challenges he relishes.
“We have an opportunity here to take a great organization and to put some processes in place to make it an exceptionally great organization,” he said. “The exciting part is to see where this office goes and how it develops to further support the university.”
It promises to be a high-tempo atmosphere, but Manley is confident his leadership experiences at the Costa Mesa Police Department, including overseeing sensitive criminal investigations and personnel issues, have prepared him for it.
Virtue of service instilled early for USC professionalism and ethics director
Manley grew up in Anaheim as an athlete, excelling in sports like football and wrestling in high school. He also served as a senior class officer, hinting at the attention to detail and leadership skills that would go on to serve him well.
He began his career by joining the U.S. Coast Guard as a reserve port security specialist, working in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach while attending college. He oversaw random inspections of foreign ships, checking manifests and ensuring they had proper navigational equipment, a top priority following the high-profile Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
Along the way, he earned his college degree from the University of California, Irvine in criminology, law and society. Manley’s uncle served as an inspiration: He was a homicide investigator in Orange County. “I was always intrigued by his stories, and that prompted my interest in law enforcement.”
Law enforcement also was an outlet for Manley’s urge to give back to his community, a value emphasized by his hard-working and humble parents. He was intrigued by military heroes as a young boy, likely influenced by his father’s and uncle’s service in the U.S. Army.
“Throughout my life, there’s been a common thread of service to community and country,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be somebody who could be a role model.”
Law enforcement career offers lessons in leadership
Manley joined the Costa Mesa Police Department as a patrol officer in 1995. He climbed the ranks, becoming a captain in 2014.
Along the way, he oversaw special investigation units that tackled major drug trafficking, career criminals and gang violence. As captain, he supervised all field operations — from patrol and traffic enforcement to community engagement and school safety services. His team managed large-scale events like the Orange County Fair and Orange County Marathon, and Manley sat on the review board for internal administrative investigations.
A major challenge came during the economic downturn in the late 2000s, when budget cutbacks and large-scale attrition significantly reduced the department’s ranks.
“We had a collective job to ensure we were still providing the highest levels of service to the community,” Manley said. “We also had to rebuild a culture in the police department, not unlike what we are doing here at USC — to strengthen the foundation, renew the mission and vision and create new policies and best practices.”
In those times of uncertainty and anxiety, he said it proved critical to be open and accessible to others in the department and community. He made it a point to regularly visit shift briefings with officers, pledging to answer tough questions and share any information he could about challenges and the department’s plans moving forward.
“I really cut my teeth on crisis management and communication,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that necessity is the mother of invention. It’s in those moments of crisis where you see the necessity and you respond with invention.”
New USC professionalism and ethics director stresses integrity
Manley plans to bring that same mind set of collaboration and innovation to his role with the USC Office of Professionalism of Ethics.
“This office was created to address challenges in a new and creative way and to maintain a high level of communication, accountability and transparency,” he said. “As we move forward and look at metrics for success over the next year or two, my hope is that this becomes an office that other universities across the country look to model as a success story.”
His main priority, along with continuing to build the office’s staff, is to launch in the very near future a centralized database to monitor complaints and the progress of investigations. The university-wide software system will bring human resources offices and all investigative units, such as Title IX, Office of Equity and Diversity, Office of Compliance and Office of Athletic Compliance, together on a single software platform. The tool will allow those departments to track and manage their individual complaints.
“It will also allow our office to globally view the entire system to get a snapshot of what’s happening at the university,” Manley said. “Not only will we look to create efficiencies with our investigations, but we will ensure nothing falls through the cracks. With the use of the big data we will accumulate, it will also allow us to be more proactive and look for areas of risk we can address.”
Manley also talks regularly with faculty, staff and students about the office’s capabilities and services — an effort started by his supervisor, Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president for professionalism and ethics.
“There’s a sense of eagerness to see what this office can do,” Manley said. “During uncertain times, any kind of change can be unsettling, but we have largely been met with support and enthusiasm, and that is exciting.”
“We need to make sure that people understand the phenomenal things that are happening on this campus.”
What was your reaction when they asked you to become interim president?
Wanda Austin: First, honored, and then, “Oh my God.” (laughs) Obviously I’ve been on the Board of Trustees for a while, and we have been addressing the issues that you would expect in an enterprise of this size: strategically where we are going, what do we need to achieve and what’s important in terms of the investments we need to be making going forward. So, I thought to myself, “If there’s something I can do to help, I’m glad to do it.”
This is obviously a critical time for the university. During your time leading USC, what are your thoughts about how best to move the university forward?
One of the things that I mentioned [at new student convocation] is to make sure we are living our values. We have our values on Tommy Trojan, but how often do we think — as we make decisions, is this decision consistent with the values that we have? My focus really is about making sure that we’re doing our job and that we’re taking action doing that is consistent with our values.
