This International Women's Day, we are lifting up the achievements of 35 phenomenal UC Santa Cruz women. From astronomers and astronauts to activists, journalists, judges, and so much more, these women are trailblazers, and many have been "firsts" in their fields. For us, these women exemplify the words immortalized by the poet Maya Angelou: "I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me."
College Nine '13, physics; M.S. '13, physics; Ph.D. '19, astronomy and astrophysics
Green Party leadership candidate, nonprofit founder
Amita Kuttner ran as a Green Party candidate for a seat in Canada's House of Commons in order to help make environmental policy. Kuttner (who uses the pronoun "they") was not elected, but they became the Green Party of Canada Critic for Science and Innovation Policy. They are now running to be the next leader of the Green Party of Canada, and also recently founded a nonprofit, moonlight institute, with the mission of nurturing a sustainable framework for an equitable and just future.
Ph.D. ’99, international economics
First woman to sit on the governing board of Swiss National Bank
Andréa Maechler became the first woman to sit on the three-member governing board of Swiss National Bank, where she contributes to monetary policy decisions, shapes the bank’s investment strategy, and works to ensure global monetary cooperation. Before that, she was deputy chief of global market analysis and a senior economist for the International Monetary Fund.
Professor emerita of history of consciousness
Angela Davis is a political activist, author, and UC Santa Cruz professor emerita of history of consciousness who is known for her work combating oppression and fighting for prison abolition. An activist since high school, Davis first came to national attention in 1969 when she was removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA because of her activism and membership in the Communist Party. In 1970, while pressing for the rights of black prisoners, she was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and later arrested in connection with a botched escape attempt at a Marin County courthouse. A jury acquitted her of all charges in 1972. UC Santa Cruz hired Davis to teach in 1991. She is not only a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison system, but also has authored nine books including Angela Davis: An Autobiography; Women, Race, and Class; and The Angela Y. Davis Reader: Are Prisons Obsolete? In 1980 and 1984, she ran unsuccessfully for U.S. vice president on the Communist Party ticket.
Ashley Nicole Black
Porter ’07, theater arts
Emmy-winning writer, comedian, actress
Ashley Nicole Black is an Emmy-winning writer, comedian, and actress. She won a 2017 Emmy for outstanding writing for a variety special as senior writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and is now an actress and writer for HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show.
B. Ruby Rich
Professor of film and digital media; award-winning film critic and journalist
B. Ruby Rich is an award-winning film critic, journalist, and professor of film and digital media at UC Santa Cruz, specializing in the Social Documentation graduate program. She has written two books, 2013’s New Queer Cinema: The Director's Cut, and 1998’s Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement, and is a contributing editor of Film Quarterly, the oldest film journal in the U.S.
Ph.D. ’83, literature
Author, intellectual, activist, cultural critic
bell hooks is an internationally recognized author, intellectual, activist, and cultural critic who has addressed head-on issues of race, social class, and gender. She has published more than 30 books, including Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, and is the founder of the bell hooks Institute at Berea College in Kentucky, where she is a Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies.
Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; 2018 HHMI investigator
Beth Shapiro's research in the field of ancient DNA is providing valuable insights into how animals and ecosystems responded to rapid global warming at the end of the last ice age. She isolated the oldest DNA yet recovered—from a 700,000-year-old horse bone—and is the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant and a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant.
Ph.D. ’83, history of consciousness
Distinguished professor of feminist studies
Bettina Aptheker is a distinguished professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz who has taught one of the country’s most influential introductory feminist studies courses for three decades. Awarded an Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001, she is the author of the 2006 memoir, How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech and Became a Feminist Rebel.
Rachel Carson College, psychology
Co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March
Carmen Perez was a galvanizing force behind the 2017 Women’s March, one of the largest, best-publicized, and impactful demonstrations in history, drawing millions of participants across the globe. She served as national co-chair of the march, and was also a co-organizer of "A Day Without a Woman," a strike action on International Women's Day in 2017.
