Kickass Women at UC Irvine

These leaders at UC Irvine are making an impact there and beyond.

KICKASS: Adjective 1. Having a strong effect on someone; powerful
2. Exceptionally good; spectacular, impressive


The women in our third edition of this list live up to both definitions and then some.
We’re proud to call them neighbors, friends, and leaders in our community.


Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Sora Park Tanjasiri

Associate director of cancer health disparities and community engagement, Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UC Irvine; professor of epidemiology

BONA FIDES: After teaching at Cal State Fullerton for 15 years, Tanjasiri was recruited by the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 51 cancer centers nationwide funded by the National Cancer Institute. She’s spent her career focused on cancer research and prevention, particularly in communities of color who are at the greatest risk. In every role she serves, her goal is building stronger ties between researchers and people in need. Her Korean immigrant parents taught her about advocacy and founding community groups—a lesson she learned well. She’s one of the founders of the Orange County Women’s Health Project, a nonprofit focused on women’s health issues, as well as a cofounder the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance, where she’s the board chair. Tanjasiri credits OCAPICA for providing what people need, but in a respectful way that asks how best to partner and help, reaching people in churches and grocery stores, and training young folks. The group was one of the first to recognize that Pacific Islanders had the highest rates of COVID-19 early in the pandemic, then pushed for better collection of data and distribution of vaccines. “We were some of the first to volunteer at those vaccine centers. ‘We’ll be there; we’ll find students who speak the language.’ ”

IN HER WORDS: “I’m hopeful that we’re finally making inroads with funders, leaders, and community activists. That means we can get to root causes. For too long we’ve been doing Band-Aids. … I wanted to end my career really changing institutions. And that’s why I was hired here. I’m just a minion, but everyone from top to bottom has made the pledge that we have to do better. We can’t change that cancer is a leading cause of death. But we can ensure all communities have equal access to treatment that can help them get better. When that day happens, I’ll be able to retire and say I’m done.”


Tiffany López 

Dean, Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine 

BONA FIDES: A first-generation university student who became a professor and endowed chair at UC Riverside and then a director and vice provost at Arizona State University, López says this role is her dream job. “I have 30 years in the UC system between my time as a student and my time at UC Riverside and now here. The UC is in my DNA, and I’d hoped that I’d be able to return.” The Fulbright scholar and first César Chávez fellow at Dartmouth has spent her career building pathways for young people in the arts and the community. She’s eager to continue those partnerships here; she is on the board of Arts OC and plans to create a shared first-year class for all four arts disciplines in the Claire Trevor School so students can form long-term networks. López is passionate about making sure young people have a chance to be introduced early to specific avenues and steps toward bright futures. “Witnessing my mother, who saw the world through very low ceilings, I realized as a young person that I wanted to be in rooms that were expansive.” As a leader at UC Irvine, the only campus in the system with a named school of arts, she’s amplifying a new generation of voices.

IN HER WORDS: “Every time I see work in our galleries and our theaters, I’m completely blown away by the caliber of the work. … I’m excited about the real richness in the arts community in O.C. … how all the arts leaders are embracing these questions of how we are leading the way toward a dynamic landscape of creative leaders to build for the 21st century. There are so many kickass women leaders running arts institutions. …  (It’s exciting) what that brings to the way we think through those questions because of our experiences and the way we evolved into our positions.”


Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

Author; professor and associate dean of humanities, UC Irvine; director of the Center for Liberation, Anti-Racism, and Belonging

BONA FIDES: Wu’s studies took a crucial but unexpected turn as an undergrad at Stanford in the late ’80s. She joined a racially diverse group of student activists who took over the president’s office and got arrested. It wasn’t exactly what her immigrant parents had in mind when they sent her to college, she explains with characteristic humor. The students were calling for more ethnic studies classes so they could learn from each other’s histories and cultures. Such intercultural exchanges are at the heart of Wu’s many projects today with UC Irvine students, colleagues, and community members. For one project, “Sharing Comfort and Care,” student-researchers conducted oral history interviews with members of the Cambodian and Pacific Islander communities to create digital “story maps” about their lives and published a digital cookbook with recipes and family stories. Another project, “Sharing Stories 1977,” documented California’s delegates to the 1977 National Women’s Conference, the first and only federally funded event to develop a national women’s agenda. 

IN HER WORDS: “I love and feel inspired by my students. I feel like I have this great privilege to help create intellectual communities and to welcome people who may not have been seen as the traditional students. At UCI, so many of our students are first-generation. So many of them come from immigrant, racialized backgrounds. And it’s a lot to be the first in your family to go to a four-year college. I want to create an environment where they can thrive, where they can discover their voice and figure out their purpose.”

Read More from our March 2023 Kickass Women Issue: