After some 50 years of coeducation, the women of Princeton University have roared to the forefront of just about every walk of life. From the Supreme Court to the U.S. Congress; from operating rooms and newsrooms to boardrooms and classrooms; from laboratories, war zones and trading floors to stages, startups and writing desks — Princeton women have penetrating views on things that matter. These are change-makers in the service of humanity.
Listen to their stories.
Meet the Host
An Emmy-award winning journalist, Margaret Koval is a Princeton graduate alumna from 1983. She worked briefly for the U.S. Congress as a subcommittee staffer prior to entering broadcasting. Margaret wrote and produced for the ABC News programs “Nightline” and “20/20,” then spent nearly 10 years making documentaries for PBS before jumping back into daily news as a senior editor for the public radio franchise “Marketplace.” She did stints with the Science Museum in London and at the University of Oxford and is now the director of special projects for Princeton University’s Office of Communications.
Catherine Riihimaki knows her way around environmental issues. She’s a geoscientist and a science communications expert with the Princeton Council on Science and Technology. From that perch, she works with colleagues across the University to help educate a STEM-literate society through formal and informal experiences. Her newest channel is “All for Earth” – a podcast launched in concert with the 25th anniversary of the Princeton Environmental Institute to drill deep on a central theme: the planet is facing an existential crisis and we have the tools to avert it.
Maribel Hernandez Rivera, a graduate alumna from 2010, reflects on her childhood experience as an undocumented immigrant and now champion of immigrant rights. She attributes her personal success — measured in scholarships from Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard, Princeton and NYU — to extraordinary luck and exceptional mentors. Maribel has deployed her education towards improving immigration policy in the U.S., first in the Woodrow Wilson School, later in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and now as District Director for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Jo first came to Princeton as a postdoc in 2006, when she worked on data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a space telescope that took the universe’s earliest baby pictures. When she ran her code on that data, she was briefly the only person in the world to know the precise age of the universe. (Don’t worry, she quickly shared the news.)
Now a tenured professor in the department, Jo is not only a world-class scientist, she’s also a world-class science communicator. She recently wrote the extraordinarily readable “Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide,” which takes readers on a tour of the known universe, from a stroll through our solar system to gravitational waves, dark matter and beyond.
She talked with us about falling in love with string theory and dark matter, teaching middle school science teachers how to explain the wonders of space, and her heroines of early astronomy, including Vera Rubin and Henrietta Swan Leavitt.
Wendy Kopp, Class of 1989, was a groundbreaking social entrepreneur long before the term was invented. She conceptualized Teach for America as part of her senior thesis and founded the organization shortly after graduation. It is based a single big idea: the most promising future leaders coming out of college could have profound social impact if they committed to teaching in underserved schools for just two years. Not only would school systems get an infusion of energy and talent, but Wendy thought her brainchild could embed public education as a top priority in the next generation of decision makers. Flash forward 30 years and that idea has developed, deepened and grown into a global model for public educational reform. Wendy now leads the international spinoff called Teach for All which operates in 50 countries.
Juliet Eilperin, Class of 1992, is a journalist for The Washington Post with an unusual pair of specialties: congressional politics and the environment. Juliet’s first book was “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives.” She began covering environmental issues in 2004 and shares her views on the challenges of that beat in a polarized political context. Climate change is only part of her focus. Juliet reports on environmental regulation, land use, endangered species, air pollution and oceans, among other thigs. Her second book is “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks.”
Stephanie Mash Sykes, Class of 2004, is eyeing the future of American cities. As executive director of the African American Mayors Association, she’s focused on the panoply of issues facing black urban leaders today — from demographic trends that are re-shaping their constituencies to new technologies that are re-defining political engagement. She discusses the new wave of millennial and women mayors in her organization and how their presence might shape policies on paid family leave, maternal health, criminal justice and more.
Online journalist Maria Ressa, Class of 1986, knows the best and the worst of social media. It helped drive the Philippines-based news site she co-founded, called Rappler, to 300% growth rates in its early years. Today, she warns that the weaponization of social media threatens the very existence of Rappler, free speech, her own freedom, and the future of democracy itself — not just in the Philippines but worldwide.
Emily Carter, the outgoing dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, looks back on 15 years at Princeton and forward to her new job as the second-ranking executive officer of UCLA. Her vision for UCLA is grand, inclusive, service-focused … and distinctly urban. “Basically,” she explains, “the way cities go is the way the planet is going to go because over half the population lives in cities currently and it’s only going to grow.”
Joanne Ramos, Class of 1995, tackles issues that are both timely and eternal in her powerful new novel exploring surrogacy as big business. She shines a light on social class, immigration, and the trade-offs women often make to secure independence and their children’s future. Joanne’s plot imagines a world just over the horizon from existing surrogacy practices. Her characters include two Filipino immigrants, a Chinese American MBA and an idealistic college graduate from the Midwest. Each plays a different role in the sumptuous spa-like baby farm that is both a luxurious factory and a virtual prison.
Jen Rexford, Class of 1991 and chair of Princeton’s computer science department, has seen it all. From tinkering with the first consumer PCs in 1984 to saving the internet as we know it, Jen has been at the forefront of her field during an epoch of extraordinary advancement … and there’s much more to come. She talks about the urgent need to scale up computer science programs around the country, the feeding frenzy for top computational talent, and partnering with Google. She reflects on the delights of university work as well.
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Class of 2000, has produced and directed award-winning documentaries all over the world, most recently the jaw-dropping “Free Solo,” for which she won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. In the film, Chai documents the physical and emotional journeys of world-class climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to summit Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan without ropes. Her filmmaking journey started as a Princeton undergraduate, when she traveled to war-torn Kosovo for her senior thesis, and it has taken her around the world.
