Distinguished Alumni Award

Cori Zarek, 01BA, 05JD

Recent Graduate Award 2020

Cori Zarek (01BA, 05JD) is a public interest technologist and lawyer whose role in helping governments maximize technology and strive for greater transparency has taken her to the White House—and around the world.

An expert on everything from technology strategies and digital rights to freedom of information, Zarek has worked to transform both government and the private sector. She also has assisted numerous countries in crafting policies related to technology, transparency, and press freedom.

Zarek completed both her bachelor's and law degrees at Iowa. As an undergraduate, she rose from reporter to editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, and after law school, she became a legal fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. She eventually became that organization's freedom of information director before accepting a role as attorney advisor for the United States National Archives and Records Administration in 2009.

She joined President Obama's White House in 2013, first as senior advisor for open government and then as deputy U.S. chief technology officer. While there, Zarek helped improved how the federal government uses data and technology to deliver its mission.

In addition, she led the nation's involvement in the Open Government Partnership, a global collaboration that empowers citizens, combats corruption, and harnesses new technologies. As part of that initiative, Zarek represented the United States at global summits in Mexico, South Africa, and France, and she also traveled to more than a dozen countries to advise on open government and technology. Such efforts earned her induction into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame in 2016.

Today, Zarek is on the faculty at Georgetown University and serves as director of data and digital for its Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. In that role, she helped create the U.S. Digital Response organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also is president of the board of MuckRock, a nonprofit news organization.

"Cori's name is synonymous with freedom of information and open government," says Randy Evans (72BA), executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. "She's an outstanding University of Iowa representative and has lived and worked in a manner that combines service, leadership, and humility."

About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.

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Judy Lewis (68BS) has always been interested in what she could learn from other parts of the world. As a 45-year veteran in the field of public health sociology?all at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine?Lewis has traveled to more than 50 countries in an effort to improve health and services to low income and vulnerable communities. A major focus of her work for the past 30 years has been Haiti. ?In the 1980s, children in Haiti were dying from pneumonia,? says Lewis, who continues to travel to Haiti at least once a year to tackle systematic issues related to children?s and women?s health care. ?Along with a group of students, we focus our work on bettering the care that is provided by local government and non-government organizations.? Over the years, the work of Lewis and her students in Haiti has evolved?from addressing a cholera outbreak to improving care for women with breast cancer, as well as responding to post-disaster needs after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Lewis, who is currently a professor emeritus at Connecticut, credits her alma mater for kickstarting her career as a public health sociologist. ?The University of Iowa is where I grew the most, and a large factor in that growth was the commitment of Iowa?s faculty members,? says Lewis. ?As a result, I?ve always tried to make myself available to my students. My experience at Iowa really set the tone for the rest of my life as an educator and faculty member.? While faculty members?including John Waite Bowers (62PhD) in the Department of Communication Studies?provided Lewis with a strong foundation, she learned just as much outside the classroom. Lewis served as senior class president, was involved in a campus-wide education committee, was the first student graduation speaker, and was exposed to several new experiences on campus?including attending her first opera. For Lewis, her time at Iowa prompted her to make a gift for Iowa students focusing on issues of health and development in under-served communities. The Engaged Social Innovation program, housed in Honors at Iowa, encourages students to seek out and develop new solutions to social problems. These students are tackling a broad range of issues, including bringing printmaking to middle-school girls as a tool to discuss body image, positivity, kindness, and self-worth; increasing trauma-informed care; and tackling food needs of UI students. ?The projects and activities these students are working on are meaningful, not only to the students, but to communities as well,? says Lewis. ?I?ve met with students and faculty, and what they do aligns with everything I?ve done in my life.? Lewis also has named the UI as a beneficiary of a portion of her retirement account, which will create an endowed fund to support a yearly full-tuition scholarship for a student who is accepted into Iowa?s Honors Program from her alma mater, Abraham Lincoln High School, in Des Moines, Iowa. Making a gift from her retirement plan assets, rather than through her will, was an ideal way for Lewis to maximize her support of the UI while minimizing taxes for her loved ones. That is because assets in a retirement account are subject to income tax when received by individuals, even spouses and children, but not when directed to a charity. These assets in her retirement account will one day pass completely tax free to the UI. For Lewis, support she received from the Rosenfeld family in Des Moines made it possible for her to come to Iowa. Now, it?s time to pay it forward. ?In the spring of my senior year, I learned that I was the recipient of a full-ride scholarship that was developed in memory of a Lincoln student who died in a car accident,? says Lewis. ?That was a gift, and I always felt that gifts come with responsibilities. Throughout my whole life, I?ve always wanted to be in the same position to do that for someone else.? Learn more about making a planned gift to the University of Iowa.

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