Oakes ’74, biology
Cheryl Scott is an award-winning epidemiologist who has had a 40-year public-health career that included helping Tanzania improve its response to HIV/AIDS from 2001–2005 as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in that country. She also worked to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in California and recently joined the Dean’s Advisory Board at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
Merrill '81, politics
Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter
As an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, Dana Priest has shined a light into the world’s darkest corners and, as a result, won two Pulitzer Prizes. In 2006, she was awarded a Pulitzer for beat reporting for her stories on the existence of a covert prison network set up by the CIA to hide and interrogate al Qaeda captives. In 2008, she reported on the dysfunctional system that resulted in the mistreatment of wounded outpatient veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, earning her a Pulitzer for public service. She has written two books, including as coauthor of the 2011 bestseller Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, which details a shadowy and unwieldy world created by the government after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that was designed to keep the U.S. safe but, the book reports, may be putting the country in greater danger. The winner of a 2001 MacArthur "genius" grant, she is also a journalism professor at the University of Maryland.
Cowell ’68, sociology
Chef, culinary instructor, best-selling cookbook author
Deborah Madison is a chef, culinary instructor, and best-selling cookbook author known for bringing seasonal, vegetarian cooking to a mainstream audience. In 1979, she was founding chef of Greens Restaurant, one of the earliest Bay Area restaurants with a farm-to-table menu, and now has 14 cookbooks to her name. In 2016 she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame.
Crown ’94, biochemistry and molecular biology
Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology; 2018 HHMI investigator
Gia Voeltz is a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Colorado University Boulder whose research is not only upending the way scientists think about our cells but also has implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s. She was the winner of a prestigious $8 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant.
First female dean in the University of California system
Helene Moglen was a professor emerita of literature and women’s studies at UC Santa Cruz who came to the campus in 1978 as dean of the Humanities Department. The late feminist literary scholar and author was the first woman dean in the University of California system.
Irma Eréndira Sandoval
Ph.D. '03, politics
A leader in Mexico’s fight against corruption
Irma Eréndira Sandoval is part of Mexico’s fight against corruption. In 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appointed Sandoval, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Corruption at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to the cabinet post of secretary of public administration. She now leads the ministry that is the government watchdog for public servants and government procurement processes. In May 2019, she announced plans to enlist citizens in the fight against corruption and bribery by strengthening protections for whistleblowers and developing technology so citizens have easier access to public information. A month later, her department also said it planned to form citizen-led “Honesty Councils” to oversee big infrastructure projects, according to a 2019 report from the human-rights advocacy group, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She is a former fellow at the Sorbonne and the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.
Professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology; UC Santa Cruz's first female faculty member in the natural sciences
Jean Langenheim is professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz who was the campus’s first female faculty member in the natural sciences. She broke down walls for women in science, traveled five continents doing field research—surviving a forced landing in the Amazon and an encounter with guerrillas in Colombia—and refused to be hemmed in by the traditional disciplinary boundaries of botany, geology, and chemistry.
Crown ’74, biology; M.A. ’78
Philanthropist, ocean conservationist, founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Julie Packard is a philanthropist, ocean conservationist, and executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which she helped found in the late 1970s. Under her direction, the Aquarium has launched state-of-the-art exhibits and established its innovative Seafood Watch program, a sustainability rating system that lets consumers know which seafood choices are best for the environment. She is also chair of the board of directors for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a leader in ocean research.
Stevenson ’01, literature (creative writing)
Bestselling author, educator, activist
Kate Schatz is the bestselling author of Rad Women Worldwide and Rad Women A–Z, featuring inspired stories of perseverance and radical success. An educator and activist, Schatz is the former chair of the School of Literary Arts at Oakland School for the Arts, where she taught fiction, poetry, and journalism.
Cowell ’73, Earth sciences
First American woman to walk in space
Kathryn Sullivan’s passion for exploration and discovery has taken her to the depths of the sea as an oceanographer and to the heights of the sky as the first American woman to walk in space on Oct. 11, 1984. In 1990, she was part of the Space Shuttle team that launched the Hubble Space telescope after spending five years co-leading efforts to make sure the powerful telescope was repairable by astronauts in space instead of having to haul it back to Earth for fixes. She later wrote a book about the mission titled, Handprints on Hubble. Appointed administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014, she led work to provide better weather and climate forecasts by coordinating data from space, land, and sea and, in 2017, was named a Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
Merrill '86, sociology and psychology
Marriage equality pioneer
Kris Perry is a same-sex marriage pioneer who hopes that when history tells her story it will also include how she made a difference for children across the country. In 2009, Perry was the named plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged, and eventually overturned, Proposition 8, a 2008 California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. The decision not only opened the door for same-sex unions in the state but also was part of a groundswell that led to a 2015 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. A former child-abuse investigator, Perry was executive director of First 5 California and later of the national First Five Years Fund, and is now deputy secretary for early childhood development of the California Health and Human Services Agency and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s senior advisor for early childhood development projects. Along with her wife, Sandy Stier, she is author of the memoir, Love on Trial: Our Supreme Court Fight for the Right to Marry.