PowerPoint presentations on global warming aren’t usually met with standing ovations, but Kathleen Biggins and her group of traveling speakers are getting used to them — even in the most conservative communities they visit. Their roadshow is called C-Change Conversations. They bring it to the curious and the skeptical in country clubs, rotary clubs, garden clubs, private homes and other gatherings across the country.
How hard could it be? After working her way through
Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford and now Princeton, Sadaf Jaffer has just become the
mayor of Montgomery Township in New Jersey. Sadaf is the state’s first mayor
from the South Asian community and she’s committed to ensuring that she is not
the last. But that’s just in her spare time. By day, Sadaf is a Princeton
postdoc, pursuing an academic career in South Asian, Islamic and gender
studies. It’s important, she says, to bring her values and her skills to the
Lynn Loo, a 2001 graduate alumna and director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, says this is an “all-hands-on-deck” moment for everyone with skills or technology to address climate change. She describes the Andlinger Center’s mission to mobilize engineers such as herself and academics across the University to form partnerships with each other, with all levels of government, and with the private sector to decarbonize the economy — now.
Mellody Hobson, Class of 1991, speaks out on the latest
episode of the “She Roars” podcast to demystify principles of investing and
discuss her own efforts to combat dangerously high rates of financial
illiteracy in America today. “I find that children become the gateway drug to
parents, and I mean that in the best way. If you can teach a child about money,
you de facto teach their parent.” She
also discusses the low representation rates for women among Fortune 500 CEOs
and managers and asks why corporate America accepts good intentions and poor
results in this area, alone.
Courtney Banghart, head coach of Princeton’s women’s basketball team, “talks the walk” about team building, shedding fears of failure and taking every three-point shot that opens up in life. She discusses basketball, too — as well as the surreal experience of joining the Pope and Bill & Melinda Gates on Fortune Magazine’s list of 50 greatest leaders in the world.
As deputy director of science and technology for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Patricia Falcone ’74 has been at the forefront of women in science since becoming one of the first female engineering majors at Princeton. She now oversees the strategic development of Livermore’s scientific capabilities and is responsible for its collaborative research with academia and the private sector. Pat joined Livermore after serving in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where she advised on a wide range of national security, science and technology issues. Along the way, she’s had experiences both weird and wonderful.
Laura Trevelyan, host of BBC World News America and Princeton parent, has a rare perspective on the United States’ role in the world. She covered her first U.S. presidential election campaign in 2004 and began focusing on the United Nations in 2006. It all became personal in 2016 when the British-born journalist was sworn in as a new American citizen — one day after now President Trump won the White House. Laura’s American roots run deep, however. She is also the great, great, great granddaughter of Oliver Winchester, the man responsible for America’s most famous firearm.
Asha Rangappa, Class of 1996, is an expert on counterintelligence investigations and the law behind them. A former special agent for the FBI and associate dean at Yale Law School, Asha is now a senior lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs — as well as a legal and national security analyst for CNN. In this episode, Asha discusses Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and her risk-taking approach to career planning.
Journalist Indira Lakshmanan was a special guest on campus. She visited Princeton to give the third annual Distinguished Teaching Lecture in Service and Civic Engagement. Indira has reported from 80 countries over the years. She has covered coups, campaigns and revolutions working for the Boston Globe, Bloomberg News, the International New York Times, and many others. She held a chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute until just a few months ago when she became executive editor of the Pulitzer Center. In this episode, Indira talks about journalism as a public service and the importance of holding the government accountable.
Frances Arnold, Class of 1979, knew a good thing when she saw it in her laboratory some 25 years ago – and the results were game changing. Defying the prevailing wisdom, Frances innovated a completely new way to engineer enzymes that is now pushing the boundaries of green chemistry, biofuel production and more sustainable industrial processes. And there’s much more to come. Researchers are just scratching the surface of where her methods can lead. In this episode of “She Roars,” Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold reflects on her science, her worldview…and how life steps including Russian literature, wanderlust and taxi driving were indispensable.
Helen Zia ’73 is an award-winning journalist, activist and scholar who has covered Asian American communities and social and political movements for decades. She has been outspoken on issues ranging from civil rights and peace to women’s rights and countering hate violence and homophobia. She is the former Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine and author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People and. She was named one of the most influential Asian Americans of the decade by A. Magazine.
Jennifer Epstein ’08 is on the frontlines of national politics as one of the younger members of the national press corp. Currently White House Correspondent for Bloomberg News, she began covering the Obama administration just four years out of Princeton and spent her 26th birthday aboard Air Force One. Six years on, she’s a veteran with trench-level views of her industry’s near total transformation. Jen discusses questions of journalistic impartiality, digital disruptions to the business model, and whether journalism is still a good career for ambitious graduates. Oh, and she has a bead on Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, too.
Princeton Emeritus Professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel discusses the pivotal few years around 1969 when a handful of elite, all-male universities in the U.S. and the U.K. suddenly took steps to admit women. Princeton was at the forefront — and Nancy was an eyewitness to all that unfolded. A historian, Nancy joined the Princeton faculty in 1969 as one of only three women in the professorial ranks. The road from there wasn’t always smooth — and Nancy sees milestones yet to be reached — but five decades later, she can claim to have taught, among many other accomplished students, two Princeton women (and one man) who now sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.
To read more, check out Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux’s interview with Nancy, in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, including an excerpt from the newly published ‘“Keep the Damned Women Out’: The Struggle for Coeducation.”