Meet this year's ASU Founders' Day honorees

This year’s Founders' Day event will take place March 20 at the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom in Phoenix.

The ASU Alumni Association Founders’ Day awards program honors the pioneering spirit of the institution’s founders and celebrates the innovations of alumni, faculty members and supporters of one of the nation’s fastest-growing knowledge enterprises.

This year’s event will take place March 20 at the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom in Phoenix. New this year, the event will be available to watch as it happens through ASU’s livestream services.

Covering a wide range of areas, the awards acknowledge excellence in teaching, research, leadership, philanthropy and service. These honors include the Faculty Research Achievement Award, the Faculty Service Achievement Award, the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award, the Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Young Alumni Achievement Award and the Alumni Achievement Award.

The 2019 awards program will honor two Arizona State University alums who have changed the world, two faculty members who created the nation’s first online biochemistry degree, a nationally acclaimed poet and author, a professor dedicated to fostering diversity in the STEM field and a Valley-based charitable trust.

Here are the honorees of the 2019 Founders’ Day event.

Faculty achievement awards

Faculty Research and Creativity Achievement Award

This year’s Faculty Research and Creativity Achievement Award honors poet Natalie Diaz.

Diaz is a 2018 MacArthur “genius” grantee, the current Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and an associate professor of creative writing in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Department of English.

Drawing on her experiences growing up on the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, and navigating indigenous, Latinx and queer identities, her poetic works challenge the belief systems of contemporary American culture and have garnered far-reaching acclaim over the last decade.

“Professor Diaz has in fact been succeeding for a long time, composing intricate and radiant poetry with challenge and verve,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities at The College. “I knew of her work long before I contemplated coming to ASU myself, and have often turned to her poems for provocation and inspiration.” 

Faculty Service Achievement Award

Erika Camacho’s passionate commitment to fostering diversity has had positive and lasting impacts on the STEM field, its researchers, academia and young students. Camacho, an associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, works to ensure that the next generation of students have access to a STEM education.

Camacho has received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Mentor Award; and she is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, Ford Foundation Fellow and Mellon Mays Social Science Research Council Fellow.

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award

Anne Jones and Ian Gould of The College’s School of Molecular Sciences will be jointly awarded the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award, for an innovative new approach to pre-med education.

Jones, an associate professor in the school and its associate director of academic affairs, and Gould, a President’s Professor who also serves as the school’s associate director of outreach, online and communications, played a key role in creating a new biochemistry program for ASU Online.

Conducted remotely with the exception of a two-week, in-person lab at the Tempe campus, the program is the only online biochemistry track in the country after which graduates can apply directly to medical, dental or pharmacy school, or pursue further science degrees.

“The new online biochemistry degree has opened the door of opportunity for students seeking advancement in science who are otherwise excluded from the current education model,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. “Dr. Jones and Dr. Gould didn't just pull the pieces together and create the innovative components that make the degree work, they are also in the trenches teaching, bringing dedication and innovation to our most deserving new biochemistry students.”

Alumni achievement awards

Young Alumni Achievement Award

Sky Kurtz, founder and CEO of Pure Harvest Smart Farms in Abu Dhabi and a 2004 graduate in finance, is the "farmer" of one of the first hydroponic-growing enterprises in the Middle East. The technology he and his team use has been demonstrated around the world in extreme climates, including Arizona, Texas, Northern Mexico and Australia, and in freezing climates like Russia, Finland and Norway.

Alumni Achievement Award

Denise Resnik, a 1982 graduate in general business administration, is the founder and CEO of DRA Collective, an award-winning public relations, marketing and communications agency she launched in 1986. While leading DRA, she also launched and built sister nonprofits centered on autism research, education, evidence-based treatment and community and real estate development, with the goal of opening doors to more options for living, learning and leading.

In 1997, Resnik co-founded the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center as a support group for mothers of children with autism. Today, the center is an internationally recognized nonprofit serving children, adults and families in partnership with physicians, educators, professionals and paraprofessionals. She founded First Place AZ in 2012, a residential community developer for special populations, as well as a site for education, training and creative inspiration. She serves as president and CEO of First Place, which offers supportive housing and a residential transition program for adults with autism and other neurodiversities. The first new residential property, First Place – Phoenix, opened in the summer of 2018.

Philanthropists of the Year Award

Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust was established in 1995 by the wife of Motorola founder Paul V. Galvin, Virginia Galvin Piper, who spent nearly 30 years working with local nonprofits across the Valley before her death in 1999.

The foundation continues her philanthropic legacy through a grant program that has invested nearly $430 million into local programs and initiatives spanning community welfare, health care, arts and culture since its inception in 2000, including many at ASU.

In 2018, the trust awarded $15 million to the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience initiative, a multi-pronged project led by The College’s Social Sciences Dean Elizabeth Wentz to identify vulnerabilities and strengthen communities in Maricopa County.

Since 2002, Piper Trust has funded 19 ASU projects for a total of more than $56 million. It was also the funding force behind the creation of the Virginia G. Piper Creative Writing Center

Housed in a historic building on the Tempe campus, the center is the previous home of two ASU presidents and the Alumni Executive Office. Today, it’s a literary hub serving the Phoenix community with events including talks, readings, classes and workshops open to all students and the public.

As a unit of The College, the center works closely with the Department of English’s creative writing program to help literary talents thrive on campus.

“Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust has had an immense impact on new generations of writers at ASU,” said Angie Dell, the center’s associate director. “The trust supports and adds meaning to the Piper Center’s work, and emerging writers carry these values forward into the world knowing that their voices are vitally important.”

Find additional information about Founders’ Day or register for the event

Alisa Reznick and Tracy Scott contributed to this report.

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