UChicago alumni awarded for professional achievements, service to University

Honors include prestigious Alumni Medal, given in recognition of exceptional career achievements

The University of Chicago Alumni Association and the Alumni Board have announced the recipients of the 2021 Alumni Awards.

The awards include the Alumni Medal, which 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 medalist is Brent Staples, AM’76, PhD’82, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor at the New York Times.

Alumni Professional Achievement Award recipients are accomplished luminaries in any professional field. These alumni’s achievements have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the University, and real benefit to their communities. The Early Career Achievement Award winners similarly demonstrate outstanding achievements in any field by alumni aged 40 or younger.

The Alumni Service Awards recognize the achievements of individuals working on behalf of the University through service in alumni programs, on advisory committees, and through efforts made to ensure the welfare of the institution. The Young Alumni Service Awards acknowledge and encourage service to the University by alumni aged 35 and younger.

The Alumni Board also recognized Profs. Mark Siegler and Geoffrey R. Stone as winners of the Norman Maclean Faculty Award.

Visit UChicago Alumni & Friends to learn more about the Alumni Awards, or to congratulate the award winners.

Alumni Medal

Brent Staples, AM’76, PhD’82, has been a member of the New York Times editorial board since 1990. In 2019, Staples won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing—the Times’ first winner for editorial writing in 23 years. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning portfolio, Staples highlighted racism in the women’s suffrage movement, showed how newspapers were complicit in Southern lynchings and denounced myths about so-called crack babies.

Editorials and essays from throughout his career are included in dozens of college readers throughout the United States and abroad. Before joining the editorial page, he served as an editor of the New York Times Book Review and an assistant editor for metropolitan news.

Staples holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago and is the author of Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White (1994), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.

Professional Achievement Award

Katherine Freese, PhD’84, is a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin—where she holds the Jeff and Gail Kodosky Endowed Chair in Physics—and professor of physics at Stockholm University in Sweden. Previously, she was the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan and served as director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm. She works on a wide range of topics in theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics. She has been working to identify the dark matter and dark energy that permeate the universe, as well as to build a successful model for the early universe immediately after the Big Bang.

Freese was a pioneer in early theoretical work on fundamental particles as dark matter candidates that led to the construction of underground experiments worldwide. With collaborators at the University of Chicago, she proposed a model known as natural inflation that is one of the strongest candidates for the exponential growth of the universe in its infancy.

Zhenan Bao, SM’93, PhD’95, is department chair and K.K. Lee Professor of Chemical Engineering, and by courtesy, a professor of chemistry and a professor of material science and engineering at Stanford University. Bao founded the Stanford Wearable Electronics Initiative in 2016 and serves as the faculty director.

Prior to joining Stanford, she was a distinguished member of technical staff at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies from 1995 to 2004. She has over 550 refereed publications and over 65 US patents with a Google Scholar h-index above 170. She pioneered a number of molecular design concepts for organic electronic materials. Her work has enabled flexible electronic circuits and displays. In the past ten years, she pioneered the field of skin-inspired organic electronic materials, which resulted in unprecedented performance or functions in medical devices, energy storage and environmental applications.

Kim Ng, AB’90, was appointed general manager of the Miami Marlins in 2020. She is the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations among the 30 Major League Baseball teams and the first woman hired to the general manager position by any of the professional men’s sports teams in the North American major leagues.

Ng has worked for more than 30 years in Major League Baseball, including a combined 21 years with the Chicago White Sox (1990–96), New York Yankees (1998–2001), and Los Angeles Dodgers (2002–11). She has been an integral part of eight postseason appearances, including six League Championship series and three World Championships (all with the Yankees, 1998–2000).

Ng joined the Marlins having spent the previous nine years as senior vice president of baseball operations with Major League Baseball and the highest ranking Asian-American female baseball executive. During her tenure, she directed international baseball operations, working with 30 major league clubs and other baseball leagues and entities around the world.

Jonathan Rapping, AB’88, is the founder and president of Gideon’s Promise, a nonprofit organization with the mission to transform criminal justice by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities. He is also a professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Certificate Program at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and visiting professor of law at Harvard University Law School.

Rapping recently authored Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (2020), building on an extensive collection of scholarship and informed by his work in the field. In the book, Rapping argues that cultural transformation is critical to realizing justice in America’s criminal legal system and provides a blueprint for achieving that vision. In 2014, Rapping received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his cutting-edge approach to justice transformation. He is the co-host of Gideon’s Promise: The Podcast, along with his wife and Gideon’s Promise co-founder and executive director, Ilham Askia. Rapping’s work was the inspiration for the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon’s Army.

