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Northwestern Alumni Awards honor 18 for achievement, service

Exceptional individuals from near and far honored at 2015 awards ceremony

  • Top honor awarded to former trial lawyer and business executive Nicholas D. Chabraja
  • NAA honors alumni who have distinguished themselves personally and professionally
  • Recipients acclaimed in business, education, film, TV, sports, law, literature, arts and more

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Nearly 300 members of the Northwestern University community gathered April 25 to celebrate the Northwestern Alumni Association’s 82nd annual Alumni Awards.

Accepting the program’s top honor, the Alumni Medal, was alumnus Nicholas D. Chabraja, a former trial lawyer and business executive. Inspired by one of his undergraduate professors, Chabraja established a center for the study of history at Northwestern and serves as a life trustee.

Alumni merit, service, emerging leader and achievement awards were presented to an additional 17 alumni and friends of the University. The gala event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.

Shiba Russell, who earned a Master of Science degree in 1998 from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, presented the evening’s awards. Russell is an Emmy Award-winning co-anchor on NBC 4 New York’s noon and evening newscasts.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro joined Kathryn Mlsna, president of the Northwestern Alumni Association (NAA), and Laura Wayland, executive director of the NAA, in thanking award recipients for their impressive contributions to Northwestern and the world.

“Our award recipients are an inspiration,” Mlsna said, “and they are role models who remind our current students that the education and relationships that begin at Northwestern make anything possible.”

For more than eight decades, the NAA has honored alumni who have distinguished themselves both personally and professionally and who have dedicated their time and service to Northwestern. This year’s award recipients have earned acclaim in business, education, film and television, sports, law, literature, health care, philanthropy and the arts.

Award details and brief biographies of award recipients follow. To view extended profiles of the 2015 honorees, visit the Northwestern Alumni Association’s website.

ALUMNI MEDAL 

Nicholas D. Chabraja 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1964; J.D., School of Law, 1967

The Alumni Medal is the mark of highest distinction granted to a Northwestern alumnus or alumna who has achieved eminence in his or her community and field of endeavor. This individual has rendered exceptional service to the University, bringing honor to Northwestern.

This year’s winner, University Trustee Nicholas Chabraja, credits his time at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Northwestern University School of Law with launching his successful career as both a trial lawyer and CEO of General Dynamics.

He and his wife, Eleanor, have provided significant support to the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies at Weinberg College. The couple’s generosity has also extended to the School of Law, other areas of Weinberg College, athletics and recreation, the Women’s Board and other Northwestern programs.   

As an undergraduate, Chabraja chose political science as his major but took as many courses as he could with Richard Leopold, an iconic teacher and distinguished professor of U.S. diplomatic history. In 1997, more than 230 of Leopold’s former students -- including Chabraja -- honored their mentor by endowing the Richard W. Leopold Professorship in American History.     

Today the Chabraja Center builds on that legacy, hosting lectures, conferences and workshops to foster ongoing conversations about the study of the past. The Chabrajas’ recent support will expand graduate education and fellowships, student-led conferences, dissertation research and undergraduate research through the center.

ALUMNI MERIT AWARDS

Alumni Merit Awards were given to 10 alumni for high achievement in a profession or field of endeavor. Recipients, selected by the Northwestern schools they attended, are as follows:

Mara Brock Akil

B.S., Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, 1992

After graduating from Northwestern, the Kansas City native began her career as a television writer on Fox’s critically acclaimed dramedy “South Central” and worked as a staff writer and producer on the UPN sitcom “Moesha.” Akil then created “Girlfriends,” a sitcom that ran for eight years on UPN and The CW. She is the creator and executive producer of the hit BET shows “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane.” At Northwestern, Akil wrote sketch comedy pieces for campus productions. She credits Delle Chatman, who taught screenwriting at Northwestern, as an influence.

William “Bill” Bindley

B.S., School of Communication, 1984

Bindley is a founder and co-president of Gulfstream Pictures, a motion picture and television production company based at Warner Bros. Studios. Last year Gulfstream produced “The Nut Job,” which will soon become the highest-grossing non-major animated film ever. Bindley and his studio are at work on the sequel, which Bindley’s brother -- Scott Bindley (’88), also a radio, television and film graduate -- is writing. Screenwriting professor Stuart Kaminsky inspired Bill Bindley as a student. Bindley has stayed involved with Northwestern in numerous ways: his company hires interns from Northwestern, and he and his brother established the Bindley Film Grant to provide annual funding for Northwestern students to write and shoot short films.

Herold “Mac” Deason 

J.D., School of Law, 1967

Always close to Northwestern, Deason spent more than a decade as a member of the Northwestern Law School Fund Board and is a longtime member of the Law Board. In 1965, Deason took a summer position as a clerk in the Detroit office of Bodman PLC and, remarkably, has been employed by the law firm since graduation. His involvement with the Bluhm Legal Clinic -- a program that gives Northwestern law students direct experience representing clients and honing their skills as advocates -- began when Deason and his classmates created an endowed discretionary fund for special projects at the clinic.

