2022 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS ALUMNI AWARDS
The University of Illinois Alumni Association honors the 2022 Alumni Achievement, Distinguished Service, Lou Liay Spirit, Honorary Alumni, Young Alumni, Diversity and Inclusion and Comeback Guest award recipients.
Kevin Finke, ’92 MEDIA, is founder and chief experience officer of Experience Willow, a human-centered design and consulting firm in Decatur, Georgia. At Illinois, he was an athlete in volleyball; a student leader in the Student Alumni Association (as well as Alpha Tau Omega and Mortar Board); and Homecoming king. Finke is an in-demand speaker and conference facilitator, and he is proud to be an active member of the LGBTQ community, where he advocates for equitable and inclusive business environments. He and his husband Rob Stalder live and work together in Decatur, Georgia.
For two decades, James N. Ludwig, ’87 FAA, led design and innovation at Steelcase, a global leader in office furniture. Under his leadership, Steelcase’s design and development teams received more than 500 patents and created hundreds of products that have shaped the lives of millions of people throughout the world. After eight years as executive officer and vice president for global design and engineering, James left his role at Steelcase earlier this year to focus on research, projects and investments for an equitable and sustainable future.
Lou Liay Spirit Award
James W. Fessler, ’85 LAS, JD ’88 LAW, is a retired attorney who serves as an adjunct professor at the U of I’s College of Law. As a student, Fessler was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, the Order of Omega Greek Honor Society and the IFC Judicial Board. After graduation, he served on the University Library’s Board of Advocates and the Advisory Committee to the Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs, and as an alumni coach for the Illinois Leadership Institute. Fessler also is a longstanding member of the University of Illinois Foundation and served on the board of directors for the Alumni Association and the Chicago Illini Club. He is the recipient of the Illinois Loyalty Award and UIF’s William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocacy Leadership.
A member of the Illini Media Hall of Fame, Gene Honda has become a living legend in Illinois as the public address announcer for the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Blackhawks, the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four and Fighting Illini football. Although Honda left the U of I before graduating to begin his career in radio, he remains a strong supporter of the University, volunteering his time to work with Illini Media, alumni clubs, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the UIAA and other colleges and departments, often serving as an event announcer.
Young Alumni Award
This year’s recipient of the Young Alumni Award is Arshan Nasir, MS ’12 ACES, PHD ’15 GC. Arshan is a globally recognized leader in the conceptually and technically challenging field of virus evolution. His groundbreaking research on viral origins and evolution has generated more than 15 first-author publications and been featured on the BBC and in National Geographic, Popular Science and Scientific American. Named a distinguished Oppenheimer Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2019, Nasir focused his research on infectious diseases, specifically the evolution of HIV. Most recently as a senior scientist at the biotechnology company Moderna, he applied his bioinformatics skills to help develop a COVID-19 booster shot tailored for the Omicron variant.
Diversity and Inclusion Award
In 2012, Tyrone M. Phillips, ’12 FAA, joined his fellow U of I alumnus and theatre major Julian Parker, ’12 FAA, to co-found Chicago’s Definition Theatre, a culturally diverse theatre company dedicated to serving underrepresented communities in Chicago. As artistic director, Phillips—a first-generation Jamaican American—drives the company’s mission to create a diverse and inclusive space for all. In 2019, Phillips received $1.6 million from Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to break ground on a new black-box theatre and community center in the South Side neighborhood of Woodlawn. The space will provide professional development opportunities for future generations of theatre artists and serve as an incubator for businesses owned by Black, indigenous and other people of color, as well as women. Phillips was named one of the Chicago Tribune’s “Hot New Faces of 2015” and New City Stage’s 50 theatre leaders in 2022. Currently, he is an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University and the University of Illinois Chicago, and also serves on the board of directors for the League of Chicago Theaters. In the spring of 2023, Phillips will return to the University to direct The Royale with the Department of Theatre, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Honorary Alumni Award
Mike Ross became the sixth director of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in 1997, and his wife Taya Luderowski-Ross is a designer and owner of Luderowski Interiors in Champaign. The Rosses came to the U of I from New York City, where Ross was executive director of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, his alma mater. Under his direction, the Miller Theatre was recognized as “the city’s hottest hotbed of innovative programming.” He attributes his collaborative approach to arts administration to his experience as a professional musician, his interest in the arts and their broader cultural history, and his explorations into the nature of creativity. Mike is also an associate dean in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.
