Heartfelt tributes and joyous reunions highlight USC Title IX celebration

Legendary USC athletics administrator Barbara Hedges was clearly the star attraction at the “Title IX: 50 Years of Progress” kickoff event Thursday evening.

She received two standing ovations, had the student-athlete lounge officially named after her and graciously navigated a steady stream of current and former athletes, coaches and staff who wanted to have their photo taken with her.

Title IX logo“Your passion, your competitive spirit, your vision, your determination, and your commitment to young women lives on in a big, big way,” USC Director of Athletics Mike Bohn said to Hedges before a crowd of nearly 200 people at Heritage Hall.

The evening, presented by USC Athletics, included a screening of a new Title IX documentary featuring Hedges and others and a livestreamed Title IX panel discussion that preceded a sit-down dinner.

It was 50 years ago this week that Title IX legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program receiving funding from the federal government was signed into law. Hedges was hired as coordinator of women’s athletics at USC in 1973 and steadily developed women’s athletics into a powerhouse during her 18 years at the university.

USC President Carol L. Folt introduced the evening’s panel, noting that since the passage of Title IX, USC women have earned 36 team national championships and 91 NCAA individual championships — and that 149 have been Olympians.

“I just want to say to all the women of Troy, you know how to slay it,” Folt said.

Folt pointed out that since the median age in America is 38, more than half of the people in the country have lived in a world where Title IX always existed.

“Yet most of them may not even understand what it was, how it got here, how precious that work was, and how important it is that we keep it going,” she said.

“We still have work to do. I have no doubt that we’re going to keep pushing, and we will continue to do the best that we can to be expanding the scope, the promise and the efficacy of Title IX.”

Panel of luminaries highlights USC Title IX anniversary event

Hedges and Bohn were joined by Olympian Janet Evans, USC women’s basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and USC women’s tennis All-American Eryn Cayetano for the Title IX panel moderated by USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Joyce Bell Limbrick.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about Title IX today,” said Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and USC alumna. “It made me think about my privilege and the opportunity that I always had to swim. Because of people like Barbara, never in my journey did someone say to me, ‘You can’t do this because you’re a woman.’ But there were a lot of women before my generation who had that experience. So, I am forever grateful.”

Gottlieb said that while she was born five years after Title IX passed, that legislation changed her life more than any other — mainly because she didn’t have to think about it.

“It’s important for me to be a link and also to educate the young people on how it wasn’t always the way it is now,” Gottlieb said. “What I need to be able to do is to keep pushing the progress forward and take the torch from people like Barbara.”

Gottlieb, who is expecting her second child, said mentoring her athletes is as important to her as being a parent.

“Every single day, I hopefully get to show them through what we do on the basketball court and off, that there’s no limitations for who they could be and what they can be,” she said. “To me, that’s the embodiment of Title IX: those opportunities and what they turn those opportunities into.”

Bohn and other panelists spoke about the role men should be taking when it comes to achieving gender equality in college athletics and hiring more women in leadership positions.

“It takes everyone,” he said. “There’s a consistent, dedicated commitment to what we’re trying to put together, whether it’s making a difference associated with new facilities to admissions to fundraising to social media to promotion. It takes all of us to do it, and it is an intentional commitment.”

Hedges derided what she sees as a widespread assumption that women don’t know enough about football to be athletic directors. She left USC in 1991 to become athletic director at the University of Washington and became the longest-serving female athletic director among NCAA Division I schools.

“You don’t have to know about the spread offense,” she said. “You need to love football, you need to know the sport just as you need to know all the other sports. And you need to understand the importance of football in the whole scheme of things.”

Gottlieb also weighed in on the topic, saying, “The next step in women’s sports is having it not just be a women’s issue. People in positions of power need to not only look to help women but literally move over and make seats at the table. We’re wasting 50% of talent if we’re only hiring men.”

Documentary at Title IX anniversary event brings back memories

Prior to the start of the outdoor panel and dinner, the Title IX: 50 Years of Progress documentary by USC alumni Jasmine Blevins and Gage Masterson was screened several times indoors. Hedges was seated in the front row for the final screening and was quickly surrounded afterward by former USC athletes for hugs, joyous reunions and selfies.

“It really gives me chills watching the video,” said Tamryn Wilkins, who as Tammy Story played on the USC women’s basketball team from 1988-92. “I hope that everyone who came after me knows just how special a place this is, how top-tier we are. I love being with my old teammates and seeing women who came before me and paved the way for me.”

LeeAnne Sera, who played on two national championship basketball teams in the early 1980s, was also emotional. She traveled from Northern California for the event and was reunited with several of her teammates.

The documentary and the footage of our championships, it absolutely takes you back.

LeeAnne Sera, member of two
USC national championship basketball teams

“When I look back at what we were able to experience 30 years ago and how far women’s sports have come, it brings tears to my eyes,” Sera said. “The documentary and the footage of our championships, it absolutely takes you back. You can feel the tradition and that heartfelt connection. What Barbara really instilled in us is that we are human beings who can do anything. It still stays with me.”

Barbara Hallquist DeGroot, the first female student at USC to receive an athletic scholarship, was featured in the film and enjoyed catching up with other athletes.

“It’s just a flood of good feelings and memories,” said DeGroot, who won the national collegiate tennis singles title in 1976 and 1977 and later turned pro. “Seeing Barbara Hedges here is just so special. She’s the reason I’m here, she’s the reason we’re all here. She was the trailblazer, and all I had to do was step on the trail. She made it all make sense for me and so many other female scholar-athletes, and we’re just indebted to her forever.”

