The University of Virginia's Distinguished Alumna Award, presented by the Women's Center, has honored such accomplished U.Va. alumnae as new anchor Katie Couric, former Arizona Governor and now head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and astronaut Kathryn Thornton.
The award was established to recognize a female graduate of the University of Virginia who has demonstrated excellence, leadership and extraordinary commitment to her field, and who has used her talents as a positive force for change. Each year, we celebrate the honoree's accomplishments with the community via a Distinguished Lecture and a public reception. Throughout the year 2000, the Women's Center recognized the myriad ways women have been "shapers of the world" by sponsoring a day-long conference honoring all of our Distinguished Alumna Award recipients. Our past honorees include such outstanding women leaders as:
Alexandra Arriaga (2011)
After graduating from U.Va. with a degree in Latin American Studies, Arriaga (CLAS 1987) served as director of the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and then as senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. Arriaga also served as Executive Director of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and as a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. From 1999 to 2001, she served as Special Assistant to President Clinton and Chief of Staff to the President's Special Envoy for the Americas before beginning work with Amnesty International, where she served as managing director of Government Relations until 2008. Now an independent consultant, Arriaga currently advises organizations on international human rights issues.
Cheryl Mills (2010)
Cheryl Mills (Law 1987) is currently Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her diverse and distinguished
résumé spans the fields of public policy, higher-education administration, media development, corporate and nonprofit affairs, and most prominently, legal practice and policy. For more information on Cheryl Mills, click here.
Rep. Shelley Capito (2009)
The 2009 recipient, Representative Shelley Moore Capito (M.Ed. 1976) was honored Monday, April 6, 2009. For a more information on Rep. Capito, click here.
Chris Gustafson (2008)
Christine Gustafson’s philosophy—that it’s important to pair professional success in the for-profit world with service in the nonprofit sector—was birthed during her student years at U.Va., and is among the reasons that the U.Va. Women’s Center selected her as its 16th Distinguished Alumna.
Gustafson (CLAS 1982) is a senior vice president for UBS Financial in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to this position she worked at Morgan Stanley for thirteen years. She has twenty-two years experience in the securities industry and specializes in wealth management for high-net-worth individuals, family foundations, and charitable foundations. She received her BA in international business and finance in 1982 and has stayed active as a volunteer for the College since joining the Alumni Council in 1989. Ms. Gustafson helped found the College Foundation in 2001 and served as its first president. For the past nine years she has served as a director of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company (UVIMCO) overseeing the University’s $4 billion endowment. She is a member of the UVIMCO’s Executive Committee.
Jill Tietjen (2007)
Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. (Engineering 1976) is an author, speaker, and
electrical engineer. Her published books include theSetting the Record Straight series, which explores the
history of women’s accomplishments in accounting, engineering, and professional achievement, and an
introduction to engineering textbook (for use by
college freshmen), Keys to Engineering Success. She
is one of the top historians in the country on scientific
and technical women. From 1991 to 1992, she served as the National President of the Society of
Women Engineers (SWE). She is the CEO of Technically
Speaking, a national consulting company specializing
in improving opportunities for women and girls to
have more career options in technology.
Tietjen is also a frequent keynote speaker at engineering, science, and women’s
conferences and is often profiled in the media. She serves as an expert witness before
public utility commissions and other government agencies. The culmination of Tietjen’s
diverse background is the new book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, co-authored with Charlotte S. Waisman.
Dawn Staley (2006)
Staley (CLAS 1992), was a three time All-American for the Cavaliers, as well as the National Player of the Year and the ACC Player and Rookie of the Year. Staley continued to play basketball in overseas leagues and the American Basketball League before she was drafted in the WNBA by the Charlotte Sting. Her athletic excellence was recognized worldwide when Staley was chosen to carry the American flag at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Staley currently serves as the Head Coach for the Temple University women's basketball team.
Denise Geolot (2005)
Geolot (Nursing 1970) is the Director of the U.S. Division of Nursing in the Health Resources and Service Administration. After graduating from U.Va., Geolot obtained her master's degree and returned to Charlottesville to teach at the Nursing School. Under Geolot's supervision, the emergency nurse practitioner program gained national acclaim and became a model for university programs throughout the nation. Her exceptional work in Charlottesville earned Geolot a consultant position in the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2000, she was promoted to her current position, where she oversees the federal program for nursing workforce development. Geolot has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, as well as a number of University honors.