What are some of the opportunities that USC faces in the months ahead?
I think that USC has the opportunity to continue to lead in transformative research. We need to make sure that we are talking about those successes and encouraging additional investment in those areas going forward. Biomedical is an area that is really blooming. Cyber is another one. The digital arts is another. There’s lots of innovation that’s already ongoing. I’d like to see us make sure that we’re talking about it, that people know that it’s going on, because that draws additional talent.
As interim president, what does “interim” mean to you?
I know that I’m not here for a long period of time, and that I will have to make decisions until the new president arrives about things that really need to be addressed.
It means that I need to think about our students who are coming to campus, making sure that we are fully prepared to embrace them in the way that gives them the confidence that they are going to have the academic experience that they expected; and to be able to reassure parents that this is a great decision for their student, one that really ensures that they’re going to have a bright and promising future.
I need to engage with our faculty and remind them about the wonderful opportunity that they have to shape the minds and direction that our future leaders are going to go.
And I need to embrace our staff and tell them that we appreciate all the hard work they do to make everything else possible.
It’s also very important to have open communication across all of our stakeholders: alumni, students, faculty, everyone who is impacted by what’s going on here — and that includes the local community.
On a national level, we need to make sure that people understand the phenomenal things that are happening on this campus.
How will the university go about making sure that students are confident that they are getting the top-tier academic experience that they expected at USC?
By making sure that they have an opportunity to explore things that they don’t even know about. They have to take advantage of the rich experiences that are here — not only the science-engineering-technology work, but the arts, Visions and Voices, the fact that you’re situated in the greater Los Angeles area, which is the focal point to most anything you can think of. We have to make sure that the students understand that that’s all part of their academic experience, that we want them to be well-rounded, well-informed global citizens by the time they leave.
Where would you like to see the university at the end of your service as interim president?
I’d like to see the university take the wonderful things that are already happening and make them better. I want us to have that culture of: Yes, we did a good job, but if we work on it — if we try something a little different, if we bring in some other people — we can add another dimension to what we’ve already achieved.
Let’s talk about the situation involving the former staff gynecologist at the student health center. What are your thoughts on what happened, and what USC should do structurally and philosophically to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
That’s a fair question. At no time does anyone here expect that a student who comes to this campus and uses a service on this campus doesn’t get the very best of care, or feel secure and supported. We have failed if we find circumstances where we have allowed that to be the case.
The first thing we have to do is come together as a community and realize that we are all in this together. Everyone who has any association with USC has the opportunity to say, “Hey, I see an area where we could be better.” And that voice needs to be heard, that voice needs to be encouraged.
I really want to stress that in my short time, however long it is, that one of the things we can do is to make sure that we have a culture where people know that it’s OK to say, “I think we have an opportunity to make an improvement.”
It’s also important for us to do proactive education so that people know what’s right, and what’s appropriate, and what’s ethical, and as you step on this campus, have it be reinforced to you that this is a place where we have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior, we have zero tolerance for people not being safe and secure, and that you can turn to multiple places for help — whatever is required for you to feel comfortable.
This has to be one of the things that we talk about and focus on, because if you don’t focus on it and pay attention to it, it’s not going to change — and we have to change.
You and your husband, Wade (MS ’84), are both active Trojans, right?
He’s an enthusiastic alum and so we always attend events. We go to the basketball games. We go to the football games. We come to the inspiring events here, whether it’s a dance program or a vocal program. We really enjoy being on campus.
Tell us about your own academic experiences, starting at Franklin & Marshall College and then graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh.
The first time I saw the Franklin & Marshall campus was when my parents pulled up in a little Ryder van, and pushed me off the back and said, “Good luck, we gotta get the van back.” So, now you have a young, African-American girl who grew up in the inner city out in the middle of Amish Country on a campus of 2,000 students, 20 of whom are black — a very different experience.
What made the difference was faculty members who said to me, “You’ve got talent. You’ve got capability. If you apply yourself, you’re going to do well.” It was an environment that really fully embraced you.
Then I go to graduate school, and I’m tutoring engineering students in math, because I’m still paying for myself to get through school. I went to the career center and it turned out that the engineering students that I’m tutoring would make a lot more money than I would after graduation. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, “Hmm, I need to go find out more about engineering.”
So I marched over to the engineering school and talked to a professor who said, “Come on in. Your math background is exactly what you need to come in here and really have a wonderful experience.”
What are your own memories of USC? You were here as a graduate student.
