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Exceptional Alumni

USC Dornsife alumni are honored at the USC Alumni Awards gala, celebrating its 80th year.

USC Alumni Award Recipients (from left to right): Mark Ridley-Thomas '89, Linda Givvin ’70, Barbara Cotler ’60, USC Trustee Frank Fertitta III ’84, Geraldine Knatz '79 and USC Trustee Jerry Neely ’58. Photo by Steve Cohn.
USC Alumni Award Recipients (from left to right): Mark Ridley-Thomas '89, Linda Givvin ’70, Barbara Cotler ’60, USC Trustee Frank Fertitta III ’84, Geraldine Knatz '79 and USC Trustee Jerry Neely ’58. Photo by Steve Cohn.

The very definition of “80 years young,” the USC Alumni Awards marked the completion of its eighth decade by celebrating the accomplishments of seven stellar Trojans on April 27. The event, hosted by the USC Alumni Association (USCAA), took place at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Patrick Auerbach Ed.D. ’08, interim associate vice president for alumni relations, and Mitchell Lew ’83, M.D. ’87, who majored in biological sciences in USC Dornsife and now serves on the USC Dornsife Board of Councilors as well as president of the USCAA Board of Governors, served as co-emcees for the 80th annual gala. The drew more than 600 Trojans and friends, including USC President C. L. Max Nikias and first lady Niki C. Nikias as well as local dignitaries State Sen. Curren Price and Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich ’74.

Calling the Trojan Family “one of the university’s most treasured resources,” Auerbach paid tribute to both the evening’s honorees and all USC alumni for “enriching the lives of others and shining a light on our great university.”

USC Dornsife award recipients include:

Alumni Merit Awards

Recognize individuals whose accomplishments speak well for the range and quality of a USC education.

Geraldine Knatz
Ph.D., biological sciences, '79

Geraldine Knatz,who became the first female executive director of the Port of Los Angeles in January, 2006, oversees the daily operations and internal management of the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s number one container port. Knatz has moved the port forward with an agenda of responsible growth and environmental leadership. Her top priorities have included reducing air emissions, eliminating health risks and expanding the port’s capital development program.

Knatz was instrumental in creating and implementing the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, which has significantly reduced port-related air pollutants. Her efforts facilitated the first joint meeting of the leaders of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach since the 1920s, and the first-ever public meeting of the two port boards on the day the plan was approved. Since then, the plan has paved the way for the L.A. Harbor Commission to approve three major container terminal expansion projects. Knatz is also working to create a world-class, visitor-serving “L.A. Waterfront” along the port’s community-adjacent areas.

Knatz began her maritime career in 1977 as an environmental scientist at the port, then served two decades at the neighboring Port of Long Beach, eventually becoming managing director. In that capacity, she oversaw a $2.3 billion capital-improvement program and spearheaded a number of environmental initiatives.

Some of Knatz’s other appointments and accomplishments include a 2009 Leadership Award (National Association of Women Business Owners-Los Angeles) and a featured role in America’s Port, a 2008 National Geographic Channel TV series about the Port of Los Angeles.

A proud alumna of USC, Knatz has served as a faculty member in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She holds a B.S. in zoology from Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she was born and raised. She currently resides in Long Beach with her husband and two sons.


Mark Ridley-Thomas
Ph.D., religion, '89

The Honorable Mark Ridley-Thomas was elected in 2008 to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, 2nd District, and has distinguished himself as an aggressive advocate for the district’s nearly 2 million residents.

He has promoted the district’s interest in such areas as transportation, job creation and retention, and local hiring. He has worked to jump-start the opening of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital, facilitated the use of technology and encouraged an integrated approach to wellness that includes mental health care and school-based clinics. He has helped secure equitable funding for public-private partnership health clinics in underserved areas.

Prior to his election to the board, he served the 26th District in the California State Senate, where he chaired the Senate’s Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development. He served as chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus in 2008.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was first elected to public office in 1991 and served on the L.A. City Council for nearly a dozen years, departing as council president pro tempore. He later served two terms in the California State Assembly, where he chaired the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

Widely regarded as the foremost advocate of neighborhood participation in government decision-making and founder of the neighborhood council movement, he created the Empowerment Congress, arguably the region’s most successful experiment in neighborhood-based civic engagement.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’s political career was preceded by a decade of service as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater L.A. Before that, he was a high school teacher for five years.

