University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Awards

close-up of the Alma Mater at the University of Illinois with trees in the background

Robert H. Liebeck’s, ’61 ENG, MS ’62 ENG, PHD ’68 ENG, trailblazing career in aerodynamics has touched air, land and sea. A senior technical fellow and chief scientist for Boeing, he has led several classified, advanced-concept aircraft programs that resulted in successful flight vehicles. As a consultant, Liebeck has designed America’s Cup-winning yachts, NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow,” and wings for Formula One racing cars.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Royal Aeronautical Society, Liebeck has earned worldwide recognition for his work in aerodynamics. Notable honors include the General Charles E. Yeager Award for Aeronautical Innovation and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences’ Award for Innovation in Aeronautics. Liebeck has shared his expertise with the next-generation of engineers as well, teaching courses in aerodynamics, flight mechanics and airplane design at such universities as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Irvine.

A resident of Irvine, Calif., Liebeck received the University of Illinois College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1996 and was inducted into the College’s Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011. He endowed the Dept. of Aerospace’s first professorship in 2014, in honor of his mentor, Professor Allen Ormsbee.

The Douglass M. and Nola Leishman Professor of Cardiovascular Disease at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, James Spudich, ’63 LAS, is one of the world’s most respected biochemists. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he has conducted groundbreaking research on molecular motors and is credited with advancing the field of single-molecule biology. Spudich also has developed novel therapeutics ranging from medications to improve muscle function for ALS patients to others treating rare, genetically based cardiovascular diseases.

A member of the Stanford faculty since 1977, Spudich served as founding director of that university’s pioneering Bio-X program. The interdisciplinary effort, which includes researchers from the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, computational sciences and the clinical sciences, aims to create new knowledge of biological systems.

A widely sought-after speaker, Spudich has shared his innovative research with audiences around the globe. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A native of Benld, Ill., Spudich earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry while working under Woody Hastings, a renowned University of Illinois biochemistry professor. Spudich received the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Achievement Award in 2016.

University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award

Chicago-area native Michael (Mike) Tokarz, 71 LAS, MBA 73, is chairman of the Tokarz Group, a private New York City-based merchant bank. Prior to founding his namesake firm in 2002, Tokarz spent 17 years with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a private equity firm where he handled diverse leveraged buyouts, restructurings and dispositions. He began his professional career in 1973 with Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Co.

Tokarz’s commitment to his Alma Mater has been consistent and substantial. In addition to being a current board member and former chairman of the University of Illinois Foundation, he is one of five corporate members of the IllinoisVENTURES Board of Managers. In fact, he has shepherded the 18-year-old technology investment firm, which was created to help commercialize University of Illinois technologies.

At the University’s Gies College of Business, Tokarz co-chaired Investing in Excellence: The Campaign for Business Education at Illinois. This $75 million effort aims to construct the new business instructional facility and double the college endowment for named chairs, programmatic initiatives, research and student scholarships and fellowships. Tokarz, a past recipient of the College’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and MBA Achievement Award, personally donated $7.5 million to the ambitious campaign.