First female chancellor of UC Santa Cruz
M.R.C. Greenwood was the seventh chancellor at UC Santa Cruz and the first woman to hold the post. During her 13-year tenure, Greenwood, an expert in genetics and nutrition and a leader in education policy, hired 250 new faculty members, increased the number of academic programs from 63 to 96, and created the campus’s first professional school, the Baskin School of Engineering.
Rachel Carson, ’97, history
Executive vice president of The Silicon Valley Organization; first Vietnamese American to be elected to the San Jose City Council
Madison Nguyen is a former San Jose City councilmember and vice-mayor who is now executive vice president of The Silicon Valley Organization, which serves as the region’s chamber of commerce, representing more than 1,400 businesses and 300,000 employees. As a 4-year-old child in 1979, she and her family escaped Vietnam in a fishing boat and then lived in a number of refugee camps in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States, where she worked beside her family in the fields of the Central Valley. She was the first Vietnamese American to be elected to the San Jose City Council.
Former professor, Earth and planetary sciences; president of the National Academy of Sciences; first female director of the United States Geological Survey
Marcia McNutt is president of the National Academy of Sciences and holds a visiting appointment at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She previously served as editor-in-chief of Science, was the 15th director of the United States Geological Survey (and first woman to hold the post), and was science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Before working for USGS, McNutt was president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, professor of marine geophysics at Stanford University, and professor of marine geophysics at UC Santa Cruz.
Ph.D. ’97, astronomy and astrophysics
Yale University astronomy professor
Marla Geha is a professor at Yale University who uses the world’s largest telescopes to study the origin and evolution of the universe’s smallest galaxies. She was named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” young scientists in 2009, was a Guggenheim Fellow, and is on the board of the Warrior-Scholar Project, which provides free, two-week intensive college-prep boot camps for returning U.S. military veterans.
Kresge ’88, independent major, journalism and education
Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter
From exposing the use of slave labor in the seafood industry to uncovering the massacre of hundreds of civilians by U.S. soldiers during the Korean War, Associated Press reporter Martha Mendoza has made her mark in the world of investigative journalism. In 2016, Mendoza was part of an Associated Press team that traced slave-produced seafood from Asia to U.S. supermarkets, restaurants, and food suppliers. Not only did Mendoza win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for public service along with more than a dozen other awards for her work, but also her stories resulted in the freeing of more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as Congressional hearings and new legislation. She also won a 2000 Pulitzer for investigative reporting for her work on the once-hidden massacre by U.S. soldiers of hundreds of South Korean civilian refugees at No Gun Ri Bridge during the early years of the Korean War. She coauthored a 2001 book on the topic, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, was a Stanford Knight Fellow and a Princeton Ferris Visiting Professor, and, since 2004, has been a visiting lecturer in the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program.
Porter ’95, art
Actress; top female comedian
Maya Rudolph is an actress and one of the country’s top female comedians. Nominated for two Primetime Emmys, she was a longtime cast member on Saturday Night Live and starred in the now-classic 2011 comedy, Bridesmaids, along with scores of other films and TV shows.
Merrill ’89, community studies
President of Brooklyn College; leading scholar on rape law
Michelle Anderson is the 10th president of Brooklyn College and a leading scholar on rape law. She earned top rankings as a professor at Villanova University School of Law; has been a visiting professor at Yale Law School, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and Georgetown University Law Center; and served as dean at CUNY School of Law. She has been called "one of the legal academy's most perceptive and prolific legal scholars in the area" of sexual assault.