At one point during the evening, Hedges asked the athletes she had worked with in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s to stand and take a bow.

“This program began with young women who were willing to work hard,” she said. “They didn’t have everything in the beginning, they didn’t have everything for quite awhile. But they were willing to work hard, and they were willing to make their commitment to USC. I call them the legends of USC.”

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Roe v. Wade repeal may exacerbate women’s health inequities even as candidates use it to gain votes, USC experts say

The U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade leaves much in question, including the future of women’s health and other rights protected by court precedent. USC experts believe the opinion issued Friday will exacerbate inequities for women — and may impact voters’ decisions in the upcoming midterm elections.

The high court’s opinion leaves abortion access up to the states. Clinical Nursing Professor Cynthia Sanchez notes, though, that 13 states were ready for this day. Lawmakers in Texas, Tennessee, Missouri and other Republican-led states developed bans on abortion that were triggered by the opinion issued on Friday. Economics and politics will determine whether a woman can access abortion, she warned.

“The stripping away of patients’ rights always has a greater impact on the most vulnerable,” said Sanchez, of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “Women with resources will be able to seek care in other states that don’t have these repressive policies, meaning those that do not have the resources will be the most negatively impacted.”

Abortion rights: California offers most protections

California offers the most protections for abortion in the United States, and with SB 1375, state lawmakers are considering allowing first-trimester care by nurse practitioners — increasing the pool of providers beyond just physicians who perform abortion.

Despite providing greater access to abortions, California still has room to improve on contraception access, says Dima Qato, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy.

Expanding access to birth control — emergency and preventive contraception — at local pharmacies should also be prioritized.

Dima Qato, USC School of Pharmacy

A Health Affairs study she co-authored in 2020 revealed that not all California pharmacies prescribe emergency and preventive contraception. In Los Angeles County, for instance, only 1 in 10 pharmacies provided the service, Qato noted.

“Expanding access to birth control — emergency and preventive contraception — at local pharmacies should also be prioritized,” Qato said. “All pharmacies should be required to carry and mandated to dispense birth control to anyone that requests it with or without a prescription. Title X funding can be used to finance the costs for those seeking contraceptives at a pharmacy.”

Although health experts argue abortion is a public health issue, for politicians, it’s a tool to drive voter turnout. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, politicians have used abortion as a wedge issue to motivate single-issue voters. It has taken on greater importance this year. With the midterm elections just months away, control of Congress is at stake, and candidates are leveraging the abortion issue.

Abortion rights could motivate voters on both sides

“In past midterm elections, social issues have motivated voters both on the right and the left to turn out,” said Christian Grose, a political scientist at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences who is the academic director for the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. “When the economy is bad, political parties have used social issues like abortion to motivate their base.

“This has recently been an effective tactic of Republican candidates,” Grose added. “However, this time the issue of abortion very well may help Democrats and it is highly mobilizing to their base of voters in what could be a Republican year.”

Using abortion as an election issue has its risks. Polls show most Americans support abortion. A Gallup poll in May showed that 85% of Americans support abortion, though 50% supported access only under certain circumstances. A Pew Research Center pollt shows that 61% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

This time the issue of abortion very well may help Democrats.

Christian Grose, USC Dornsife

“Abortion policies and the choices of women of reproductive age and their families should not simply be a flag for political parties to wave,” said Pamela McCann, an associate professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“When we use partisan shortcuts and demonize one side or the other, we lose sight of the truly crucial features of policy,” McCann said. “What are the current outcomes that we see in the world and find unacceptable? What are the possible changes we could make to improve that situation? How can we enact that change?”

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USC Viterbi research to streamline robot delivery


USC Viterbi Research to Streamline our Robot Delivery Future

USC Viterbi Research to Streamline our Robot Delivery Future

A new study into optimized symbiotic vehicles for use in warehouses and for robot deliveries has been funded by Toyota’s University Research Program.

John Carlsson can’t wait for a future where robots roam the streets, seamlessly darting back and forth from larger delivery vehicles to bring us our food, goods, mail, and medicine at lightning speed. A future where automation can help make the world more accessible for people with mobility issues, with fewer vehicles clogging our roads on time-consuming errands that add to the carbon footprints of cities.

Carlsson, the Kellner Family Early Career Chair and associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, has just been awarded $200,000 to develop optimization techniques to help make this bold new future possible, with Toyota’s Raymond Corporation announcing him as one of just three recipients in their University Research Program. Over the next year, he will design a framework to show how fleets of “helper vehicles” such as automated ground-based robots or aerial drones can work quickly and effectively in tandem with a larger delivery vehicle in settings such as automated warehouses, or for deliveries in urban centers.

It’s a system that he calls “symbiotic vehicle routing.”

“Imagine in Africa we see a hippo with a bird sitting on it, picking off food and cleaning its teeth — there’s a big lumbering thing, and then a tiny, little thing helping it out. They’re both benefiting from each other,” Carlsson said. “Symbiosis is a good biological metaphor for what we’re doing — showing how big things are good at some things and small things are good at others.”

Carlsson and his team will first examine how this can be applied in a warehouse setting, an area where he has previously worked on optimization solutions to allow automated robots to navigate effectively around the aisles of massive unmanned warehouses. Carlsson’s prior research led to his induction as an Edelman Laureate by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

“There have been a lot of cool developments in warehouse research in the last 20 years because we have AI that can keep track of where everything is, and there is so much data available. This offers a whole new way of thinking about how you can move things around,” Carlsson said.