I had a wonderful experience in the ISE department [the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering] because I was surrounded by faculty who were open to being innovative, to different ideas. What I wanted to do in systems engineering didn’t exist. But that didn’t stop my thesis adviser, Behrokh Khoshnevis, from saying, “Well, let’s talk about what we could do and how we could achieve your objectives.”
I think that was what attracted me to USC: I felt that I was only limited by my own imagination on how to engage, how to define a program that would be very challenging but very stimulating and would help me in my career.
When you started at The Aerospace Corp., you were one of just a handful of women, and you became the company’s first female and African-American CEO. Now you’re the first woman and African American to lead USC. Do you see yourself as a pioneer?
No, because pioneers are bigger than life. But I do see myself as having an opportunity to be encouraging to others. When you look at my life, at key times someone said to me, “Of course you can do that.”
I feel like I have the opportunity to be able to do that for others, to say, “Of course you can achieve your dreams; of course you can achieve your goals.”
My husband always reminds me, “Not everybody does what you do,” and I recognize the uniqueness of it. I also recognize that, with a little encouragement, we can all be pioneers in some way. It’s really important to make sure that we don’t miss the opportunity to develop many pioneers.
How did your time as a CEO prepare you for this role?
It’s not just my time as a CEO. It’s my time as an inner-city child who was afforded the opportunity to get a great education by being bused to a different neighborhood, and having the experience of learning that was privilege. It’s my time of going to a first-class high school that focused on math and science that enabled me to be able to believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be in the world.
By the time I joined The Aerospace Corp., I didn’t know I was going to be a CEO. But each one of the projects that I worked on, I learned something new. I learned about teams. I learned about working with people. I learned about making decisions when there are some unknowns, and how you work your way through that.
In my time since being CEO, working on the board of Chevron and going through a CEO transition there, you see the process: What are the things that you need to consider? How do you conduct a national search? How do you focus on succession planning long before you have an opportunity or a need to fill a position?
I think all of my experiences have really culminated in giving me a very rich toolbox that I can draw on for the things that I need to address here at USC.
Do you see your current job here as being the CEO of the university?
It is CEO. You have a board, and you have lots of outside stakeholders who are vested in your organization. They get a voice, and certainly they will react to decisions you make and whether they think you are going in the right direction.
Then you have a team that’s inside, that you need to help with guidance and direction but also to help them figure out how to remove the obstacles that they see.
It’s about giving people the resources they need and get out of their way. I am OK with getting out of the way and just sort of watching the magic happen and seeing where it goes. I take tremendous pride in that.
Your fellow USC Trustee, Jane Harman, has called you a rock star.
(laughs) I think that I have led a very blessed life. And I don’t take it for granted, and so I take every chance I can to give back and make the world a little bit better. I’m happy to do that, and really look forward to doing that here as well.
[But] I’ve been telling people it’s not about me. It’s about making sure that the team has a clear plan on what we’re trying to do and doing it.
And by “the team” you mean …
Everybody — the Trojan Family, and the entire family is involved.
Michael Blanton will oversee a new office dedicated to handling complaints and sensitive investigations across the university
As head of the soon-to-be unveiled Office of Professionalism and Ethics at USC, Michael Blanton will be responsible for managing all complaint monitoring and investigation throughout the university.
The new office will streamline and update the university’s processes for registering and dealing with complaints at all levels on both campuses. By introducing a centralized tracking system, USC administrators can spot trends and respond swiftly when necessary. Blanton, USC’s vice president for professionalism and ethics, expects the office to be formally announced and operational in the next two to three weeks.
The Southern California native earned his law degree at the USC Gould School of Law in 1997 and worked as an attorney before returning to USC in January 2017 as vice president for athletic compliance. He spoke with USC News about his plans to ensure accountability and transparency at all levels of the university.
What are your guiding principles as you take on this critical new role?
I love this university — it’s done wonderful things for me and I always feel an obligation to give back. What I tell those who work for me is that USC has been here long before you and will be here long after you and I are gone. As an employee, you have a duty to the university and not to your friends or any one individual. When problems arise, what I try to do is take a step back before making major decisions to ensure that we are doing the right thing and considering all the relevant interests in the university. And I do feel a deep personal obligation to do what is right. I’m motivated to come to the right outcome with honesty, fairness and integrity.
What is the genesis of this new office?
The goal is to address our organization’s previous gaps regarding how information was siloed in various places around the university. Different departments had bits of information, but no centralized office knew all the facts about certain incidents of misconduct or other issues. This effort grew out of recent crises at USC. The idea is to bring information that comes in from both campuses together in a centralized office to help prevent any issue from slipping through the cracks.
How will that improve accountability?
We want to be consistent in our outcomes. Part of my job is not only to track investigations, but also to ensure that discipline is carried out following an investigation. We don’t want situations where one school or department has the same conduct issue as another, yet they have vastly different punishments or outcomes. Although we won’t involve ourselves in those disciplinary procedures, we will track that process to ensure it happens with consistency and integrity.
