Taking Over the “Family Business”

Brent Watson

Brent Watson ’04

Assistant Athletic Director for Development
USC Athletics

We don’t usually think of the show Succession when it comes to USC Advancement, but in the case of Brent Watson ’04, an assistant athletic director for development at USC Athletics, it just might come to mind. Both Brent’s dad and his stepmom worked for USC Advancement for over two decades, which means—get this—some of the donors he currently works with are people he met as a teenager, when his parents were the ones courting them!

Nevertheless, the path to his own USC Advancement career was not quite a straight line. After graduating from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a BA in economics, fundraising was not even on Brent’s radar. He dabbled in mortgages and sales, but he could tell that these were not the careers for him. Armed with skills transferable to fundraising, he arrived back at USC in 2012 as an assistant director of development for the USC Price School of Public Policy.

At Price, his focus was major gifts and parents, and in 2015 he moved over to Athletics, where he’s currently a member of their major gifts team. He manages Scholarship Club donors who contribute $20K-$100K annually for their Football and/or Basketball tickets, and also raises funds for large projects such as an upgraded baseball stadium, a brand-new stadium for women’s soccer and lacrosse, and a new football performance center. Along with all this, he and the major gift team seek scholarship endowments to support USC’s student-athletes.

When it comes to his success as a fundraiser, Brent cites his main mentor—his father, of course—who showed him the ropes and, to this day, continues to offer advice (whether solicited or not!). But he gives most of the credit to his colleagues:

“When I started at USC, my mindset was to just have the group of donors that I worked with and not collaborate with anyone across campus. But in the past five or so years, I’ve come to recognize that we’re a USC team, not just a USC Athletics or Price team. Now, when appropriate, I push to go on joint visits—not just to personally get to know my colleagues, but also to learn best practices, get different perspectives, and acquire a better sense of what’s happening around campus.” Brent says that the USC Fundraising Institute training programs are another great way to network, learn from colleagues and discover how USC operates.

He also has this, more heartfelt, advice: “Control what you can control. USC, especially in Athletics, always seems to be changing or in the headlines about something—and it’s not always positive. It’s our job as outward-facing fundraisers to keep the university in a positive light and express to our alumni and donors that we are all focused on one goal: to improve the experience of our students by providing them with state-of-the-art facilities, scholarships and the support they need as the future of the Trojan Family.”

On the personal side, Brent, who naturally grew up attending USC Football games, tailgates and picnics, now brings his own kids to them. And the whole family tries to get away on vacation together each year, with Hawaii and British Columbia topping the list.

A Dornsife Alum Comes Home to Find Success

Ceres Botros

Ceres Botros-Migdal ’04

Managing Director of Development
USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

We’ve been told that Ceres Botros-Migdal ’04 was named for the Roman goddess of the harvest, and it’s no surprise, given her talents for raising major and principal gifts as the managing director of development at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Ceres, who’s been at USC since 2013, began working at Dornsife in 2016, where she’s been promoted twice and has held her current position for the past three years.

“It felt like coming home,” she says. “As a Dornsife alumna, raising funds for the heart of the university has been incredibly fulfilling and meaningful. Almost eight years later, I’ve had the privilege of growing with this team and seeing the College flourish under Dean Amber Miller’s extraordinary vision.”

In addition to crediting Dean Miller, Ceres has nothing but praise for her manager at Dornsife, Assistant Dean of Advancement Lorri Grubaugh. Lorri was at the USC Gould School of Law when she hired Ceres as an associate director for the school’s annual fund team. When Lorri moved to Dornsife, she brought Ceres over at the first opportunity. Under Lorri’s leadership, Ceres helps manage Dornsife’s Major Gifts team, and directly oversees two associate directors. She fundraises across all divisions of the College, and works closely with alumni, parents and friends of USC, both in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

“My relationship with Lorri has undoubtedly shaped my career. From the moment she hired me, she has helped pave the way for my success. She deeply believes in my talents and has fostered a wonderful environment for my professional growth. When the managing director position became available, I knew I could seamlessly transition into the role. After working with Lorri for the better part of a decade, we have a steadfast and trusting relationship, which makes us a successful duo.” 

Before coming over to Dornsife to join Lorri, Ceres spent 18 months at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, first as their inaugural special gifts officer, charged with bridging the gap between annual fund and major gifts, and then as Viterbi’s director of development. There, she learned how to speak about complex topics and the importance of innovation. These tools have led to her growth as a more sophisticated gift officer.

