Illinois Tech to Add to ‘Rich History of Visionaries’ With New Class of Alumni Award Honorees

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There is no better example of the ingenuity and innovative spirit that Illinois Institute of Technology strives to instill in its students than its alumni, whose success highlights how the university is making good on its vision to shape the future.

To honor that work, Illinois Tech has presented the Alumni Awards since 1946 to highlight accomplished, innovative, and influential alumni. This year’s award recipients will be celebrated during Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2022, which will be held September 16–17.

To learn more about the Alumni Awards and to view past winners, visit the Alumni Awards website

Alumni Medal

Jeffrey Denenberg (M.S. EE ’68, Ph.D. ’71) was instrumental in the development of electronic communication and computer industries. He is currently the president of DTS, an executive technology consulting firm that specializes in resolving system and product design issues. Charlotte Denenberg (MATH ’70, M.S. ’73) was a pioneer in executive leadership at a fiber optic tech company and as an industry consultant. She was most recently the chief technology officer and vice president for network technology for Southern New England Telecommunications Corporation. Through substantial scholarship support, the Denenbergs’ accomplishments will have an enduring impact on current and future Illinois Tech students.

Galvin Award

The Grainger Foundation (Represented by Brian Walker)

Brian Walker is vice president and chief product officer at W.W. Grainger, Inc. In 2020 Walker was instrumental in securing funding from The Grainger Foundation to establish the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize at Illinois Tech, which has become an avenue for Illinois Tech students to distinguish themselves in the field of computing.

Alumni Service Award

A dedicated and long-term volunteer, Bob Hoel (BE ’70) is the incoming chair of the Illinois Tech Alumni Board of Directors. After spending 34 years in various capacities at RR Donnelley, he retired in 2004 to become a full-time volunteer. He serves on the Career and Professional Development Committee, Admissions Committee, and Executive Committee as vice chair of the Alumni Board of Directors. Hoel was elected a trustee of the university in October 2018.

Collens Merit Award

A former chemist for the United States Air Force, Bob Frey (CHEM ’65) established the chemistry department’s first endowed chair through his philanthropic gifts, and has been instrumental in elevating the prestige of Illinois Tech’s chemistry department. An avid art collector, Frey has donated several pieces from his private collection to the university, including Entropic Reaction by artist Philip Levine, which is currently on display on the first floor of the Robert A. Pritzker Science Center.

International Award of Merit

A dedicated immigration attorney and community organizer, Ruth Lopez-McCarthy (LAW ’09) was appointed a senior immigration fellow at the Illinois Department of Human Services in 2021. Lopez-McCarthy was the recipient of the 2019 Honorable Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Law Award, the 2020 Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois’s Latina Lawyer of the Year, and the 2020 Angel Harvey Family Health Center of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago’s Champion for Children Award.

John J. Schommer Honor I Award

A standout volleyball player at Illinois Tech, Jackie Sokolowski (PSYC ’05, M.B.A. ’14) is currently the chair of the Illinois Tech Athletics Advisory Board, and she has been instrumental in developing the forthcoming Athletics Hall of Fame. Professionally, Sokolowski spent the first decade of her career at Illinois Tech, and currently works at Huron Consulting as manager in its higher education practice, where she mentors and leads a team of consultants.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Roy Sahlstrom (ME ’45) had a successful and illustrious career in mechanical engineering, retiring as president of Belltech in 1990. Sahlstrom has been honored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with a distinguished service award, which also made him a fellow in recognition of his excellence in the field. He was formerly a member of the Illinois Tech Alumni Board of Directors, and he served on several alumni reunion committees throughout his life. He died in 2020 at the age of 96.

Virgil A. Abloh (M.ARCH ’06) was an exceptional fashion designer and entrepreneur who was the first person of African descent to lead Louis Vuitton’s menswear line. In 2012 he established his own fashion line, Off- White, which is now world-renowned. He went on to forge partnerships with brands like IKEA, Nike, Rimowa, and Planned Parenthood. He was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world in 2018, and often lent his talent to nonprofit causes including the Little Sun Foundation and War Child. He died in 2021 at the age of 41.

Outstanding Young Alumnus/ Alumna Award

Gareth Meirion-Griffith (Ph.D. MAE ’12), 36, is currently the lead for the Lunar Surface Technology Research program element at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Dir  ectorate. He is responsible for the formulation and execution of an effort to engage United States universities in the development of near-term lunar technologies for the Artemis program. Meirion-Griffith also serves as a fellow in the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

Ameena Payne (BA ’15), 32, has won numerous teaching awards and is a fellow of the Australian Higher Education Academy. She is a member of the College of Reviewers and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.

Dawveed Scully (ARCH ’10), 37, is an associate director and senior urban designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he leads complex urban planning projects nationwide. He received the Urban Land Institute Chicago’s Young Visionary Award in 2018 and was named to Crain’s Chicago Business’s 40 Under Forty list in 2020.

Professional Achievement Award

Said Al-Hallaj (Ph.D. CHE ’00) was the chief executive officer and co-founder of All Cell Technologies, and he recently founded NETEnergy, LLC, a Chicago-based thermal energy storage company. During his studies at Illinois Tech, Al-Hallaj co-invented a new solution for passive management of heated phase change composite material. He has several issued and pending patent applications in the areas of renewable energy, energy storage, and water desalination. He is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and a visiting research professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Jiang Hsieh (Ph.D. ECE ’89) recently retired from GE Healthcare in 2021, where he worked as chief scientist. His work was focused on development of image reconstruction algorithms that improve the diagnostic accuracy of modern CT imaging systems. He holds more than 250 patents related to CT imaging technologies, and has published more than 300 journal and conference papers.

Francis Kulacki (ME ’63, M.S. GE ’66) is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota. His scholarship has had significant impact in the nuclear reactor heat transfer field; correlations developed by Kulacki and his group have become standard practice at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and American Society of Thermal and Fluids Engineers.

Mathai Varghese (MATH ’81) is a mathematician and educator at the University of Adelaide in Australia. One of his most influential contributions was to the Mathai-Quillen formalism, which has since found applications in index theory and topological quantum field theory. Since 2009 Varghese has been director of the Institute of Geometry and Its Applications at the University of Adelaide. In 2021 he was awarded the Hannan Medal and Lecture from the Australian Academy of Science and the George Szekeres Medal from the Australian Mathematical Society.

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