Advocates, leaders honored as Women of Distinction

Six women stand together holding awards at ceremony

(Pictured from left) Camille Zapata, Elaine Mo, Sahila Shah, Celia Castro, Cassie Findlay and Ederlina Co were recognized at Pacific's annual Women of Distinction awards.

University of the Pacific honored six trailblazers with Women of Distinction awards in an annual celebration that is part of Women’s History Month.

The event recognizes women-identified students, faculty, staff and community members who are leaders in promoting gender and racial equity and inspiring future generations of women leaders.

This year’s recipients have wide-ranging backgrounds, from leading efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at Pacific to advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan. The honorees are:

•    Ederlina Co, associate professor of law at McGeorge School of Law
•    Elaine Mo, associate professor of education in Benerd College
•    Sahila Shah ’23, undergraduate student in the Eberhardt School of Business
•    Celia Castro, interim director for student engagement and transition programs
•    Cassie Findlay ’22, graduate student in Benerd College 
•    Camille Zapata, Chief of Staff for San Joaquin County Supervisor Kathy Miller

 “These six distinctive women are pushing back, pushing through, and pushing forward,” said Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “They’re doing it because they know the world needs them, and they're responding in a unique and gifted way.”

Ederlina Co, associate professor at McGeorge, is a strong advocate for reproductive rights and justice, giving lectures to students, faculty and the legal community about abortion rights.

“In her (law) article Abortion Privilege she brought national attention to McGeorge as a leader in this area of law. In addition, she supports women lawyers in Sacramento on  cases  of reproductive rights and justice,” said Cynia Manning, a political science student and emcee for the event.

As an associate professor in Benerd College, Elaine Mo’s research focuses on literacy development of bilingual children, including managing an innovative computer-mediated reading comprehension and vocabulary program for Spanish-speaking English learners.

She is also committed to mentoring her students at Benerd, some of whom nominated her for the award.

“They're all phenomenal, and I am just completely overwhelmed that amid a hard semester of student teaching they wanted to recognize me,” said Mo. 

Sahila Shah, a first-generation college student and junior in the business school, has been pushing for women’s rights since she was a child living in Pakistan.

“Everything I did was centered on women's rights and education rights,” said Shah. “Whether that was steering arguments with my teachers about the different inequities present, or whether it was me fighting for a spot to be the first female student president in third grade.”

She has continued her activism since moving to Stockton in 2010, working with a number of nonprofits including Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities and Stockton Urban Revitalization Fellowship.
Shah also co-founded and is president of the DEI Council in the Eberhardt School of Business.

Cassie Findlay, a Japanese-American first-generation college student, came to Pacific as part of the Community Involvement Program, which provides scholarships to Stockton residents who demonstrate leadership and a commitment to the community.

“She advocates for first-generation college students. She leads food drives with the Pacific food pantry and she raises awareness for food insecurity on campus,” Manning said.

Findlay is expected to graduate in May with a Master’s in Leadership from Benerd College, where she also serves as Coordinator for Program Operations and Development.

Celia Castro ensures diversity, equity and inclusion is an integral part of programming and events at Pacific. She’s also dedicated to increase school spirit to improve the university’s sense of community.

“I think it's important that students see themselves reflected in not just an event to have fun, but to learn,” said Castro. “That's really at the heart of the spaces that I try to create—a place where ideas and new opportunities can be experienced on a student-wide level.”

A leader in the Stockton community, Camille Zapata was recognized for her activism and strong leadership for women in underrepresented groups.

She currently serves as the first Latina chief of staff to Supervisor Kathy Miller.

“Upon entering her position, she fought for equal pay on the board and won the fight to ensure equality among all chiefs of staff,” said Manning.

Wardell-Ghirarduzzi says the work the honorees are doing is more important than ever.

“Do not shy away from anything that you’re being called to do.”