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Nov. 13, 2018

Top alumni honored during Alumni Grand Awards Gala

A slate of impressive Spartans was recently honored at the 2018 Grand Awards Gala, held Nov. 9, at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. Distinguished Alumni Awards, Alumni Service Awards, Young Alumni Awards, Philanthropists of the Year Awards and an Honorary Alumnus Award were shared by 11 exceptional Spartans.

Recipients were selected by the MSU Alumni Association Awards Committee.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize those who have distinguished themselves by obtaining the highest levels of professional accomplishments and who possess the highest standards of integrity and character to positively reflect and enhance the prestige of MSU.

The recipients were:

    • Roger Neil Beachy, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis and developer of the world’s first genetically modified food crop. He currently serves as senior science adviser for several start-up companies and multiple nonprofit institutes in China and Italy. He previously served as founding executive director of the World Food Center at UC Davis. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board (current) and director and chief scientist of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA. He was founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, held leadership roles at The Scripps Research Institute and was director of the Center for Plant Science and Biotechnology at Washington University. Beachy is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and received the 2001 Wolf Prize in Agriculture.

    • Patricia Geoghegan, former Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP Tax Department co-head and executive compensation group head. She began her career working in the Akers Hall cafeteria. In her 33-year career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, Geoghegan became her law firm’s second woman partner and focused on equipment finance and executive compensation and, during the financial crisis, went on to become an attorney in the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Stability and Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation. She has served on several boards and is a member of MSU’s New York City Women and Philanthropy group. She was the 1993 College of Arts and Letters Commencement speaker and received the College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award in 1997.

    • David Patrick Kelly, managing director chief global strategist of J.P. Morgan Asset Management. He brings more than 20 years of economic insight, perspective and experience to his team of 28 professionals at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, where he’s focused on investment implications of an evolving economy. He currently sits on J.P. Morgan Fund’s operating committee. Prior to joining J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Kelly served as economic adviser to Putnam Investments, and as a senior strategist/economist at SPP Investment Management, Primark Decision Economics, Lehman Brothers and DRI/McGraw-Hill. He is lauded for translating the world of economics in a colorful, entertaining and understandable way at many national investment conferences, and as a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg and other financial media outlets.

    • Gloria Santona, of counsel at Baker and McKenzie LLP, she’s former executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of McDonald’s Corporation. After a nearly 40-year career with McDonald’s, Gloria Santona now makes a powerful impact on Baker and McKenzie client services, focusing on sustainability issues, mentorship and diversity and inclusion. She joined McDonald’s as an attorney upon graduating law school with aspirations to become general counsel, a position she achieved in 2001. As a member of the senior leadership team, Santona led McDonald’s worldwide legal, compliance, regulatory and corporate governance functions. Santona is recognized for her commitment to pro bono legal services and among her numerous recognitions, was named one of the "50 Most Powerful Latinas of 2017" by Fortune.

    • Manoj Kumar Saxena, executive chairman of CognitiveScale, founding managing director of The Entrepreneurs' Fund IV. Manoj Saxena is the executive chairman of CognitiveScale and a founding managing director of The Entrepreneurs' Fund IV, a seed fund focused on business-to-business artificial intelligence market with nine active investments. He previously served as the first general manager of IBM Watson, where his team built the first cognitive systems. Prior to IBM, Saxena successfully founded and sold two venture-backed software companies within a five-year span. He serves on the board of AI Global, a nonprofit promoting practical and responsible applications of artificial intelligence and the Saxena Family Foundation. Recently, Saxena retired as chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, San Antonio. He holds nine software patents.

The Alumni Service Awards are presented to those who have demonstrated continuing outstanding volunteer service to MSU and/or meritorious public service on a local, state, national or international level. Recipients must possess the highest standards of integrity and character to positively reflect and enhance the prestige of MSU.

The recipients were:

    • Marc Sherwood Conlin, personnel manager for MSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy. He began his career with MSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1969 as a student stockroom manager and went on to become its administrative assistant and business operations manager before assuming his current role. Once the student manager, Marc served as staff adviser for MSU's campus radio station, WDBM, and was responsible for obtaining its FM station license. For his outstanding service and performance, Conlin received the MSU Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award in 2009 and twice received the MSU Department of Physics and Astronomy Distinguished Staff Award (1998 and 2014).

