CELEBRATING EXCEPTIONAL WOMEN
Each year, the University of San Diego community celebrates women across campus who are creating positive change, dubbing a select group “women of impact.” The tradition continued in 2021, when a number of extraordinary women’s contributions during 2020 were celebrated.
We are sharing stories of several of these women, along with select others, who use their knowledge, expertise and humanity to truly make the world a better place.
USD’s Women’s Commons defines a women of impact as one who lives the principals of social justice. “Through her work, activities and relationships, she supports others in finding voice, developing skills for transformation and understanding who they are called to be. Her community is not merely a place in which she exists; it is a place she actively improves.”
Join us in celebrating these remarkable women.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
A lot has changed at the University of San Diego since Carmen Vazquez began her tenure at the helm of USD’s student affairs division in 2005.
The west end of campus — once a quaint collection of one- and two-story Spanish Renaissance-inspired buildings dating back to the school’s founding — is now home to the gloriously modern Shiley Center for Science and Technology, USD Learning Commons and the soon-to-be constructed Knauss Center for Business Education.
Alcalá Park mainstays like the Hahn University Center and Colachis Plaza have also undergone major facelifts to accommodate the ever-evolving needs of 21st century Toreros. Relatively recent campus improvements include the Student Life Pavilion, Bosley Cafe and Fitness Center and the Camino-Founders Resident Hall renovation. While Vazquez has played a significant role in those critical campus upgrades, she takes her greatest satisfaction from achievements that aren’t formed from steel, concrete or glass.
“Building relationships with students is one of the main reasons I got into education, and it remains my top priority,” she says. “I think it’s the human condition that ultimately matters; how we live, how we are, what we know, what we do, how we treat one another. Forming those critical connections with students not only informs my work but the work of our whole team.”
For the better part of 16 years, Vazquez — who resigned from her position as vice president of student affairs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year — has maintained that clarity of purpose in her work. “Being an educator challenges us to think critically and encourage the free exchange of ideas, and that’s something that really attracted me to USD,” she says. “In fact, being at USD represents to me the integration of everything that I hold greatest value of. And that is faith, family and hope.”
A native New Yorker, Vazquez spent the first 25 years of her professional life in the State of New York college system, specifically at Stony Brook University. There, she worked to transform the residential life student experience, and carried many of those formative experiences forward with her as she journeyed across the country to San Diego, where she had accepted an offer to become UCSD’s assistant vice chancellor of student life.
While Vazquez enjoyed her experience in the UC system, the chance to integrate her core religious beliefs and values into her work at a Catholic institution was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“When I was contemplating accepting the position at USD, I came to campus after the process, and, before I made a decision, I sat in The Immaculata,” she recalls. “Then I walked around into all of the chaplets, and the number of saints in the chaplets. At the end of making the rounds, and praying in each one, I said to myself, ‘All my friends when I get in trouble are here. How could I go wrong?’“
Now that a new chapter in life awaits, Vazquez is reflective about which experiences stand out most during her time at USD. “There’s almost too many to even count!” she says. Being able to meet His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2012 was an unforgettable moment. “Just to be in his presence, the feeling you get, is something I can’t really even begin to describe.”
Perhaps appropriately given her pending departure, Vazquez also loves the beginning — and ending — of the academic seasons. At the start of the fall semester, “there’s so much positive energy on campus, it’s just contagious!” She also treasures the joyous celebrations as students complete their last final of the spring semester and, in some cases prepare for graduation. “To see our students so happy, so connected to themselves and each other, to their families and their faith … it’s an experience I’ll always treasure.” — Mike Sauer
A LIFE’S WORK
Odesma Dalrymple, PhD, sees engineering as a catalyst for change. The associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering uses her passion for her field to create learning opportunities, community partnerships and hands-on experiences that foster awareness about important social justice issues. In late March 2021, Dalrymple was named a Woman of Influence in Engineering by the San Diego Business Journal.
As a woman of color in a male-dominated field, Dalrymple sees the award as an opportunity to legitimize the impact that different perspectives can have on engineering, as well as the ways in which those shifting perspectives can change how socio-conscious innovations become reality.
“I think it is important to demonstrate that someone who has my identities, someone who defines their engineering in the ways I define my engineering, that they are legitimate. I think that’s what these awards and recognitions do,” says Dalrymple. “It helps legitimize the things that are not seen as the dominant ways of doing things.”