“In a symbiotic system, you could have a big forklift driving around alongside little robots on the ground that carrying individual items and dropping them where they need to go,” he said.

Carlsson and his research team will be using an algorithm to enable the symbiotic routing system in which a large host vehicle in a warehouse can move an entire rack shelf while being assisted by a fleet of automated guided vehicles (AGV) “helpers” that pick individual items. The algorithm, which has already been designed, will be harnessed by the team in real-world experiments to find the most effective routes between the host and the helpers.

The symbiotic approach would speed up the processing of goods and free up storage space, offering customers the potential of same-day delivery of goods, which could be useful for urgent deliveries of medication, such as insulin.

“If the big vehicle is capable of handing things off to the small thing, we want to know how much we can benefit — the dollar amount, the time amount,” Carlsson said. “Can we go from overnight to same-day delivery?”

The team will also be examining the potential of harnessing these fully automated systems in city settings, for direct-to-customer deliveries.

Delivery robots are already starting to emerge in cities for short-distance local errands, often piloted by a remote operator who steers the vehicle with the aid of cameras. Residents of urban centers like downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco may have already stumbled across these friendly local bots wheeling about town delivering their goods. Swiss Post has similarly introduced small autonomous vehicles to deliver mail to communities in Switzerland.

“People have built the hardware. We have some version of this technology already, but as far as using them efficiently and the actual optimization of these systems — that’s very uncharted territory,” Carlsson said.

In Carlsson’s vision, these fleets of smaller “sidekick” robots, drones, or small vehicles could work with a delivery van, such as Amazon’s vans, to quickly offload goods and deliver them locally, allowing the van to continue its journey. He said that optimized symbiotic routing does not necessarily mean that the helper robot fleet is working for the one host vehicle.

“Maybe you have a robot that picks up a package from van number one, and then it drops it off, and then it goes to van number two,” Carlsson said. “It makes a lot of sense to do things that way, because a robot is just moving along the sidewalks not cruising along a highway. Your robot may pick up a package from a van and drop it off, but by the time the robot is free again, that van is in another part of town.”

Carlsson said he believed there would be a future where symbiotic vehicles were an important part of everyday life, and his project’s goal in the first instance was to determine whether these systems could be helpful and workable.

“We’ve proven it from a theoretical perspective, but this is going to be much more simulation-driven and much more algorithmic,” Carlsson said. “We want to have more than just the mathematical proof of this. We want to know; does it actually work?”

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Students learn the power of yoga and mindfulness

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Students learn the power of the (downward facing) dog
Through a summer course in Tulum, Mexico, USC students learn yoga and mindfulness. It’s part of a new minor aimed at helping students take control of their health.
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Some 800 years ago, the Maya worshipped the god of honey in the sacred town of Tulum, Mexico. Murals of Ah-Muzen-Cab, who resembles a stingless bee diving to Earth and is known as the “descending god,” still remain on the walls of a temple there.

Worship of Ah-Muzen-Cab may have dwindled over the last few centuries, but Tulum’s importance as a site of spiritual practice remains. Thousands of people now visit the area annually to attend yoga and meditation retreats.

If practicing 5,000-year-old Indian traditions in Mexico seems a little unusual, yoga teacher Isabelle Pilliere Mazumdar says the draw for modern visitors is likely the same reason the ancient Mayans built Tulum where they did, on the Yucat?n Peninsula.

“It’s the special energy of the area,” says Mazumdar, a senior lecturer in the physical education and mind-body health department at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We don’t have this belief in Western society, but a lot of cultures believe in the importance of energy, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese or the Mayan culture.”

Mazumdar recently led a small group of USC students on a week-long Maymester trip to Tulum, where they took yoga lessons, meditated and explored the region’s history. It’s an elective course for the newly launched Mind-Body Studies Minor, which trains students in the fundamentals of good health, from sleep to mindfulness to physical exercise. With rising levels of anxiety and depression, as well as high obesity rates among college students, it’s timely and important coursework.

Rise and shine, it’s yoga time

The new Mind-Body Studies Minor aims to help students tackle stress and stay fit. (Photo: Courtesy Isabelle Pilliere Mazumdar)

A yoga retreat in Mexico might just sound like a relaxing vacation, but Mazumdar’s Maymester course had a packed schedule. Each day, students took two yoga classes, participated in group discussions and settled down for evening meditation. They also made time for excursions, exploring the ruins of the Mayan civilization and the spectacular caves in Gran Cenote.

The students ranged from novices to budding yoga enthusiasts. They ate all of their meals together and practiced yoga side-by side morning and evening, so the trip was also an exercise in living closely among people with different backgrounds and beliefs. “I had a very diverse group, different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations. It was really nice that they all got along because you’re pretty much together 24/7,” says Mazumdar.

Mind and body

The new Mind-Body Studies minor, which launches this fall, also includes courses on human anatomy, nutrition and the brain as well as other electives like swimming and hiking. More than 20 students have already enrolled in the minor, which was designed to meet the demand from students for more tools to manage their stress and health.

The minor also helps students who are planning a career in medicine learn techniques for helping people that don’t involve prescriptions or surgery; a growing trend in health care.

For Christina Maineri, who is majoring in neuroscience and cognitive science, the new minor connects directly with her career interests. “I hope to use what I learn from the Mind-Body Studies minor, particularly in regard to how we train our brain, to assist dementia patients,” says Maineri.