Taya earned her BFA in painting and printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has spent 35 years working as a designer on both residential and commercial projects. She’s also a master gardener and has been featured in the media for both her interior and garden design work. Taya has been a tireless volunteer for local organizations and has mentored and supported many Champaign-Urbana youth and young adults.
Mike and Taya serve as passionate cultural ambassadors for the micro-urban Champaign-Urbana community, with Mike also serving as board chair for the National Association of Performing Arts Professionals, board president of Arts Alliance Illinois, and a founding member of the Champaign County Arts Council, 40 North.
Distinguished Service Award
Peter B. Fox is the founder of Fox Development Corporation, a Champaign firm involved in the development, management and leasing of prime office and retail space. He also the motivating force that brought us the University’s Research Park and the I Hotel and Illinois Conference Center. Not only that, he created Fox Ventures—Fox Development Corporation’s investment arm, an active investor in early-stage technology companies—that has invested in over 75 startups, with a large percentage originating at the University of Illinois. Fox Ventures helps founders with groundbreaking technology commercialize their innovations. Fox and his wife, Kim, are involved in a wide variety of educational and philanthropic activities. Together, they have endowed professorships at the University, sponsored entrepreneurial activities through several University departments, and served on advisory boards for a number of University institutes and colleges. In addition, the couple actively supports the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Krannert Art Museum, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the Bee Pollinatarium at the Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology. Before moving to Champaign, Fox was a partner at Bear Sterns.
David W. Hafemeister is recognized as a global leader in arms control efforts. Most notably, he worked on technical issues related to the United Nations’ 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a multilateral agreement that banned nuclear weapons test explosions worldwide. Winner of the 1996 Leo Szilard Lectureship Award from the American Physical Society and a professor emeritus of physics at California Polytechnic State University, Hafemeister spent significant time working on national security matters throughout his career. He started with U.S. Senator John Glenn in the 1970s; worked for the State Department in the ’70s and ’80s; and, in the ’90s, he worked for both the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Governmental Affairs and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Hafemeister also has worked with the National Academy of Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Stanford University, as well as many national research laboratories.
Halil Ceylan, MS ’95 ENG, PHD ’02 ENG, is director of the Program for Sustainable Pavement Engineering and Research, or PROSPER, at Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation. He also serves as a professor in Iowa State’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. Ceylan has been involved in 125 research projects, with cumulative funding of more than $22 million from top government agencies. His work has resulted in the creation of smart, sustainable and resilient transportation systems, including roads that can clear themselves of ice and snow. Ceylan has been lauded for his innovative approach of employing artificial intelligence and neural network techniques to concrete structural analysis and design. A member of more than 30 national and international committees and organizations, Ceylan has received more than 20 career awards.
Amber Faye McReynolds, ’01 LAS, is the founding CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, dedicated to expanding and improving vote-by-mail systems in all 50 states. In 2021, President Biden appointed her to the United States Postal Service Board of Governors. Through her work and advocacy, she has improved the voting process and enfranchised millions of voters. During the pandemic, McReynolds ensured that people in 42 states could vote safely, and she was instrumental in pushing the Postal Service to create a COVID-19 test kit program to deliver in-home tests to more than 250 million people nationwide. McReynolds also led efforts to modernize Colorado’s voting process, creating a national model for turnout, access, equity, transparency and security. Finally, she serves as a senior strategic advisor to national such organizations as Election Reformers Network, Fair Vote and Issue One.