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Davis, California

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

UC Davis female faculty, alumni discuss their achievements and offer advice to the future generation of female leaders

In honor of Women’s History Month, female faculty and alumni discuss their contributions to their local and global communities

This article is the first in a two-part series in honor of Women’s History Month in which The California Aggie will interview a few of the many distinguished women across campus who have made an impact on their community. These women discuss their various achievements, female influences and advice for young women as they pursue their future goals. 

Cindy Schorzman, MD, FAAFP, CAQUAM 

Medical Director for Student Health and Counseling Services 


Dr. Cindy Schorzman has been in the field of college health for 15 years. Schorzman has worked tirelessly to help college students get accessible healthcare. Recently, Schorzman has been heading the COVID-19 saliva testing project at UC Davis. In addition, she has been delivering COVID-19 vaccines through the on-campus clinic.

“We built and have maintained the team that stood up the initial testing kiosk, which has served as a blueprint for expansion into the community and beyond,” Schorzman said via email. “We built and continue to run the campus efforts for students for contact tracing and case investigation and coordinate with incredible partners, including Student Housing and Dining who continue to be amazing in their work providing [quarantine] housing for students with COVID-19 disease or exposure.” 

Major female influences 

Schorzman cited her seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher, Ms. Sue Lauria, as the most inspirational female figure in her life. 

“She was soft-spoken and kind,” Schorzman said via email. “But [she] was a fierce advocate for her students and constantly provided constructive feedback to encourage us to be at our best levels. She always wrote with a green pen instead of a red one because she wanted her feedback to be taken as positive and constructive, rather than punitive.” 


Schorzman stressed the importance of connecting with female mentors and actively conversing with them. She also offered advice for women who might be entering a male-dominated field. 

“There is often a tendency for male colleagues to get credit for your accomplishments,” Schorzman said via email. “So keep good records and advocate for yourself when you can, in a professional and factual manner. Also, make sure to not make these same mistakes—recognizing those around you, and especially those who report to you, in a fair and accurate manner, truly acknowledging those who are doing the work.” 

Kelly Ratliff 

Vice Chancellor for finance operations and administration 


Kelly Ratliff has been at UC Davis since she was an undergraduate student and also went on to pursue her master’s degree at Davis. Currently, she has been coordinating COVID-19 testing and vaccination planning. Ratliff discussed her other achievements during her time at Davis. 

“My job is a lot like a city planner,” Ratliff said. “I do everything from finance and the budget to all the operations so facilities, safety services, campus police, fire and administrations like human resources. One of the things I have gotten really good at during my career is figuring out how to hire really good people who show qualities of leadership and support.”

Major female influences

Ratliff cited Susan Kovalik, the founder of the Center for Effective Learning, and Virginia Hinshaw, a microbiologist and a former executive vice chancellor for UC Davis, as the major influences throughout her academic career.

“Susan Kovalik was always a really strong mentor for me,” Ratfliff said. “She built her own company and was always off doing big public speaking engagements across the world. Another influential person in my life was Virginia Hinshaw, and she was our […] executive vice chancellor some number of years ago, and Virginia was a doctor of infectious diseases. I really learned a lot from her. She was just so smart and was able to use her knowledge to run a big university.”


Ratliff offered some advice for women who are looking to make an impact on their community. 

“First I would say: find a good mentor,” Ratliff said. “Find someone who can give you advice and guidance. There is a lot of information out there on the internet, but connecting with mentors is so valuable because they can give you specific insight into your field and help you overcome any struggles. Another thing I would say is be curious and be yourself. If you stay true to yourself and bring your best effort to any opportunity you come across, it resonates with people.”

Heather M. Young 

Professor and Dean Emerita 

National Director, Betty Irene Moor Fellowship Program for Nurse Leaders and Innovators 


Heather Young began her undergraduate academic career at UC Davis and then became a nationally recognized nurse leader and educator. Young was also a founding dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and the associate vice chancellor for nursing for UC Davis Health. Young also leads a fellowship program in which 10 Ph.D.-prepared nurses are given the opportunity to work on innovative projects and enhance their leadership skills. 

“It’s an exciting program because we’re investing in the next generation of leaders,” Young said. “These amazing people are going to continue to help the whole field move forward and grow, so I am excited to have the opportunity to work with all these individuals.” 

