Alumni recognized for exceptional achievement in their careers

Alumni Medal and Alumni Professional Achievement Awards presented to honorees

The 2018 Alumni Medal and Alumni Professional Achievement Awards were presented by the University of Chicago Alumni Association and the Alumni Board in a ceremony on Nov. 9 at the University Club of Chicago.

The Alumni Medal is one of the highest honors awarded by the University, and recognizes achievement of an exceptional nature in any field, vocational or voluntary, covering an entire career. Traditionally, the medal has not been given in recognition of a single remarkable achievement but has been reserved for those alumni who have attained and maintained extremely high stations in their chosen fields of endeavor and in their service to society. This year’s recipient is William A. Douglass, AM’66, PhD’67, professor emeritus of Basque studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The Professional Achievement Awards honor alumni who whose achievements in their chosen vocation have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the University, and real benefit to their communities. The Early Career Achievement Award recognizes professional achievement or creative leadership in any field by alumni aged 40 or younger.

Learn more about the Alumni Awards.

2018 Alumni Medalist

William A. Douglass, AM’66, PhD’67, is a professor emeritus of Basque studies and founder of the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. He holds a bachelor’s in Spanish from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a master’s and PhD in social anthropology from the University of Chicago. His academic interests include Basque and Italian migration, ethnicity and identity studies, family history, political violence and social theory. He conducted several years of anthropological field research regarding the causes and consequences of emigration in rural communities of the Spanish Basque Country and Southern Italy, as well as the maintenance of ethnic identity by Basque and Italian immigrants throughout the American West, Latin America and Australia.

Douglass has authored, co-authored or edited about two dozen books and 200 articles. Noteworthy book titles include Death in Murelaga: Funerary Ritual in a Spanish Basque Village (1969); Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (with Jon Bilbao, 1975); Emigration in a South Italian Town: An Anthropological History (1984); From Italy to Ingham: Italians in North Queensland (1995); Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism (with Joseba Zulaika, 1996); and Basques in Cuba (2016). His work has been translated into Basque, Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, Danish and Russian.

Douglass is the only individual other than the president of a nation to have received the Basque Country’s Lagun Onari (“to a good friend”) award, its highest recognition of non-Basque persons or institutions. Douglass was also the consultant of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva during its mediation of negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government to end their decades of violent confrontation.

In retirement Douglass continues to publish in his academic fields of interest, and he has written a book about fly fishing (Casting About in the Reel World, 2002) as well as a collection of short stories (Death After Life: Tales of Nevada, 2015).

2018 Alumni Professional Achievement Award Winners

Samer Attar, SB’98, MD’02, is a surgeon and associate professor at Northwestern Medicine. In addition to his bachelor’s and medical degree, he completed a surgical residency and fellowship at the University of Chicago. Attar has been on several surgical missions to Jordan and Syria with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and Doctors Without Borders, and he was the last SAMS volunteer physician out of Aleppo before its siege in July 2016.

He has also testified at the United Nations about the medical and humanitarian conditions in Aleppo. In 2016 Attar was honored as a Chicago Magazine Chicagoan of the Year and an American Red Cross Global Citizenship Hero in recognition of his humanitarian work in Aleppo and advocacy for Syrian medical workers. He has written for numerous publications, including the Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and National Geographic.

Sarah Koenig, AB’90, is the host and cocreator of the podcast Serial, which quickly became the most widely listened to podcast in the world following its 2014 launch, with more than 340 million episode downloads to date. Serial has won every major award for broadcasting excellence, including the first-ever Peabody Award given to a podcast. The show became a cultural phenomenon; it was parodied on Saturday Night Live and has remade the field of podcasting. In 2015 Time magazine named Koenig to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Koenig’s journalism career began in print; she was a newspaper reporter for 10 years, covering mostly politics and criminal justice. She spent nearly three years working in Moscow, first for ABC News, and then for the New York Times. Her last newspaper job was at the Baltimore Sun. In 2004 she moved back to Chicago to work as a producer at the radio show This American Life.

Mady Wechsler Segal, AM’67, PHD’73, and David R. Segal, AM’63, PHD’67, are professors emeriti and distinguished scholar-teachers at the University of Maryland, specializing primarily in the sociology of military personnel. Their careers have been mainly in academia, but both have provided expertise to national security institutions in the United States and other nations. Before joining the University of Maryland in the mid-1970s, David taught at the University of Michigan and Mady at Eastern Michigan University. Both have conducted research at the Army Research Institute and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and they assisted in the U.S. military’s transition from conscription to a volunteer force.

At the University of Maryland, the Segals directed the Center for Research on Military Organization, conducted research (particularly on military families, diversity in the military, recruiting and peacekeeping operations), and supervised the studies of more than 50 graduate students, many of whom have served on the faculties of U.S. and overseas military academies. The Segals’ work is often cited in the media, they have testified to congressional committees and they have provided advice to service secretaries and chiefs of staff. The Segals worked with the Obama White House, helping develop a program for military spouses, and they currently serve on the Army Educational Advisory Committee.

Both have been awarded the Army Medal for Outstanding Civilian Service, the American Psychological Association Yerkes Award for contributions to military psychology, the Distinguished Former Faculty Award from West Point (where they taught for a year in the 1980s), and career achievement awards from the American Sociological Association and the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society.

2018 Early Career Achievement Award Winners

Sarah Fornace, AB’07, and Drew Dir, AB’07, are two of the co–artistic directors of Manual Cinema, a performance collective, design studio and film/video production company founded in 2010. They have variously written, directed, storyboarded, performed in and choreographed dozens of shows, videos, installations and immersive theater events. Their shows have toured in China, Iran, Egypt, Europe, Australia, Mexico and across the United States.

They have also made several short films with Manual Cinema, including the Emmy Awarding–winning documentary The Forger. Outside of Manual Cinema, Dir was the dramaturge of Court Theatre and now creates animation for film and video. Fornace wrote story-mode text for the video game Rivals of Aether. She also recently directed an “animotion” production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Rokoko Studios for HamletScenen at Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, Denmark. Fornace taught at Columbia College Chicago, and Dir teaches at the University of Chicago. Dir holds a master’s degree in text and performance from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College London. Fornace received her master’s degree in English literature from the University of Toronto.

Yuval Levin, AM’02, PhD’10, is the founder and editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of essays on domestic policy and political thought. He is also the vice president and Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor to National Review and the Weekly Standard. He has served as a member of the White House domestic policy staff and a congressional staffer at the member, committee and leadership levels.

His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Commentary and others. Levin is the author of Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy; The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left; and most recently, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. He holds a PhD from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.