“At first,” she explains, “my opportunities stemmed from hard work as well as colleagues vouching for my talents and encouraging me to take the next step. As I gained professional maturity and realized this was a career I wanted to pursue, I became more deliberate about my future. Over the last several years, I’ve positioned myself and carved out opportunities that align with my goals. For example, once I knew I wanted to be a manager, I intentionally sought out opportunities to be a mentor to my colleagues. In doing so, I gained the valuable skills of being a strategic partner and investing in my colleagues’ success. Now, as a manager, I am well equipped to guide my team as they learn and grow in their roles.”

When it comes to advising others on how to move forward at the university, Ceres insists “the more friends you have, the more successful you’ll be!” She continues, “USC is a complex institution, and it takes time to understand it. Making connections across campus and on various teams will help you better navigate the complexities of your work. Being collegial at an institution like USC is a conscious choice, but one that will prove to be very rewarding. I always say there is enough for all of us to be happy and successful. My success does not take away from yours, and vice versa. It’s important to be joyful in seeing others succeed—that’s how you learn and grow.”

When you have as much responsibility as Ceres has, it behooves you to make as much as possible of your down time. “To most people’s surprise,” she says, “I love embroidery and find it very therapeutic! It’s a great way to feel productive while also exercising my perfectionist tendencies. I also enjoy Pilates and try to practice four times per week. My husband and I share a 16-year-old dachshund, James, who is the life of our home. And we love traveling internationally as often as we can!”

When a Talent Becomes a Calling

Lorena Stelter

Lorena Stelter

Director, Gift Services
USC University Advancement

For Lorena Stelter, it all began with a job as a cashier at a check-cashing center. In her twenties at the time, she realized she had a knack for counting money and processing transactions—and doing it fast and nearly error-free. Soon she was practically running the place, and she was certain she’d found her life’s work: accounting.

Today she’s director of gift services for USC Advancement. She makes sure that donor giving records are accurate and up to date, organizes daily workflows, resolves donor issues, prepares valuations of high-dollar transactions, and reconciles transactions to Salesforce. In addition, she contributes to the department’s strategic planning and audit compliance, and serves as Gift Services’ liaison with all other Advancement units. 

Lorena arrived at USC thanks to a good friend who told her to apply at a nonprofit close to campus. She got the job and began meeting people whose lives had been positively transformed by their USC experiences. She had family members who attended USC and were brimming with Trojan pride, but she’d never realized what a huge impact the university has on the community around it.

One day 12 years ago she saw a USC job posting for assistant director of gift services; she applied and was hired. She worked as hard as she could and began cultivating relationships across Advancement. She helped streamline her department’s processes, not just for her group, but for everyone who uses them. A year ago, her dedication paid off, when she was promoted to director. These days, she, too, is brimming with Trojan pride—about contributing to all the good work that USC does.

And she has a lot to be proud of. Lorena played a critical role in USC’s move from CRS to Salesforce for its customer relationship management needs. A lot was at stake, and, due to her expertise in both the new and old systems, she helped ensure the changeover’s success. Another notable accomplishment involved a different software conversion that took place during her time as assistant director. “When my director was temporarily unavailable, I stepped up to lead the team in learning and implementing Workday. I spearheaded the staff training efforts, and also took on additional responsibilities to ensure a seamless transition.”

Lorena has a simple message for her peers when it comes to succeeding in USC Advancement. “Do not shy away from asking questions,” she says, adding, “Create realistic goals and never stop learning and growing. We are all here together working towards the same outcome. Always be the best that you can be and apply yourself every day.”

Lorena might as well add, ‘have a positive attitude.’ She’s the kind of person who, whenever she sees the sunrise (which, she claims, is “most days of the year”), she’s reminded of new opportunities and new beginnings. Sounds like she knows how to succeed in life, too. 

Engineering His Way from Admin to Fundraiser

Javon Harris

Javon Harris

Assistant Director of Advancement
USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Javon Harris started at USC Advancement two years ago, as an administrative assistant, working with the Strategic Initiatives team. Today, he’s assistant director of development at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, where he meets with alumni, parents and friends of the university to see if they are interested in philanthropy.

How did he level up so fast? “I became a sponge!” he says.

That was his short answer. The long answer? Advancement was a new world to him, so he took the time to get the lay of things, while learning to appreciate the importance of the work taking place around him. He connected with co-workers near (in his department) and far (across campus), and he took advantage of all-staff meetings and the department picnic to introduce himself to as many people as he could. He arranged one-on-one meetings with gift officers to solicit their advice and insights, and attended Fundraising Institute programs to learn as much as he could about what makes Advancement tick. He accepted any and every assignment, leaving no opportunity unturned. And as for his colleagues, including those in leadership positions, he says he “never came across a closed door. They assisted me in every way possible to help elevate my Advancement career, and I owe it to them that I found a home at Viterbi.”

