Stayce Harris

New USC Trustee Stayce Harris was the first Black woman to achieve the three-star rank of lieutenant general in the Air Force. (Photo/Courtesy of The Boeing Co.)


Trailblazer and alumna Stayce Harris named to USC Board of Trustees

Harris joins the board after decades as an active alumna and leader in the military, aerospace and aviation.

October 11, 2023 By Chinyere Cindy Amobi

USC alumna Stayce Harris has been named one of the newest members of the USC Board of Trustees. The industrial and systems engineer joins the board after more than three decades of tandem careers and leadership with the United States Air Force and United Airlines, including being the first African American woman to achieve the three-star rank of lieutenant general in the Air Force.

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“I am so honored to be asked to be a member of the USC Board of Trustees,” Harris said. “It’s a great responsibility, and one I take very seriously. The Board of Trustees is such an accomplished group of people, and I look forward to learning from them, our stakeholders, and contributing more to the university.”

President Carol L. Folt praised Harris as a role model for Trojans.

“We’re very fortunate she will be joining our board as we continue our push for excellence.”

— Carol L. Folt, USC president

“Stayce Harris broke barriers in her remarkable rise through the ranks of the U.S. Air Force, becoming the first African American woman to serve as a lieutenant general and command an Air Force operational flying squadron,” Folt said. “She’s an accomplished commercial pilot, a brilliant engineer and a powerful role model. Gen. Harris is also an inspirational leader with a deep love for USC. We’re very fortunate she will be joining our board as we continue our push for excellence.”

‘Pilot by profession, engineer by degree’

Harris describes herself as a “pilot by profession, engineer by degree.” Throughout her decadeslong career, she climbed the Air Force ranks, serving in roles such as the 22nd Air Force commander and the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force, before rising to inspector general in 2017 and retiring in 2019.

Stayce Harris
Harris has flown more than 2,500 hours in military aircraft and more than 10,000 hours in civilian aircraft. (Photo/Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

Harris logged over 10,000 flight hours with United Airlines, mostly on international flights piloting the Boeing 747 before her 2020 retirement. Her extensive leadership experience and deep knowledge of aviation safety and flight regulations — specifically regarding Boeing aircraft — led to her being named to the board of The Boeing Co.

“We are delighted to welcome Stayce Harris to the Board of Trustees,” said Suzanne Nora Johnson, chair of the USC Board of Trustees. “As a trustee, we know that Stayce will bring her broad experience in security, operations and board governance to best serve the university.”

Early roots in Southern California

Harris received her Bachelor of Science degree in industrial and systems engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 1981 before getting her master’s degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. She grew up wanting to be in the Air Force just like her father, though it was an ROTC instructor that shared with her the opportunity to apply to become an Air Force pilot. When Harris learned the Air Force offered scholarships through ROTC for those wanting to become engineers, she jumped at the chance at gaining a technical background at USC that could eventually set her up for a career in the sky.

“My time at USC was amazing,” Harris said. Though her family only lived in Los Angeles for two years — her father’s career led to the family living in many places, including Japan, England and the East Coast — Harris was born within walking distance of USC at a local hospital. “When I told my parents I was going to USC, they just smiled and said maybe when I was 2 years old, I somehow saw Tommy Trojan and decided this is where I wanted to be.”

During her college years, Harris pledged the historically Black Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., served as a residential assistant and attended “all the football games.”

Trojan for life

Harris kept her connection to the university alive after graduation by staying active through three avenues: Air Force ROTC Detachment 060, the USC Black Alumni Association and USC Viterbi. For many years, Harris collaborated with the Tuskegee Airmen to give an annual award — now called the Tuskegee Airmen/General Stayce Harris Award — to a Trojan ROTC member who had overcome adversity. After staying involved with USC Viterbi, she was asked to become a member of the school’s Board of Councilors. Likewise, Harris formed long-lasting relationships and friendships with members and leaders of the Black Alumni Association through networking events, mentoring efforts and homecoming celebrations.

“Just as I’m an airman for life, I’m a Trojan for life,” Harris said.

A new level of connection with the university

As one of the newest members of the USC Board of Trustees, Harris plans to listen, learn and serve. “I’m deeply curious, and I’m a lifelong learner,” she said. “I think this will help me be a more effective trustee for the university and all its stakeholders.”

She’s already familiar with USC President Carol L. Folt’s “moonshots” for the university and identifies closely with the one dubbed USC Competes. “One of President Folt’s goals is to make USC the research university of choice, and she wants to do that through affordability,” Harris said. “That’s something that’s deeply on my mind, that USC should be affordable for anyone who has the talents, the skill sets and desire to attend. I want to make sure that they’re able.”

“Service has always been at the root of who I am.”

— Stayce Harris, new USC trustee

Harris said she also hopes to be involved in discussions on safety and security on campus and to promote transparency between the board and university stakeholders, including students, staff, faculty, alumni and the community at large.

“Within the Air Force, we have three core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do,” Harris said. “Service has always been at the root of who I am, and I want to ensure that I am serving our university well through integrity, accountability, transparency.”

Harris lives in Southern California, where she serves on the nonprofit boards of Direct Relief and the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcon Foundation. She continues to volunteer for public service organizations, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Rotary Club of Los Angeles and aviation organizations such as Sisters of the Skies, through which she mentors those who want to fly, especially women and people of color.