Presidential Medallion recipient Sarah Van Orman

Sarah Van Orman awarded Presidential Medallion for advancing USC’s values in the field of student health

As chief health officer at USC Student Health, Van Orman keeps Trojans healthy. When COVID-19 struck, she found herself caring for the entire community’s wellbeing.

April 20, 2022 Grayson Schmidt

Every year from 1983 through 2020, USC has awarded the Presidential Medallion to one or two people who have brought honor and distinction to the university community. Last year, all USC staff, faculty and health care professionals were awarded the Presidential Medallion for their continued work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, for their work to advance the university’s overall mission, three members of the Trojan Family were honored by USC President Carol L. Folt at the 41st annual Academic Honors Convocation on Tuesday night. USC News is profiling the three recipients. First up: Sarah Van Orman, associate vice provost for student affairs and chief health officer.

Sarah Van Orman speaks at Tuesday’s Academic Honors Convocation
Sarah Van Orman speaks at Tuesday’s Academic Honors Convocation. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

After working in university health care for most of her professional career, Sarah Van Orman was well prepared for her role when she arrived at USC in 2017. Even so, the COVID-19 pandemic would put her and her department to the test.

With calm and perseverance, Van Orman has led USC Student Health throughout these difficulties, earning her a Presidential Medallion.

“To say that Student Health at USC has had a challenging five years is an understatement,” Van Orman said, “I am extremely proud of the staff at Student Health and their ability to be resilient through the unprecedented demands related to mental health and navigating a pandemic.”

Van Orman came to USC in 2017 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison during a major transitional period for Student Health. Previously, Student Health services had been provided at the Engemann Student Health Center and the Eric Cohen Student Health Center, and the professionals who staffed those centers were under the banner of Student Affairs. When Van Orman arrived, a reorganization was already underway that would bring Student Health under Keck Medicine of USC.

And in 2020, she took on arguably the biggest task any health professional could tackle: COVID-19.

Last month, USC Student Health reached 1 million COVID tests conducted since the start of the pandemic. Van Orman credits that response to university leadership and her team.

Presidential Medallion recipient praises her staff

“I am extremely proud of the staff at Student Health, their ability to be resilient, grow, and continue to enhance the care that we’re providing,” she said.

Adaptability and a commitment to helping the USC community have driven the success of health services during these unprecedented times, Van Orman said, and those qualities continue to be important.

The big public health issues that affect students are not going to go away.

Sarah Van Orman

“The big public health issues that affect students are not going to go away,” she said, “and that’s mental health conditions, sexual assault and gender-based violence, alcohol and high-risk substance use, and the challenges of students not feeling that they are included — the impacts of discrimination and racism.”

For an area that Van Orman said could often be overlooked, she’s glad that USC has been committed to growing its student health to ensure a healthier campus overall.

“College health is sometimes not seen as the most exciting, glamorous field of medicine,” Van Orman said. “To have college health recognized at the highest level, as important to the university as winning Nobel Prizes and academic awards, to me, that’s why this award was particularly gratifying.”