Mazumdar could be the poster woman for how yoga can be a lifelong, fulfilling practice. She first encountered it some 40 years ago, when she was vacationing at a resort hotel in the late 1970s, when yoga wasn’t yet a mainstay in gyms. “Yoga was a little bit out there, it was experimental,” she says. As a dancer, she was attracted to the way it stretched and lengthened the body, and she’s been practicing the sport ever since.

Students from the Maymester course such as Anya Khurana, who is pursuing a degree in public health education and promotion at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, are planning a similar trajectory.

“The practices of yoga and mindfulness are great tools for stress management and overall wellness, but this course taught me how to apply those skills to my own life, which I will take with me as I attend professional school and begin my career,” says Khurana.

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USC panel offers complex perspectives on Juneteenth holiday

Francille Rusan Wilson had a heartfelt question for members of the USC community who gathered Monday for a virtual event celebrating Juneteenth and discussing its history.

“After 157 years, isn’t it time for all Americans to commit to freedom and justice for all?” asked Wilson, an associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, history, and gender and sexuality studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Wilson provided historical context on the newest federal holiday, which marks when the last of enslaved people in United States were liberated. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union forces reached Texas to announce and enforce the end of slavery there — 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Wilson was among the faculty, staff and students who participated in the USC Juneteenth event that included remarks from President Carol L. Folt and a live panel discussion titled “Triumph Over Adversity” moderated by USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning.

USC Juneteenth commemoration marks America’s true Independence Day

Manning said he prefers to think of Juneteenth as America’s true Independence Day. “It is the first day in American history in which we were all truly free,” he said. “It is important to celebrate and remember that as a central part of our heritage.”

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black families for generations but gained wider attention after the murders of George Floyd and others by police. A little more than a year ago, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making the day a federal holiday.

Wilson said that, in the early days of liberation, Black Texans considered Juneteenth to be their Fourth of July and a holiday — something often opposed by their employers and local officials.

The lessons of Juneteenth are that our fundamental freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Francille Rusan Wilson,
USC Dornsife professor

“Juneteenth celebrations served to gather the community, to plan protests, as well as to mark the resilience and determination to thrive,” she said. “The lessons of Juneteenth are that our fundamental freedoms can never be taken for granted. They must be exercised, protected and practiced.”

Several of the participants in the USC event acknowledged mixed feelings about the occasion because of the centuries of pain and struggle behind it.

“Is it a holiday? Is it a commemoration?” Manning asked. “How does one be celebratory when thinking about a history of over 250 years of enslavement followed by nearly 100 years of Jim Crow [anti-Black laws] followed by continued structural oppression? Is that something to celebrate?”

‘A little conflicted’ at USC Juneteenth commemoration

Panelist Miki Turner, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, described herself as “a little conflicted” about Juneteenth. She said she would be feeling more celebratory if the federal holiday had come before the series of well-publicized killings of unarmed Black Americans in the past decade by police and others.

“Is it a reasonable ask for us to celebrate the end of slavery in an era when we are experiencing this sort of heinous, regressive renaissance in our country?” Turner asked. “I think any of us who were born when Jim Crow was still in a shallow grave have issues reconciling the past with today.

“I hope we can use this day to reflect on where we’ve been and where we need to go,” Turner added. “I certainly hope it won’t be just another day to fire up the grill and drink Red Pop. It needs to be more than that.”

I think we are an extraordinary people.

Ricky Bluthenthal, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Panelist Ricky Bluthenthal, professor of population and public health sciences and associate dean for social justice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said that despite the barriers, many African Americans have managed to find a way to thrive.

“I think we are an extraordinary people,” Bluthenthal said. “I feel like each day I learn something new about the amazing accomplishments of our group in the context of violence, systematic exclusion, material deprivation. We’ve triumphed. If we remove these barriers, even more good things will flow our way.”

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‘Title IX changed USC immensely,’ women’s sports trailblazer says

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was passed on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the year. Up first: an athletics administrator who helped changed the playing field.

Groundbreaking USC athletics administrator Barbara Hedges compares the passage of Title IX 50 years ago this week to American women being granted the right to vote in 1920.

“The impact was very similar,” said Hedges, whose career at USC began in 1973. “It has been so successful and provided opportunities for millions. If you looked at the women just from USC and what they’re doing now, they are doctors, lawyers, teachers and scientists.”

Hedges, 31 years old at the time, was hired as coordinator of women’s athletics when there were just five women’s sports at USC and very little funding.

She had been an athlete since she was 11 starting out with softball and “played every sport you can imagine.” Hedges, the youngest of nine children from Glendale, Ariz., began her career as a high school physical education teacher and gymnastics coach. She was a professor of physical education at Arizona State University when USC came calling.

Maximizing opportunities of Title IX

Hedges immediately made it her mission to maximize opportunities made possible by the landmark Title IX legislation that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

“I am thrilled about the fact that I was there in the very beginning,” Hedges said. “I was in charge of the women’s athletics program, and I knew that USC needed to be a leader in providing opportunity for women in athletics. We couldn’t sit back, and we couldn’t wait. We had to move forward in providing scholarships, and that was the big issue at the time.”

She had a staunch ally in John McKay, the legendary USC football coach who was athletic director during that time. Hedges had a particularly memorable meeting with McKay in early 1974 during which she stated that USC needed to be a leader in women’s athletics just as it had long been in men’s athletics.

