President Napolitano Honors the 2017 Remarkable Women of UC

2017 Remarkable Women at reception with President Napolitano. All photos of the 2017 Remarkable Women of UC reception taken by Robert Durell.

*Editor’s Note: Six UC San Diego alumni were honored at the 2017 Remarkable Women reception. Their names are listed below:

Dr. Gail Knight ‘81, MA ‘85

Ann-Lee Karlon MA ’93, PhD ‘96

Shirley Wang ’07

 Milana Vayntrub ’08

Tanya Menendez ’09

Ashley Van Zeeland ’12

Since 1871, when the Regents decreed that women should be admitted to UC on an equal basis with men, countless women have used their UC education as a springboard to leadership and award-winning achievement in every field, from science to government to sports.

To highlight those contributions, the President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (PACSW) has launched a “Remarkable Women of UC” series, beginning with a group of UC alumnae. Starting from nominations by the campus alumni associations, PACSW chose 13 women who represent a broad spectrum of disciplines, ages and ethnicities, with an additional 18 women given honorable mentions.

Christine Simmons and Milana Vayntrub. All photos of the 2017 Remarkable Women of UC reception taken by Robert Durell.

As President Napolitano observed at a reception in their honor on April 12, “UC has produced so many forward-thinking, trailblazing women that it was hard to pick just 13.” Noting the diversity of the group, she said “they all have one thing in common – they represent the very best of what UC has to offer, and they serve as role models for other women.”

“I’m just humbled to be part of this group,” said Christine Simmons, who graduated from UCLA and is now president of the Los Angeles Sparks women’s basketball team. Simmons noted that two other “Remarkable Women,” Jaime Nack and Laurie Garrett, are her fellow UCLA alumni board members, and then mentioned that Nack donates her speaking fees to UCLA. Simmons said she appreciates that “UC is in the business of empowering young women, including in non-stereotypical roles” like her own. “We show them that these career options are possible. The UC system stands for opportunity.”

Ann-Lee Karlon and Gail Knight. All photos of the 2017 Remarkable Women of UC reception taken by Robert Durell.

A millennial Remarkable Woman, Janna Rodriguez, echoed that sentiment. Calling UC “a gateway for opportunity,” she said, “Coming from a small town, that opportunity to participate opened doors for me, enabling me to see things I would not have been exposed to.” She credited the personal attention of the “fabulous” staff and faculty of UC Merced for enabling her to work on things she’s passionate about, including creating a sensor used in pneumonia prevention kits. She gave special credit to two engineering professors, Christopher Viney and Michael Modest, saying they encouraged her to believe in herself and to bring her ideas from the lab into reality. “I didn’t feel any barriers being a woman at UC – there were open doors at all times.”

Opportunities for women were also on the mind of Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who is the first Filipina-American to serve as California’s chief justice. She found the recognition she was receiving from UC “deeply moving and hard to believe,” and said she felt “proud of all the other women” and “inspired by what they are doing, applying their talents to help the world.” Like the other honorees, she felt that “we get strength from seeing each other in action,” and then added, “I will tell my daughters about this tonight.”

All photos of the 2017 Remarkable Women of UC reception taken by Robert Durell.

After the ceremony, Gail Knight was also “contemplating what it means for the younger generation to see women like this.” As the first African-American woman to be named chief of staff and clinical director of neonatology at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she is currently chief medical officer, children often come up to ask her if she’s real after seeing her official portrait. “It’s easy to forget what you represent and that it makes a difference,” Knight said. “But if I walk into this event and I’m inspired, I have to think about what this means to other, younger women.” Her parents had always told her that “you can do anything.” That was wonderful, “but how do you know what you want if you don’t see it?” She said that when she treats babies in the NICU, she always thinks, “What if this person is the one who does it – who cures cancer or brings world peace? You never know how many lives you touch.”

One thing is certain: Remarkable women of UC – both those honored this year and countless more – have already touched a great many lives and will continue to do so in the future.

Read more about 2017’s Remarkable Women of UC.

This year’s 13 honorees:

  • Hon. Tani Cantil-Sakauye*
  • Christine Simmons*
  • Janna Rodriguez*
  • Dr. Gail Knight*
  • Ann-Lee Karlon*
  • Carol Greider
  • Jaime Nack
  • Laurie Garrett
  • Marigold Linton
  • Minh Dang
  • Sue Desmond-Hellmann
  • Ann Wang and Jessica Willison

Honorable mentions:

  • Shirley Wang*
  • Tanya Menendez*
  • Milana Vayntrub*
  • Jonna Mazet*
  • Susan Gabler
  • Julie Packard
  • Maricela Rangel-Garcia
  • Shavone Charles
  • Kim Baldonado
  • Hon. Monica F. Wiley
  • Delaine Eastin
  • Ashley Van Zeeland
  • Jamie Chung
  • Tina Nova
  • Senator Jean G. Fuller
  • Susan Wojcicki
  • Rear Admiral Pamela Schweitzer
  • Dr. Sandra Hernandez

* In attendance at April 12 reception.

Thanks to Brandi Schmitt and all the other members of PACSW for their work on the Remarkable Women of UC project and event, and to John Valva, executive director of Alumni and Constituent Affairs, for his support of the reception.

This story was originally published on Link University of California.