When asked how others might emulate his success, Javon is equally effusive. “Be open to learning any and everything you can from the people you work with, because once you see how exciting and impactful an Advancement career can be, you’ll find the drive and ambition to succeed at it. Go out of your way to connect with others, sit in a different row at all-staff meetings, introduce yourself on LinkedIn or invite a colleague for coffee—yes, that’s an open invitation! And I can’t stress enough the importance of enjoying what you do—even when it seems tedious, you’re probably learning something.By keeping in mind that no job was too small for me, I gained the experience to make the leap to fundraiser.”

Naturally, Javon wants to be the best fundraiser possible, but when he’s not working, he’s most likely thinking sports. Plus, he and his identical twin brother Juwan (who also lives in L.A.) are from Denver, so they love getting out as much as possible to soak up the local scene. “My goal is to feel 100% Californian,” says Javon, and as long as he roots for Trojans over Buffaloes, we’ll take him at his word!

Coming Full Circle in a Career She Loves

Chloe Reid

Chloe Reid

Senior Director of Development
USC Gould School of Law

Chloe Reid has been at the USC Gould School of Law for almost 18 years, and always remembers the day in January that she started, since it was her birthday.

She spent her first 10 years at USC Gould as dean of admissions, and derived great enjoyment from working with students and helping them make their dreams come true.

“Truth is, they were like an extension of my family. I’ve been to countless weddings and even watched their children grow. And now as a fundraiser, I get to see them as alumni with successful careers. It’s like I’ve come full circle with them; many still call me ‘Dean Reid,’ even though I no longer have that title.”

Chloe has now moved up to senior director of development. After a decade in her previous job, she was looking for a new challenge. She consulted with the then brand-new dean at Gould—Andrew T. Guzman (now USC Provost Guzman!)—about exploring a different position.

“He was open to it, and so was our chief development officer, Robin Maness. With their support and the belief and that I could do it, I transitioned over to the Development and Alumni Affairs office.” 

Chloe also credits her promotion to hard work, caring about what she does and doing her “absolute best.” In addition, she notes, “I played well with others in the sandbox. I was innovative and creative and always tried to make things better and more efficient. I stood up for colleagues and shared information and knowledge. And I helped students and staff along the way, by doing a lot of mentoring.”

“For my entire career after finishing law school,” she continues, “I’ve worked in legal education, primarily student affairs. I’ve always found myself working with alumni in some capacity. I’m intrigued by the work and aware that it’s all connected: alumni relations, stewardship, giving, all of it.” 

“And one more thing,” asserts Chloe. “I love my staff and co-workers at Gould, plus all the friends I’ve made across campus. My colleagues at USC are extraordinarily supportive and giving folks!”

Coming Full Circle in a Career She Loves

Chloe Reid

Chloe Reid

Senior Director of Development
USC Gould School of Law

Chloe Reid has been at the USC Gould School of Law for almost 18 years, and always remembers the day in January that she started, since it was her birthday.

She spent her first 10 years at USC Gould as dean of admissions, and derived great enjoyment from working with students and helping them make their dreams come true.

“Truth is, they were like an extension of my family. I’ve been to countless weddings and even watched their children grow. And now as a fundraiser, I get to see them as alumni with successful careers. It’s like I’ve come full circle with them; many still call me ‘Dean Reid,’ even though I no longer have that title.”

Chloe has now moved up to senior director of development. After a decade in her previous job, she was looking for a new challenge. She consulted with the then brand-new dean at Gould—Andrew T. Guzman (now USC Provost Guzman!)—about exploring a different position.

“He was open to it, and so was our chief development officer, Robin Maness. With their support and the belief and that I could do it, I transitioned over to the Development and Alumni Affairs office.” 

Chloe also credits her promotion to hard work, caring about what she does and doing her “absolute best.” In addition, she notes, “I played well with others in the sandbox. I was innovative and creative and always tried to make things better and more efficient. I stood up for colleagues and shared information and knowledge. And I helped students and staff along the way, by doing a lot of mentoring.”

“For my entire career after finishing law school,” she continues, “I’ve worked in legal education, primarily student affairs. I’ve always found myself working with alumni in some capacity. I’m intrigued by the work and aware that it’s all connected: alumni relations, stewardship, giving, all of it.” 

