The University of Chicago will honor six members of the University community this January as recipients of its annual Diversity Leadership Awards. The awards recognize faculty, students, staff and alumni who have shown a sustained commitment to fostering justice and equality.
This year’s award recipients are Prof. Selwyn O. Rogers Jr.; alum Mary Smith, JD’91; staff members Vera Dragisich, PhD’90, and Dorian H. Nash; graduate student Alvin Gordián Arroyo and College student Zubin Kumar. They will be honored during UChicago’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration on Jan. 30 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
“The 2024 Diversity Leadership Award honorees personify the University of Chicago’s commitment to the assemblage of diverse voices, perspectives and talents in pursuit of excellence,” said Waldo E. Johnson Jr., vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “The honorees inspire us to advance our commitment to diversity and inclusion as fellow faculty, staff, students and alumni of our University community and beyond.”
Faculty recipient: Selwyn O. Rogers Jr.
Selwyn O. Rogers Jr. is the Dr. James E. Bowman Professor in the Biological Sciences and executive vice president for community health engagement at UChicago Medicine. The founding director of UChicago’s Trauma Center, Rogers also serves as section chief of trauma and acute care surgery. A widely respected surgeon and public health expert, he is unwavering in his efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, while expanding access to trauma care on the South Side and beyond.
Rogers has contributed to growing scientific research on the impact of race and ethnicity on surgical outcomes. He is deeply committed to advancing the understanding of disparities in surgical care to close the quality chasm for underserved populations.
Beyond trauma and surgical care, Rogers advocates for treating intentional violence as a public health issue. At UChicago Medicine, he helped launch the Violence Recovery Program in conjunction with the Urban Health Initiative. Previously, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), he partnered with the Center for Community Health and Health Equity to develop a violence intervention program that addressed social factors that put patients at increased risk for trauma and mortality.
Rogers has served in leadership roles at health centers throughout the country. In his current role as executive vice president at UChicago Medicine, Rogers works with faculty across campus and community members to develop a multidisciplinary, compassion-driven approach to trauma care and health disparities. Rogers earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University and his master’s degree in public health from Vanderbilt University.
Alumni recipient: Mary Smith, JD’91
Mary Smith, JD’91, is president of the American Bar Association and the first Native American woman to hold this position. Smith has championed diversity efforts throughout a distinguished career that encompasses leadership roles in law, business and government.
An independent board member and former C-suite executive, Smith is currently on the board of PTC Therapeutics, Inc., a global biopharmaceutical company, and is vice chair of the VENG Group, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington D.C. She is also founder and president of the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation—named for her mother and grandmother—which supports the education of Native American girls and women in STEM fields.
In her previous role as CEO of the Indian Health Service, a national healthcare system serving over two million people, Smith oversaw the development of an operational framework that utilized data analytics to improve services, allocate resources and develop the workforce. Earlier in her career, Smith worked in federal positions including associate counsel to the president at the White House and trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.
She is widely recognized for her service and leadership, having been named a 2023 Business Leader of Color by Chicago United, a 2023 Director to Watch by Directors & Board magazine and a recipient of the 2023 Cherokee National Statesmanship Award. Smith received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from Loyola University Chicago and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.
Staff recipients: Vera Dragisich, PhD’90, and Dorian H. Nash
Vera Dragisich, PhD’90, is a senior instructional professor in the Department of Chemistry and has served as director of academic programs and graduate studies and associate director of undergraduate studies. Throughout her career, she has launched and championed a wide variety of inclusion initiatives.
Dragisich has three decades of experience advising students throughout their academic journeys and is known as an empathetic listener, trusted resource and passionate advocate for student needs. As a result, she is often called upon to provide guidance to students who are starting new outreach initiatives.
Her many contributions include developing and teaching a chemistry course, which offers professional development for Chicago Public School teachers, and establishing a laboratory outreach program with Kenwood Academy. Dragisich has collaborated with the Cognitive Development Lab to enhance understanding of student experiences in chemistry courses, spoken at Women in STEM forums and conducted workshops on mentoring.
