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.”
Heather Needham will work at USC Student Health and teach at the Keck School of Medicine of USC
Heather Needham, USC Student Health’s newest primary care physician, has begun practicing on the University Park Campus. The Keck School of Medicine of USC alumna returns to Los Angeles after practicing adolescent and young adult medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital and serving as assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
“I definitely enjoyed my clinical experience at USC,” Needham said. “I thought I’d go into OB, but I really loved my pediatric rotation.”
Needham, who is board certified in both pediatrics and adolescent medicine, has a faculty appointment as clinical assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine in addition to her duties at USC Student Health.
She is one of two primary care doctors to join USC this month; the other is Vladimir Ayvazyan. Their arrival boosts the number of primary care staff physicians to 20 and comes on the heels of two new OB-GYN doctors and 10 additional mental health counselors to start at USC Student Health this semester.
Heather Needham always saw her path in medicine
Raised in Oakland, Needham said she wanted to be a doctor since age 9, when her grandfather suffered from a serious fall. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at UCLA before coming to USC for her medical degree.
Adolescent medicine has allowed her to do a lot of what she loved about medical gynecology — from contraceptive management to treating menstrual disorders, she said. But it also gave her an opportunity to help young people manage health and life issues as they transition into adulthood.
“Part of adolescent health care is letting the patient know they can speak to you confidentially,” she said. “I have a really great rapport with my patients, and it helps them to have a safe space to say what’s on their minds and not be judged.”
Needham, who earned her Master of Public Health with a focus on health education and health promotion, sees patients dealing with a variety issues. They could be grappling with eating disorders, anxiety and depression or feeling under stress from relationships and being away from home.
A holistic approach to student health
“One piece of advice I give is to remember to take time to do things you enjoy, rather than focusing entirely on schoolwork,” said Needham, who snowboards, runs and spins to manage her own stress. “Having an activity or hobby helps to reduce your stress, which is important for your overall health.”
With her entire family residing in California and her fiancé living in Los Angeles, Needham said she’s happy about her return to the West Coast and eager to begin a new adventure caring for USC students.
“I love working with a young population,” she said. “Every day when I leave work, I know I did something good for somebody — whether it’s mediating with a patient’s parents or addressing an eating disorder — it makes me happy to know I can help.”
Kenji Inaba found time in his busy schedule as a USC doctor to become a highly trained reserve officer with the Los Angeles Police Department
When Kenji Inaba isn’t wearing standard-issue hospital scrubs as a trauma surgeon, you might find him sporting a different look — the dark-blue uniform of a Los Angeles police officer.
The Keck Medicine of USC doctor performs complex emergency surgeries and checks on patients for up to 80 hours a week at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, one of the nation’s busiest hospitals. But once a week, Inaba trades in his scalpel for a badge and gun as a sworn reserve officer with the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Like any other uniformed officer, he trained at the police academy and patrols the city’s streets. But Inaba also serves as the LAPD’s first and only chief surgeon and provides advice to the department on medical training, health policies and treatment of injured officers.
Why would someone with an intense and demanding job as a trauma surgeon spend his valuable free time in a squad car? In a word: service.
“It’s very important for every person to volunteer. My parents instilled that in me from when I was a little kid,” Inaba said. “Becoming a reserve officer seemed like a great way to give what knowledge and skills I have as a surgeon back to the community.”
After intensive training, trauma doctor earns a police badge
Most major police departments have a staff physician who provides guidance on medical issues. When the LAPD pitched the idea to Inaba, he was intrigued and eventually found a way to work the grueling training into his schedule.
First, he had to pass psychological and physical tests and an intensive background screening. Investigators contacted his family members, interviewed his neighbors and called references. Then he completed more than 700 hours of training in wide-ranging skills, including how to make an arrest, shoot and clean a gun, handle an unruly crowd and protect himself with basic self-defense moves.
“They were extremely thorough in the way they educated me,” Inaba said. Even though he is a highly skilled surgeon, he couldn’t skip the emergency medicine course. “I sat through every hour of that first-aid training. It goes to show you how seriously they take the process.”