Early Career Achievement Award

Alida Miranda-Wolff, AB’14, is the CEO and founder of Ethos, a full-service diversity, equity, and inclusion transformation firm. By helping organizations and the people inside of them understand their relationships with power, how to use their power responsibly, and how to share their power, she helps create the conditions for everyone to thrive at work.

As part of Ethos, Miranda-Wolff serves as the program director of the Women Influence Chicago Accelerator, which supports womxn-identifying technologists to advance their careers through a structured four-month program combining coaching, forums, classroom learning, and mentorship.

Miranda-Wolff is also the executive director and founder of Embolden, a membership organization focused on scaling empathy through the power of female friendships.

Efe Ukala, AB’06, is the founder of ImpactHER, an impact-driven organization that focuses on bridging the financing gap for women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa through investor-readiness training, mentorship, market access, and other support. ImpactHER has supported more than 20,000 African female entrepreneurs in 52 African countries on a pro bono basis, with guidance on how to run successful businesses and become investor ready. ImpactHER’s intervention has launched hundreds of African female-led businesses online, helped African women supply their products to U.S. vendors, and given African female-led SMEs access to institutional capital.

Ukala designed and created the Africa curriculum for Google’s Women Will initiative which is currently being used to train over 10,000 women across sub-Saharan Africa. Launched in 2019, Women Will is a Google initiative to create economic opportunity for women everywhere so that they can grow and succeed.

As an investment/private equity lawyer, Ukala has extensive experience in private and public investments in frontier markets, including Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda. She has advised on investment worth over $15 billion in the US market and over $1.3 billion directed into sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, she serves as vice president and assistant general counsel at JP Morgan, where she advises institutional investors.

Alumni Service Award

Julie Brennan, AB’96, has been an active member of the University of Chicago community since her graduation in 1996. After receiving her degree from the College in political science, Brennan moved to Philadelphia and immediately began volunteer work as an interviewer with the local Alumni Schools Committee. Her volunteer interviewing quickly turned into helping to recruit new members for the Alumni Schools Committee and to grow the interviewing ability of the region.

By 2002, Brennan was asked to chair the Philadelphia region Alumni Schools Committee. Brennan served as regional chair for 16 years until the ASC was retired in 2018. During her time as chair, she significantly increased alumni participation in the ASC’s activities, pioneered an Interview Day program which enabled the Philadelphia region ASC to interview up to 20 prospective students in a single day, and regularly organized events for the volunteers including an annual new interviewer training event.

In 2018, Brennan was appointed by the dean of admissions to serve as a board member on the Alumni Schools Committee Task Force, an inaugural advisory board that helped with procedural changes in connecting with prospective students. Brennan has also served on her reunion committees every five years and always seeks to engage with alumni at local events and through UChicago’s Alumni Clubs.

Albert Chang, AB’93, is a marketing analytics professional currently leading global marketing analytics for life sciences at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Chang is also passionate about the University of Chicago alumni community. He served for nearly 20 years on the Alumni Schools Committee as chair for the San Francisco Bay Area. He was active in the alumni club of the Bay Area, where he served as an event planner, vice president of event planning, and president. He also founded and chaired the Bay Area alumni awards, which recognized the incredible contributions of Bay Area alumni to advance alumni engagement.

In 2007, Chang received UChicago’s Young Alumni Service Award. Afterwards, he served on the Alumni Board of Governors, where he worked on the nominations and membership committee. Currently, Chang is working to revive a life sciences alumni networking and engagement series.

Young Alumni Service Award

Sofia Gross, AB’15, is head of policy partnerships and social impact at Snap, working on political, governmental and nonprofit partnerships around the world. Most recently, Gross led an initiative that helped over 1.3 million users of the app Snapchat register to vote. In 2020, she was recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30 list in the category of law and policy.

Gross completed the Technology and Democracy Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School where she co-authored a case study, “Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout.” Gross majored in international studies and near Eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago, where she was also captain of the varsity swimming and diving team.

Gross currently serves as a strategic outreach advisor to the University of Chicago Admissions Office and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Institute of Politics at UChicago. Gross advises a number of civic organizations including Civic Alliance, 50x2026, Civic Responsibility Project, National Voter Registration Day, Vote Early Day and TurboVote. She also serves as a public affairs officer in the United States Navy Reserve.