It’s the recognition of these nondominant perspectives that drives her in her work as an educator and a community member. Instrumental in developing connections between the engineering field and the community, Dalrymple has created partnerships with external organizations like the San Diego Blind Community Center while fostering on-campus initiatives such as the Engineering Exchange for Social Justice. She’s motivated to ensure engineering is a diverse and inclusive field that represents all the communities it serves. For Dalrymple, this starts with bringing new voices to the profession.
“To the many whose identities are not well represented at the table in the engineering profession, you are needed. Your perspectives, your experiences, your assets are needed in order for us to truly be able to create just, eco-friendly, socio-friendly, sustainable solutions that really address the needs of all,” she says. “You need to be at the table. You need to be here taking up space. You need to be here bringing your brilliance, bringing your potential, bringing your passion.”
With a career focused on inspiring the next generation of engineering leaders, Dalrymple has found her life’s mission: a dedication to ensuring that everyone has access to a field that can change the world. — Allyson Meyer ’16 (BA), ’21 (MBA)
A FEARLESS ACCOMPLICE
Elisa Lurkis is an extraordinary woman. In her role as director of development and alumni relations for USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering (SMSE), she is well-connected, reaching beyond the USD campus into the San Diego community and across the globe — casting her sphere of influence far and wide.
“Elisa is a unique employee — especially in her role as development director,” says SMSE Dean Chell Roberts. “She came to us from Peace Studies with a genuine commitment to making the world a better place. Her passion extends far beyond the university and spills over into her weekends and evenings. She goes on marches. She brings in alumni who care about the Engineering Exchange for Social Justice.”
Lurkis works with students and partners with a passion steeped in social equity and justice. She embodies empowerment and serves as a role model to remind women, people of color and underrepresented communities that no dream is too big. No good deed too small.
“Elisa understands the value of supporting students in attending professional conferences where people within their field look like them — she knows how important it is for their development as engineers,” explains Rhonda Harley, who is the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) adviser and assistant director of career development for the School of Engineering.
When the NSBE USD chapter needed funding to send 20 students to their national conference, Lurkis stepped in and worked diligently on a partnership with her connections at SDG&E so that the firm would match the funds raised by the NSBE students.
“She spent countless hours coaching the NSBE president on how to write effective emails to solicit funding. She reached out to SMSE board members as well to assist with funding so we could raise as much as we could to be matched,” says Harley.
In all, the USD NSBE chapter raised $27,000.
This spring, Lurkis was named as one of USD’s 2020 Women of Impact award recipients. “This recognition speaks to Elisa’s roots, her inner strength, her passion to make things better and to change the world,” says Roberts. “This desire for social justice is what makes her so unique and genuine, and it’s not limited to engineering or to her job, it’s a holistic dedication to everything in her life.”
Harley, who nominated Lurkis for the award, reflects back on a conference she recently attended. “I learned about the importance of moving from an ally to an accomplice; where you stand on the front line of injustice and fight as hard as those who are directly impacted. Elisa centers fairness and equity unlike any other colleague I have worked with. She is an accomplice in every sense of the word.” — Michelle Sztupkay
A DETERMINED TRAILBLAZER
As a resolute problem solver, Maddie Orcutt ’21 (JD candidate) sees her career in the law profession as a way to build relationships. As the 2020 Women of Impact graduate student award recipient, Orcutt was honored to be nominated by colleagues in the USD School of Law. She’s quick to share the credit, noting her work is a team effort with contributions from many campus and community partners.
A third-year law student, Orcutt has held numerous leadership positions, including her role as the 2020 president of Pride Law and her involvement on the University Senate and Associated Students Government Joint Taskforce on Campus Climate: Hate Crimes, Acts of Intolerance, Bullying and Harassment.
Orcutt currently serves as the co-chair of the Name and Gender-Marker Change Clinic. The clinic, which was founded in 2018 by Robert Gleason ’98 (JD) and Ashley Fasano ’18 (JD), was developed to assist transgender and nonbinary individuals with name and gender-marker changes through the San Diego County court system. Orcutt credits the “strong legacy of leadership at the clinic” for establishing it as the supportive community it has become.
“I inherited this beautiful project,” says Orcutt. “It means so much to me. It is my journey in making change at USD.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic operated through in-person events. With the transition to a remote environment, Orcutt was tasked with moving a primarily pen and paper operation online.
The clinic suspended operations for the spring 2020 semester due to the pandemic, but Orcutt worked diligently with her team to ensure it was up and running by the next school year. “The clinic was going to continue even in the face of the pandemic,” says Orcutt.
