Degrees of honor

The 2015 alumni award recipients have made their marks on the University, their fields, or their causes. The University of Chicago Alumni Association will recognize them at a ceremony in Rockefeller Chapel during Alumni Weekend, June 4–7, 2015.

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Alumni Medal

Edward C. Stone, SM’59, PhD’64, (Physical Sciences)

The former director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stone has served since 1972 as a project scientist on NASA’s unmanned Voyager interstellar space mission. The principal investigator on nine other spacecraft missions, he teaches physics at the California Institute of Technology. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and recipient of the National Medal of Science, in 2014 he was honored with the American Astronautical Society’s lifetime achievement award and the Howard Hughes Memorial Award. “The US-led exploration of the solar system,” wrote one colleague, “would not have been anywhere near as spectacularly successful if it had not been for Ed Stone’s leadership.”

Alumni Service Award

Kathleen Abbott, AB’95

Abbott received the Young Alumni Service Award in 2005 for her contributions to the Alumni Club of the Bay Area and has continued her dedicated service as she moved from San Francisco back to Chicago. She has held many leadership roles in the Chicago club, acting as a mentor to current board members and, through the Student Alumni Committee, to students. “Just 20 years out of college,” wrote an Alumni Board of Governors member, “Kathleen has already packed in more activity on behalf of the University than most people do in a lifetime.”

Christopher Rupright, AB’86

Meeting prospective students and their parents, encouraging fellow alumni to contribute, and hosting happy hours, Rupright and his wife have put the University at the center of their philanthropic efforts. “Chris not only raises funds, he raises spirits,” wrote a classmate, “and he builds and renews ties to the College.” Known as someone who leads by example, Rupright has served on the Visiting Committee on the College and Student Activities.

Young Alumni Service Award

Sean Ahmed, AB’06

In 2005 Ahmed cofounded Go Maroons, a student-run group of sports announcers. As sports editor of the Maroon, he broadcast online commentary to alumni, parents, and friends who weren’t able to watch UChicago’s teams. Now working with the Chicago Cubs, Ahmed continues his multimedia broadcasts for the University. For “exceptional proactive and innovative service over a long period of time,” said one of his classmates, “there is no better candidate.”

Gahan Christenson, AB’03

Christenson has been a leader in the alumni community in the Washington, DC, area, where she is a trial attorney for the federal government. Having served in roles from program chair to president of the Alumni Club of Washington, DC, she is a source of information on all things UChicago related for alumni in the area and helps to provide innovative programming for community members. A member of the club called Christenson’s leadership “a legacy few alumni can match.” 

Professional Achievement Award

L. Gordon Crovitz, AB’80

Considered a visionary in the media industry, Crovitz served as publisher of the Wall Street Journal and executive vice president of parent company Dow Jones, launching the company’s Consumer Media Group to integrate print, TV, and digital offerings. Crovitz now serves as a director for several media and technology companies and writes the weekly Information Age column for the Journal, where he began his career as a summer intern in 1980. “His writing continues to represent the best of what UChicago is all about,” wrote a classmate.

David Eisenbud, SB’66, SM’67, PhD’70, (Mathematics)

As director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Eisenbud has extended the institute’s reach, engaging new audiences including K-12 teachers and the general public. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and previously at Brandeis University, he led the American Mathematical Society from 2003 to 2005, receiving its Leroy P. Steele Prize in 2010. His major research contributions have focused on algebraic curves, commutative algebra, and computational methods. A colleague called him “a great mathematician and a wonderful contributor to the mathematical community.”

Paul Ekman, EX’52

Known for his psychology research on facial expressions and other nonverbal behavior that reveals human emotion, Ekman has made “contributions to science that are of the highest imaginable order,” writes a colleague. A retired University of California, San Francisco, faculty member, he manages Paul Ekman Group LLC, a company that makes training devices related to emotional skills and conducts research relevant to national security and law enforcement. 

Harvey Levin, JD’75

Levin is the founder and managing editor of the celebrity news website TMZ, a controversial competitor to traditional media credited with breaking stories such as the death of singer Michael Jackson. Host and legal analyst on the long-running reality show The People’s Court, Levin also served as creator and executive producer of Celebrity Justice from 2002 to 2005. A fellow alumna praised his work bringing “national attention to issues such as racism and domestic violence in the sports world that have gone unaddressed until now.”

Public Service Award

Paul Beaver, AM’75, PhD’76, (Social Sciences)

Beaver’s company, Amazonia Expeditions, is known for its contributions to conservation and the community of Peru’s Tahuayo River Basin. The company’s research center provides access to over a million acres of legally protected land to conservation biologists and other researchers, and Angels of the Amazon, the charitable organization he directs with his wife, has built a school and clinic in the area. “He has been a force for good, for the pursuit of truth through science, for opportunity, and for responsible world citizenship,” wrote a colleague.

Howard Gottlieb, PhB’47

Gottlieb, the general partner of Glen Eagle Partners Ltd., is an influential advocate and supporter of the arts in Chicago and nationally. A member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, he is an accomplished violinist who has played with groups including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he is a life trustee. He serves on the boards of several cultural organizations and on the Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities. One Chicago arts leader praised his “deep and abiding commitment to providing all citizens ... with equal access to the arts and to a quality education.”

Juri Taalman, SB’63

A partner at the Hartford, Connecticut, law firm Brignole, Bush & Lewis, Taalman has dedicated years of service to help establish a democratic legal system in Estonia, his home country. He has taught at the University of Tartu Law School and helped rewrite the country’s civil, commercial, and criminal codes. As the American Bar Association’s liaison to Estonia and special adviser to the chief justice of the National [Supreme] Court of Estonia, Taalman has worked “diligently and successfully to improve conditions in his native land,” wrote a classmate. 

Norman Maclean Faculty Award

Leo Kocher, MBA’87, Associate Professor in the Department of Physicial Education

UChicago head wrestling coach since 1979, Kocher has helped lead individual wrestlers to the NCAA championship match four times and coached 21 NCAA All-American wrestlers. In 2013 the Illinois chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame honored Kocher with a lifetime service award. From 1981 to 1988 he served as a resident head in Hitchcock and Fishbein Houses. Wrote a wrestling alumnus: “Through our contact with him, we became bolder and more passionate than we were, yet always with our feet planted firmly in reality.”

William C. Wimsatt, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

A member of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology and the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, Wimsatt founded the University’s Big Problems courses. He continues to teach and publish on the history and philosophy of science and the study of complex systems. His ability to help students contextualize problems that are too “messy” to grasp within any single academic field is a hallmark of his teaching career. Wimsatt tackles intellectual problems with not only “creativity and rigor,” one alumnus wrote, but “excitement and pure joy.”

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