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Alumni Association honors university innovators at Founders' Day event

February 24, 2011

The Arizona State University Alumni Association honored faculty members and alumni at its annual Founders’ Day Awards Dinner, Feb. 24, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix. More than 700 people attended the event.

The award ceremony has been a signature event for the university for decades, and honors individuals who exemplify the spirit of the founders of the Territorial Normal School of Arizona, ASU’s predecessor institution, which received its charter from the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature on March 7, 1885.

A special highlight of the ceremony this year was ASU President Michael M. Crow’s acceptance of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. This award honors men who have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at least 25 years prior to receiving the award for providing outstanding service to others.

In addition to the award presentation for President Crow, the following individuals were honored by the Alumni Association at the Founders’ Day event.

Philanthropist of the Year Award
Honoree: T. Denny Sanford

T. Denny Sanford is the founder, owner and CEO of United National Corp. In 2010, Mr. Sanford initiated a five-year, $18.85-million investment at Arizona State University to facilitate a partnership between the Teach For America organization and ASU to bring substantive changes to the way the university recruits, selects, and prepares future K-12 teachers.  He has also provided $4.4 million of funding for the Sanford Harmony Program, a project located within ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics that seeks to develop a model for understanding and enhancing relationships among girls and boys.

Alumni Achievement Award
Honoree: Brian Swette ’76 B.S.

Swette, who graduated from ASU with a degree in economics, has held senior marketing and executive positions at PepsiCo and eBay. He has participated on the board of directors for Burger King, J. Crew,,, Jamba Juice, The FRS Company, and Shutterfly, Inc., and has been named to Advertising Age’s “Marketing 100” and “Power 50” lists. He was also an executive producer for the 2009 independent film, “The Least Among You.”
In addition to his accomplishments as a corporate leader, Swette also has explored social entrepreneurship by becoming a board member of and by establishing the Swette Strategic Investment Fund at ASU.

Young Alumni Achievement Award
Honoree: Amanda Borden-Cochran ’03 B.A.E.

Amanda Borden-Cochran is known to many as the captain of the 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, which was the first such U.S. team in history to take home a gold medal. After winning the gold, she completed her degree in early childhood education at ASU. She now owns Gold Medal Gymnastics, which has locations in Tempe and Chandler, and also works as a television commentator for CBS Sports, ESPN and Fox Sports.

Faculty Achievement Awards

Faculty Achievement Research Award
Milton Sommerfeld, professor, Department of Applied Sciences and Mathematics, College of Technology and Innovation

Milton Sommerfeld is being honored for his research in the fields of phycology and microalgal biotechnology. One of his long-standing research interests is in exploiting algae as a promising source of feedstock for biofuels, which could lead to the development of commercially viable, renewable and sustainable fuels.

He is co-director of the Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology at ASU’s Polytechnic campus and the newly established Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation. He was named by Time Magazine to its list of 50 best innovators in 2008, received the governor of Arizona’s Innovator of the Year Award in Academia in 2009 and the Arizona Award for Research Excellence from the Arizona Bioindustry Association in 2010.

Faculty Achievement Service Award
Karen L. Adams, professor, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Karen L. Adams is being honored for her career-long dedication to service. Her commitment to service in a university setting first occurred as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she helped win union representation for state employees. Once she arrived at ASU, she continued to offer her time and expertise to enhance the educational experience of students and to facilitate the smooth operation of the department. Adams has received many awards for her service-related work, including honors from the Arizona Lao Association, a diversity award from the city of Tempe, and an award from the American Association for State and Local History.

Faculty Achievement Teaching Award
James Eder, professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

James Eder is being honored for his work as an instructor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. He has earned a reputation as an exceptionally talented and supportive teacher. His teaching at ASU is augmented by his scholarly research as a socio-cultural anthropologist, which has focused on the culture and development of the Palawan region of the Philippines.

Staff Achievement Award
Honoree: Robin Okun Hengl ’75 B.S.

Robin Okun Hengl is being honored for her work as director of the ASU Parents Association. Under her leadership, the Parents Association doubled the number of students receiving scholarships from the organization, while also increasing the amount given to each student; increased ten-fold in just five years the number of parents engaged with the association; and established a grants process that has funded free tutoring programs, the Summer Bridge student success initiative and an emergency crisis fund.

Tickets to the Founders’ Day event are $125 for Alumni Association members and $150 for nonmembers. Table and corporate sponsorship opportunities are available. For additional information about Founders’ Day, or to RSVP, visit