2021 Alumni Award recipients

Top row, from left: Brent Staples, AMʼ76, PhDʼ82; Zhenan Bao, SMʼ93, PhDʼ95; Katherine Freese, PhDʼ84; Kim Ng, ABʼ90; Jonathan Rapping, ABʼ88; Alida Miranda-Wolff, ABʼ14. Bottom row, from left: Efe Ukala, ABʼ06; Julie Brennan, ABʼ96; Albert Chang, ABʼ93; Sofia Gross, ABʼ15; Mark Siegler, MDʼ67; Geoffrey R. Stone, JDʼ71. (All photos courtesy of the individuals)

UChicago Alumni Awards

Meet this year’s honorees.

The Magazine is delighted to present the 2021 Alumni Award recipients. Since 1941 the University of Chicago has recognized outstanding professional achievement and service to the University with the Alumni Awards. The Norman Maclean Faculty Award was added in 1997 to honor emeriti and tenured faculty of distinction. Recipients are nominated by fellow UChicago community members and selected by a committee of Alumni Board members.

The excerpts from their nominations cited here have been lightly edited. Find awardees‘ complete biographies and congratulate them personally on the Alumni & Friends website. A celebration of their achievements is planned for Alumni Weekend, May 19–22, 2022.


Alumni Medal

For achievement of an exceptional nature in any field, vocational or voluntary, covering an entire career

Brent Staples, AM‘76, PhD‘82

Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times editorial writer

“Brent exemplifies the UChicago spirit of intellectual autonomy, the eagerness to examine topics of great significance (such as race relations), and the courage to question ‘received truths.‘ With the rigor quintessential of a University graduate, he researches meticulously, bringing to the fore overlooked stories of the past and distilling their enduring impact on the present day.“

Professional Achievement Award

For outstanding achievement in any professional field

Zhenan Bao, SM‘93, PhD‘95

Department chair and K. K. Lee Professor in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University

“Zhenan exemplifies both the historic nature of the University as well as the role it will play in shaping the world in the coming decades. It is clear that her philosophy toward engineering is nuanced by the rigorous investigatory techniques that were taught at the University of Chicago.“

Katherine Freese, PhD‘84

Professor of physics and the Jeff and Gail Kodosky Endowed Chair in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin

“Professor Freese‘s world-recognized achievements in cosmology research exemplify the University‘s high standards of intellectual rigor as well as its spirit of multidisciplinary research, as her work interweaves the disparate fields of elementary particle physics and astrophysics—an interweaving that was born and fostered at the University when she was a student. In addition, through a popular book on dark matter, she has shown strong ability to communicate the excitement of science to a broader audience.“

Kim Ng, AB‘90

General Manager of the Miami Marlins

“Kim‘s love of the game —and excellence in what she does—has helped set the path for all women coming after her to achieve the highest level in any field, but in particular professional sports. Kim‘s career has been revolutionary to the field of athletics, most notably professional major league sports. She has been able to leverage the analytical skills being implemented in sports to support and guide her decision-making process. She has reached one of the highest levels of her field, becoming the first woman to do so in any major men‘s sports organization.“

Jonathan Rapping, AB‘88

Founder and president of Gideon‘s Promise, a public defender nonprofit seeking to transform the criminal justice system

“Jon is a visionary leader who founded a path-breaking nonprofit organization aimed at addressing one of the most important and intractable problems of our time—the shameful underfunding of indigent defense services, which leaves many of American society‘s most vulnerable people without protection of their most basic rights and fails to protect all of us from unchecked misconduct by the police and prosecutors.“

Early Career Achievement Award

For professional achievement or creative leadership in any field by alumni aged 40 or younger

Alida Miranda-Wolff, AB‘14

CEO and founder of Ethos, a diversity, equity, and inclusion firm

“Alida‘s accomplishments since her graduation from the University of Chicago have perfectly exemplified the spirit of the University. She has continually challenged conventional thinking, generated new insights, asked bigger questions, and supported her community—all in the pursuit of enriching life, specifically for those who need visibility in their communities.“

Efe Ukala, AB‘06

Founder of ImpactHER, a nonprofit focused on bridging the financing gap for women-led enterprises in Africa

“Efe is solving a real problem for African female entrepreneurs, and through her work, she is helping address the high rate of poverty among African women, and consequently gender inequality. Efe exhibits exemplary leadership and intellectual capabilities. She demonstrates an unwavering devotion to improving the lives of African women and displays strong passion in further mentoring them.“

Alumni Service Award

For outstanding service to the University

Julie Brennan, AB‘96

Board member of the UChicago Alumni Schools Committee Task Force and reunion committee member for the Class of 1996 with 25 years of volunteer service to the University

“Julie has offered outstanding service to the University, prospective students, and alumni volunteers. She deserves recognition, not only for the number of prospective students and volunteers whom she‘s supported, but also the way that she goes about her work: with kindness, enthusiasm, and a commitment to providing exemplary service to prospective students, alumni interviewers, and the University itself.“

Albert Chang, AB‘93

Organizer of a UChicago life sciences alumni networking and engagement series with almost 20 years of volunteer service to the University

“Albert has been by far the most dedicated and loyal alumni volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area alumni group. He consistently demonstrates a passion for learning and growth and applies this passion in service to building the University of Chicago‘s presence and value throughout the Bay Area community.“

Young Alumni Service Award

For service to the University by alumni aged 35 and younger

Sofia Gross, AB‘15

Strategic outreach advisor to the UChicago Admissions Office and member of the Institute of Politics Board of Advisors

“Sofia has been an incredible leader—both in her professional capacity and in her relentless service to our campus community—and truly embodies the positive attitude, adaptability, work ethic, and poise representative of an institution of UChicago‘s caliber. I cannot say enough positive things about her and all that she has done for her alma mater.“

Norman Maclean Faculty Award

For extraordinary contributions to teaching and student life by emeritus or very senior faculty

Mark Siegler, MD‘67

The Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine

“One year with Mark Siegler changed my entire academic life for the better. That is the power of a mentor. The connection with the mentor, even for just a time, changes the life. Mark gave us all a start, a voice, and a path. Mark‘s guidance about case writing lives on in my chart notes. I hear his words about writing. I write about the specifics of the person I see, and I describe the disease(s) he or she has. This is not just a patient. This is not just a rote, billable note. This is a relationship we are in together.“

Geoffrey R. Stone, JD‘71

The Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law

“I still draw energy today from his First Amendment class—over 25 years later. It profoundly impacted my thinking about free speech. It was intellectually and emotionally demanding. Professor Stone challenged us to think deeply about the limits of free speech, testing our values, assumptions, and prejudices all along the societal and intellectual fault lines that America continues to confront.“