Ashley Fields 

M.A., School of Professional Studies, 2009

Fields grew up in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove and studied communication at the University of Missouri. At Northwestern, her classmates and professors -- especially Maureen Harty, Northwestern’s associate athletic director for compliance, and Jeff Bail, a sports marketing executive -- enabled her to build a network of contacts in sports marketing. While Fields was in the master’s program, she worked as an account executive at CBS, focusing on the Chicago White Sox and sports radio station 670 The Score. She now oversees all sports marketing, sponsorships and events for CBS Chicago.

Wiley Hausam

B.A. and B.M., Bienen School of Music, 1980

At Bienen, Hausam’s advisors suggested that he manage artists, so Hausam developed a “hand-crafted major” in arts management. After college, Hausam headed to New York City and was an assistant for the original Broadway production of “Evita.” He later became an artist-representative and worked with actress Anna Deavere Smith and other up-and-coming artists. In 1998, he opened Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, a celebrated venue for performance artists. Three years ago, Hausam was recruited by Stanford University to open and manage its new Bing Concert Hall and create a performing arts program called Stanford Live.

Daryl Morey 

B.S., Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, 1996

Morey has revolutionized the NBA as general manager of the Houston Rockets and has led the league’s analytics movement. Morey has used advanced statistical analysis to transform the way players and teams are evaluated and how basketball insiders understand the game. At Northwestern, Morey met his future wife, Ellen Halleran Morey (’96), at a New Student Week picnic. While in college, he took a part-time job at STATS Inc., a Chicago-area company whose cofounder introduced advanced analytics to baseball nearly 40 years ago.

Morey earned an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and worked for the Boston Celtics as senior vice president of operations. A self-described “unknown” when he joined the Rockets in 2006, Morey has since received accolades from media outlets and the Rockets have had a winning record in each of his seasons as general manager. He is still pursuing his ultimate goal: an NBA championship.

Brad J. Potter 

D.D.S., Northwestern Dental School, 1979

In the summer of 1978, Potter had a formative experience participating with other Northwestern dental students in a migrant health program at Salud Clinic in Colorado. Potter and his classmates treated patients under the supervision of John McFarland (’67 DDS), who still directs dental services at the community clinic. Potter spent a decade in private dental practice with a Northwestern classmate in Colorado. He later earned a master’s degree in dental diagnostic sciences with an emphasis in oral and maxillofacial radiology. He now teaches radiology at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, where he is senior associate dean for academic affairs. He also encourages his students to serve at Salud Clinic, where McFarland still mentors young dental health professionals.

Dave Revsine 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1991

Revsine spent the year after his graduation in Ireland on a Rotary scholarship. Already accepted at several top law schools, he planned to enroll at one when he realized that he really wanted to be a sportscaster. Revsine had called Wildcats games on WNUR, the University’s student radio station. After returning from Ireland, he worked briefly in banking until he found a job as a sportscaster at a small TV station in Texas. Within three years, he had landed a job at ESPN, where he spent 11 years as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. In 2007, he returned to Chicago to help launch the Big Ten Network. As lead studio host, Revsine appears on the network’s Emmy Award-winning football pregame show and serves as a play-by-play announcer for Big Ten men’s basketball games. In 2014, his book about the history of college football, “The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation,” became a best- seller.        

Arva Rice 

B.S., School of Education and Social Policy, 1990

Rice has been president of the New York Urban League (NYUL) since 2009 and is only the second woman to serve in that role in the organization’s 95-year history. The NYUL’s mission is to enable African-Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first-class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy. Rice was raised in Milwaukee, where her entrepreneurial father made it possible for her and her siblings to be the first in their family to attend college. For most of her career, Rice worked in youth-service nonprofit organizations in New York City. She also served as executive director at Project Enterprise, a micro-finance agency for small businesses.

Nayef H. Samhat

Ph.D., The Graduate School, 1995

Samhat is the president of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He originally came to Northwestern to study with Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, a distinguished scholar of Middle Eastern politics. Later, encouraged by Professor Michael Loriaux and other mentors, he shifted his focus to international relations and wrote his dissertation on climate change. Samhat and his wife, Prema, raised three young daughters while he pursued a Ph.D. in political science, in Evanston. Samhat’s academic career began at Centre College in Kentucky, where from 1996 to 2005 he won recognition as a teacher, held two chaired professorships and served as associate dean. In 2009, he became provost and professor of political science and international studies at Kenyon College. He became Wofford’s 11th president in 2013.