You previously oversaw athletic compliance at USC. How has that prepared you to launch this new office?
Athletic compliance does a lot of things. Most of it is education and working with all the teams and departments to make sure we are complying with all the Pac-12 and NCAA rules. However, at times, we do investigations of varying size and degree. That was a great training ground for this new position on a smaller scale. The things we’ve done internally here at athletic compliance are similar to the things that will be done on a larger scale in this new office.
Can you describe your background and previous connections to USC?
I grew up in Thousand Oaks and went to high school there. I did my undergrad at Cal State Long Beach and then went to law school at USC. I was ecstatic to come here — I have always been a big Trojan fan. My dad was a big fan, too. He was happy to see me go to law school here. He unfortunately passed away in 2004. He would have loved to see me working here now. My kids are diehard Trojan fans as well, even before I started at USC. I have a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, both daughters. My 17-year-old is a senior in high school and would love nothing more than to come here.
Do you have any memories that stand out from your time in college?
I grew up in a middle-class family and my parents helped as much as they possibly could, but I was working full-time as a college student. I took jobs every summer. As an undergrad at Long Beach State, I worked graveyard shifts [in hotel security] and went to class during the day. Grad school is obviously different than undergrad. By the time you’re in law school, you’re just buried in the books. My law school days were spent working very hard, trying to get by on as little in student loans as I could. I had summer internships here and in Chicago, which was nice because it put a little change in my pocket. Then it was back to the grind. But it helped me learn the art of hard work.
Where did you work after finishing up your law degree at USC?
I went to work for a big firm right out of law school. From there, I went to a smaller, boutique firm with about 15 attorneys at the time. We did all manner of civil litigation. One of our clients at that point, around mid-2000, was USC. So I began working as outside counsel for USC. Then we closed up that shop at the end of 2011, and from 2012 until I started here in 2017, I was with Hill, Farrer & Burrill. Throughout all that time, I would say USC was my biggest volume client. I always had matters of all types involving the university, whether I was litigating in court or I was brought in to solve problems before they became lawsuits, which is always ideal. I like to think I provided good results at a good value and that’s why they kept coming back. Thanks to that work, I became familiar with almost every department and how the university worked. That helped a lot when I landed here in 2017.
How were you recruited to oversee the USC Office of Athletic Compliance?
Because I was a regular outside counsel for USC, when [former vice president for athletic compliance] Dave Roberts announced he was retiring, they reached out to me to see if I was interested in interviewing to be his successor. I thought about it overnight, called them back and said yes. I came in for what seemed like six hours of interviews, and about a month after that I was offered the job. My first day of work was on the sidelines at the Rose Bowl when we beat Penn State. I defy anybody out there to have a better first day of work. That was such an epic game, and to be on the sidelines for that experience — where do you go from there? You’ve peaked on day one.
Before coming to USC, you also worked occasionally as a temporary superior court judge. What was that experience like?
I would volunteer about one day a month over a five-year term up in Ventura County and would typically hear small claims cases. The folks I would see in there came from all walks of life. I loved that work. It puts you in a different role — it takes you out of being an advocate like when you are an attorney and forces you to be as objective as possible. You have to use all that experience you’ve gained to read people. In Los Angeles County, I primarily served as a traffic court judge. In an afternoon, you might have over 100 cases you have to get through, so it’s really rock and roll. That experience was also great, and I got to meet and deal with so many different people.
Did that influence your approach to working in compliance and now overseeing this new office at USC?
From my standpoint, you don’t want to draw premature conclusions on any investigation. An investigation is only as good as the objectivity of those who are analyzing or looking into the issues. Like a judge, you have to take in all the relevant evidence and make an objective decision. And you make hundreds of those decisions in the course of an investigation. It dictates who you talk to next, what weight you give to evidence, how you take into consideration credibility issues. All of those should be objective decisions as you move through the process to arrive at the right outcome.
How do you measure success in this new role?
My goal is to help the university be better and continue to be a great place for people to work and go to school. And it’s really about the culture. I think the culture will change once everybody feels more comfortable with the process and knows issues will be acted on and they won’t be retaliated against for coming forward with their concerns. After this new office has been in operation for a year or two and we can take a sample of students, faculty and staff and ask them, “Do you feel more confident about how complaints about misconduct are handled at this university?” and the answer is “Yes,” then I’ll know we’re on the right track. At the end of the day, we’re really aiming to set a national standard for how higher education handles these kinds of issues. We have done this with athletic compliance, and my message for the team is that we should aim for nothing less with this new Office of Professionalism and Ethics.