Pioneer in diabetes research to receive Alumni Medal

The University of Chicago Alumni Association and the Alumni Board of Governors announce that leading biochemist Donald Steiner, SM’56, MD’56, will be awarded the Alumni Medal at the 73rd Annual Alumni Awards Ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 7 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

The Alumni Medal recognizes achievement of an exceptional nature in any field, vocational or voluntary, covering an entire career. In addition to the Alumni Medal, the University will recognize distinguished alumni and faculty members who have made exceptional contributions to the University, to their professions, and to their communities, across five different categories. This year’s 15 alumni award recipients include medical research pioneers in diabetes and women’s heart health, an influential art historian, a U.S. senator, a poignant political commentator, a leading bioethicist and two couples that have positively impacted the academic and experiential learning culture at the University of Chicago.

The awards ceremony, which is free and open to the public, is a highlight of the University of Chicago’s Alumni Weekend. Visit for registration and a complete schedule of 2014 Alumni Weekend events.

The 2014 alumni award recipients include:

Donald F. Steiner, MD’56, SM’56, Alumni Medal


Donald Steiner, a member of the Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Medicine, has devoted his life to groundbreaking research on diabetes and has won international acclaim for his discoveries on the biosynthesis of insulin, a key hormone in controlling blood sugar and its utilization. His studies led to the discovery of proinsulin and preproinsulin, precursors that enable insulin’s production in the body, and these discoveries facilitated the development of synthetic human insulin for diabetes therapy, which is now the standard form of clinical diabetes treatment around the world. A fragment of proinsulin—the C-peptide—also led Steiner to develop a novel way to measure the production of insulin in the body that is widely used internationally for this purpose. Steiner has published nearly 400 peer-reviewed papers, and his work has been cited over 10,000 times by other researchers. Steiner is the recipient of many international awards and honorary doctorates, highlighting the significance of his research. He’s also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; as such, he brings distinction to the University. Moreover, Steiner has been a treasured teacher, mentor and friend of many students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at the Division of Biological Sciences/Medical Center, School of Medicine and the Kovler Diabetes Center. 

Leon R. Kass, LAB’54, SB’58, MD’62, Professional Achievement Award


Leon Kass has dedicated over four decades of his life to exploring and defending the meaning of humanity in an age of modern biology. Early in his career as a biomedical researcher, he identified a host of moral questions raised by new biotechnologies and sought to address these queries through deeper philosophical inquiries into human nature and its relation to the human good. Kass, a self-described humanist, has written numerous articles and books on topics ranging from cloning, the doctor-patient relationship and euthanasia to courtship, eating and the book of Genesis. He is a founding fellow of the Hastings Center, a think tank devoted to issues of bioethics. From 1984 to 1991, Kass served on the National Council on the Humanities and the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009 he delivered the endowment’s Jefferson Lecture. From 2001 to 2005, he was chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics and remained a member from 2005 to 2007.

C. Noel Bairey Merz, AB’77, Professional Achievement Award


C. Noel Bairey Merz is credited with making a historic and global impact on the treatment of women’s heart disease. Through her pioneering research, the differences in preventing, diagnosing and managing ischemic heart disease between men and women grew drastically. What was once an area focused on the treatment of men, this entirely new body of knowledge on women’s heart health led to more accurate diagnosis and treatment for female patients. Bairey Merz is chair of the American College of Cardiology Cardiovascular Disease in Women and serves on the advisory boards of WomenHeart and Sister to Sister. She’s published 425 articles in scientific journals and has been widely quoted and featured in broadcast and print media, including Good Morning America, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Peter Selz, AM’49, PhD’54, Professional Achievement Award


Peter Selz is credited with establishing modern art as a legitimate field for art history investigation. His book devoted to German modern art history, German Expressionist Painting (University of California, 1957), is a known classic. He was the first curator of modern painting and sculpture exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and became the founding director of the Berkeley University Art Museum in 1965. Selz’s biographer writes, “Selz’s only but inviolable requirement is that art be serious in intent, regardless of style, and philosophically devoted to the human condition.” As such, Selz looks beyond the mainstream and has shed light on lesser-known artists, both historical and modern-day talents, in his publications, exhibitions and classes.

Bret Stephens, AB’95, Professional Achievement Award


Bret Stephens was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his “incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Stephens was raised in Mexico City and majored in fundamentals in the College. He became editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post in 2002 at the age of 28 and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2005. In addition to writing his weekly column, he supervises the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal’s sister publications in Europe and Asia, serves on the paper’s editorial board and speaks and writes widely about global affairs.

Bernard (Bernie) Sanders, AB’64, Public Service Award


Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. The Almanac of American Politics has called Sanders a practical and successful legislator. He has focused on the shrinking middle class and widening income gap in America, which is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Other priorities include universal health care, fair trade policies, veterans, family farms and reversing global warming. His popularity among his constituents is evidenced by his four-term service as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and his landslide 2012 reelection, with 71 percent of the votes. Sanders is the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, which is part of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. He also serves on three other Senate committees—Budget, Energy and Environment—and is the cofounder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  

Michael L. Shakman, AB’62, AM’64, JD’66, Public Service Award


Michael L. Shakman has been a partner at Miller Shakman & Beem LLP since 1972. He is best known for battling political patronage by filing suit against the City of Chicago, other governmental bodies, and political organizations and by obtaining a series of court orders, the “Shakman Decrees,” in federal court, making political hiring and firing illegal. Michael L. Shakman et al v. Democratic Organization of Cook County et al, which is still active 45 years after it was filed, continues to make major changes in public employment and is a model for what may be achieved through public interest litigation. Shakman has written extensively on legal ethics, and, as a former colleague states, he “has become a symbol, an inspiration if you will, to those involved in other battles to eliminate corruption and restore integrity in government.” Shakman is also an active business and commercial litigator and, aside from the law, an avid soaring pilot and soaring competitor.