ALUMNI SERVICE TO SOCIETY AWARD

The Alumni Service to Society Award is given in recognition of the exceptional advancement of causes or ideas that improve society. This year’s recipient is:

John Wood

MBA, Kellogg School of Management, 1989

Wood says that his business training at Kellogg was critical for teaching him how to “build, lead or co-lead high-performance teams.” As a Microsoft executive, Wood ran the company’s marketing and business development teams in Asia from 1991 to 1999.           While on a trekking vacation through Nepal in 1998, he visited a rural primary school that lacked books. Encouraged by the school’s director, Wood returned a year later with 3,000 books. He later quit Microsoft to start the project that would become Room to Read in 2000.

Wood’s vision is to reach 15 million children by 2020 through Room to Read’s programs to promote literacy and gender equality in education. The nonprofit has had a tremendous impact, opening more than 1,800 schools and 18,000 libraries in 11 countries. It has distributed 14 million books, trained 50,000 teachers and supported more than 30,000 students in long-term girls’ education programs.

ALUMNI SERVICE AWARDS

Alumni Service Awards are given in recognition of outstanding service to the University. This year’s recipients include:

Gita Blumentals Budd 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1976
; MBA, Kellogg School of Management, 1978

During her 35-year career in health care strategy, Budd has been a trusted advisor to providers around the country. A longtime volunteer with the NU Club of Washington, D.C., Budd served as club president. She was selected to serve as a member of the Council of 100, a national group of successful Northwestern alumnae, and completed two terms as a director-at-large on the NAA board of directors.

Budd returns to Evanston often for alumni activities. She contributes financially to Northwestern, supporting scholarships and other areas. She also participates on the Washington, D.C., Regional Board of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle and the Washington, D.C., Regional Campaign Committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

Jeffrey M. Harris 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1993

Harris has been a dedicated alumni volunteer since graduating from Weinberg College with a degree in political science. His favorite contribution to the University is helping launch Northwestern’s Dinner with 12 Strangers program, now one of the most popular programs offered by the Northwestern Alumni Association. A lawyer, Harris has served as president of the NU Club of Austin, as well as a volunteer interviewer for the Alumni Admissions Council, and as a regional director and a director-at-large on the NAA Board of Directors.

Charles F. “Chuck” Sansone 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1962

At Northwestern, Sansone met his wife, Julie (’62), and forged friendships with his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers that remain strong to this day. His degree in political science helped lay the foundation for a successful law career in Florida. Sansone has made countless contributions to Northwestern as a volunteer. He has served on two class reunion committees, co-chaired the Florida Regional Board of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle, and served and chaired the Alumni Regents. He sees his engagement as a vehicle for helping the next generation of alumni prepare to become stewards of the University in their own right.         

Todd M. Warren 

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1987           

After graduating from Northwestern, Warren worked at Microsoft for 21 years in a variety of product development and management roles. While recruiting for Microsoft on campus, Warren developed a friendship with Larry Birnbaum, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. The relationship led Warren to take a sabbatical and return to Northwestern to teach. He helped create and now teaches the NUvention: Web course as an adjunct professor in the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Warren has served as an alumni trustee and as a member of the School of Communication National Advisory Council and the Weinberg Board of Visitors. He also contributes his time to Ashesi University in Ghana, where he is a member of the board of trustees.

GRANT GOODRICH ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

The Grant Goodrich Achievement Award is presented to one outstanding individual who, although not a graduate of Northwestern University, greatly enhances the University through his or her professional accomplishments, commitment and service:

John A. Canning Jr.           

Canning is chairman of Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners, the Midwest’s largest private equity firm, which he cofounded in 1992. In 1994, Canning joined Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. He helped to protect the endowment during the recession as chair of the investments committee. He led the governance and nominations committee and served as a vice chair from 2001-2014. At Northwestern, Canning and his wife, Rita, have contributed to the new Music and Communication Building and the renovation of Rocky Miller Park, and endowed a scholarship fund for student-athletes. They also are leaders in Chicago’s philanthropic community. A lifelong baseball fan, Canning owns interests in six minor league teams, plus a minority stake in the Milwaukee Brewers.

EMERGING LEADER AWARD

The Emerging Leader Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has left a significant impact on his or her profession or community by age 35.

Karen Russell

B.A., Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 2003

In 2013, a mere decade after graduating from Weinberg, Russell received a MacArthur Fellowship for her “haunting yet comic” fiction writing. She says her professors in the Creative Writing Program -- particularly Edith Skom (’70 M.A., ’78 Ph.D.), distinguished senior lecturer emeritus -- “pushed me in the best way.” Russell’s successful literary career was launched with her first novel, “Swamplandia!,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012. She has written a novella and two short-story collections, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker and Oxford American. Russell is now working on a novel, a long-form nonfiction piece and several short stories.

-This story was written by Andrea Nazarian

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