This is a series of webinar conversations moderated by the Director of Orientation Programs, Lisa Tomlinson Starr. The webinars are designed for our Trojan supporters!  The topics cover finances, student health, campus safety, and campus life.  Each Spotlight will have valuable resources for you to reference throughout your student’s first year and beyond. 

Select the Spotlight session topics below to view more information about our guest speakers. Although Spotlight is designed for parents and guests, students are welcome to attend. Sign-up links will be shared via email to reserved Orientation students and their guests.

Recordings of live sessions will be available after June 1, 2022.


Lisa Tomlinson Starr, Director of Orientation Programs 

Lisa Tomlinson Starr has served as the Director of Orientation Programs since January 2014. Lisa earned a BFA in Theatre from USC  in 1983 and an Executive Masters in Leadership from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, in 2018.  

Lisa’s academic career has been in Admissions, academic advising, both at the high school and college level, and now in her role in Orientation, she has a vested interest in sharing the importance of your role in supporting your student. She knows firsthand how important that is because she has two daughters currently at USC and one that graduated a year ago.  Being the support team for your student, rather than the front line, is an important distinction. This is a big switch for some and a minor adjustment for others,  so she hopes that these Spotlight conversations will supply helpful nuggets of information as you navigate what your role will be for your student at USC.

Fun Facts: Lisa is married to a Trojan and her absolute favorite activity on campus is listening to the Trojan Marching Band perform. 

Spotlight Registration Support

Spotlight Registration Support

Spotlight Guest

Dr. Sarah Holdren, Manager, Academic Advising and Retention, Undergraduate Programs

Dr. Sarah Holdren is currently the Manager of Academic Advising and Retention in Academic Programs, within the USC Office of the Provost. She oversees the team of academic advisors who work with exploratory students as well as supporting graduates from the McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative who attend USC. Additionally, she facilitates university-wide advising and retention efforts, including coordinating new advisor training.

Prior to her work with Academic Programs, Sarah was the Associate Director of Advising and Academic Services at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and had worked in Annenberg advising for 12 years. Sarah is a triple Trojan, graduating from the School of Dramatic Arts (BA ’02) and the Rossier School of Education (M.Ed ’07, Ed.D. ’13). Her doctoral dissertation was a case study of support networks for Third Culture Kids at Lewis and Clark College.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:00PM (PT)


Spotlight Guests 

Erika Chesley, Senior Associate Director of Auxiliary Services Initiatives and HR Events

Erika is responsible for the strategic marketing of all venues and offered services within the USC Hospitality portfolio. She spearheads partnerships with university groups and suppliers. Her department plans events and campaigns to promote the brand and strengthen campus community relationships Erika joined USC Hospitality in 2009 as Associate Director of Special Events & Catering, where she managed the sales and marketing efforts of an $8 million dollar campus wide meetings and catering department including the historic Town and Gown Ballroom and the Davidson Conference Center.

Erika received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Human Resources Management from USC and is currently pursuing an Executive MBA at USC.


Laura Merchant, Assistant Director, USC Residential Experience

Laura Merchant is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan, but has lived in California since 2006. She attended UCLA for both undergrad and grad school earning a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Disability Studies, and a Masters in Student Affairs. During undergrad she was involved in Residential Life as a student leader, Education Studies as a discussion section leader, and the Office for Students with Disabilities as an intern. She gained professional experience in UCLA Residential Life as a Program Coordinator for Graduate Student Housing and Academic Initiatives. She worked at UC Riverside for six years in Residential Life as a Resident Director in a first-year residence hall where she oversaw a living learning community for students in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While at UCR she gained experience with RHA, NRHH, and held a collateral assignment with Orientation. In her free time, Laura loves musical theatre. She tries to go to New York City once a year to see current shows on Broadway, but loves to travel anywhere she can. Laura also enjoys coffee shops, exploring new places to eat, anything with an ocean view, and binging a new TV series. Now at USC, Laura serves as the Assistant Director for Residential Experience where she oversees fun events for students living in USC Housing. She enjoys the student reactions to attending events, working with her colleagues, and collaborating with campus partners.


Wednesday, June 22, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:00PM (PT)


Spotlight Guest

April Ewing-Miles, Support Services Supervisor, Student Financial Services 

April Ewing-Miles is a Supervisor in the Student Financial Services Office at USC. For 17 years she has worked in higher education as a student finance professional. Since 2017, she has led a team of Counselors and Collectors in tuition receivables and student loan collections and prior to her employment at USC, she held the position of Manager of the student loans collections at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. April proudly serves as a culture champion for the Finance Division at USC and on the Executive Board of the PacWest Student Financial Service organization for professional development.

