From left: Bernadette Boden-Albala, Dyonne Bergeron and Tamara Inoue
UCI’s “kickass women” of 2024, from left: Bernadette Boden-Albala, Dyonne Bergeron and Tamara Inoue. Steve Zylius / UCI

For Women’s History Month, we celebrate the three “kickass women” at UCI – Dyonne Bergeron, Bernadette Boden-Albala and Tamara Inoue. Through their leadership, they inspire others.

ZotGPT Chat, UCI’s open beta-version interactive AI tool, defines the colloquial and popularly used term “kickass women” as follows:

“The term ‘kickass women’ … generally … refers to women who are particularly strong, assertive and competent in their fields or endeavors. These are women who demonstrate confidence, resilience and courage, often breaking barriers and defying societal expectations. They may be leaders, innovators, activists or role models who inspire others with their achievements and attitude. The term celebrates the empowerment and success of women across various aspects of life, including but not limited to professional spheres, academic achievements, sport and activism.”

By this definition, UCI enrolls and employs more kickass women than any other place in Orange County. Recognizing them for Women’s History Month would fill a Proustian tome, so for this year, we will focus on the three honored in Orange Coast magazine’s Power of Women 2024 issue (in previous years called OC’s Kickass Women), who tell us what it means to them to be a kickass woman and who their favorite kickass women are.

Dyonne Bergeron

Vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and UCI’s chief diversity officer

Although she started here just last July, Dyonne Bergeron has quickly become one of UCI’s most high-profile people. Her influence extends to all aspects of campus operations.

In her role, Bergeron oversees the Office of Inclusive Excellence and serves as UCI’s senior executive responsible for providing a holistic and integrated vision of all major diversity, equity and inclusion endeavors on campus and at UCI Health. Reflecting an understanding of DEI as fundamental to UCI’s educational mission, she leads and coordinates campus efforts to advance institutional DEI initiatives in collaboration with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community partners.

It’s a monumental task but one Bergeron is more than capable of handling. “It’s very important for the university to have a diverse, robust commitment, because if we’re not looking at all facets of the person – their ability to thrive in a diverse community – then we’re back to being a monolithic community where we’re not valuing the lives of others and not allowing individuals to achieve the greatness that’s in them,” she says.

What does it mean to you to be a kickass woman?

It means that you are unapologetically you and that you are living your best life focused on your purpose and blessing the world with your natural gifts. You are a fearless, resilient, empathetic servant-leader and a perfectly imperfect being. The following quote from Maya Angelou captures the essence of a kickass woman to me: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Who are your favorite kickass women?

Every woman who wakes up and makes it to another day in this lovely world with integrity is kickass. Every woman who stands in her authenticity, fearless, with empathy and compassion, is kickass. Every woman who reaches back and pulls another woman up is kickass. All the women who prayed and pray for me are women of power! All my ancestors who paved a way so that this first-generation, New Orleans-native Black woman from humble beginnings could become Dr. Bergeron and thrive are kickass. I am so incredibly grateful and humbled to stand on the shoulders of all these great women.

Some of them are my mother, Dolores Butler; my sister, Yolanda Marioneaux; my aunt and godmother, Charlene Fluker; my late grandmother, Lois Francis; my great-aunt, Dorothy Johnson; my angels in undergrad, Bonnie Alford and Johntell Brown; my [sorority sister] Gwendolyn Snearl; my bonus daughter, Ariana Every; and my childhood besties: Wendy Mark, Christie Morris, Denise Douse, Glynniece Smith, Kesa Ambrose-Morris and Dana Harvey.

Bernadette Boden-Albala

Dean of the proposed School of Population and Public Health and director of the Program in Public Health

Bernadette Boden-Albala joined UCI in July 2019, tasked with leading the transformation of the rapidly growing Program in Public Health into the School of Population and Public Health. So far, she’s on track, with the new school tentatively scheduled to be approved this year.

On top of that, Boden-Albala has played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic, for both UCI and the Orange County community. Under her leadership, the Program in Public Health became the key academic partner for government agencies and community organizations in addressing COVID-19 in the region. She led efforts at the university, county and state levels on pandemic preparedness and response, including strategies around communication, health behaviors and testing. The Program in Public Health has fostered a strong relationship with the Orange County Health Care Agency and, in collaboration with it and other community partners, initiated a unique, health equity-based, bilingual contact tracing process for Orange County. Boden-Albala served on multiple advisory groups and task forces to guide the COVID-19 response and is frequently featured on local, state and national media for her expertise on COVID-19 issues.

Her research has also significantly contributed to the understanding of inequalities and patterns of disparity across the U.S. and globally. Earlier this year, Boden-Albala received the prestigious Edgar J. Kenton III Lecture Award from the American Stroke Association for her investigation, management, mentorship and community service in the field of stroke inequities or related disciplines.

What does it mean to you to be a kickass woman?

 A kickass woman to me means that you are a strong leader and communicator and aren’t afraid to speak up for what you believe in. Kickass women fight for justice for everyone and are not afraid to articulate their viewpoints even in a room where no one else agrees.

Who are your favorite kickass women?

I encounter kickass women daily in my work and personal life – including my two daughters – who are fighting passionately every day to improve the lives of others and to be the voice of many. Two regional standouts are America Bracho, CEO of Latino Health Access, and Mary Anne Foo, founder and executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance. I thank them for their commitment to positively changing our society.

Tamara Inoue

Head coach of women’s basketball

Starting in high school in Laguna Hills, wherever Tamara Inoue has played or coached basketball, she has been a winner. And she has brought that attitude to her UCI team.

In 2016, after taking over a squad that had notched just two winning seasons in 15 years, Inoue instilled a renewed energy and mindset that paid off immediately. In her first year with her own recruits, she led the Anteaters to the second-best turnaround in all of NCAA Division I. Since then, the team has achieved three 20-win campaigns, three national postseason tournament bids and, last year, the program’s first Big West regular-season title.

Along the way, Inoue joined Colleen Matsuhara as the only coaches in UCI women’s basketball history to receive the Big West Coach of the Year award.

As one of just a few women of Asian descent in the NCAA Division I coaching ranks, she has set an example for the younger generation. Inoue also is active in the Asian Coaches Association, which supports and elevates Asian coaches at all levels by providing a network of resources and people who can aid each other in advancing Asian coaches professionally.

“A lot of times, what you look like gets put before your accolades,” Inoue says. “It’s challenging but along with that comes more awareness and understanding. For me, it’s just about continuing to do what I’m doing. I’ll always pick up the phone for anyone looking for advice or mentorship. The responsibility piece is being available where I can and not [avoiding] the conversation.”

What does it mean to you to be a kickass woman?

It’s not about being perfect; it’s about embracing my strengths, making a positive impact and empowering my players to be their best selves. I would like my players to see me as fearless, dedicated and passionate – one who doesn’t shy away from challenges, who pushes the boundaries to achieve greatness – and, most importantly, as advocating for their success on and off the court.

Who are your favorite kickass women?

As I age and perhaps gain a touch of wisdom, I’ve come to appreciate how forward-thinking my mother was in her teachings. She fearlessly pushed the boundaries, ensuring that I could participate in activities that were often deemed off-limits for girls. Even when I stood as the sole girl many times or alongside just my twin, she championed my inclusion. And then there’s my twin sister, Karine – a true kickass woman in her own right. Why? Well, let’s just say I gave her a run for her money in many endeavors.