Alumni Association honors notable alumni
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
"Fantastico!" says Albert Ruffalo.

Al Ruffalo, a recipient of the 2016 UI Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, raised the medal he had just received and uttered a word his grandfather always used to describe exceptional accomplishment: “Fantástico.”

On June 11, the University of Alumni Association presented 12 Distinguished Alumni Awards to UI graduates at the newly constructed Hancher Auditorium. The awardees’ accomplishments ranged from producing major films to founding nonprofits for global literacy to catalyzing medical innovation.

And though the UIAA praised recipients for their unique talents and achievements, the alumni pointed to their Iowa experience as an important part of their success.

Kyle Zimmer talks about UI geography professor Rangaswamy Rajagopal.

Young Alumni Award recipient Tom Niblock explained how, as an undergraduate, he utilized UI resources like the Pomerantz Career Center and the Honors Program to seek out international-affairs opportunities. He credits the Pickering Fellowship, awarded to him through the UI, with launching his career in the U.S. Foreign Service. 

“When I say I’m grateful for everything the University of Iowa has given me, I mean that in a very direct and meaningful way,” says Niblock.

Honoree Kyle Zimmer, an advocate for international educational equality, named individual professors who put her on the trajectory that led to her founding First Book, a nonprofit that has provided more than 125 million new books to disadvantaged children.

“I left this university a different person with a wider view than when I entered,” she says.

Author Abigail Foerstner was honored with the Friend of the University award. She credits the UI with inspiring much of her writing. She has published biographies about notable UI alumni, including space physicist James Van Allen and photographer Bertha Shambaugh.

The alumni also told stories of meeting spouses on campus and forming lifelong friendships. Honoree Meghan Henry Gutierrez says the UI helped show her what it means to be part of a community.

“The University of Iowa has not only informed who I am as a person and as a professional, it’s also where I learned about the importance of community and of being part of something bigger than you are. This is something I am grateful for each and every day.”

Though the paths of each of these honorees have brought them to different places in life, they all began as UI students. Presenter Justin Macbride noted that they exemplify what it means to be a Hawkeye and how to carry Iowa ideals beyond the nest.

“The men and women that we recognize today reflect Iowa values through their strong work ethic and commitment to using their talent to benefit others. These are some of the University of Iowa’s best ambassadors and living proof that this institution attracts and helps shape extraordinary people.”