She also developed a teacher assistant training program that has become a model for similar curricula elsewhere, further promoting diversity and inclusion in academia. She has published on the topic in the Journal of Chemical Education. She designed and taught the Advanced Training for Teachers and Researchers in Chemistry course, emphasizing the importance of building inclusive community.
Beyond academia, Dragisich is actively engaged in volunteer work, holding leadership roles in organizations focused on supporting displaced persons/refugees and on promoting cross-cultural understanding. Dragisich received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago.
Dorian H. Nash is manager of public programs at the Smart Museum of Art, where she has worked for nearly a decade. Nash is deeply committed to fostering a diverse museum audience through public programming developed through collaboration—with creatives, collectors and community leaders—that invites conversation, connection and action around critical issues.
Nash spearheaded the formation of the museum’s inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) committee and served as co-chair for the past two years. The group has developed recommendations that guide the museum’s work in a variety of areas, both internal and external, including how the museum engages artists and South Side communities around issues of diversity.
Nash is known for her purposeful, thoughtful leadership and her ability to lead challenging conversations with care. An alumna of the Graham School, Nash was also asked to serve as an inaugural co-chair of their IDEA committee—designed to promote equity and access in the school’s operations.
As a member of the public practice team, she has cultivated and strengthened relationships with numerous organizations over the years. One of many examples involves the museum’s flagship program for teenagers, produced in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority, where participants pursue real-world, human-centered design projects with teaching artists.
Student recipients: Alvin Gordián Arroyo and Zubin Kumar
Alvin Gordián Arroyo is a third-year medical student at the Pritzker School of Medicine who has demonstrated leadership in advancing diversity and equity through his mentorship and community-building efforts.
A member of multiple Pritzker affinity groups, including the Latino Medical Student Association, Student National Medical Association and OUTPatient, Gordián Arroyo is committed to the recruitment and mentorship of racial, ethnic and sexual minority students in medicine. He serves as a class representative for Pritzker’s Identity and Inclusion (i2i) Steering Committee. Through i2i, he has worked on the school’s annual climate survey and town hall, anti-racism reading program discussions and a new student-led workshop series.
Previously, he served on a working group focused on the development of new curricula around health equity, community engagement and advocacy. Gordián Arroyo is actively engaged in Pritzker’s admissions efforts, volunteering to speak with prospective students about his experience, interview applicants and connect with admitted students deciding between programs. He has organized networking opportunities, class-wide celebrations and volunteered as a DJ for community events. He has also been a mentor for medical career exploration programs and a clinic volunteer with Spanish-speaking patients at CommunityHealth.
Gordián Arroyo’s research focuses on highlighting health disparities among people living with HIV and assessing the efficacy of interventions designed to reduce HIV transmission among vulnerable populations. His work has been published in the Journal of Urban Health and the International Journal of Sexual Health and Menopause. Gordián Aroyo earned a bachelor’s degree in human evolutionary biology from Harvard University and a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University. He plans to pursue psychiatry or family medicine as his specialty.
Zubin Kumar is a fourth-year student in the College majoring in molecular engineering on the chemical engineering track and specializing in polymers and soft materials. He has a strong commitment to increasing diversity and equity in STEM, focusing on the inclusivity of students traditionally underrepresented in engineering.
Last year, Kumar co-founded CLIME: Collaborative Learning in Molecular Engineering, an academic support program aimed at providing first and second-year students with additional course assistance through mentoring relationships with upper-level students. He partnered with faculty in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering to secure funding and worked with administrators in the College to establish CLIME as a zero-credit course in the course catalog.
The program, which has engaged more than 50 mentors and 70 participants since its creation, has been impactful in both promoting student success and creating a stronger sense of community across class years. This year, Kumar helped launch the Engineering Fellows program through Career Advancement to give underrepresented students additional opportunities to develop their professional skills and learn about potential career options.
Kumar also serves on the board of the Society of Molecular Engineering, an RSO dedicated to fostering community within the engineering field. Zubin participates in undergraduate research under the guidance of Professor Stuart Rowan, working on the synthesis of sustainable materials.
After graduation, he plans to complete a Ph.D. in chemical engineering with the goal of becoming a professor in the field and continuing to advance diversity and inclusion.