Among the 2023 recipients of the 89th annual USC Alumni Awards was Amy Ross, who has led an impressive career in cancer diagnostics, helped foster inclusion in the science industry and continues to serve USC as a member of the board of trustees and of the USC Health Systems Board.
Having also served as a member and as president of USC’s board of governors, Ross had always been on the other side of the awards’ ceremonies and was thrilled to learn she herself was receiving a service award.
“I was just so overwhelmed and so appreciative, because having been on the other side of voting for people who are going to get those awards and handing out those awards, the fact that I was going to get one just meant the world to me,” Ross told the News-Press. Upon hearing the news, she described feeling weak in the knees and was practically in tears.
The ceremony took place the day before Ross’ 70th birthday, making it a weekend full of celebration.
Ross grew up in La Crescenta, attending Crescenta Valley High School before getting a degree in psychobiology from California State University, Northridge. After working as a laboratory technician in the anatomy department of Keck School of Medicine at USC, she enrolled in a doctoral program in experimental pathology at USC and graduated in 1986.
Following her time at USC, Ross spent a few years doing postdoctoral research in cancer biology before starting the diagnostics division at CellPro, a biotechnology firm that has since closed. She went on to become the vice president of scientific operations at Nexell Therapeutics, where she discovered a way to isolate tumor cells in labs so that their proteins could be closely analyzed. This laid the groundwork for current research which works to find more effective ways to treat cancer cells in patients who have relapsed.
In addition to her work in the cancer research field, Ross has been an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. She helped found USC’s first LGBTQ+ alumni association, Lambda, in 1992 and later served two terms as the organization’s president. Ross also co-founded the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, as well as giving various symposia surrounding queer issues in the science world.
“The discrimination against gay people in science was very strong,” Ross said regarding the importance of creating inclusive spaces in the industry. “There were people we knew at Jet Propulsion Laboratory [in Pasadena] who could not get security clearances just because they were gay or a lesbian. So, we fought against that. We fought for inclusion because there were consequences of it.”
Since retiring from cancer research, Ross decided to become more involved with the USC community by joining the USC Alumni Association’s board of governors and eventually serving as president from 2014 to 2015. Following her time on the board of governors, she was elected to the board of trustees in 2015, where she still serves today.
Throughout her time on the board of trustees, Ross helped navigate the university through a number of scandals and lawsuits regarding college admissions and the allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct of former USC gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.
“We, USC, took a really hard, sobering look at ourselves,” Ross said. “And I’ve got to give so much credit to not only Wanda Austin, but Rick Caruso in overhauling the board to make the board of trustees more responsive, work harder and be more responsible for the workings of the university — not just writing big checks but doing the time to put in the work.” Austin, now retired, and Caruso, still active, were both members of the board of trustees at the time.
In 2021, Ross was elected to the USC Health Systems Board and also serves on the USC Arcadia Hospital board of directors and is a member of the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Foundation Board.
“It’s kind of a good thing I’m retired, because I don’t have time for much else other than what’s going on at USC,” Ross said.
Those who have worked with Ross commend her service to the community.
“Through her work with the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Foundation Board, Amy Ross has been a tireless champion for the hospital and our efforts to provide health education and services for not only our patients, but also the community at large,” Theresa Murphy, chief nursing officer with USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, said in a statement to the News-Press. “Her philanthropy, activism and research have had lasting effects on our local community and the scientific community, and we are privileged to work with her these many years.”
“In Amy Ross, I see one of the happiest, most energetic people I’ve ever known,” Tina Marie Ito, foundation board chair at USC Verdugo Hills, said in a statement to the News-Press. “The significance of having Amy as a member of our foundation board is felt by all, as she offers her support in so many ways for USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.”
Ross said she was “overjoyed” when USC President Carol Folt and Caruso asked her to join the Health Systems Board, adding that she believes her skills have been beneficial in assisting with the transformation of Verdugo Hills Hospital into an academically affiliated medical center, following its acquisition by USC.
“I call Amy the ubiquitous Trojan. She’s everything everywhere all at once,” Kerri Yoder, president of the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Foundation and senior executive director of development for the Office of Health System Initiatives at Keck Medicine, told the News-Press.
“She’s a person of service and always wants to help,” Yoder added. “She symbolizes [philanthropy] and she exudes love. When I think of someone to represent USC and all the wonderful things that USC as an institution does for the world and humanity, she’s definitely deserving of such an honor.”
In her free time, Ross enjoys traveling internationally, cheering on the USC Trojans — especially the golf team — and spending time with her mother, who has spent a lot of time at Verdugo Hills Hospital.
“My mother has been almost like a frequent flier there,” Ross said. “And were it not for the amazing emergency room department and medical staff at Verdugo Hills Hospital, we would not be celebrating my mother’s 95th birthday on Sunday.”
Alongside Peter Kuhn, a USC professor and a founding member of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Biosciences, Ross will host a virtual discussion via Zoom on Aug. 29 from noon to 1 p.m. about the latest science and the future of early breast cancer detection. For more information, visit calendar.usc.edu/calendar.
First published in the July 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.