Judith Munson, AB’63, and Lester Munson, JD’67, Alumni Service Award


Judith and Lester Munson have dedicated a great deal of creativity, resources and time to the University of Chicago and are beloved by students, administrators and staff. They have demonstrated their commitment to student and alumni development by spending countless hours as Taking the Next Step panelists and Metcalf Internship hosts and serving on their reunion committees and the parents committee. More notably, Lester has served as the master of ceremonies for the Athletic Hall of Fame for 11 years, making the experience incredibly meaningful for inductees. In addition, Judith designed and funded unique international internship opportunities for students, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the culture and gain valuable work experience. The Munsons possess an insurmountable zeal for helping others and, in particular, making connections with students and fellow alumni in the Chicago community.

Terri Travis-Davis, AM’99, Alumni Service Award


Terri Travis-Davis is a silent yet powerful leader within the School of Social Service Administration’s alumni community. Her peers recognize her for being instrumental in identifying SSA alumni who had not been engaged with the graduate school and creating in them a stronger affinity for the University. Travis-Davis served on the SSA Alumni Association Board from 2007 to 2011, and since 2007 she has served on the SSA African American Alumni Committee. Her commitment to SSA goes beyond just maintaining a strong affinity among alumni; she also ensures that students feel supported as they transition into postgraduate life. She established the first African American Alumni Award to ensure that students are able to enter their professions in social work with a little less debt.

Jenna Beletic, AB’07, Young Alumni Service Award


Jenna Beletic is well known among her former classmates and other fellow young alumni for her sustained effort in contributing to the Alumni Association since graduation. Despite working 10- to 14-hour days and balancing graduate coursework as a second-year student at Chicago Booth School of Business, she’s chaired Phoenixphest two years in a row, interviewed prospective students, reviewed Metcalf applications, hosted an Alumni Board of Governors extern and served on the 2012 Caucus Advisory Committee. Her most significant contribution has been as the alumni adviser to the Student Alumni Committee, for which she mentors students on a weekly basis to build a stronger student-alumni community. Staff and fellow volunteers recognize Beletic as a dependable alumna who has made incredible contributions to her alma mater “without missing a beat” upon graduating from the College.

Luke Rodehorst, AB’09, Young Alumni Service Award


Luke Rodehorst has proudly respresented the University of Chicago in every city in which he’s lived. His love for his alma mater is evidenced by his commitment and participation in an expansive list of activities, including College Class Council, Participate Chicago, Senior Class Gift, and Alumni Schools Committee. He has spoken on panels across a number of alumni engagements, including Volunteer Caucus and Taking the Next Step in order to engage fellow University volunteers as well as current students. He is also recognized for his leadership role in establishing and maintaining the Chicago Men’s A Capella affinity group and serving on every alumni club in each city in which he’s lived. He has a contagious energy and endless excitement for UChicago that many recognize and admire.

Richard A. Epstein, Norman Maclean Faculty Award


Prof/ Richard Epstein, a lauded legal scholar, has taught and mentored four decades of law students at the University of Chicago with memorable excitement and zeal. One former student wrote, “It wasn’t just his manner but his extraordinary legal imagination and his ability to conjure far-reaching questions from even the most pedestrian of cases.” He has gone above and beyond his role as a professor, demonstrating genuine interest in improving the student experience by listening to his students and working closely with staff to make improvements. He’s taken great pride in the individual mentorship of many students who have gone on to have distinguished careers in academics, practice and public life. He’s become a recognizable fixture outside the classroom through intramural sports, the famed Latke-Hamantash debate and the annual Chicago Law Foundation charity auction. He has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1985 and a senior fellow of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the Pritzker School of Medicine since 1983.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, Norman Maclean Faculty Award


From 1964 to 2002, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph have made an impact on students, not only for their wide-ranging and groundbreaking scholarship but also for their holistic approach to teaching. They were the first dual-career couple in the same field who coauthored numerous articles, papers and books on the comparative politics of South Asia. The Rudolphs have inspired and served as a model for many other dual-career couples in academia. A former graduate student wrote that the Rudolphs are “teachers by inclination, mentors in the deepest sense of the word—[they] have created a community, always growing, always interesting, intellectual and social and very human.” In the spring of 2003, a year after their retirement, their former students gathered from around the world to hold a symposium in their honor, titled Area Studies Redux. Susanne twice chaired the Department of Political Science and is a recipient of the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Lloyd chaired the Committee on International Relations and is a recipient of a 1999 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. Both Lloyd and Susanne served as Ryerson Lecturers in 2002 and are former Guggenheim fellows. In the spring of 2014, the Rudolphs were honored with the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award, the government of India’s second-highest civilian honor. The award recognizes distinguished service of a high order to the nation in any field.