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Cal Alumnae Who Change the World

March 30, 2021

From trans activism to defending NBA players’ rights and empowering women and girls to pursue STEM, Cal alumnae of all ages and generations have significant achievements that span throughout their lives and their professions. The women recognized in this list have pushed to reach the top, inspiring others to better the world around them.

Associated Press/Used with permission from California magazine |

Frances Arnold Ph.D. ’85

Chemical engineer and Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold Ph.D. ’85 pioneered the technique known in the biological world as directed evolution, which she began studying in the late 1980s, fresh out of graduate school at UC Berkeley. Her work on the directed evolution of enzymes earned her the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018. She is the fifth woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Read the full story on Arnold’s background in California magazine.

Courtesy of Maria Echaveste

Maria Echaveste J.D. ’80

Berkeley Law grad Maria Echaveste J.D. ’80 served the White House for many years throughout her career. After serving as Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor from 1993 to 1997, Echaveste served as Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to former president Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001. During that time, she focused on issues relating to immigration, civil rights, education, finance, Mexico, and Latin America. Former secretary Hillary Clinton then appointed Echaveste as a special representative to Bolivia in 2009, and she subsequently joined the board of the US-Mexico Foundation to help develop its Mexican-American Leadership Initiative in 2010. She is currently the president and CEO of the Opportunity Institute, an organization that aims to “increase social and economic mobility and advance racial equity through partnership and collaboration with those seeking to promote systems change.” From the archive: Echaveste in conversation on the 2016 presidential election’s ‘surreal politics.’

Courtesy of Candice Elder

Candice Elder ’06

Born and raised in Oakland, Cal alum Candice Elder ’06 has a background in law and philanthropy and uses it to serve her community every day. Elder is the founder and executive director of The East Oakland Collective, a nonprofit organization that addresses and focuses its efforts on racial and economic equity in East Oakland. She was appointed by the mayor of Oakland in November of last year to a new advisory commission on homelessness as the city’s crisis escalates. Read more of Elder’s story.

Courtesy of Holly J. Fujie

Holly J. Fujie ’75, J.D. ’78

In 2008, the Honorable Holly. J. Fujie ’75, J.D. ’78 became the third woman and first Asian American to serve as the President of the State Bar of California. While at Berkeley Law, Fujie served as the editor of the California Law Review. In her years since graduating, Fujie was chosen to serve on the Judicial Advisory Committee as an advisor on the nominations of U.S. District Court Judges and U.S. Attorneys, practiced corporate civil litigation, and was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court in California.

Illustration by Patrick Welsh for California magazine, “From Both Sides of the Aisle, These Women Make Their Ideas Heard”

Michelle Goldberg M.J. ’98

In 2017, Michelle Goldberg M.J. ’98 became an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. A year later, she was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. She is a frequent commentator on radio and television, and has reported from countries including India, Iraq, Egypt, Uganda, Nicaragua and Argentina. She has authored three books, the first of which was a finalist for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the second won the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize and the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award. Learn more about Goldberg in California magazine.

Courtesy of Donna Hitchens

Donna Hitchens M.A., J.D. ’77

After graduating from Berkeley Law, Donna Hitchens M.A., J.D. ’77 started the Lesbian Rights Project, which provided legal assistance to low-income lesbians facing discrimination or legal issues over their sexual orientation and was the first public-interest law firm in the country to focus solely on the legal issues lesbian women faced. Hitchens went on to become the first openly lesbian judge elected to the bench in the United States and spent 20 years of her career on the California Superior Court bench transforming the justice system for low-income individuals, those lost in the legal system, and marginalized groups. Learn more about Hitchens’ road from Berkeley Law to California Superior Court.

Lanikque Howard ’12, M.S.W., Ph.D.

Lanikque Howard ’12, M.S.W., Ph.D. recently joined the Biden Administration as director of the Office of Community Services (OCS) and the senior advisor on asset building at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The OCS works to reduce the causes of poverty, increase opportunity and economic security of individuals and families, and revitalize communities. In her new role, Howard provides leadership and oversight of over $6 billion in mandatory and discretionary grants through six social service and community development programs. Previously, Howard worked for the Obama administration in the Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary, supporting the development and implementation of ACF policy.