Major female influences 

Young cited Lucille Hurley, an international leader in nutrition research, as one of her greatest female influences. Young began working at Hurley’s lab as an undergraduate at UC Davis. 

“She gave me confidence and she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Young said. “She always set a high standard and encouraged undergraduates to contribute and step up to the research projects. It was because of her influence and her belief in me that I decided I wanted to go to graduate school and work toward my Ph.D.”

Young also noted attorney and former first lady Michelle Obama as a female figure she greatly admires. 

“I admire Michelle Obama tremendously,” Young said. “Her grace, class and ability to really motivate and inspire people is amazing. I look up to her a great deal because of her ability to navigate through very complicated situations and continue to be a strong, kind and loving human being and leader.”


Young offered some advice for women who want to make an impact on the world. 

“Know your passion,” Young said. “Know what you want, what the reason is for what you want to do and really think about why you want to do it. If you know all of those things [then] that will be like your North Star, and it will help you accomplish what you need to so you can achieve your goals.”

As an introvert, Young discussed how expressing herself through her written work has helped her make tremendous strides throughout her career. 

“Oftentimes when you are in a group, there will be a lot of people who will dominate the conversation and they might not listen very well,” Young said. “I find that when I write I can express myself more clearly than verbally, especially in situations when there is a sense of a power dynamic. When I have been on influential committees, I often offer to do the first draft because then I can get my ideas and thoughts out there on paper and then everyone else can work around or build on those ideas.”

Pam Ronald 

Professor in the Department of Pathology and the Genome Center 


As an undergraduate, Pam Ronald became interested in understanding how plants communicate with other species. Since she was about 18 years old, Ronald has worked toward understanding the mechanisms of immune responses in plants. Additionally, she has worked alongside other UC Davis professors to study a gene that is important for growing rice in flood areas. 

“This gene ended up being quite important because as the climate changes, rice farmers are seeing their fields flood more frequently and for longer durations, especially in South and Southeast Asia,” Ronald said. “Through our collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, farmers now have flood tolerant rice that they can grow and harvest more grain from.” 

Ronald has also co-authored a book titled “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food.” 

Major female influences

Ronald cited Madeleine Albright as one of her major influences as a child because she held the position of Secretary of State, which was the highest national office held by any woman at the time. In addition, Ronald noted that her graduate advisor at Kansas State University, Jan Leach, also had a huge impact on her. 

“Jan Leach was a really excellent biologist, rice genetics and plant pathologist,” Ronald said. “She really helped me get started on my career. She helped me then, and she continues to help me now, and I am so grateful for her kindness and generosity. She’s done a lot for many young scientists, and she is a well-spoken and respected person.” 


Ronald offered some advice to women who are about to get started on their careers. 

“Keep going,” Ronald said. “Whatever it is that you want to do, don’t pay attention if people look at you strangely or discourage you. Find those people that want to support you and create your own community. It’s not worth worrying about people who are going to hold you back because there are so many people out there who will be willing to help you and guide you through things.”  

Jodi Nunnari 

Department Chair and distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology


Jodi Nunnari’s lab currently explores the mechanisms of the mitochondria in cells. Nunnari discussed how her greatest achievements include training and facilitating the success of young scientists who have been a part of her research endeavors. In addition to being a professor at UC Davis, Nunnari was the president of the International Forum for Cell Biology and an editor-in-chief at The Journal of Cell Biology. 

“Over the years I have loved working with students and watching them go on into other career paths,” Nunnari said. “Every person I have worked with has been so talented. Being a good scientist is not just about conducting research, but also mentoring and public outreach and policy are so important, and I have done quite a bit of all of those things throughout my career.” 

Major female influences

Nunnari cited her graduate advisor from Vanderbilt University, Lee Limbird, as someone who had a great impact on her development as a scientist. 

“Dr. Limbird made it in a world that was much more male-dominated than I experienced,” Nunnari said. “She became the chair of her department at the medical school in Vanderbilt, and she was a very strong and great role model for me.”


Nunnari offered some advice for women who are concerned with making decisions between family and career paths. 

“Women are typically expected to multitask if they have families and want to work,” Nunnari said. “Be kind to yourself, and be proud of the things that you have accomplished. You don’t have to make choices between careers and having a family, but choose the support system that works best for you—both in your career and personal life.”

Written by: Sneha Ramachandran — features@theaggie.org


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