“Women wanted to have a program comparable to the men,” Hedges recalled. “I asked John to advocate to the university for scholarships for women. At that time, many athletic directors were fighting Title IX; John didn’t do that. He agreed to go to the university, and the university said yes. And the rest is history. USC moved ahead while many schools were just staying in place, and I really thank John McKay for that.”

Money was not only needed for full scholarships, but also for recruitment, travel and adding more sports. Hedges began raising money by quickly forming two support groups for women’s athletics: Women’s Trojan Club and Women of Troy.

“We developed a donor base, support for the program, and our student athletes were all part of what we were trying to do,” she recalled. “I believe those early student athletes and coaches and staff helped build one of the most successful programs in the country, without a doubt.”

During Hedges’ 18 years at USC, women’s sports won 13 national titles. In 1985, some men’s sports were also put under her supervision and four years later, she became senior associate athletic director.

A trailblazer in the Northwest, too

Hedges left USC in 1991 to become athletic director at the University of Washington. She held that position until retiring in 2004 as the longest-serving female athletic director among NCAA Division I programs.

She was inducted into the USC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. She soon returned to USC to serve as co-chair of the athletic department’s Heritage Initiative fundraising effort and in 2016 chaired the USC Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony.

As I look back, I think, ‘You were there, Barbara, right there on the bottom floor in the very beginning …’

Barbara Hedges, Title IX trailblazer

“As I look back, I think, ‘You were there, Barbara, right there on the bottom floor in the very beginning, and building a program and fighting for women’s opportunities,” she said. “It truly is a thrill for me.”

Hedges, who has lived in Palm Desert for many years, is extremely protective of the federal legislation that she has personally seen help make so much possible for female students at USC.

“I believe Title IX needs to be protected at all costs and women have to be protected at all costs,” she said. “The present and future student athletes to have the same benefits and opportunities as those that have come before them.”

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Yellowstone flooding underscores environmental pressures facing U.S. national parks

America’s national parks are in crisis, and the environmental disaster unfolding at Yellowstone National Park is the latest example of extreme weather driven by climate change battering parkland.

Glacier National Park in Montana is also experiencing severe flooding, in addition to the severe diminishment of the park’s 26 named glaciers — some by as much as 80%.

The unpredictability caused by climate change adds a further challenge as predictive models become increasingly irrelevant, causing delays in planning and resource allocation.

The U.S. national parks are a passion for Douglas Noble, associate dean for academic affairs at the USC School of Architecture. He credits a childhood spent visiting the parks as a Boy Scout for cultivating his love of America’s wilderness. This spring, he and faculty across USC introduced a new interdisciplinary course, “An Exploration of America’s National Parks,” that centers on how humans interact with the national parks. We spoke with Noble about the flooding at Yellowstone, how climate change affects our national parks and his favorite national park.

What does the situation with Yellowstone flooding tell us about how climate change is affecting the national parks system?

The climate conditions are really troubling. It’s not so much that it’s warmer — people will say, “Oh, it’s only 2 degrees warmer, what possible harm could that cause?” First off, 2 degrees centigrade is a big jump. It also changes the kind of things that can live or adapt to be there. It also changes migratory patterns. Water access in some places will dry up, and the lifeforms that lived where a tiny creek or pond used to be can no longer survive.

Yellowstone is a water-based place. Old Faithful, for instance: If you visit, there’s a chalkboard that says how often it will erupt — usually around 55-65 minutes — and they’re usually accurate to within a minute. But what happens when the conditions have changed? If there’s more water? What if there’s less? What has been a fairly predictable phenomenon now becomes an unknown. Maybe it erupts twice as often, or maybe it stops altogether. That’s all to say we no longer can entirely know what’s going to happen because the conditions have changed.

What is the impact of this unpredictability?

If you know what’s going to happen in a climate, whether it’s hot or cold, then you can make confident personnel and resource decisions to maintain the parks. There are impacts on tourism and agriculture — you know that based off predictive weather models that the last frost will take place after such-and-such date. If suddenly it’s less predictable, there might be another frost later in the season, it could be warmer, it stops raining sooner or it might rain a lot harder. I’m a lot happier when things are just like last year — even if last year there was a week in the summer where it was too hot in L.A. — because I know that if we do the same as last year, we know how it works and we know what the impact is going to be.

In what other ways is climate change affecting the national parks?

Not long ago the biggest challenges were wildfires and, again, it goes back to climate change. Part of it was direct impacts — the fires wiping out vast chunks of forests — but it also affected the management strategies in place. Now we look back and say, “OK, maybe that was not a great strategy putting out all fires” because the amount of debris and dead stuff piled up. Where there had been a fire here and there to clear that debris, once we began putting out every single fire the amount of dead stuff really begins to pile up. Now when it catches fire, instead of 1,000 little fires, you get a really big one and the really big ones act a lot differently.

Glacier National Park has a rough idea when the last glacier will finally melt down. They can tell you how many there used to be just a few years ago, and how many there are now — the number is fewer and they’re smaller. In some cases, a lot smaller and they keep shrinking. How much longer do they have? It’s decades, not centuries.

What’s your favorite national park?