Janet Napolitano (2004)
Napolitano (Law 1983) is currently the Secretary of Homeland Security in the administration of President Barack Obama and served as the governor of the state of Arizona from 1999 to 2002. Appointed by President Clinton as a United States Attorney, Napolitano used her leadership to push forth causes on behalf of children in particular; under her supervision, a notorious backlog of child abuse and endangerment cases was cleared, and a cyber-crimes unit was developed to prosecute those who would prey on children on the Internet.
Lawton Fitt (2003)
Fitt (MBA 1979) is a recognized leader in the competitive world of investment banking. In her career at Goldman Sachs, she oversaw the IPOs of such outstanding performers as Yahoo! and eBay. Fitt has been named one of the "25 Most Influential People in Electronic Business" by Business Week and is one of Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in American Business." Fitt served as the Secretary of the British Royal Academy of the Arts in London. She is the first woman, and the first American, to hold this prestigious position.
Dr. Hallam Hurt (2001)
Hurt (Medicine 1971) is a neonatologist who has focused her work on exploring the long-term outcomes of premature infants who are exposed to cocaine while in utero. Hurt's studies have found that children born of cocaine-using mothers did not fare significantly worse than their peers; this study resonated deeply in scientific and public policy forums. While at U.Va. she became the first woman in the history of the department to be named Chief Resident of Pediatrics.
Rebecca Rimel (1999)
In 1975 Rimel (Nursing 1973) became the first nurse to join the University's Medical School faculty in the Department of Neurosurgery. Rimel became the manager for health programs in 1983 of the Philadelphia-based Pew Trusts, and nine years later she took the helm as Pew's President and CEO.
Elaine Jones (1998)
Jones (Law 1970) was the first woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, and is widely considered the nation's top civil rights attorney. She was the first woman to head the NAACP Legal defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Jones monitors civil rights initiatives and federal judicial appointments, and has helped to pass many civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act amendments of 1982, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Valerie Ackerman (1997)
Ackerman (CLAS 1981), a former Cavalier basketball all-star and two-time academic All-American, is changing the face of professional sports for women. In 1988 she became the NBA staff attorney; soon afterwards she rose to the position of President of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), which started play in June 1997 with eight charter teams.
Admiral Mariann Stratton Nurse Corps, U.S. Navy, Retired (1996)
Now retired, Rear Admiral Stratton ( Nursing MA 1981) became a Navy nurse in 1966. During her tenure, she advocated equal promotion for military women before Congress and led the "Working Group on Prevention of Sexual Harassment for Women in the Navy and Marine Corps" following the 1991 Tailhook convention scandal.
Hanan Daud Khalil Mikhail-Ashrawi (1995)
Ashrawi (Ph.D. 1982) is a well-known and eloquent spokeswoman for the Palestinian people who has played an instrumental role in peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Ashrawi helped to establish the Palestinian-Israeli Women's Network, and she is the founder of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights.
Kathryn C. Thornton (1994)
Thornton (MS 1977, PhD 1979) has been a member of the astronaut corps since 1985. She has flown on three space shuttle missions, including the successful effort to repair the Hubble Telescope in December 1993. Thornton is the first mother to walk in space, giving her the media nickname "Space Mom."
Katherine "Katie" Anne Couric (1993)
Couric (CLAS 1979) was a former co-anchor for NBC's Today show and currently the anchor of CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. She is widely admired for her warm personality and tough questions, and is perhaps best known for her news-making interviews, such as her two-hour phone-in session with presidential candidate Ross Perot, and her conversations with Anita Hill, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and many other notable figures.
Vivian W. Pinn, M.D. (1992)
The only African American and the only woman in her U.Va School of Medicine class (1967), Pinn is the inaugural Director of the Office Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health. Her professional research interests have been in the field of renal pathology, minority medical education, health access, and increased screening for breast and cervical cancer.
Linda A. Fairstein (1991)
Fairstein (Law 1972) is the former Chief Prosecutor, Sex Crimes Unit of the New York District Attorney's Office and has drawn acclaim for writing crime fiction that uses the genre of the murder mystery to educate about sexual assault. Fairstein successfully pressed for New York's rape shield law, which keeps a woman's prior sexual activity from being brought up in cross-examination.