Pat Willer

2012 Community Ambassador of the Year: Patricia Willer

After earning a B.A. in Anthropology and an M.A. Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, Patricia studied abroad at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Having traveled extensively across England, Ireland and continental Europe (Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia) and the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Iceland, Sweden). Asian travel has taken her to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and Australia. In the Americas, she had traveled to Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

Her work has been extensive in international education leadership, international student services and in education abroad. Ms. Willer has been a strong advocate for campus collaboration in support of international education, and actively recruits international students to American schools. She has authored numerous articles and booklets related to these issues, and co-authored the widely used Working with International Students on our Campuses.

Ms. Willer came to USC in 1988 to serve as International Student Advisor in International Programs, then as the program’s Director for 17 years. Her title and responsibilities changed to Assistant Vice Provost (2007-2009) and Associate Vice President for International Programs since 2009. She has served the international community – students and their families, staff and faculty – at USC with distinction. The impact of her involvement however has extended even beyond that locally into a nationally recognized leader ship role within NAFSA, a nearly 10,000 member nonprofit organization promoting international education and profession development opportunities in the field.


2012 International Professional of the Year: Maria Marjorette Marj Peña

Born and raised in the Philippines, Marj obtained her BS in Chemistry and then taught at the prestigious University of Santo Tomas in Manila. She came to the United States to pursue graduate studies at Florida State University, where she met and married Edsel Peña.  After moving to Bowling Green State University, she obtained her master’s degree in Biochemistry and her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology. They next moved to Michigan where she held a postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The Peñas joined USC in 2000: Edsel as professor at the Department of Statistics; Marj as a research assistant professor at the Department of Biological Services. Promoted to Research Associate Professor, Marj was named Director of the Mouse Core Facility at the Center for Colon Cancer Research. In this position, she has served as principal investigator of 15 funded research grants and undergraduate research mentor while directing a number of graduate students’ research.  Dr. Peña’s cancer research has resulted in many articles published in peer reviewed journals, presentations and invited talks in both national and international symposiums.

Dr. Peña is actively involved in the Filipino-American community in Columbia. Presently in her third year as president of the Filipino-American Association of Greater Columbia, Marj has led the group’s cultural and social activities that have enhanced the area’s cultural diversity.