Inaba still juggles many responsibilities at USC, where he is a professor of surgery, director of the general surgery program and vice chair of the Department of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
He trains medical students, residents and fellows in trauma surgery and critical care. He also conducts research on topics like hemorrhage control and diagnostic imaging, contributing to more than 450 scholarly articles since 2003. And he regularly steps into the operating room to patch up injured patients and deal with other surgical emergencies.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good time manager,” Inaba said. “You kind of have to be to fit all of these things in.”
USC surgeon finds fulfillment as reserve police officer
Inaba became a sworn peace officer in 2016 and completed his 400-hour probationary period. Now he rolls out with his regular partner, Ryan Nguyen, at least a few times every month. He patrols the streets of areas like Silver Lake and Echo Park in uniform, beginning a 12-hour shift at 6:30 a.m.
“You really can’t distinguish me from any other LAPD officer working that day,” he said. “We handle calls just like any other car.”
He struggles to pick a single experience or arrest that stands out from his time in the squad car. “Every call is unique,” he said. “And you take every call dead serious, even if you are just giving out a traffic ticket. Every move you make is with the safety of your partner and those around you in mind.”
The responsibility of being in law enforcement has changed his mind set in many ways. Inaba is always aware of his surroundings, on and off duty. He can picture what likely happened in the frantic minutes before a stabbing or gunshot victim rolls through the doors of the LAC+USC emergency room.
He also has a greater appreciation for anyone who completes the rigorous academy training and works a full schedule as a uniformed officer.
“It is an extremely dangerous job, and they are some of the most down-to-earth, good people that you will ever meet,” he said. “You realize these are people who are committed to making the world and our city a better place. Every day, when they put on that uniform, they acknowledge and accept the fact that they may need to lay their life on the line to help someone they have never met before.”
Asked whether others should look into becoming a reserve officer, Inaba returned to the lesson his parents taught him as a child: Everyone should volunteer in their community.
For some, being a reserve officer might be a good fit, he added, although he cautioned that it takes a specific mentality to work in law enforcement. Officers must be able to work well with others, function in a high-stress environment and make decisions quickly.
“It’s not for everybody, and there’s no getting around the fact that there is risk,” Inaba said. “But for the right person, it’s so satisfying.”
“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.
Deirdre Logan, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist and alumna, will join USC Student Health in October as the second full-time physician devoted to the care of female students at USC.
Logan returns to her alma mater after 14 years at Watts Healthcare, a community clinic providing health care and services for patients with little to no insurance. She served there as chief physician of the OB/GYN department and founded and directed the teen clinic.
For Logan, health care and education go hand-in-hand.
“I feel that, as a physician, you’re also a teacher. We’re kind of health care consultants and have to be partners with our patients,” she said. “If you prescribe a medication or [give a medical recommendation], and the patient doesn’t understand why or how it well help them, often they won’t do it. Education is important in order for patients to make the best decisions for themselves.”
Second OB-GYN an advocate for USC Student Health services
Logan, who earned her medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and her master’s in medical management from the USC Marshall School of Business, has also been an advocate for equity in women’s health care.
She serves on committees for the March of Dimes and the California and Los Angeles County departments of Public Health to reduce African-American infant mortality rates. She has also collaborated with the Maternal Mental Health Now organization to improve mental health screening and care in the medical realm.
Logan, who was born on a military base in Tokyo and raised in Las Vegas until college, said she knew she’d be in a helping profession very early on.
“I was interested in both ballet and medicine since age 6, so family friends joked I was going to be a dancing doctor,” she recalled with a laugh. “In elementary school, I was part of the safety patrol and volunteered to wear an orange hat and vest and monitor the playground to ensure people were running safely. I always wanted to help people and was thinking about how to change situations for the better for people.”
‘Young women are at a critical point’
Those inclinations found their focus in health by college, when she moved to Los Angeles to study biology as an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University and then medical school at the Keck School. Logan said she looks forward to helping the young women of USC this fall.
