The University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Awards


Dream Big. Dream Gold.

What do a Grammy Award-winning musician, a legendary college football coach, and a groundbreaking artist who explored themes related to race and feminism have in common? They're all Iowa alumni who've dreamed big and changed the world.
Each year since 1963, we've honored such UI luminaries with our prestigious Distinguished Alumni Awards.
This October, we'll celebrate seven new winners who go for the gold every day.
Please join us in honoring the University of Iowa's 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. RSVP today.
2019 Award recipients

Howard Kerr, 60BA
2019 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award

A career naval officer, aide to the 38th president of the United States, and CEO of three corporations, Howard Kerr (60BA) is a leader through and through. Beyond his military and business accomplishments, he continues to lead through service to his community and his alma mater, the University of Iowa.

A Des Moines native who earned two master's degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Kerr served for 21 years in the U.S. Navy during the Cold War and Vietnam eras. He commanded the USS Hawkins and USS Kinkaid, was commodore of Destroyer Squadron 33, and received the Bronze Star with combat valor and eight Vietnam combat-era awards. In 1973, Kerr was assigned to the White House staff of Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford, where he served as an advisor on defense and national security issues. The following year, he became naval aide to President Ford and executive assistant to the counselor of the president. When Kerr left the White House, Ford awarded him the Legion of Merit Medal in an Oval Office ceremony. Kerr retired from the Navy in 1981 and became president and CEO of Custom Technologies Corporation and two other Chicago-based corporations. He also was a board member of Van Kampen and InVesco Mutual Funds and served on the Marrow Foundation.

"His intelligence, integrity, and communication skills have been the essential tools in his effective management of the most important resources in any organization—its people."

Kerr was active in civic service, including serving as mayor for three terms in Lake Forest, Illinois. Now a resident of Lake Bluff, Illinois, he regularly returns to the UI to lecture in the Department of Political Science and work with students. He has been a member of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Advisory Board and was the 2016 recipient of the UI's International Impact Award. Kerr and his wife, Patricia, have established a scholarship for the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

The late Navy admiral E.R. Zumwalt once wrote of Kerr: "His intelligence, integrity, and communication skills have been the essential tools in his effective management of the most important resources in any organization—its people."

Hear from Howard

Jhoon Chung, 96BA
2019 Distinguished Alumni Service Award

As a superintendent of schools in the suburbs of Chicago, Jake Chung (96BA), has dedicated his career to helping students achieve their dreams. The same can be said for his commitment to students at the University of Iowa. In the two-plus decades since earning his bachelor's degree in elementary education, Chung continues to give back to his alma mater as a mentor, scholarship provider, and leader for the UI College of Education's Advisory Board.

A native of Glenview, Illinois, Chung began his teaching career in Houston before returning to the Chicago area, where he received the state's Sallie Mae First Class Teaching Award. An advocate for marginalized students, Chung became a principal in the Arlington Heights and Schaumburg school districts, then assistant superintendent for personnel and planning for Arlington Heights. This past year, Chung was named superintendent for the Salt Creek School District near Chicago. Chung earned a master's degree and EdD from National Louis University in Wheeling, Illinois, and a second master's from the University of Illinois.

"Jake is the epitome of compassionate leadership and service to others, paying it forward and helping make our world a better one in which to live, learn, work, and serve."

In 2013, Chung and his wife, Kimberly Dierks Chung (98BA), established the Jake and Kimberly Chung Scholarship at the UI, which is awarded to College of Education undergraduates during their semester of student-teaching. Chung also has served on the former UI Alumni Association's board and is currently chairman of the College of Education's advisory board. In Illinois, he works with numerous professional and community organizations, including the Dryden Place Project, an innovative program he helped create to help disadvantaged Arlington Heights students and their families succeed.

Says Daniel Clay, dean of the UI College of Education: "Jake is the epitome of compassionate leadership and service to others, paying it forward and helping make our world a better one in which to live, learn, work, and serve."

Hear from Jake

Nancy Willis, 77BA, 80JD
Craig Willis, 75JD
2019 Distinguished Alumni Hickerson Award

While Nancy (77BA, 80JD) and Craig (75JD) Willis have practiced law for more than three decades, their avocation is community service. Deeply committed to two cornerstones of the University of Iowa's mission—health care and the arts—the Willises have transformed the campus and surrounding community through their involvement.

The real estate attorneys, who recently merged their Willis & Willis law firm and Security Abstract Company with Meardon, Sueppel & Downer law firm in Iowa City, are particularly passionate about ensuring a vibrant future for the UI Stanley Museum of Art. They have lent their unwavering support and wise counsel to help the museum establish a new permanent home following the 2008 flood. As members of the Stanley Museum of Art's Elliott Society, the Willises have exhibited leadership on the museum's Members Council and the advisory, green campaign, envisioning, and building campaign committees.

"Iowa City is a significantly better place because of their generosity and commitment to both our community and our university."

The couple's faithful service to the university extends to areas such as Hancher, Iowa Writers' Workshop, and several university presidential and dean search committees. Since 1992, Nancy has brought her keen business sense and fundraising expertise to the UI Foundation Board, including as part of the development committee and For Iowa. Forever More. campaign cabinet. The couple also belongs to Friends of UI Health Care, a volunteer group dedicated to providing greater access to health care, where Craig serves on the leadership council.