Adapting training materials and growing her team to assist with the ever-changing environment, Orcutt worked to ensure a virtual clinic still provided clinic participants with a relational experience, one reflective of its mission.
For Orcutt, this experience has reinforced her commitment to a career in the law profession. “Law is a very relational practice, and sometimes we forget that,” she says. “I’m lucky to have learned the practice of law as the practice of human relationships. It’s life-giving.”
As this woman of impact looks ahead to new opportunities, it’s clear a commitment to social justice and community relationships will continue to drive her work.
“I’m using my career to make a difference, one way or another.” — Allyson Meyer ’16 (BA), ’21 (MBA)
HEART ON HER SLEEVE
A proud alumna, current student and staff member, Gabriella Rangrej ’18 (BA), ’21 (MA) is a committed Torero. Rangrej, who serves as the learning communities coordinator, was honored this spring as the USD 2020 Women of Impact staff award recipient.
Surprised and humbled by the award, Rangrej was touched by the nomination, describing it as a “life-giving” experience. “For me, it is a moment of cheerleading and celebrating that keeps me going. To be in community with such great women really felt special,” she says.
At the start of the pandemic, Rangrej was part of the team that transitioned the Scholastic Assistant Program to a completely virtual format. The program, which connects Scholastic Assistant student leaders with first-year students, is an essential part of a student’s academic and social transition to USD. However, with no roadmap for what a virtual program should look like, Rangrej praises her colleagues for their collaborative efforts to ensure the program continued. She sees this transition as an opportunity to incorporate innovative ideas that help the program better serve student constituents.
One opportunity in particular has been Rangrej’s work to develop antiracism training for the students. “Beyond how much Gaby has accomplished, what stands out to me is the care and integrity with which she’s done it,” wrote her colleague in the award nomination. “Gaby is a passionate voice for change and seeks to integrate social justice into what we do and how we do it as a division of
With a go-to attitude and a lot of energy, Rangrej sees her involvement as a way to give back to USD. “I love being able to give back to the community that shaped me into the person and woman I am today.”
Coming to the university as a first-generation college student and staying on as a staff member after graduation, Rangrej has found her home. In addition to her role as a staff member, she is also a part-time student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences Higher Education Leadership program. Through this program she will receive a certificate in restorative justice facilitation and leadership and is currently pursuing her Action Research project, focused on understanding whiteness and anti-racist attitudes in student leaders.
In all she does, Rangrej is motivated by a desire to learn, grow and ultimately create change in her community.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” she says. “I put my all into everything I do.” — Allyson Meyer ’16 (BA), ’21 (MBA)
AN AFFECTION FOR CONNECTION
The journey is what excites Jillian Tullis, PhD. An associate professor of communication studies at USD, Tullis was honored in February as the 2020 Women of Impact faculty award recipient. While she’s thankful for the recognition, she says it’s the intrinsic rewards, rather than the extrinsic ones that motivate her.
Born and raised in California, Tullis has been a USD faculty member since 2015, teaching topics on health communication, and, more specifically, fostering class conversations about communication in end of life and health care settings.
She sees connecting with students in these courses as a highlight of her career. “They have a willingness to go along for the journey,” says Tullis, who uses hands-on and experiential opportunities to engage students in meaningful discussions and active learning. In this work, Tullis has established herself as an educator who expands traditional teaching into realms of new thinking and understanding. Last fall, Tullis along with May Fu, PhD, chair and associate professor of ethnic studies, launched the course Black Lives Matter: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.
The course, which brought together faculty thought leaders from numerous disciplines, sought to explore issues of systemic racism and the historical practices and policies that have perpetuated inequities today.
“This speaks to the spirit of why I came to USD. Classes like this are different from the traditional ones,” she says. “We can take the time to sit and explore these issues. What does it mean to say ‘Black lives matter’? How does it look in our world?”
Tullis’ work to create change extends to her relationships with colleagues, who see her as a mentor and leader. “She is the embodiment of social justice at the University of San Diego, within the college and beyond,” wrote her colleagues in the award nomination. “This year, Jillian co-organized and developed the Black Lives Matter course while serving as the most senior Black faculty member coordinating Black faculty concerns and transformation work. She constantly,
endlessly gives. She doesn’t make it about her, she always wants to make the space a little more breathable for the rest of us.”
For Tullis, mentorship and leadership positions have arisen organically and have created rewarding opportunities to advance the work being done on campus. “If people are looking for advice, [I’m] happy to step into that role,” she says. — Allyson Meyer ’16 (BA), ’21 (MBA)