“Young women are at a critical point where the decisions they make can have a lasting effect on their lives,” she said. “This is a perfect age group to educate and empower, and it’s also a population that is receptive to learning how to better their health.”
Logan hopes to educate women in all aspects of health.
“College can be a stressful time, for example, and stress has an effect on your reproductive and overall general health,” said Logan, who meditates regularly and has taken up jewelry-making as a stress reliever. “I want to educate them about how to cope with stress in a way they can carry for a lifetime.”
Logan said she remembers positive encounters as a student on the Health Sciences Campus.
“During my first year of medical school, I had the flu and felt awful,” she said. “The doctor I saw was so warm and so kind, I felt like I was talking to my mom. I had such a great experience, and I just want to give that back to someone.”
“We have to get back to the basics. If we don’t pay attention to the basics, we are going to be built on a shaky foundation.” – Dr. Laura Mosqueda
Laura Mosqueda wants the Keck School of Medicine of USC to get back to basics.
As the medical school’s new dean, she is emphatically calling on physicians, researchers, staff members and students to re-embrace the values and purpose in research, education and delivery of health and health care.
“The bottom line that I tell everyone is we’re all here to make the world a better place,” said Mosqueda, an authority on geriatrics and family medicine. “That’s what we need to focus on.”
She assumed the school’s top position earlier this year, after serving as interim dean since late 2017. That means overseeing more than 4,150 full-time and voluntary faculty members, nearly 2,000 staff members and 1,200 students.
In addition to training more than 900 medical residents in an array of specialties, the school also boasts a major basic and clinical research enterprise. It ranks among the top 30 medical schools in the U.S. in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, garnering more than $150 million in 2017. Its faculty physicians see more than 1.5 million patients a year across Keck Medicine of USC facilities.
And as the nation increasingly emphasizes integrated and coordinated medical care and the importance of primary care and prevention, Mosqueda’s background and holistic focus come at the right time for the Keck School of Medicine.
When it comes to educating future doctors, “we have to get back to the basics,” Mosqueda said. “If we don’t pay attention to the basics, we are going to be built on a shaky foundation.”
For Mosqueda, that in part means promoting what she calls “social justice” throughout the school’s education, research and clinical care programs. It’s a broader idea than simply helping vulnerable populations, such as older adults (her own specialty) or people experiencing homelessness. It’s about ensuring equity and equality across the profession of medicine.
That message resonates with many of the school’s faculty members, students and staff members, she said, because they served as its inspiration.
“The idea of social justice is something I’ve put into words, but it didn’t really come from me,” Mosqueda said. “It came from listening to everybody here. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to become dean because I kept hearing that message.”
In practice, a social justice approach might involve combating the damaging effects of unequal access to health care, improving societal attitudes toward aging or embracing a culturally competent approach when working with diverse members of the community.
It feels like a natural fit with Mosqueda’s personal values, which stress the inherent worth of all people, regardless of their circumstances. It’s a lesson she draws from her past, growing up in a USC family with strong roots in compassionate care.
Early experiences instill value of service to others
As a child raised in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles, Mosqueda gained insight into the medical profession thanks to her parents. Both earned undergraduate degrees at USC and completed their training in medicine at the university’s medical school.
Her mother, Gloria Frankl, specialized in radiology and became a pioneer in the field of mammography. Her father, Harold “Hal” Frankl, focused on gastroenterology and was the chief of his division. Although both worked for Kaiser Permanente throughout their careers, the Frankls regularly volunteered at the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center.
“When people find out my maiden name, they’ll say, ‘Oh, your father is the best teacher I’ve ever had,’ or tell me about some way that my mother influenced their lives,” Mosqueda said.
They didn’t push their children to pursue a similar career. But Mosqueda and her brother, now a pulmonary and critical care specialist in Alaska, embraced medicine anyway. Mosqueda’s early interest in marine biology gave way to veterinary medicine. By college, she had moved to human medicine. She earned her undergrad degree in biology at Occidental College, then her medical degree with a specialization in family practice from USC in 1987.