What does she tell fellow employees about moving up the USC ladder? “I believe you first have to have a love for higher education and the power that it has to enrich people’s lives. Second, you can’t be afraid to ask questions, so network and get to know your colleagues. Don’t confine yourself to a silo; who knows when you’ll need someone from another department or unit. And third, avail yourself of the wide variety of resources in central advancement—workshops, conferences, the great books we can check out at our advancement retreats—just to name a few.”

All told, Chloe loves her staff and co-workers at Gould, plus all the friends she’s made across campus. “My colleagues at USC are extraordinarily supportive and giving folks!”

Don’t Look for Success—Prepare for It! 

Sabrina Espinoza

Sabrina Espinoza

Executive Director, Alumni Relations Annual Giving
USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Sabrina Espinoza currently serves as the executive director of alumni relations and annual giving for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Through events, programs and other strategies, she leverages partnerships with Viterbi constituents and alumni, here and abroad, to encourage engagement with and philanthropic support of the school. In addition, Sabrina manages the Viterbi Emerging Leaders Board and collaborates with regional boards and ambassadors to connect the alumni community.

Sabrina has been at USC for 13 years, the first 11 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), where she started in 2010 as an associate director of annual giving.

At SCA, she says, “I was able to delve into the various functions of philanthropy before being promoted to a major gift officer. I came to understand the make-up of our constituents, their needs and wants, and learned to build upon the strengths of the school. Through that, my career flourished, and I was promoted numerous times.”

“My career,” she adds, “has operated at the intersection of opportunity and intent. I’ve always strived to excel by being prepared—constantly learning and absorbing knowledge from mentors, colleagues and friends so I can do better each day.”

“It may sound cliché,” Sabrina continues, “but there’s something so meaningful about working at USC: the students, faculty, alumni and staff, plus the university’s rich history. Yes, there’s nothing like walking across campus on Game Day, but from my perspective as an alum and employee, USC is also about lifelong friends I met in the classroom, and colleagues across campus who are always excited and passionate about their work. This is what inspires me every day.”

Don’t Look for Success—Prepare for It! 

Sabrina Espinoza

Sabrina Espinoza

Executive Director, Alumni Relations Annual Giving
USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Sabrina Espinoza currently serves as the executive director of alumni relations and annual giving for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Through events, programs and other strategies, she leverages partnerships with Viterbi constituents and alumni, here and abroad, to encourage engagement with and philanthropic support of the school. In addition, Sabrina manages the Viterbi Emerging Leaders Board and collaborates with regional boards and ambassadors to connect the alumni community.

Sabrina has been at USC for 13 years, the first 11 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), where she started in 2010 as an associate director of annual giving.

At SCA, she says, “I was able to delve into the various functions of philanthropy before being promoted to a major gift officer. I came to understand the make-up of our constituents, their needs and wants, and learned to build upon the strengths of the school. Through that, my career flourished, and I was promoted numerous times.”

Sabrina concluded her stint at SCA as a senior director of development, focusing on major gift strategies for scholarship and student support initiatives. She then accepted a position as the executive director of corporate and foundation relations at her alma mater, the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“Because of my years at SCA, I was a bit of a chameleon,” she says. “I understood annual giving, alumni relations, major giving and corporate/foundation relations, which gave me different perspectives and allowed me to grow.”

“My career,” she adds, “has operated at the intersection of opportunity and intent. I’ve always strived to excel by being prepared—constantly learning and absorbing knowledge from mentors, colleagues and friends so I can do better each day. When I’m prepared and an opportunity arises, I know I can seize it and thrive. As they say, ‘Stay ready, so you don’t have to getready.’”

As proof, Sabrina cites the master’s degree she earned in nonprofit leadership and management from USC Price prior to accepting her current position at Viterbi. The degree made her want to give back to others and create a community where people could be their best, authentic selves. “I also had a great mentor back at Cinema, who helped me reevaluate my goals and frame the legacy that I wanted to share, at USC and in my life in general,” she says.

“It may sound cliché,” Sabrina continues, “but there’s something so meaningful about working at USC: the students, faculty, alumni and staff, plus the university’s rich history. Yes, there’s nothing like walking across campus on Game Day, but from my perspective as an alum and employee, USC is also about lifelong friends I met in the classroom, and colleagues across campus who are always excited and passionate about their work. This is what inspires me every day.”

At Viterbi, Sabrina feels she’s come back to her roots—engaging alumni and providing them with the resources they need to be successful on their journey beyond the classroom. “When they go out into the world, they represent USC,” she says, “and it’s great to be back in that space that I really missed.”