Ph.D. '97, astronomy and astrophysics
Professor of astronomy and astrophysics; among 2017 Time magazine list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World
You might call Natalie Batalha the Marco Polo of the universe. As the science lead for NASA’s Kepler Mission, Batalha helped discover approximately 4,000 new planets, two to three dozen of which may turn out to be capable of supporting life. In 2015, she also joined the leadership team of a new NASA initiative to bring together people from multiple disciplines to search for evidence of life beyond the solar system. Part philosopher, part scientist, her accomplishments led Time magazine in 2017 to include Batalha on a list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Now, Batalha has returned to UC Santa Cruz, where she got her Ph.D. Teaching and continuing her hunt for exoplanets, she also heads an astrobiology institute that brings together biologists, astronomers, bioinformaticians, anthropologists, artists, and communicators not only to look for evidence of life on other planets but also to explore what that reality might mean for humans.
Merrill ’74, chemistry
Harvard Medical School professor; pioneer in the fields of systems biology, synthetic biology, and bioengineering
Pamela Silver is a Harvard Medical School professor and a pioneer in the fields of systems biology, synthetic biology, and bioengineering. Among her most recent innovations are bacteria that can sense and respond to gut inflammation and the Bionic Leaf, which can convert solar energy into fuel as efficiently as natural plants.
M.A. '94, biology
Pamela Omidyar is a philanthropist and ocean lover who cofounded the Omidyar Group, a diverse collection of companies, organizations, and initiatives sharing a commitment to catalyzing social impact. Omidyar Network, part of the Omidyar Group, is a philanthropic investment firm, funding both for-profit and nonprofit groups to change lives around the world.
Kresge '99, creative writing, film and video
Reyna Grande is the bestselling author of 2012's The Distance Between Us, the story of her life before and after she arrived in the United States from Mexico as an undocumented child immigrant. She released a sequel in 2018. Grande has received many honors for her work, including an American Book Award and the El Premio Aztlán Literary Award.
Professor emerita of astronomy and astrophysics; National Medal of Science recipient; Gruber Prize winner
UC Santa Cruz professor emerita of astronomy and astrophysics Sandra Faber has helped transform the way we look at galaxies. In 1985, Faber, along with with Joel Primack and George Blumenthal, both from UC Santa Cruz, and Britain’s Astronomer Royal Martin Reese, produced a comprehensive theory of how cold dark matter was part of galaxy formation and evolution, a theory that still underpins today’s models of galaxy creation. Among her many discoveries, Faber also uncovered a relation between the brightness of galaxies and the speed of the stars within them, and found that a supermassive black hole resides at the center of every large galaxy. She aided in construction of the 10-meter Keck Telescope in Hawaii, helped engineers diagnose and fix what was causing focusing problems on the already orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, and later led an extensive Hubble Space Telescope survey of galaxies from the universe’s infancy. She has won the National Medal of Science and the Gruber Prize, among other awards.
Ph.D. ’03, physical chemistry
Big-wave surfer and scientist; first woman to surf Mavericks
Sarah Gerhardt is a legendary big-wave surfer and a scientist. In 1999, she became the first woman to ride Mavericks, an iconic surf spot with waves that can reach 60–100 feet in height. Since 2005, she has taught chemistry at Cabrillo College in Aptos.
M.A. '93, applied economics
CEO of YouTube
Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Susan Wojcicki No. 12 on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful women, ahead of even Oprah Winfrey. As CEO of YouTube, Wojcicki has made a name for herself, not only as the head of a powerful platform but also as a savvy visionary. After getting her master’s degree at UC Santa Cruz, she got a job with Intel but soon saw the potential in the work of a couple of Stanford computer science students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who had developed a new search engine called Google in her rented garage. In 1999, she became Google’s first marketing manager and its 16th employee. By 2006, she pushed for Google to buy a video-sharing platform named YouTube for $1.6 billion, beating out several competitors including Microsoft and Viacom. Eight years later, she took YouTube’s helm. Today, the site is worth an estimated $90 billion and counts 2 billion monthly active users.
Stevenson '77, legal studies
First African American woman appointed to the Superior Court of San Francisco County; first African American woman appointed to the state’s First District Court of Appeal
For almost two decades, Teri Jackson has been breaking barriers and setting precedents. In 2002, she became the first African American woman appointed to the Superior Court of San Francisco County and is the first female African American appointed to the state’s First District Court of Appeal. An adjunct professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, Jackson worked as a prosecutor for 14 years, at one point serving as managing attorney for homicide, domestic violence, and misdemeanor trials for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. In 2008, she was appointed to a special Criminal Backlog Reduction Task Force in Riverside County, which resolved more than 1,000 stalled criminal cases in one year. Among her awards is the 2008 Madam C. J. Walker Pioneer Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.