He earned a baccalaureate degree in social relations and a master’s in religious studies from Immaculate Heart College. He is married to Avis Ridley-Thomas, co-founder/director of the Center for Non-Violence in L.A. They are the proud parents of Morehouse College graduates Sebastian and Sinclair.


Alumni Service Awards

Recognize volunteer efforts on behalf of the university.

Barbara Cotler
B.A., international relations, ’60

Barbara Cotlercame to USC from Rockford, Ill., andwas active as a member of the student senate, rush chair of KappaKappa Gamma, and president of Mortar Board. Upon graduation,she attended what was then the “women’s program” at Harvard Business School. Returning to L.A., she joined IBM, first as asystems engineer and later as a marketingrep. In the latter position, she sold large IBMsystems to the banking community, includingthe first ATMs, and retired after 35 years.

Along with her late husband Ken, whom she met in front of Tommy Trojan, Cotler began volunteering for USC in 1972, when her husband was president of the retail association for Arco Plaza, L.A.’s first high-rise. Ken hired the USC Trojan Marching Band to play for the grand opening of the Arco Plaza shopping center, and a lifetime of band fundraising began.

Every year that USC played Notre Dame in the Coliseum, the Cotlers hosted a fundraising “Up the Irish” party at their Toluca Lake home, ultimately attracting 300+ guests with performances by the band and USC Song Girls, as well as guest appearances by Traveler in their front yard.

Fixtures at USC home football games, the Cotlers attended away games whenever possible. After Barbara retired, she and Ken organized WITFAWN Tours, a travel firm that grew to serve nearly 2,000 Trojans.

When Ken passed away in 2003, Barbara joined the USC Trojan Marching Band Executive Board and the USC Athletics Board of Counselors. She is on the boards of the San Gabriel Valley Trojan Club and Half Century Trojans, and is a member of the USCAA Board of Governors. A Presidential Associate, a member of The Committee and Women of Troy, and a founding member of Spirit of Troy, she co-chaired the Class of 1960 50th Reunion Committee in 2010 and actively volunteers for the Long Beach Cancer League.


Linda Givvin
B.S., physical therapy, ’70

During her 17 years as a registered physical therapist, Linda Givvin held leadership roles in orthopedics, head trauma, stroke and sports medicine.

Givvin has been a member of the USCAA Board of Governors since 2007. Recording secretary for three years, she was a key member of the Executive Committee Board and has held positions on various committees.

She is a past president of Town and Gown of USC (2006–2008), and a member since 1998. Currently nominating chairman, she is on the Governance Committee and the Advisory Council. She has endowed two Town and Gown scholarships, and was honored in 2005 with a Widney Alumni House Award for her volunteer service.

Her other USC volunteer positions include service on the Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy Board of Councilors since 2009; the USC Athletics Board of Councilors since 2012; and the Alumnae Coordinating Council from 2006 to 2008. She has been a member of USC Associates since 1999.

A devoted supporter of USC Athletics, she is a Galen Founder as well as a member of two USC Athletics support groups: Cardinal and Gold, and The Committee. She and her husband, Thomas Rowan Givvin ‘65, love to travel, especially with USC Trojan Travel.

Givvin continues to participate as a board representative of Town and Gown of USC in the Annenberg Alchemy Leadership Seminars, which assist small to mid-size L.A. nonprofits. She belongs to the Santa Monica Bay Auxiliary (which supports Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), and for 11 years, she volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House of L.A.

Upon her professional retirement in 1993, Givvin became a stay-at-home mom to her niece, which eventually led her to reconnect with the Trojan Family. She continues to give back to USC and organizations close to her heart.


Other USC alumni honored include USC Trustee Frank Fertitta III ’84, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas-based Fertitta Entertainment and a founder and principal owner of Zuffa LLC, with the Asa V. Call Alumni Achievement Award, the university’s highest alumni honor; Six-time Olympic medalist Rebecca Soni ’09 with the Young Alumni Merit Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of alumni under age 35; and Jerry Neely ’58, USC trustee and a longtime mentor of USC Marshall School of Business MBA students through the TEC (The Executive Club) on Campus program, with a Alumni Service Award.