I always answer that question by saying that it changes every time someone asks. There are 63 that many people think of as the so-called “regular” national parks, and almost 450 National Park [Service] units, including national battlefield parks, national historic sites, national monuments and others. Some are like Yellowstone that are large, and then there are others where something culturally important took place. I’m going to Joshua Tree this weekend, so maybe that is my favorite today. Climate change is being felt there, too. There are a small number of oases in the park — one of the most famous is the Oasis of Mara, which has been used by civilizations for millennia. There are six oases in a park nearly the size of Rhode Island, so these are rare treasures. Now the water table has fallen so much that the Oasis of Mara would die without human intervention. We’re keeping it alive in the hopes that things will change for the better.

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How Dad inspired me: Professors reflect on their fathers’ influence

This story was first published on June 17, 2016

Father’s Day is a time our thoughts turn to the unique relationship we enjoyed with them as children and the ways they helped make us who we are today. We asked seven USC faculty members to share how their dads helped shape and inspire their academic careers.

I have my father to thank for my problem-solving skills, and for a determination to get things done and never give up until I am satisfied.

Laura Baker

Laura Baker, professor of psychology, remembers her father, John P. Baker.

“As long as I can remember, my focus in life has been on figuring out how things work — including people’s behavior. I have to attribute this, at least in part, to my father, who was a civil engineer and a handyman extraordinaire.

“Early memories include having Dad help me with math homework and visiting his civil engineering office, where I was fascinated by the rooms full of computers, whirring tape decks — and yes, punch card machines — that filled an entire air-conditioned floor of the high-rise building where he worked. There were plenty of opportunities to figure things out on my own, growing up in a house with seven other siblings.

“My father also remodeled his home with his own hands and came to Los Angeles to help me and my husband restore a little Victorian house near USC. As my own research in behavioral genetics shows, Dad’s influence was undoubtedly a combination of genes and environment. Regardless of the etiology, I have my father to thank for my problem-solving skills, and for a determination to get things done and never give up until I am satisfied.”

We share more than a name, and I’m ever grateful for all of it.

William Deverell

William Deverell, professor of history, chair of history and director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, remembers his father, William F. Deverell Sr.

“My father, for whom I am named, is a retired orthopedic surgeon who spent the first 20 years of his medical career as an officer in the United States Air Force. Growing up a military brat, I’ve learned since boyhood, is a little strange and outside the borders of more conventional, civilian life. But my sister and I knew nothing else, so it seemed entirely normal to us.

“I grew up in houses on Air Force bases in Japan, California and Colorado. They shared a certain “base housing” exterior sameness, even drabness. On the inside, they shared books. Packed bookcases: medical texts, of course (The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery by the dozens), travel books, biographies, Great American novels and, always, history.

“My father has always been drawn to history, and he is deeply well-read. His books called to me as a kid, and my constant borrowing of them no doubt shaped my life and my thinking for the better. I went off to college thinking I wanted to be a surgeon; I left college knowing I wanted to be a history professor. In no small way, that journey is motivated by the imprint of a father’s curiosity on a son. We share more than a name, and I’m ever grateful for all of it.”

As a second-grader in a Catholic school in Cleveland, Ohio, I stood up and spoke out against a teacher who said that only Catholics would go to heaven.

The Rev. James Heft

The Rev. James Heft, Alton M. Brooks Professor of Religion, remembers his father, Berl Ramsey Heft, a farmer and warehouse manager.

“My father was a Protestant; I was raised Catholic, the faith of my mother. For the first 36 years of his life, my dad was a farmer; I’ve spent my life in cities. My father never went past the eighth grade; I got a PhD. My dad didn’t go to church with me and the rest of the family that often; we went every Sunday and more. My father was 5 foot 8 inches tall; I am 6 foot 5. So, how did my father influence my career as an academic and a Catholic priest?

“Though my father was not Catholic, he was a loving and good man. As a child, I never doubted that he would go to heaven, and as a second-grader in a Catholic school in Cleveland, Ohio, I stood up and spoke out against a teacher who said that only Catholics would go to heaven.

“Though he had little formal education, he was bright, very bright, and verbally quick. He told great stories. He supported the private education of my four siblings and me. I guess you could say that for much of his life he was deeply spiritual then, but not so religious — ahead of his time.

“He influenced me profoundly even though we might seem to have been very different. Towards the end of his life, shortly after I had told my family what I wanted to do with my life, he became a Catholic. Perhaps I influenced him a little, too.”

When my marriage failed and my world unraveled, my dad said two things that righted me: ‘I understand you baby’ and ‘Forgive yourself because God does.’

Lanita Jacobs

Lanita Jacobs, associate professor of anthropology and American studies and ethnicity, celebrates her stepfather, Jackie L. Stewart Sr., a retired machinist and church pastor.

“I was in the sixth grade when my dad entered my life. He’d recently found God and fell hard for my mom. I eyed him warily; I didn’t know what to make of this recently converted preacher and single father of five. Soon, his and my family merged and I inherited four sisters, a brother and a new dad — and two more sisters as our family steadily grew. We were a black Brady Bunch with no Alice; I sulked to the point of disrespect.

“Then, I grew to love him. I knew it when, five months into blended familyhood, I dreamt my new dad had died. I remember waking up in a panic and searching to find and hug him. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it Nita. I’m still here.’

“My dad has held me many times since. When my marriage failed and my world unraveled, my dad said two things that righted me: ‘I understand you baby’ and ‘Forgive yourself because God does.’ He saw me in my vulnerability (priceless), loved me, and inspires my classes on the fraught subject of black love and respectability.

