Inspired, Empowered and Moving Forward

By Timothy O. Knight

The 2012 Women’s Conference empowers a record number of Trojan alumnae.

Featured speakers included, from left, reporter Subha Ravindhran ’01; motivational speaker Kristina Ripatti-Pearce; fashion author Christine Schwab; Olympic medalist and basketball coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke; Port of Los Angeles executive director Geraldine Knatz MS ’77, PhD ’79; and airline captain Melissa Ward ’86. Photo by Stephen BlahaSlideshow IconFeatured speakers included, from left, reporter Subha Ravindhran ’01; motivational speaker Kristina Ripatti-Pearce; fashion author Christine Schwab; Olympic medalist and basketball coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke; Port of Los Angeles executive director Geraldine Knatz MS ’77, PhD ’79; and airline captain Melissa Ward ’86. Photo by Stephen Blaha
USC first lady Niki C. Nikias, center, with conference co-chairs Amy Ross PhD ’86, left, and Paula Ciaramitaro ’85. Photo by Rich Schmitt

ON MARCH 1, NEARLY a thousand USC alumnae and friends attended the 2012 USC Women’s Conference, themed “Inspired and Empowered: Moving Forward.” An impressive lineup of distinguished speakers from the worlds of health, journalism, fashion and sports shared information and strategies at the daylong forum, which also featured welcoming remarks from USC first lady Niki C. Nikias, as well as the conference keynote address from USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Elizabeth Garrett.

The speakers included former USC women’s basketball greats Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Rev. Paula McGee ’84, and ABC7 Eyewitness News reporter Subha Ravindhran ’01. Although from different backgrounds and professions, all the alumnae speakers praised USC for providing them with a nurturing and empowering environment in which to excel.

According to Bank of America executive Fung Der ’78, MBA ’79, an immigrant who grew up in Los Angeles’ inner city: “USC was a whole new world for me. There were the obvious academic opportunities, but it was engaging with students from across the country and overseas that strengthened my interpersonal skills.”

The first woman executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, Geraldine Knatz MS ’77, PhD ’79, put it this way: “I got my first job at the Port of Los Angeles because I scored the highest on the civil service exam – a score I attribute to what I learned in my environmental engineering courses at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Having advanced degrees from USC gave me credibility with environmental regulatory agencies and environmental groups. I became known as a problem solver, which helped me advance.”

Another trailblazer, United Airlines captain Melissa Ward ’86, made history as the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. Air Force flight instructor and as a commercial airline captain. She credits “every facet of my USC experience for preparing me for my career, the challenges I faced and the success I’ve achieved.” She added: “I learned how to be a team player, how important it was to learn, and how the Trojan Family is not just a name but a community filled with generous and successful people. I learned about pride from USC.”

Paula Ciaramitaro ’85 and Amy Ross PhD ’86 co-chaired the conference host committee, made up of alumni leaders and volunteers, university senior administrators and USC Alumni Association staff. This year’s conference set a new attendance record and was notable for the number of returning attendees, some of whom have come to every conference since its launch in 2009. When asked what inspires her to keep coming back every year, Town and Gown president-elect Carol Mollett put it simply, “You leave wanting more, spend hours reflecting on the day and mark your calendars for next year’s conference.”