All told, says Sabrina, “USC is a place to meet amazing people and build strong relationships.” She advises colleagues to “connect with their counterparts across campus for support, networking and friendship” and to invest in professional development, be it conferences, workshops, learning from others or continuing one’s education. “Learn as much as you can, and take it all in. You never know how it will serve you now or in the future.”

Meet Our Recruiter

Christiana Simpson

Christiana Simpson

Senior Specialized Recruiter for University Advancement

Christiana Simpson serves as the senior specialized recruiter for University Advancement. She brings more than 20 years of broad experience to the role, in areas such as recruitment, onboarding, and retention.

What does a specialized recruiter do?

I collaborate with advancement department heads and senior management to understand each department’s current and future staffing needs—and then I help develop a plan to ensure that the department attracts the right talent in the right roles. 

So what happens behind the scenes?

Lots of little things. Job analysis and description, marketing efforts to attract the best candidates, interview coordination, compliance, and much more—as well as keeping track of recruitment metrics to make sure we’re achieving our goals.

What are the advantages to having a dedicated expert in this role?

Because I have a wide view of advancement’s overall talent needs, I can help managers make more strategic hiring decisions. A candidate may not be a perfect fit for the position they applied for but may be ideal for a different role. So we can find and place the best people, whether they’re referrals, external candidates, or internal candidates.

What qualities do you look for in a job candidate?

Candidates who are curious, flexible, self-motivated, and who thrive in a collaborative team environment always stand out. People who understand the importance of building and developing relationships are also highly valued. Those skills will take you very far no matter what role you’re in. Prior advancement experience is not always required.

Mentorship, Networking, and Curiosity

Stephanie Chicas

Stephanie Chicas

Associate Director, Prospect Strategy
USC University Advancement

As associate director of prospect strategy and a key part of the Relationship Management (RMATS) team, Stephanie Chicas helps ensure that the best principal gift prospects are identified and assigned to the right development officer—and then stewarded through the fundraising cycle, with the goal of achieving the university’s overall “moonshot” goals. 

Stephanie began her career at USC seven years ago in a central advancement position supporting development at Keck Medicine of USC. From there, she moved into an expanded central role as assistant director of development, where she managed day-to-day projects and operations related to prospect strategy and engagement, as well as university-wide fundraising priorities. She also helped coordinate and oversee presidential briefings and contributed to advancement-related events, including many at the president’s suite at football games. She thoroughly enjoyed the work but knew she was ready to grow and take on fresh challenges.

“I made it a point to develop a good relationship with my supervisor, who also wanted me to grow,” she says. “That made it less awkward to have conversations with supervisors in other departments, so I could find out where there might be opportunities.” This strategy led to Stephanie’s promotion to senior relationship management analyst on the RMATS team.

Stephanie attributes her success at USC to mentorship, networking, and curiosity. A self-described introvert, she knows how hard it is to put yourself out there, but says the results are always rewarding. And her positive attitude has kept her moving forward in the department. “I find it so important to try to understand everyone’s role in fueling the machine that is University Advancement,” she says. “We’re all striving toward a common goal: to support the growth and success of our students, each one a potential world leader. Keeping that in mind has made me very intentional about which opportunities to seek out.”

“Plus,” she says, “I always try to go above and beyond, not limiting myself to just my own role. If I have to take on something extra to move a project forward and help out our team, I’m there.”

When it comes to counseling colleagues who, like herself, wish to move up the ranks at USC, Stephanie has some practical advice. “I challenge everyone seeking new opportunities to ask questions,” she says. “By ‘asking questions,’ I mean taking a proactive approach—seeking opportunities, putting yourself out there, and making sure your manager and colleagues know you’re interested in growing.” She also recommends participating in USC Advancement’s professional development sessions within the USC Fundraising Institute. “That is an excellent starting point for gaining a comprehensive understanding of the entire Advancement operation.” 

And perhaps most importantly, she says, “Love what you do! I’ve really enjoyed growing within University Advancement, and learning about all the different areas of development. I love the people I work with, and, here at USC, I’m constantly inspired by the students and faculty and all the incredible work taking place. It’s amazing to work in this type of environment.”

One more point Stephanie likes to stress is a simple one: “Say hello to people, even if you don’t know who they are. At the all-staff meetings, picnic or holiday party, a small hello can open up a conversation that will, in turn, reveal an opportunity. You never know when the person you said ‘hi’ to will turn out to be your future manager!”

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