Beyond campus, the Willises have joined the board of directors for many local organizations, including the Iowa City Community School District, Iowa City Public Library Foundation, Iowa City Parks and Recreation Commission, Iowa City Hospice, Johnson County United Way, and UNESCO City of Literature. They also have made significant contributions to area arts organizations and received many volunteerism awards over the years.

As Cathy Zaharis (82BBA), chair of the UI Center for Advancement board of directors, says, "Iowa City is a significantly better place because of their generosity and commitment to both our community and our university."

Hear from Nancy and Craig

David J. Skorton
2019 Distinguished Alumni Friend Award

David J. Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and former president of the University of Iowa, is one of the nation's most ardent champions of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Throughout his distinguished career in medicine, higher education, and government, he has advocated for the support of education and the arts as a wise investment in the success of the country.

Skorton began his affiliation with the UI in 1980, serving over 20 years on the medicine and engineering faculty. A board-certified cardiologist, he co-founded the UI Adolescent and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic, one of the first in the nation. His pioneering research on cardiac imaging and image processing continues to influence the cardiology field.

Respected for his tremendous vision and insight, Skorton was appointed the 19th president of the UI in 2003. During his presidency, Skorton set Iowa on a path of innovation that included revitalizing the International Writing Program and implementing the Year of the Arts & Humanities and Year of Public Engagement.

"David remains a true leader and representative of all that is treasured in higher education."

Skorton's quickness to grasp complexity, assemble effective teams, and inspire action make him a highly sought-after leader. In 2006, he left Iowa to assume the presidency of Cornell University. Then, in 2015, he was appointed the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian, where he oversaw 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and education programs. In July 2019, he became president and CEO of the AAMC, which represents the nation's medical schools, teaching hospitals, and academic societies. Skorton also is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, as well as a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Bringing integrity, authenticity, and generosity to all his endeavors, Skorton embodies the core values of Iowa. As John C. Keller, dean of the UI Graduate College, says, "David remains a true leader and representative of all that is treasured in higher education."

Hear from David

Geraldene Felton
2019 Distinguished Faculty/Staff Award

Geraldene Felton, dean emerita of the University of Iowa College of Nursing, is highly celebrated as a national trailblazer in nursing research and education.

Raised in Philadelphia, she joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1949 and rose through the ranks to become deputy director of the nursing division at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In 1975, she discharged from the Army as lieutenant colonel and began a new career in nursing education. In 2018, the UI honored her military service with the Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Memorial Award.

Felton came to the UI in 1981 to serve as professor and dean of the College of Nursing. She retired in 1997, though she remained a leader for various national nursing education and research organizations. Among her many accomplishments as nursing dean were starting the college's PhD and nurse anesthesia programs, strengthening ties with the UI Hospitals & Clinics, and building a research-based culture.

"Because of Dean Felton, our faculty—and nurse researchers across the country—have been able to carry out programs of research that have significantly improved the health care of so many individuals across Iowa and beyond."

Ann Marie McCarthy (90PhD), professor and associate dean for research and scholarship at the College of Nursing, says, "Because of Dean Felton, our faculty—and nurse researchers across the country—have been able to carry out programs of research that have significantly improved the health care of so many individuals across Iowa and beyond."

Felton continues to invest in the College of Nursing through her longtime support of the Nursing Progress Fund and by establishing the Geraldene Felton Graduate Student Scholarship Fund and Geraldene Felton Student Success Center. Recognized in 2000 as a "Living Legend" by the American Academy of Nursing, Felton had made enduring contributions to her field that will undoubtedly influence generations of future nursing students and professionals.

Hear from Geraldene

Adaeze Enekwechi, 98BA, 07PhD
2019 Distinguished Recent Graduate Award

A health care executive who served in the White House, Adaeze Enekwechi (98BA, 07PhD) is widely admired for tackling complex policy challenges and studying how the health system can work for everyone, particularly vulnerable populations.

From 2015 to the end of the Obama administration, Adaeze was the White House's associate director for health programs in the Office of Management and Budget, where she oversaw a health budget of more than $1 trillion. Holding what's been described as the government's most important health post, Adaeze was a key policy advisor to President Obama and worked with Congress and the executive branch to implement the federal budget.

Although she was less than a decade removed from earning her doctorate from the UI College of Public Health, Adaeze was well-equipped for the high-profile position. She began her career as an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office after completing her master's degree in public policy at another institution. She returned to the University of Iowa to obtain her doctoral degree and went on to work at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, after which she became the associate director for innovation and new product development at Joint Commission Resources in Illinois.

"Adaeze worked in the White House with integrity and calm in an intense and sometimes difficult environment."

Adaeze then became a senior researcher for Health Research and Educational Trust, a Chicago-based arm of the American Hospital Association. In 2010, she moved to Washington to work in health care policy. There, she was a senior analyst for the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the first senior program officer at the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and a managing consultant at the Lewin Group, where she led several payment policy evaluation and research projects for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Since leaving the White House, Adaeze has returned to the consulting world. She's currently president of IMPAQ International, a $100 million policy research and technology firm in the Washington, D.C., area that helps governments, businesses, foundations, nonprofits, and universities enhance their programs and policies. She also is a member of the National Academy of Medicine's Emerging Leaders in Health and Medicine group, and she serves on the Board of Public Health Institute and other advisory boards.

"Adaeze worked in the White House with integrity and calm in an intense and sometimes difficult environment," says Shaun Donovan, former director of the Office of Management and Budget. "I never saw her lose her cool despite enormous stakes, and her intelligence and knowledge always made a difference."

Hear from Adaeze

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