Courtesy of Nina Ichikawa

Nina Ichikawa ’00

Nina Ichikawa ’00 is an agriculture activist, the executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, and part of the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley. As a transfer student and interdisciplinary studies major, Ichikawa worked with REACH! (Asian and Pacific Islander Recruitment and Retention Center) to recruit underrepresented students to Cal and promote diversity on campus. In working to raise awareness of the food system, she seeks to democratize it. Under the Obama administration, she worked on the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, an initiative that rebuilds local and regional systems. Learn more about Ichikawa’s work.

Illustration by Patrick Welsh for California magazine, “From Both Sides of the Aisle, These Women Make Their Ideas Heard”

Jerelle Kraus M.A. ’69

Jerelle Kraus M.A. ’69 is the former art director for the New York Times op-ed section and an award-winning author. Her book, published 2009, “All the Art That’s Fit to Print,” is the only book on the story of op-ed, a phenomenon that didn’t begin at the Times until 1970. Fluent in four languages, Kraus attended Swarthmore College and l’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, earned her M.A. from Cal, and was a Fulbright scholar in Munich. Her 30-year tenure at the New York Times includes a record 13 years at Op-Ed. Learn more about Goldberg in California magazine.

Courtesy of Emily Pilloton

Emily Pilloton ’03

Emily Pilloton ’03 has changed communities through her construction projects and creative approach to educating youth. Her work includes building tiny homes for homeless people and shipping container classrooms with high school students; a school library designed by eighth-grade students; and a playhouse with the daughters of abused women. Pilloton is a lecturer in the College of Environmental Design at Cal. In 2013, she founded Girls Garage, a nonprofit based in Berkeley that provides a supportive space for girls between the ages of 9 and 18 to pursue their interests in building. Her book, released in 2020, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See, contains more than 175 illustrated tool guides, 11 do-it-yourself building projects, and 15 stories from female builders—all to make the world of STEM more accessible to girls. Learn more about Pilloton’s work to make STEM more accessible.

Courtesy of Michele Roberts

Michele Roberts J.D. ’80

In 2014, Michele Roberts J.D. ’80 became the first woman to serve as the executive director of the National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA), the union for current professional basketball players in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Seven years later, Roberts continues to work on behalf of the players to protect their rights and ensure fair compensation, as well as empowering them to embrace the power of their voice in pursuit of social consciousness. Recently, Roberts worked with NBA stars to get the league to paint “Black Lives Matter” on every court, pushed for the printing of supportive social justice messages on jerseys, and created a fund that promotes economic growth in Black communities. Prior to her impactful work for the NBPA, Roberts—a Berkeley Law grad—began her career as a public defender in Washington DC and spent years working as a distinguished trial lawyer.

Courtesy of Kate Scott

Kate Scott ’05

Cal alumna and sports broadcaster Kate Scott ’05 is the first woman to have called both an NFL game on the radio and football for the Pac-12 Networks. Scott is also the NFL’s first female play-by-play announcer. Before joining the Pac-12 Networks, Scott spent six years as the first full-time female voice on KNBR 680-AM—the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, and the Golden State Warriors flagship radio station. Read Scott’s words of wisdom about trailblazing.

Susan Stryker speaks at Trans March San Francisco 2017 by Pax Ahimsa Gethen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 |

Susan Stryker Ph.D. ’92

Susan Stryker Ph.D. ’92 earned her bachelor’s degree in letters from the University of Oklahoma in 1983 before receiving her doctorate in history from UC Berkeley. In less than a decade, however, Stryker’s graduation from Cal would quickly become the first of many awards, honors, and recognitions she garnered in her career as a professor, author, filmmaker, and activist in the trans community. In the LGBTQ+ community, Stryker has been recognized with the Transgender Law Center’s Community Vanguard Award and the Monette-Horowitz Prize for LGBTQ activism, among other honors for her academic work in LGBTQ studies. At the University of Arizona, Stryker was Professor Emerita of Gender and Women’s Studies, served as the director of the Institute for LGBT Studies, and helped found the university’s Transgender Studies Initiative and faculty cluster hire. She is now the Barbara Lee Distinguished Professor at Mills College in Oakland, California. Throughout her career, Stryker has always sought to use her experience and education to lend power to the trans community, be a good ally, and share how others may do the same. Learn more about Stryker’s advocacy work.