“My dad didn’t graduate high school. In the past five years, he’s earned his BA and later MA at a seminary. I didn’t make it to his most recent graduation for reasons I can’t defend. When I apologized for my absence, he replied, ‘That’s OK. I know you love me.’ And I do. I do. I do. I do.”

To this day, I always begin writing with the aim that the result would be something he would want to read, and the best thing is, he always does.

Megan Luke

Megan Luke, assistant professor of art history, on her father, Richard Luke.

“My dad is my first and most avid reader. He reads everything I write (he even read my doctoral dissertation!), and he always understands just what I am trying to do with any given text. My father is a sculptor, a builder and an architect, so he has a high tolerance for art history, but he’s also a passionate self-taught reader of literature and philosophy — and poetry is what he likes reading best. At key moments in my studies, he would introduce me to a writer or an artist and I, in turn, would take up the challenge to write about them.

“Once, when I was in high school, I asked him to read a paper I had written for English class on one of his favorite poets, William Bronk, and he read it as he would a text by any ‘real’ writer. It was the first time my words had received such a demanding audience, and I vividly remember that being the moment when I realized the responsibility that comes with writing — a responsibility to write well and with conviction. To this day, I always begin writing with the aim that the result would be something he would want to read, and the best thing is, he always does.”

When I accompanied him to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, and he tried to give out copies of a paper analyzing anti-Soviet jokes, his colleagues were afraid to accept it.

Alison Dundes Renteln

Alison Dundes Renteln, professor of political science, anthropology, public policy and law, pays tribute to her late father, Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley.

“My father was a professor for more than 40 years. From him I learned the great joy of exploring libraries, conducting interdisciplinary research, and mentoring students. I also saw the benefits of belonging to a vibrant intellectual community.

“It is important, he often said, to pursue a career one enjoys. He certainly loved his work. A Freudian folklorist, he believed that the psychoanalytic approach, making the unconscious conscious, could enable us to change our ways.

“Some of the data my father analyzed was difficult, dangerous and unpleasant. But he was strongly opposed to censorship and considered no topic taboo. When I accompanied him to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, and he tried to give out copies of a paper analyzing anti-Soviet jokes, his colleagues were afraid to accept it. This experience sparked my interest in political freedom and human rights, topics on which I continue to focus.

“My father shared his research with influential people to try to contribute to social change. He corresponded, for example, with President Bill Clinton about military policy banning gays and lesbians. From my father, I learned the importance of identifying ethnocentric attitudes, so we can be more compassionate and accepting of people who come from diverse backgrounds. My own research on the legal protection of cultural traditions reflects a commitment to this value. Inspired by my father, I encourage students to reconsider their tacit assumptions, appreciate different points of view, and empower them to use their research to make the world a better place.”

My dad told me he loved me, but for him that love was not a just a feeling; it was a mission.

Robert Shrum

Robert Shrum, Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics and professor of the practice of political science, pays tribute to his father, Clarence Shrum.

“My parents were part of the great westward migration of the 1950s. They left behind a place where my father’s family had lived for nearly two centuries and brought my 6-year-old sister, Barbara, and me — I was 8 — to the better life of the new America that was California, with its booming growth and perpetual sunshine.

“But there was another reason for the move: No one in my father’s family had ever gone to college and he was determined that Barbara and I would. My mother taught me to read before kindergarten. My father worried that we wouldn’t have a chance to go to the best schools from a small coal town in Western Pennsylvania. So he drove us across the continent in his 1948 Chevy in search of education.

“He and my mom always found the money for the books I yearned to buy — and then for my tuition at Loyola High School. They put off buying a house until I graduated from Georgetown.

“My father — and the wife he adored — made it their life’s work to lift our lives. My dad told me he loved me, but for him that love was not a just a feeling; it was a mission. And he was quietly proud in his 90s of what his children had done — and though he never said it, what he had done for us.”

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A new use for platinum: Improving the quality of water


Going Platinum: A Non-Toxic Catalyst for Clean, Re-Usable Water

Story Headline and Deck – USC News *
Going Platinum: A Non-Toxic Catalyst for Clean, Re-Usable Water
Learn how USC researchers identified a new treatment for harmful chemicals in wastewater.

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Platinum has set a new “gold standard” in jewelry, and now it’s about to upscale the quality of your water.

As wastewater treatment for potable – drinkable – reuse becomes a more viable and popular option to address water shortages, the question of what harmful byproducts might form in treatment and how to address them looms large. One group of these chemicals, aldehydes, are known to stubbornly persist through treatment. Toxic to humans, aldehydes will be at the top of the list of regulated byproducts in forthcoming reuse regulations, USC researchers believe, and require sustainable methodology to be removed from our drinking water.

In research published in Environmental Science & Technology, USC Viterbi School of Engineering researchers introduce platinum to help clean even the most stubborn toxins from wastewater. Platinum, the same metal used in catalytic converters to clean up air pollutants in car exhaust, can serve as a catalyst, said Dan McCurry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, speeding up oxidation to transform once-toxic aldehydes into harmless carboxylic acids.

When wastewater is recycled, McCurry said, the resulting water is “very pure, but not 100 percent pure. There’s still a tiny amount of organic carbon detectable and these carbon atoms could be attached to molecules that are very toxic or completely innocent.” This has perplexed people for years, he said, particularly because the carbon is able to make it through so many treatment layers and barriers.

A study conducted by UC Berkeley researcher David Sedlak revealed that “one-third to one half” of these molecules are present in the form of aldehydes, McCurry said. Aldehydes are chemical compounds characterized by a carbon atom that shares a double bond with an oxygen atom, a single bond with a hydrogen atom, and a single bond with another atom or group of atoms. They are also generally toxic to humans, meaning that their long-term consumption could result in a variety of chronic and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer.

