2014 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumni Awards
2014 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients


Mitchell Burgess, 78BA, and Robin Green, 77MFA

Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green

This talented husband-and-wife team has written and produced some of the most widely acclaimed modern television shows, creating characters and stories of depth, intrigue, and integrity. Burgess and Green are responsible for celebrated programs such as the CBS hit Northern Exposure and the HBO series The Sopranos, for which they won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and Peabody Awards. More recently, they created and produced the police drama Blue Bloods, now in its fourth season on CBS. In 2004, they were honored as UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Fellows, and they continue to support the Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess Fund for prospective students of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Rinde W. Eckert, 73BM

Rinde W. Eckert

An internationally recognized artist, Rinde Eckert has established himself as a major American playwright, performer, composer, director, and advocate for the arts. Through his plays, librettos, and other performance pieces, Eckert creates thought-provoking and haunting theater—winning an OBIE award for best off-Broadway performance for And God Created Great Whales and a nod as one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize for Orpheus X. In 2011, one of his musical collaborations won a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance, and, in 2012, Eckert was named a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation inaugural artist. Still deeply connected to the UI, Eckert has returned to create new works with the theater arts department and Hancher Auditorium.

Sheri A. Salata, 80BBA

Sheri A. Salata

Sheri Salata, president of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Harpo Studios, is among the most influential executives in modern media—responsible for television programming that has left an indelible imprint on American culture. Combining business and broadcasting acumen with her Midwestern work ethic, Salata climbed the ranks of Winfrey's empire to become one of today's 100 most powerful women in entertainment. Beginning with Harpo in 1995 as a promotions producer, she then served as executive producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show from 2006 until its finale in 2011. Thanks to her leadership at OWN, the network continues to experience increased ratings and viewership, while Oprah Winfrey recognizes Salata as an integral part of her success.

Joanne Warner, 76MA

Joanne Warner

Currently professor and dean of the University of Portland School of Nursing, Joanne Rains Warner has significantly impacted U.S. nursing education through her academic leadership and her work with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. At Portland, she's transformed nursing curricula through innovative programs like the newly accredited Doctor of Nursing Practice Family Nurse Practitioner program—the first doctoral program at that university in 38 years—and the "Dedicated Education Unit" approach that has expanded the ability of educators to provide clinical training to undergraduate nurses. Highly respected by her colleagues, Warner is considered an agent of change and an inspiration to the next generation of nursing champions.


Leon J. Aden, 80BS, 82MS

Leon J. Aden

In an impressive 30-year career as a top-level geologist with ExxonMobil, Leon Aden has led exploration and development expeditions to Africa, Asia, and the Arctic. Closer to home, he has demonstrated his stalwart support of the University of Iowa through his decade-long volunteer leadership efforts for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Dean's Advisory Board, his active role in helping recruit numerous UI students to ExxonMobil, and his assistance with various alumni outreach activities. Aden has also contributed financial support of more than $500,000; as befits an explorer, he particularly directs gifts to departments that pursue especially imaginative and promising programs.

Charles W. Becker, 76BA

Charles W. Becker

At age 24, Charles "Charlie" Becker became the third executive director of Camp Courageous in Monticello, Iowa. In the 33 years since, he has worked tirelessly to advance this nonprofit organization and the thousands of people with special needs for whom it provides a much-needed respite. Inspiring other volunteers with his devotion, vision, and hands-on approach, Becker has transformed the organization from a bare-bones, seasonal, 40-acre operation to a year-round endeavor with 200 acres, outstanding facilities, and a $1 million budget. Despite his long hours at Camp Courageous, Becker also volunteers for many other civic groups and organizations, which benefit greatly from his leadership skills, integrity, and compassion.

Cassandra S. Foens, 83BS, 87MD, 92R

Cassandra S. Foens

The first woman and first radiation oncologist from Iowa to be elected to the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors, Cassandra Foens is widely admired for her lifelong philosophy of service. In addition to her work as a radiation oncologist for Clinical Radiologists at Waterloo's Covenant Cancer Treatment Center, Foens volunteers for numerous community and national organizations, whether as a board member for a local hospice or a spokesperson on women's health and cancer-related topics. At her alma mater, Foens has established a presidential scholarship, a lecture series, and a leadership program to enrich the experiences and develop the potential of UI students.


Joel D. Barkan and Sandra Hackman Barkan, 84PhD

Joel D. Barkan and Sandra Hackman Barkan

With distinction and devotion, Joel and Sandy Barkan have made significant contributions to the UI's international programs. Joel, a political science and international programs professor emeritus, founded and served as the first director of the Center for International and Comparative Studies. Sandy, an adjunct assistant professor emeritus of cinema and comparative literature, mentored numerous international students and guided the International Writing Program through its most turbulent period. Together, they helped establish the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, as well as a UI study abroad scholarship, bringing to this Midwestern community a greater understanding of the world.


Avery L. Bang, 07BA, 07BSE

Avery Bang

As executive director of the nonprofit organization Bridges to Prosperity, Avery Bang has provided more than 500,000 rural villagers internationally with access to health care, education, and commercial opportunities. Her passion to use engineering for the public good started as a UI student when she built a bridge in Peru. Founding president of the UI student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, Bang now serves on advisory boards for the civil engineering department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She also acts as an instructor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and as a research assistant who leads teams developing alternative energy solutions for third-world countries.

Christina M. Freese-Decker, 02MHA, 02MS

Christina M. Freese-Decker

Just eight years after graduating from the UI with master's degrees in health administration and industrial engineering, Christina Freese-Decker was the youngest vice president at Spectrum Health, a $4.3 billion health care organization in Grand Rapids, Mich. Within three years, she became president of Spectrum Health United and Kelsey Hospitals. Just recently, she was promoted to senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the entire Spectrum Health system, overseeing 11 hospitals, a 1,000-member physician group, and a 570,000-member health plan. Freese-Decker also demonstrates her leadership skills beyond the workplace by volunteering on a UI College of Public Health alumni board, at her local YMCA, and with the American College of Healthcare Executives.


Stephen H. Wolken, 65BS, 68MD, 75R

Stephen Wolken

A proud, lifelong Iowan, Steve Wolken has provided decades of steadfast leadership to the University of Iowa Alumni Association, the University of Iowa, and the surrounding community. As former chair of the UIAA board of directors, he offered wise counsel during the development of the organization's strategic plan. The ophthalmologist and UI adjunct clinical ophthalmology assistant professor has also lent his expertise to the UI Carver College of Medicine Alumni Society board of advisors and established a medical scholarship for UI students. Beyond the university, he volunteers his time and expertise to a number of community organizations, including the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association.


The Gerdin Family

Gerdin Family

Michael and Nicole Gerdin, Julie and Eric Durr, and Angela and Brian Janssen are following in the footsteps of their parents, visionary philanthropists Russ and Ann Gerdin. Countless thousands of student-athletes and Hawkeye fans appreciate the family's support of UI initiatives like the Athletics Hall of Fame, the Kinnick Stadium renovations, and the Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, while cancer patients benefit from the family's generous gifts to the J. Hayden Fry Center for Prostate Cancer Research, the Gerdin American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, and the new UI Children's Hospital. Through the breadth of such interests and the desire to improve the lives of others, the Gerdin family is making a lasting difference at the UI.

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