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 these sessions will be available in mid-December.


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. 

Friday, December 2, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:30PM (PT)

View Recording Here 

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.

Monday, December 5, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:30PM (PT)

View Recording Here

Spotlight Guests

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.

Jessica Medina Kelly, Associate Director of Outreach in the USC Financial Aid Office

Jessica Medina is the Associate Director of Outreach in the USC Financial Aid Office.   Over the past eleven years of her career, she has assisted students to matriculate and graduate from the University of Southern California, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communication, with a minor in Marketing from Woodbury University in Burbank, CA in 2007.

As a first-generation student, she witnessed first-hand that the financial aid process was convoluted and daunting.  As a result, she has focused her career on simplifying the complexity of the financial aid application process and informing students and their families of their financial options to invest in their education.

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 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.




Monday, December 12, 2022 – 2:00PM – 3:30PM (PT)

View Recording Here

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.

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.