Catalytic oxidation of organic pollutants in water, without electrochemistry, addition of electron-accepting oxidant chemicals, or photochemistry, has not been sustainably demonstrated to date, McCurry said. Until now.
A Solution for an Upcoming Problem

McCurry recalled learning about oxidants used for synthesizing molecules in an organic chemistry course he took while he was a graduate student at Stanford University. “The TA was going through a list of oxidants used by synthetic chemists and platinum catalysts caught my eye. Not only is it one of the few oxidants that is non-toxic, but it can utilize the oxygen in water to catalyze a reaction abiotically (without the use of microbes).”

“It was really exciting to me,” McCurry said, “because it’s always been frustrating in water treatment that water is full of oxygen, but it doesn’t really do anything.”

There are about eight milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen in water, McCurry said. While it’s a potent oxidant from a thermodynamic perspective, McCurry said, the reaction is slow. With platinum, the process speeds up. For a while, McCurry and his team of researchers used platinum to oxidize different pharmaceuticals as a matter of experimentation.

“We knew we could oxidize certain things, but we didn’t have a clear application in mind for this catalyst,” McCurry said. Ultimately, their hope was to find an impactful application for their work. Eventually, after a year of experimenting, the idea came to him while riding his bike home from Stanford’s campus. “What if we could use platinum in water treatment to oxidize contaminants?” he said. “It would happen essentially for free, and because the oxygen is already in the water, it’s the closest you could get to a chemical-free oxidation.”

McCurry acknowledges that platinum is expensive, but also notes that the cost, like for a car’s catalytic converter, is relative. “Your car probably has between one and 10 grams of platinum in it. The amount isn’t trivial. If it’s cheap enough to put in a Honda Civic, it’s probably cheap enough to put in a water treatment plant,” McCurry said.

The breakthrough, McCurry said, is not as relevant for most existing water reuse plants, as many of them favor “indirect potable reuse.” This is where, after all the water treatment and recycling processes are complete, water is pumped back into the ground–so they are essentially creating new groundwater. “Once they are in the ground, it’s likely some microbe will eat the aldehydes and the water will be cleaned that way,” he said.

“But more and more people are talking about direct potable reuse,” he said, “where we are talking about a closed water loop where water goes from the wastewater treatment plant to the reuse plant and then either to a drinking water plant or directly into the distribution system into homes and businesses.”

In these cases, aldehydes could potentially reach consumers, McCurry said. While they are currently unregulated, McCurry suspects that the presence of aldehydes in recycled wastewater will soon attract regulatory attention. “This is the problem we didn’t realize we had a solution for, but now we know, this catalyst, which we had been using to oxidize random pharmaceuticals for fun, works great on oxidizing aldehydes–and would allow for direct potable reuse water to meet future regulatory guidelines and safety standards,” he said.

The team did a preliminary experiment using platinum in batch reactors on a few gallons of water. The experiments were successful, but McCurry says for this to catch on at a mass production level, additional research would need to be done regarding how long the catalyst remains active. The team is looking into how to potentially regenerate the catalyst, as well. McCurry says it will also be important to test the system with dirtier water, which can foul up the catalyst and make it less effective.

The process, for which the team has a patent pending, will look to be more sustainable than alternative methods which might require introduction of additional chemicals and energy, McCurry said.

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USC repeats as overall winner of Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge for basketball

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SALT LAKE CITY – Following its overall win of the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge for the 2021 football season, USC was again selected as the overall winner of the challenge for the 2021-22 basketball season, earning the Trojans a sweep of the 2021-22 campaign. The Trojans have now earned the overall recognition four times, also including the 2017 and 2016 football seasons. The announcement was made today (June 16) during a special awards ceremony at the 2022 Pac-12 Sustainability Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This latest award was achieved through USC’s Zero Waste campaign at the Trojans’ January 29 men’s basketball game against California. There, USC accomplished a 91.8% diversion rate with 662 pounds in recycling and 500 pounds in compost. In an effort to establish the Zero Waste game as part of the campus’ larger effort to prioritize sustainability, USC implemented a pregame awareness and engagement campaign for fans and provided waste disposal tips and instructions.

USC’s President, Dr. Carol Folt, recorded a promotional video to raise awareness for the Zero Waste game, advocating for support from the Trojan community and connecting the green efforts from the men’s basketball and football programs. Additionally, Facilities Planning Management partnered with the Office of Sustainability to hold a social media takeover to educate fans on proper waste disposal and reduction practices. Also at the event, USC partnered with the SC Garden Club and allowed students to man a gameday engagement table and provide education pertaining to the university’s larger sustainability goals.

USC’s Zero Waste Game also garnered the Trojans national honors as the winner of the National Wildlife Federation’s GameDay Basketball Diversion category in the 2022 Campus Race to Zero Waste Competition.

A core pillar of Pac-12 Team Green, the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge is held annually during both football and basketball seasons. Each university selects one home football and one home basketball game to compete and provide a platform for engaging on best practices in waste diversion. As part of the competition, each competing university submitted a scorecard detailing the efforts around its Zero Waste game. Criteria is weighted as such: 25 percent participation and partnerships, 25 percent innovation credit and 50 percent stadium diversion rate.

More information on the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge is available at Pac-12.com/green.

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