She liked the philosophy behind family medicine, including its acknowledgement of the psychosocial and spiritual aspects of care. In her first week of medical school, Mosqueda connected with Ken Brummel-Smith, a family physician and geriatrician who became a lifelong friend and mentor. He encouraged her to take fellowship in geriatrics, and she was hooked.
“I’ve always had a real affinity for older adults, even as a little kid,” Mosqueda said. “Part of it, I’m sure, is because I had wonderful grandparents.”
New dean brings attention and resources to hidden populations
Although she was inspired by her relationship with her grandparents, Mosqueda has built her career around a darker side of aging: elder abuse. Older adults often develop chronic conditions, dementia and related illnesses that place them at high risk of mistreatment.
About half of seniors with dementia experience some form of abuse, she said. Sometimes a caretaker yells at them. Others are physically assaulted or become victims of theft or financial mismanagement. Mosqueda has led landmark studies on markers of abuse and neglect and established the first forensics center on elder abuse, a model since replicated across the country.
She is continuing her research with a major new grant from the National Institute on Aging to explore factors that lead to elder abuse, in part by understanding the relationship dynamics between caregivers and people with dementia. She is hopeful the collaborative effort with colleagues in gerontology and social work will yield valuable information to inform prevention and early intervention efforts.
Mosqueda also directs the National Center on Elder Abuse, a federally funded initiative that provides information to guide policy, research, training and resources. Her expertise has earned invitations to testify before Congress and visit the White House to discuss elder justice issues.
Bringing USC’s resources to bear on wicked problems
In addition to promoting well-being among older adults, Mosqueda is focused on another underserved population with serious health challenges: homeless people. In her previous role as associate dean of primary care and chair of family medicine, she helped launch a street medicine program with colleagues like Kevin Lohenry, director of USC’s physician assistant program.
The initiative brings multidisciplinary teams of health providers to the streets to provide direct patient care and social services to unsheltered and hard-to-reach homeless populations. As critical as those efforts are, Mosqueda sees opportunities to extend the program beyond offering medical services and referrals.
She envisions medical students specializing in care for homeless people. Researchers might use neuroimaging to study whether differences in brain structure might influence risk of homelessness. Scholars could compile nationwide data to reveal socioeconomic and community factors that might guide prevention and mitigation strategies.
“We are an academic medical center, so we want to go beyond starting a street medicine program,” she said. “How do we layer research and education onto that?”
Med school dean leads drive for equality, community service
Mosqueda also wants to turn this focus on social justice inward, continuing to push the Keck School of Medicine to diversify its ranks. Although the school is close to achieving gender parity among its students, she sees a need to advance that goal among residents and faculty physicians, to ensure USC’s medical enterprise reflects the diverse communities it serves.
Although it’s not something she dwells on, Mosqueda broke a major barrier when she became the first female dean in the medical school’s 133-year history. She had many strong female role models growing up, including her mother, so it didn’t feel unusual for her to assume a top leadership position.
“I think I’m just starting to realize that now I am one of those role models,” she said.
As part of her push for social justice, Mosqueda wants to promote community projects and volunteer opportunities for the school’s students, staff members and physicians. She encourages collaborations across the medical campus and university as a whole, inspired by the interdisciplinary efforts at a student-run clinic that she helps oversee at a local homeless shelter.
She also continues to make house calls, providing care for patients with degenerative illnesses. A 20-minute house call can eliminate the lengthy ordeal of visiting a medical facility for someone in their 90s with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Having an MD after your name — you’ve worked hard for it, but it’s also a privilege that opens doors in your community,” Mosqueda said. “We all carry a responsibility to do something good with that.”
“I did my residency in Baltimore, which has a young population, and I was inspired by working with young adults to improve their well-being and positively impact their health into later adulthood,” Jones said. “At this age, they’re developing their first personal and health habits that they’ll carry through life.”
