Skip to main content

Founders' Day 2011 awardees honored for contributions

February 24, 2011

Founders' Day is the signature Arizona State University event that brings together the university and community leaders to celebrate ASU's successes and recognize the individuals who perpetuate the growth and diversity envisioned by the founders of this institution.

Learn more about the men and women, below, who received awards at the ASU Alumni Association's 2011 Founder's Day Awards Dinner.

Special Award: Distinguished Eagle Scout Award

A special highlight for Founders’ Day 2011 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 received the Eagle Scout designation at least 25 years prior to receiving the award for outstanding service to others. The award winner is allowed to accept the award at the time and place of his choosing. Previous award recipients have included former U.S. President Gerald Ford; astronaut Neil Armstrong; film director Steven Spielberg; and former U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.

Honoree: Michael M. Crow

Michael M. Crow became the 16th president of Arizona State University on July 1, 2002. He is guiding the transformation of ASU into one of the nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities, one that is directly engaged in the economic, social, and cultural vitality of its region. Under his direction the university pursues teaching, research, and creative excellence focused on the major challenges and questions of our time, as well as those central to the building of a sustainable environment and economy for Arizona. He has committed the university to global engagement, and to setting a new standard for public service.

Philanthropist of the Year Award

The ASU Alumni Association is proud to partner with the ASU Foundation to celebrate an individual who has made a tremendous contribution to the university, with the desire to further the ASU Foundation’s mission to create the New American University. This award, first presented in 2010, provides the opportunity to thank community-minded citizens who are making a difference by providing support to the university, community organizations and institutions.

Honoree: T. Denny Sanford | Watch video

T. Denny Sanford was born in St. Paul, Minn. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1958, he had a career in sales, marketing, materials distribution and venture capital. In 1986, he purchased United National Corporation (now First PREMIER Bank) in Sioux Falls, S.D., and built it, along with a newly formed credit card company, Premier BANKCARD, from 80 employees to more than 3,000 employees. In 2002, he co-founded First PREMIER Capital in Minneapolis, a business engaged in commercial equipment leasing. Today he is owner and CEO for United National Corporation.

The breadth and reach of Sanford’s philanthropic endeavors are profound. His primary interest is in helping sick, disadvantaged, abused and/or neglected children. In 2007, he announced a $400 million gift to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, now called Sanford Health. He has been a long-time supporter of the Children’s Home Society in South Dakota. He has donated money to build the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls; the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota; the T. Denny Sanford Mayo Clinic Pediatric Center in Rochester, Minn.; and the T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center at the Florida Hospital for Children.

In 2010, Sanford initiated a five-year, $18.85-million investment at Arizona State University to facilitate a partnership between the Teach For America (TFA) organization and ASU to bring major substantive changes to the way the university recruits, selects, and prepares future K-12 teachers. This program, known as the Sanford Education Project, will allow ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to adapt TFA’s tools and develop an improved national model for teacher preparation. 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.

Sanford’s generosity as a philanthropist has landed him at No. 3 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy 50” in 2007, and No. 15 on BusinessWeek’s “Top 50 American Philanthropists” in 2008.

Alumni Achievement Award

One of the most prestigious awards given by the Alumni Association, this award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has excelled in his or her profession and has contributed to Arizona State University and/or the ASU Alumni Association and the community. It was established in 1964, and has been presented annually since 1972.

Honoree: Brian Swette ’76 B.S. | Watch video

Brian Swette is being honored for his contributions to business innovation as a corporate executive, as well as his service to the university as a trustee of the ASU Foundation and an investor in cutting-edge sustainability-related technology.

Swette, who graduated from ASU with a degree in economics, began his career at Procter and Gamble. After four years there, he spent 17 years at PepsiCo in a variety of marketing and management positions, including executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He then became senior vice president of marketing at eBay in 1998, eventually becoming chief operating officer of the company and leading eBay’s penetration into international markets. He has served on the board of directors for Burger King since 2004, and participated on the boards of J. Crew,,, Jamba Juice, The FRS Company, and Shutterfly, Inc., among other companies. He has been named to Advertising Age’s “Marketing 100” and “Power 50,” and 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, which supports high-impact entrepreneurs in developing countries, and by establishing the Swette Strategic Investment Fund at ASU. This fund identifies specific technological approaches being developed at the university’s Global Institute of Sustainability that are poised for scientific breakthroughs, and provides money to projects that require a reliable stream of pilot results in order to successfully compete for larger federal and industrial grants. The initial target project for the fund focuses on designer organisms and fuel cells for biohydrogen production.

Young Alumni Achievement Award

This award recognizes an alumnus or alumna within 15 years of graduation who has excelled in his or her profession and has contributed to Arizona State University and/or the ASU Alumni Association and the community.

Honoree: Amanda Borden-Cochran ’03 B.A.E. | Watch video

Amanda Borden-Cochran is being honored for her contributions as an athlete, an entrepreneur, and a community leader.

