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Founders' Day honors pioneers, captains of industry

Annual event awards those who drive ASU's mission of innovation and entrepreneurship forward

Group photo of people standing on stage holding awards.
March 18, 2022

On March 17, ASU Founders’ Day returned to an in-person format at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The annual event honors faculty, alumni and philanthropists who drive Arizona State University's mission of innovation and entrepreneurship forward.

Held every spring since 1960, Founders’ Day is an homage to commemorate the March 7, 1885 anniversary of when the institution, then called the Territorial Normal School, received its charter from the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature.

In his award acceptance speech, Brian Swette, who along with his wife, Kelly, were named Philanthropists of the Year, reminded attendees that even the initial charter ensured that access and inclusivity in education were paramount to ASU. In part, that charter directed that “the instructions shall be, nearly as possible, free.” 

Although Arizona would not become a state until Feb. 14, 1912, ASU was at the forefront of discovery with its mission always rooted in the spirit of innovation and continual learning.

This year's honorees are pioneers in their own right as leaders across global sectors, including in medicine, higher education, space exploration, earth sciences and sustainability. Each honoree is a captain of industry who has made and continues to make significant contributions to the university, to the community and worldwide.

Meet the 2022 honorees:

Faculty Achievement Awards

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award: Mark Jacobs


For nearly a decade, Mark Jacobs has been an impactful leader and educator in the School of Life Sciences who transformed the higher education experience for ASU honors students as dean of Barrett, The Honors College. Inspired by his visit to Oxford University, he worked alongside Craig and Barbara Barrett to build a world-class honors program.

Jacobs’ vision and legacy lives on in Barrett, The Honors College. He will retire from his position at the end of this academic year, and the dining hall at Barrett, The Honors College in Tempe will soon bear his name as a legacy to his contributions to ASU. 

Faculty Service Achievement Award: Ramon Arrowsmith

As the associate director of operations for the School of Earth and Space Exploration and a professor of field geology, structural geology, geomorphology and computers in earth and space exploration, Ramon Arrowsmith has more than 30 years of experience. Arrowsmith has led many short courses, workshops and visioning activities emphasizing high-resolution topographic data and tectonic geomorphology. While he and his students never say that they can predict exactly when or where an earthquake will hit, his extensive research and work can help us better understand their impacts and how to prepare for them. 

From 2011–15, the EarthScope National Office was located at ASU, and Arrowsmith served as the chair of the EarthScope Steering Committee and director of the EarthScope National Office. The EarthScope project is a large-scale geoscience investigation of the structural and evolution of the North. 

In addition to studying the Earth itself, Arrowsmith has most recently collaborated with colleagues at the School of Space Exploration to better understand landscapes of other planets.

Arrowsmith said he never forgets the graduation speeches that former President Lattie Coor would make: “All he said was, ‘Help others and keep learning.'” 

Faculty Research Achievement Award: Efrem Lim

Efrem Lim is a virologist and assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences and the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics. He is also the principal investigator of the Center for Viral Genomics at ASU, where his team investigates the human virome in health and disease.  

Due to his expertise, Lim and his team were on the forefront of the global pandemic in early 2020, when they identified a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that had never been found before. Shortly after the data was published in the Journal of Virology, the research attracted worldwide interest from the scientific community and World Health Organization.

Lim credits his team, students and colleagues for this incredible scientific breakthrough that helped lead the ASU community and the those around the country the the global pandemic. 

“I represent a lot of people who came together to make this happen. This work represents everyone who was a partner in attacking this disease,” he said. 

Alumni Achievement Awards

Alumni Achievement Award: Michelle Tom, ’99 BS, pre-medicine and microbiology 

Michelle Tom is another Sun Devil who was on the frontlines of COVID-19. Just one year after completing her medical residency training, Tom served as the only Diné (Navajo) doctor in her area and one of only a handful on the entire Navajo reservation in her hometown of Winslow, Arizona. Tom continues to be an activist for the lack of quality health care within the Navajo Nation and has been featured on NBC, CBS, PBS and NPR.

Tom grew up on the Navajo reservation playing “rezball,” which propelled her toward a Division I spot on the ASU women's basketball team. Upon being recruited, Tom expressed her ambition to eventually return to her people as a doctor. She earned her bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine and microbiology with an emphasis in infectious diseases from ASU.

After greeting the crowd in her native Diné language to accept her award, Tom said, “I am a huge fan of ASU. I am so honored to be here tonight. I don't even know how I would replicate this fulfilling feeling.” 

Young Alumni Achievement Award, Philip Oro, ’10 BS

Philip Oro serves as the medical director of the Warrior Medicine Clinic at Ramstein Air Base, Germany’s 86th Medical Group, guiding care for more than 8,000 active-duty service members. He is also a founder and the current medical director of all COVID-19 operations and vaccination efforts, leading the largest military community outside the U.S. through the pandemic.

During Operation Allies Welcome, Oro served as the first point of contact and medical provider for more than 34,000 Afghan refugees brought through Ramstein Air Base as part of one of the largest humanitarian airlift evacuations in history.

Oro credits his work ethic and humanitarian spirit to his parents, who are also physicians, who were in attendance to see him receive his award. 

“I didn’t know that when I left the United States in July of 2018 that I would be prepared to go 1,349 days before I could return home. As honored and humbled as I am to be here this evening, I am just grateful that I get to see my mom and dad,” he said in his award acceptance speech. “More than anyone, this award is for my mom and dad, Dr. Bob and Dr. Debbie Oro.” 

Philanthropists of the Year Award

Kelly and Brian Swette

Kelly and Brian Swette are longtime supporters of ASU, providing key leadership and philanthropic investment. Brian is an ASU trustee and a board director for the ASU Global Institute for Sustainability and Innovation. In 2012, the Swettes combined their interest in cooking healthy food and sustainability when they started Sweet Earth Natural Foods. 

The Swettes have made major contributions to sustainability solutions at ASU. The Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology in the Biodesign Institute conducts research on the significance of microbial communities. The Swette Family Scholarship Program provides financial support to students from agricultural farm-working and food-working families. The Kelly and Brian Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems is driving social progress, economic productivity and ecosystem resilience through food systems transformation.

James W. Creasman Award of Excellence

Ambassador Barbara Barrett, ’72 BS, ’75 MPA, ’78 JD 

As the 25th secretary of the Air Force, Barbara M. Barrett stood up the United States Space Force, the first new military service in 70 years. Barrett is a pilot, diplomat, mentor, space authority, global leader and ASU champion with six honorary degrees. 

Ambassador Barrett said this award means everything to her. 

“Where do you begin? I mean, ASU, as I will say, changed the trajectory of my life. That's what ASU does. It takes the raw material, and transforms you. You never know what it's going to be. In four years or however many years it takes, you turn out and you start in a different direction. You start the trajectory here, and even though the angle may have changed, opportunity abounds, and then it's a matter of what do you do with it.”

Top photo: The 2022 ASU Founders' Day honorees stand with ASU President Michael Crow on March 17 at the Arizona Biltmore. From left to right: Ramon Arrowsmith, Efrem Lim, Barbara Barrett, Michelle Tom, Mark Jacobs, Phililp Oro, Brian Swette and Michael Crow. Photo by Gordon Murray/Flash PhotoVideo, LLC

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