    • Elizabeth Anne Shanahan, an associate vice president for Administration and Operations at DePaul University. Before joining DePaul University, Shanahan was a consultant to MSU's executive vice president for Administrative Services. For nearly 12 years, she served as executive director and CEO of the 20,000-member Society of Women Engineers, helping make a critical impact on the recruitment and advancement of women in the profession. She spent the 24 years prior in development, engineering management and marketing management for the electronics and software industries. Upon graduating from MSU, Shanahan became the first female engineer employed at Data General Corporation. She was awarded the 2010 Claud R. Erickson Distinguished Alumni Award from the MSU College of Engineering and in 2013, received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Connecticut.

The Young Alumni Awards are presented to graduates 40 years and younger who have distinguished themselves through high levels of professional accomplishment early in their careers. These individuals demonstrate a commitment to MSU through outstanding continuous volunteer service on behalf of the university and/or participation and leadership in meritorious public service on a local, state, national or international level.

The recipients were:

    • Jennifer Ann Heemstra, professional pianist and entrepreneur and performer to more than 65,000 Indian children, adults. Jennifer Heemstra is founder of the Kolkata Classics Trust in India, which provides free health services for trafficked women, educates children and exposes the citizens of Kolkata to classical music. In 2017, she founded the Pitch Pipe Foundation, a U.S.-based NGO through which Heemstra organized and headlined “On the Road,” a patriotic salute to veterans. She most recently organized 50 concerts to support the National Salute to Veteran Patients at Veterans Affairs medical facilities nationwide. Heemstra received the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad from John Kerry, was recipient of the MSU College of Music Distinguished Alumni Award and was its 2017 Commencement speaker. Heemstra is a compassionate performer with a zeal for aiding others. Through her organizations, she recruits world-class musicians to volunteer to travel the world and join professionals for performances that invite audience participation. At her Kolkata Classics, she saw children so engaged by her western classical music performances, they were unfazed by passing water buffalo during open-air concerts in India's poorest slums.

    • Shannon Wilson, executive director of the African American Health Institute. She is currently an adjunct faculty member of both Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University's Colleges of Human Medicine where she prepares future physicians and health care professionals. Wilson was previously the assistant vice president of Alliance for Health for West Michigan. Prior to that, she served as scientific program coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Northrop Grumman and was a health disparities epidemiologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The Philanthropists of the Year Awards are presented to individuals, families, associations, corporations or foundations with proven records of providing major, on-going financial support and leadership to MSU. The candidates will have demonstrated outstanding philanthropic responsibility toward MSU; their generosity encourages others to take leadership roles in philanthropy toward our university.

The recipient was:

    • John Reed Koza, computer scientist/entrepreneur/professor, 'father of genetic programming' and a Spartan benefactor. Koza has been a consulting professor in the departments of Medicine and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University since 1988. He is author of four books on genetic programming. The focus of his research is on automatically solving problems using a minimum of human-supplied information. He was co-founder, chairman and CEO of Scientific Games Inc., where he co-invented the rub-off instant lottery ticket used by state lotteries. Koza committed $12.7 million to MSU's College of Engineering and BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action – the largest individual gift in the college's history. His generous contribution is helping position MSU as the leader in this important field of scholarship.

The Honorary Alumnus Award is presented to those who have demonstrated outstanding continuous volunteer service to our university on a local, state, national or international level.

The recipient was:

      • Sandra Elaine Pierce, senior executive vice president, private client group and regional banking director, chairman of Michigan, Huntington Bank Detroit and an honorary Spartan. Pierce began her career as a teller at National Bank of Detroit (JPMorgan Chase) where she spent 27 years. She has gone on to lead the Huntington Private Bank, Huntington Insurance Agency and Huntington Auto Finance and RV/Marine. She manages Huntington's Community Development initiatives and Huntington's Regional Presidents. Among her numerous board memberships and civic involvements, Pierce is a board member of the Penske Automotive Group, ITC Holdings Corp. and Barton Malow Company. She is currently the chairwoman of the Board for Henry Ford Health System. In 2016, Pierce was named one of Crain's Detroit Business's “100 Most Influential Women” and was named one of American Banker’s “Most Powerful Women in Banking” for four consecutive years, from 2015 through 2018. A parent to two Spartan alumni, a current Spartan sophomore and spouse to a Spartan, Pierce is a passionate advocate for Michigan State University. She has served as a moderator and host committee member for several MSU events and is known to give valuable advice and nurture many relationships on behalf of MSU. The university is proud to welcome her as an honorary Spartan. As is evidenced by her storied 40-year career, her legacy embodies the spirit of our most-revered alumni.


By: Stephanie Motschenbacher