Borden-Cochran is known to many as the captain of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team that took home a gold medal – the first and to date the only time in history that an American women’s gymnastics team won top honors at the games.

After winning the gold, participating in numerous national tours and television appearances, and having her image appear on boxes of Wheaties cereal, she completed her degree in early childhood education at Arizona State University. Having given up her NCAA eligibility to compete in the Olympics, she reached out to John Spini, head coach of women’s gymnastics at ASU, and became the team’s manager during her time as a student. As Spini tells it, “(Amanda’s) rare combination of grace, humility, confidence and personality … gave us a powerful advantage over our competition and created tremendous goodwill in the Phoenix metropolitan area.”

After graduation, Borden-Cochran found a way to blend her education degree and her Olympic background by opening Gold Medal Gymnastics, which provides children of all ages and ability levels with a safe and healthy workout environment at its locations in Tempe and Chandler. She is a member of the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame, sits on the Arizona State Administrative Committee for statewide gymnastics, and participates in local Special Olympics activities. She also works as a television commentator for CBS Sports, ESPN and Fox Sports.

Faculty Achievement Awards:

Faculty excellence is the heart of an outstanding university. Faculty achievement at ASU is recognized at the Founders’ Day event with individual awards for contributions in research, service and teaching.

Faculty Achievement Research Award

Honoree: Milton Sommerfeld, professor, Department of Applied Sciences and Mathematics, College of Technology and Innovation | Watch video

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 that are not constrained by the kinds of “food versus fuel” issues that have hampered ethanol and other cellulosic biofuels.

Sommerfeld’s work covers a broad spectrum of topics, from ecology, cell biology, physiology and biochemistry to molecular biology and algal biotechnology. 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 has secured more than $20 million in research funding for more than 100 projects during his 42 years at ASU and has maintained a high profile in his field of research, publishing more than 250 articles, book chapters, and abstracts, including an original research article published in the journal Science. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Phycological Society, the Phycological Society of America and the Southwest Association of Naturalists.

Sommerfeld 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

Honoree: Karen L. Adams, professor, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Watch video

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 as a tenure-track faculty member in the Department of English with a specialty in linguistics, she continued to offer her time and expertise to enhance the educational experience of students and to facilitate the smooth operation of the department. She worked with other department faculty to create a Ph.D. concentration in Rhetoric, Composition Studies and Linguistics, chaired the Lingistics/TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) area committee, and served as interim associate chair of the department for three semesters.

The specific focus of Adams’ linguistic scholarship is on languages in Southeast Asia, and she was instrumental to the creation of the university’s Southeast Asian Studies program, now known as the Southeast Asia Council. She co-edited the recently published book “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Lao Studies,” and organized several international conferences relating to linguistics and language preservation.

In addition to her service work with the Department of English, she is an affiliated faculty member with the Women and Gender Studies program in the School of Social Transformation. Adams has received many awards for her 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

Honoree: James Eder, professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Watch video

James Eder is being honored for his work as an instructor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, which has become integral to the functioning of the school. One nominator referred to Eder as “the anchor in the entire undergraduate program in anthropology for three decades now.”

He has earned a reputation as an exceptionally talented and supportive teacher.  Evaluation comments from students reflect his interest in students as individuals, and his intention to deliver high quality, participatory learning experiences, even in large introductory-level class settings. Eder’s classes emphasize discussion and reflective writing assignments. Students are pushed to think outside of their “comfort zones,” and explore solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges by understanding reality through the eyes of the small stakeholders.

His teaching at ASU is augmented by his scholarly research as a socio-cultural anthropologist. Much of his work has focused on the culture and development of the Palawan region of the Philippines; he has taken numerous trips to do field research on the social organization, agricultural systems and detribalization of groups in the region. He is a member of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology, and an international advisory board member for the journal Philippine Studies.

Staff Achievement Award

The Staff Achievement Award is presented to an Arizona State University staff member whose outstanding contributions to ASU have significantly enhanced the well-being and reputation of Arizona State University within the community at large.

Honoree: Robin Okun Hengl ’75 B.S. | Watch video

Robin Okun Hengl is being honored for her work as director of parent programs for the ASU Parents Association, a network of dedicated parents of ASU students.

She has been credited with transforming the ASU Parents Association into a vital part of ASU life that links parents, students and the university. 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; expanded its Professor of the Year program; 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. In 2009, she oversaw an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Parents Association that was so successful as a fundraiser that the association was able to support an additional five scholarships. She also has created a group for parents of ASU alums, affectionately nicknamed “the PLUMS.”

Okun Hengl works closely with her organization’s parent volunteers, ensuring they receive the resources and support they need to staff new student orientations, fall and spring welcome events, local and out-of-state informational events and ASU events such as Family Weekend and Homecoming. Along with her husband, Terry Hengl ‘76 M.S., ‘78 M.S.E., she is parent to two ASU graduates herself, Ms. Dana Hengl ‘06 B.A. and Ms. Lauren Hengl ‘08 B.A.