Chapman University is driving positive change in Orange County. Faculty, students, staff members and school partners have promoted greater art fluency, produced and taken part in research to improve the health of the community, spread awareness about critical cultural issues and helped address legal obstacles for low-income communities.
The work of some of these influential individuals was recently highlighted in the Orange County Register’s annual top 125 list, which accepts nominations from community members and staff members who cover the county. Of the 3.2 million residents that make up the county, 10 Chapman-affiliated people stood out for their contributions to this vibrant community.
The publication recognized Professor Marilyn Harran for her efforts promoting cultural understanding and combating antisemitism. Harran has played a critical role in spreading awareness as the founding director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman.
Harran, a professor of history and religious studies, helped honor Holocaust survivors earlier this year with the 24th annual Holocaust Art and Writing contest, in which middle and high school students from around the world produced poetry, art and film inspired by the testimonies of survivors.
“The students who participated in this year’s contest give us hope at a time when we very much need it,” Harran said. “Their entries affirm the power of memory and the strength of love not only during the Holocaust, but today as well. They also remind us of our responsibility to share our love and support with those in need, here at home and abroad.”
Fostering Art Fluency
Marybelle Musco was highlighted for continuing to be a strong advocate for the arts at Chapman with a $300,000 donation to the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts. The generous gift supported a new contemporary dance series and classical music programming. Dance students will be able to take part in workshops, open rehearsals and master classes.
“Following the Covid-19 shutdown, Musco Center for the Arts — as did all arts organizations — struggled to fund performances due to loss of ticket sales and ability to book performances,” Marybelle said last year. “As a result, I wanted to take action to assure that world-class contemporary dance would continue to have a place at Musco Center.”
Chapman’s impact on the art scene of Orange County can’t be discussed without mentioning Mark Hilbert, benefactor of the Hilbert Museum of California Art. With few significant museums to visit in the county, residents can learn more about the “California Scene” painting movement through viewing Mark and Janet Hilbert’s collection of oils, watercolors, sketches and lithographs.
This year, Mark Hilbert has been hard at work planning the expansion of the facility. The museum will nearly triple in size, allowing for the addition of Indigenous American art and visiting exhibitions, among other features.
“I found our first California Scene painting at a consignment shop in Palm Springs that had a complete assortment of California watercolors about 25 years ago,” said Mark Hilbert. “It was love at first sight. After buying that first one, we developed an appreciation for the style.”
Chapman student Aaron Lipp ’24 caught the OC Register’s attention for his representation of an autistic teenager in the play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Considering he’s neurodivergent, Lipp drew upon his own lived experience to deliver a performance that earned him a theater department award.
Lipp told the OC Register that acting has served as an important outlet for him and he hopes people were moved “to care more about others around them” after seeing the performance.
“It’s a way to say whatever I want to say emotionally and physically through the words and actions of another character,” he told the OC Register.
The publication also recognized Debora Wondercheck, founder of the nonprofit Arts & Learning Conservatory, for producing Gospel Voices of OC for the second year at Chapman’s Musco Center. More than 100 performers took part in the Juneteenth event, which chronicled Black lives and artistry through chorus, dance, orchestra, band, theater and spoken word.
While Chapman has been producing vital research that will help support the aging population of the region, Chapman Professor Vernon Smith decided to volunteer for a firsthand role in a UC Irvine study analyzing how people in their 90s age. Smith, a Nobel Prize winner of economics, was highlighted by the OC Register for his role as one of 1,600 participants in the study.
Smith is known for his groundbreaking work in experimental economics. He’s authored or co-authored more than 375 articles and books on capital theory, finance and other subjects. He hasn’t slowed, holding joint appointments with Argyros College and the Fowler School of Law.
In 2023, Smith was honored with the first Doti-Spogli Free Enterprise Award, which will be given annually to a faculty member who promotes free enterprise.
“I feel very good about the honor,” Smith said in April. “And I also feel that all the socialists I grew up with in the ’30s and ’40s would be very surprised.”
As restorative justice and legal advocacy become all the more important in Southern California, Chapman has been recognized for its efforts helping at-risk community members with legal services. Tamara Alexander has stood out as co-director of the Mediation Clinic at the Fowler School of Law. The OC Register specifically highlighted Alexander’s work with families in crisis.
“She is extremely professional and empathetic, and is able to make the participants at the clinic heard and valued,” wrote the OC Register reader who nominated her.
Chapman is also working to help solve the state housing crisis. Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science, and Lecturer Mike Moodian were the first people to make the Register’s list for the third year in a row due to their work in the community. They founded the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, which seeks to promote more sustainable housing in California. The event took place at the OC Fair and Event Center in October.
“Education plays a major role in combating climate change,” Smoller said. “Through the OCSD, we are bringing together the best and brightest teams from across the globe, creating sustainable model solar-powered homes and practical housing solutions.”
Finally, the paper recognized Matt Prince for his unique teaching style. Prince, lecturer at the School of Communication and Taco Bell public relations executive, received widespread attention when he promised his students he would cancel their final exam if one of them earned one million views on TikTok. A TikTok produced by one of the students, Sylvie Bastardo ’25, surpassed the requested views in less than two days.
Prince’s Influencer Marketing course made national headlines and students didn’t need to take their final.
“One of the reasons for this challenge was to show the democratization of social media,” Prince said. “You don’t have to be a celebrity anymore to drive big, viral moments.”