Diane Anchundia, Associate Dean of Outreach and Loans, USC Financial Aid Office

Diane Anchundia is Associate Dean of Loans and Outreach in the Financial Aid department of the University of Southern California. She joined USC in 2016 after having served a 4-year tenure as the Director of Financial Aid at the University of La Verne, a Hispanic-serving institution.

As a first-generation college attendee and graduate, Ms. Anchundia is dedicated to providing financial education to future and current college students and their families to improve the student financial aid experience and minimize the concerns about college affordability.

Ms. Anchundia earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and Comparative Literature from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is an east coast native that was born and raised in New Jersey who has been in southern California since 2011.


Wednesday, July 13, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:00PM (PT)

Spotlight Guest

Minnie Hong Ho, Executive Director of Communications, USC Student Health 

Minne Hong Ho serves as the executive director of communications for USC Student Health and is responsible for a comprehensive public health communications approach to support the health and well-being of the student population. Her role focuses on strategic public health campaigns and patient education to support the healthy communities and help remove barriers to care.

She comes to Los Angeles by way of New York and New Jersey, and previously held chief communications officer positions at Montclair State University, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Fordham University School of Law. Prior to her role in USC Student Health, she served as the assistant vice president for marketing in university communications at USC, overseeing central digital marketing, university web content, and communications for community, government relations and student affairs. Her career experience encompasses media and program development for community-based organizations, international NGOs, and research universities.

Minne Ho holds a dual bachelor’s degree in English and women’s studies from Columbia University and a master’s degree in communications from New York University. She is currently earning a master of public health degree in the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Danielle Gautt, Assistant Director for Outreach and Prevention Services, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Instructor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC

Danielle Gautt received her Master’s in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley. Her clinical interests include racial identity development, diversity, multiculturalism, perfectionism, anxiety, depression, trauma, resiliency, and college mental health.

Her passion is to increase access to mental health services for groups that have historically lacked access to care. Using an integrated approach, she assists students in exploring the cultural, contextual, and systemic factors that may limit an individual or groups’ ability to thrive. Additionally, she works to cultivate a space of healing grounded in skills pulled from her expertise in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Process, Solution-Focused, and Strength-Based work.

Danielle Gautt’s pronouns are she, her, hers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:00PM (PT)

Spotlight Guests

Ed Palmer, Captain, USC Department of Public Safety

Captain Ed Palmer is currently the Patrol Commanding Officer for USC Department of Public Safety. He oversees the Uniformed Patrol Response at your service both on campus and the surrounding community for University Park and the Health Sciences campuses. Captain Palmer has been at USC DPS for nearly 9 years after spending nearly 30 years at LAPD working a wide variety of assignments retiring at the rank of lieutenant. Captain Palmer possesses a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice from USC and has a son that graduated from USC as well.


Steve Goldfarb, Director of Emergency Management, Fire Safety & Business Continuity

Steve is the Director of Emergency Management, Fire Safety & Business Continuity for the University of Southern California. He is responsible for overseeing the university’s emergency operations plans and all aspects of emergency planning including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery for 10 campus locations throughout the country. He also develops and coordinates training, tabletop exercises, and full-scale disaster drills.

Steve has over 30-years’ experience in Emergency Management. He has developed specialized plans for sports arenas, labs, theatres, museums, libraries, and studios. Steve is a past president and director of the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning & Preparedness. He is an active member of the International Association of Emergency Managers and the California Emergency Services Association. Steve has presented at numerous national conferences and serves as a subject matter expert to the media on emergency management topics. He is currently the Chair of the Earthquake Country Alliance Higher Education Committee.


This is a series of conversations hosted during the in-person orientation events. The conversations with faculty are designed to provide insight into college life at USC for our Trojan supporters. Select any faculty profile below to learn more about our Faculty Spotlight speakers and their contributions to the USC community.

Anita Dashiell-Sparks 

Anita Dashiell-Sparks is a Burns Professor of Theatre Practice, serves as associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion for the USC School of Dramatic Arts, and has taught acting, movement, and critical studies at USC for over 18 years. As an actor based in New York and Los Angeles, she has performed on Broadway in Night Must Fall, starring Matthew Broderick; and The Sunshine Boys, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. She has also appeared in numerous off-Broadway and regional theatre productions, including The House of Bernada Alba with Chita Rivera and Dominique Serrand’s Massoud: The Lion of Panjshir, both at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. She has directed numerous productions at USC, as well as directed Letters from Zora at the Tony Award-winning Crossroads Theatre and two critically acclaimed engagements at The Pasadena Playhouse, among others. She most recently directed the world premiere of Tira Palmquist’s Safe Harbor at the Lower Depth Theater Ensemble’s new play series dealing with breaking cycles of violence. Dashiell-Sparks serves as the Artistic Director of EDI at the Stella Adler Center of the Arts and at USC is the founder and director of Building Bridges: Communication, Expression, Empowerment Theatre Arts Program, which teaches self-presentation and self-expression to at-risk youth.

Dashiell-Sparks has received numerous grants for her theatre work and has taught and developed arts and arts therapy curriculum for the Dream Yard Drama Projects in N.Y. and L.A., The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival, Vineyard Theatre, TADA! Theatre and Dance and for the National Foundation for the Emotionally Handicapped/Penny Lane in L.A. In academia, Dashiell-Sparks has taught acting and movement at Barnard College in N.Y., guest lectured in undergraduate drama at New York University, and performed and presented at conferences at St. Mary College of the Woods and DePauw University. Anita Dashiell-Sparks trained with master acting teacher Ron Van Lieu, among others, and received her MFA from the acclaimed NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program. In addition to acting, teaching, and directing, she is a trained and certified Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) practitioner by SEED and NADOHE. She is a proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and SDC (Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers).


Dr. Ashley Uyeshiro Simon

Associate Professor of Clinical Occupational Therapy

Chan Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy


  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy, USC Chan Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy
  • Master’s Degree, Occupational Therapy, USC Chan Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree, Psychology, Dornsife College, University of Southern California

Dr. Uyeshiro Simon is an Associate Professor in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy. She teaches OT-100 THRIVE: Foundations of Wellbeing, a course co-created with undergraduate students that seeks to provide a source of connection, self-reflection, and community through learning about how students can thrive in college and in life. Dr. U also teaches OT-101 Caring for Your Self, where students learn about the science behind habits and various aspects of self-care through applying the concepts to their own lives. She is a former Faculty in Residence (Birnkrant Residential College). Some Dr. U’s favorite things to do are spending time with her two kids, partner, and dog, usually going to the beach or hiking. She is also quite adept at singing along to musical theater soundtracks.


Elizabeth Harper 

Elizabeth Harper is an assistant professor of lighting design at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and a Los Angeles-based lighting designer. She has designed numerous world premieres, including Between Two Knees by The 1491s, Julia Cho’s Office Hour, Michael Mitnick’s Mysterious Circumstances and Shelia Callaghan’s Woman Laughing Alone with Salad, along with new works by Eliza Clark, Lucy Alibar, Kemp Powers, Kimber Lee, Gregory Moss and Jeffrey Hatcher.

Additional credits include designs for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Mark Taper Forum, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, South Coast Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep, Kansas City Rep, The Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and The Industry Opera Company.

Elizabeth has had the privilege of working and collaborating with world-class artists such as Phylicia Rashad, Teller (of Penn & Teller), Tony award winner Sarah Jones, Moby, Billy Porter, Kristen Chenoweth, Alfred Molina and Sandra Oh. Her work has been featured at events and immersive spaces for Microsoft, Ubisoft, Under Armour, Airbnb, Asics and Universal Studios.

Elizabeth received her MFA in Design from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.



Dr. Meiling Cheng 

Dr. Meiling Cheng is a Professor of Theatre in Critical Studies and Head of Critical Studies at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, with a joint appointment at the USC Roski School of Art and Design, and a courtesy appointment in the English Department at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She is the author of In Other Los Angeleses: Multicentric Performance Art (2002) and Beijing Xingwei: Contemporary Chinese Time-Based Art (2013), for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Zumberge Research Award. She coedited, with Gabrielle Cody, the critical anthology Reading Contemporary Performance: Theatricality Across Genres (2016). Her most recent upcoming publication—“The Artist Is Absent, or The Birth of Seven Documented Performances, by Yan Xing”—will be a cover feature in the journal TURBA: The Journal for Global Practices in Live Arts Curation


Ron McCurdy

USC Thornton Jazz Studies Department faculty member and assistant dean of the justice, equity, diversity and inclusion committee. Ron McCurdy and his quartet play with the Pacific Symphony on Feb. 27 in a multimedia concert performance of Langston Hughes’ jazz poem suite Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz. Directed by artistic leader and principal conductor of the USC Thornton orchestras Carl St.Clair, this concert performance connects the words and music of Hughes’ 12-part poem to topical images of the piece’s people, places and events, as well as the visual artists Hughes admired and closely collaborated with during his career.