Growing up in Southern California, Amy Ross was anything but typical. As a nine-year-old, she turned her playhouse into a laboratory where she worked on science experiments. She spent her days dissecting rattlesnakes and gophers and found herself somewhat of an outcast among the typical preteen crowd.
Thirty years later, Ross, a cancer researcher, co-founded the Lambda LGBT Alumni Association, served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Governors and, most recently, was named a trustee.
The La Crescenta, California, native grew up with her mother, father and two younger sisters.
“It was the ideal southern California suburban lifestyle,” Ross said.
Ross said her family was an athletic one.
“We rode horses and my dad was an avid golfer,” Ross said. “We were the only house with three girls living in it that had a basketball hoop over the garage.”
Ross graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1970 before heading to University of California, Irvine as the first college student in her family. As she started her collegiate career, budget cuts and slashes to school funding had spread across the country. Many professors chose not to show up to class at all.
“I was really disheartened,” Ross said. “You get into college and the professors are saying because of the budget cuts they can’t teach their class.”
She worked at a laundromat for a few years, but soon decided that she had a craving for learning and research. Ross said quitting school after her freshman year was one of the worst things she could have done. Ready to hit the books, Ross returned to school and attended California State University at Northridge, which she chose because of the heavily research-oriented labs. Ross said she was able to gain hands-on experience at Northridge — her first since her days as a little girl playing in her childhood lab.
“In those days, to do a lot of hands-on undergraduate research was not the norm,” Ross said.
After graduating from CSUN, Ross earned her Ph.D. from the Keck School of Medicine at USC in experimental pathology in 1986. Academic research brought Ross to USC just as it had led her to Cal State Northridge.
Shortly after graduating from Keck, Ross received postdoctoral training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the cancer and blood institute. Afterward, she began a cancer diagnostics lab in conjunction with a transplant surgeon from Cedars. After years of working in the lab, she transitioned into retirement while serving as an associate biologist at the California Institute of Technology.
After years of dedicating herself to cancer research, Ross hung up her lab coat in 1992 and became one of the founders of USC’s first alumni group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Trojans. Showing her dedication toward the school, she helped set up the Lambda LGBT Alumni Association to help connect LGBT students and alumni. In 2000, Ross began funding a scholarship called the Amy Ross Scholarship in LGBT Health Studies.
After serving as president of the USCAA Board of Governors for years, Ross was elected to serve in an even larger role — USC trustee. She hopes to bring her broad experience in the community and with the school alumni association to her new position.
“I think I have a slightly different background in terms of some diversity issues,” Ross said. “It will be an honor to continue to serve USC.”
Because of her background, she hopes to advance the university’s excellence in terms of improving academics and research. She also brings wisdom from the things she herself has learned in life.
“Try. There is no shame in failure,” Ross said. “Explore your world. Expand your boundaries. It’s the best time of your life to explore. Take advantage of the university and all it has to offer.”
Ross said she can’t wait for the semester to start so she can begin improving the school’s academics and research labs.