At UCSF, Jones cared for a wide range of student health needs, from birth control to eating disorders, and substance abuse to transgender gender-affirming hormone treatment.
“Some of our students might be nervous about coming to us,” Jones said. “But they should know we’re always here to help and to be a sounding board for them.”
USC Student Health doctor has advice for new students
Jones said one piece of health advice she gives to new students is to “never underestimate what rest can do for your health. During this exciting transition of starting college, I encourage students to make sure they’re getting enough rest and taking care of themselves.”
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Jones developed a commitment to service in urban Baltimore. Her volunteer health screenings, education and mentorship in the community earned her the University of Maryland’s Community Service Resident of the Year Award. She continued this work when she moved to the Bay Area.
“I worked with Oakland Public Schools on literacy campaigns, and I mentored young girls on the weekends, exposing them to new environments and challenges and giving them a professional female role model,” she said. “I’m really passionate about mentorship, and I’m hoping to continue these projects here in L.A.”
Jones, who describes herself as bookish and “always reading in between patients,” said she made the move to Los Angeles after getting engaged to her fiancé, a psychiatrist at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.
She looks forward to continuing to get to know her new home, USC students and the greater community as she settles in.
“The transition to USC has been awesome,” Jones said. “My No. 1 hobby right now is learning Los Angeles.”
USC Student Health will add 10 more mental health providers, boosting its capacity to provide counseling directly to students in need
Since joining USC Student Health as executive director and division chief for counseling and mental health last fall, Robert Mendola has worked to expand students’ access to mental health services on the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.
Mendola, a board certified adult psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, brings more than two decades of experience directing psychiatric services at Cornell University’s student counseling center.
Under Mendola’s leadership, USC Student Health will have added 10 more mental health providers to its staff by December, substantially increasing its capacity to provide counseling directly to the students who seek it. The additional staff will allow Counseling and Mental Health to provide longer care to more students, Mendola said.
“Previously, with one counselor to every 1,800 students, we used our resources to provide an initial brief assessment to any student who contacted us in order to respond quickly, assess crisis and risk, and then triage that to either get in quickly or wait,” Mendola said. “We were referring 70 percent because we didn’t have the resources to treat the routine cases.”
While that approach made the best use of available resources at the time, Mendola said, “We also knew it was unrealistic to ask a freshman to take a bus to Santa Monica for counseling.”
His goal is to provide short-term care for nearly every student seeking mental health services on campus. He also hopes to develop long-term outpatient treatment through the psychiatry department at Keck Medicine of USC, he said.
Mendola aims to continue the trajectory and eventually refer only 20 to 30 percent of students to off-campus care.
Mental health care: It’s a job he loves
Raised in upstate New York just a block from a state psychiatric center, Mendola and his family regularly interacted with mentally ill patients with compassion and without fear. He was studying religion as an undergraduate when a professor suggested he consider pursuing psychiatry.
“I couldn’t believe that I could sit with someone for an hour, try to understand them, connect with them and make them feel understood, and they would pay me for that,” he said. “This is not a job; it’s what I loved doing.”
Mendola went on to receive his MD from State University of New York at Buffalo and complete his residency at the University of Massachusetts. His interest in student mental health developed in 1994 when he was recruited as a staff psychiatrist for Cornell.
“In contrast to my previous work with patients with chronic mental illness, I was struck by the motivation, insight and diversity of the student population,” he said. “And their capacity for making rapid improvements was refreshing.”
A bridge between outreach and prevention
Mendola was approaching retirement at Cornell when he discovered he could provide real value to Counseling and Mental Health at USC Student Health, from applying his experience with service models to acting as a bridge between outreach and prevention and clinical staff and services.
The most inspiring aspect of his job, he said, continues to be the students. They come with a wide range of perspectives and are at a critical age in developing their identities, while managing their relationships and academic work.
“This is a time of instability, and because the identity is so fragile at this age, it is commonly reflected in anxiety, panic, worry – ‘am I good enough?’ And in depression – ‘I am not good enough,’” Mendola said.
According to the American College Health Association’s 2017 National College Health Assessment, nearly one in five U.S. college students is affected with anxiety or depression.
Mendola’s message to students: “This is part of development, and if you feel these things, you are not alone.”
He added, “If you rely on social media, you’ll have the impression that everyone is OK except for you. I encourage you to have actual relationships and in-person communication.”
The community as client
While at Cornell, Mendola and his team used the JED Campus Program, a public health model for campus mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention, to guide their efforts in these areas. Now he is part of the team implementing the nationally recognized model at USC.
“JED involves looking at the whole campus community as the client,” Mendola said. “For example, we can provide pockets of treatment with an open-door approach in nontraditional settings for students who would not usually reach out to us.”
USC is launching an evidence-based program called “Let’s Talk” on both campuses this fall. The program places counselors all across campus for students to drop in informally between classes.
USC Student Health plans to embed a therapist/behavioral health consultant with a primary care doctor to give immediate consultation to students who are less likely to seek out mental health care. Studies have shown that many students, including international students, students of color and male students are more likely to access mental health services when provided in a medical clinic.
Expanded access to mental health services is just one tenet in the multi-pronged JED Campus strategy. Two other principles include identifying students who are at risk and developing students’ life skills, and programs addressing these are already taking root this fall.
Resident assistants are taking intensive bystander training to identify and intervene when a resident is struggling. And a pilot seminar for 500 first-year students will focus on building the coping strategies and resilience skills students will need as they embark on their college careers.
The newly named Office for Health Promotion Strategy in USC Student Health will provide the infrastructure or “backbone” for the JED model at UPC and HSC. Mendola said Trojans can expect new initiatives and ongoing improvements around mental health as JED is implemented in the coming months and years.
Anne Michels, who has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 18 years, holds a faculty appointment in the OB-GYN department at Keck Medicine of USC in addition to her full-time position providing care for USC students on both the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.
Michels graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2000 and completed her residency training at New York Presbyterian Hospital in 2004. She earned her BA in psychology from Colby College in Maine and completed her premedical program at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
Michels, who was raised in upstate New York and had spent her whole life to that point on the East Coast, decided to make a change as soon as she completed her residency and obtained her California state license in 2004.
“Looking for a change, we moved our family from New York City out to Los Angeles,” said Michels, who lives with her husband and three children in the Pasadena area. “I fell in love with the sunny weather and have made Southern California my home since.”
OB-GYN Anne Michels strives for quality of care
Shortly after arriving in California, Michels started as an associate physician in the OB-GYN department at Kaiser Permanente in Baldwin Park. Three years later, she became a partner physician, a position she held from 2007 to last week.
At Kaiser, Michels held several quality management roles. She was in charge of quality and the peer-review process for the OB-GYN department, and she served as lead for the perinatal quality group and perinatal safety project, which involved ensuring that quality of care in the delivery room was of the highest caliber possible.
She also provided care to women of widely diverse ages — from teenagers to postmenopausal women and everything in between. Michels said she looks forward to focusing on the health care of college-aged women at USC.
“I clearly remember my own experience going to student health at Colby College, and it was the first time at the doctor’s without my parents,” Michels said. “It’s an important educational opportunity for young women to understand how their bodies work, how to protect themselves from STDs or pregnancy, and how to take care of themselves.
“I want to empower and educate the young women in my care,” she said.
Michels said her father, a urologist who worked long hours and was committed to his patients, influenced her decision to pursue medicine.
“That left a positive impression on me,” she recalled. “But it was my third year in medical school when I saw my first delivery of a baby that I knew that obstetrics and gynecology was the field I was going to go into.”
She said the troubling allegations around the past actions of a former physician only solidified her commitment to her future patients at USC.
“I realized this is an opportunity to make a real positive difference for the young women at USC, and I felt there was no better time to do so than now,” Michels said. “I want my patients to know they will receive the highest quality in care and that they can trust their providers at USC.”