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Distinguished Alumna Award

About the Distinguished Alumna Award

The Distinguished Alumna Award was established in 1991 to honor alumnae whose contributions at the highest level in their fields reflect the spirit of excellence and the ethic of service for which a University of Virginia education stands. Recipients of the Alumna Award join a select group of advocates, public servants, journalists, athletes, researchers, and innovators who have received this honor over the past 25 years.

The Selection Process

Early in the fall semester, we ask that each dean of a school at UVA nominate an alumna who is deserving of this important recognition and who exemplifies the values that graduates of her School are bringing to their work across the U.S. and around the world. From the deans’ nominations, our selection committee chooses the alumna who has best demonstrated excellence, leadership, and an extraordinary commitment to her field, and who has used her talents as a positive force for change. The award is presented during the subsequent calendar year.


2018 Distinguished Alumna

Sharon Wood (pictured above with Women's Center Director Abby Palko, Former UVA Preseident, Teresa Sullivan, and Pam Norris, Executive Associate Dean for Research, School of Engineering & Applied Sciences)

Our 2018 Distinguished Alumna, Sharon Wood, earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia in 1982. In 2014, she was appointed the ninth dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, the first woman to hold the position. 

Under her leadership, the Cockrell School has increased the number of female tenured and tenure-track faculty members by 30 percent and increased the number of female undergraduate students by 23 percent. The school is currently No. 13 among all U.S. engineering schools in terms of the number of B.S. degrees awarded to women.

“It’s a slow process, but we are changing people’s expectations,” Wood said. “I think it’s a lot easier for students to see themselves having successful engineering careers when they see more women in these positions.” 

Past Recipients of the Distinguished Alumna Award

Recipients of the Distinguished Alumna Award, along with their title at the time of their award, include:

1991   Linda A. Fairstein (Law ’72), Deputy Chief, Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of New York City
1992   Vivian W. Pinn, M.D. (Med ’67), Director, National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health
1993   Katherine A. Couric (Col ’79), Anchor, NBC “Today Show”
1994   Professor Kathryn C. Thornton (Grad ’79), NASA Astronaut
1995   Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi (Grad ’82), Peace Activist and Scholar
1996   RADM Mariann Stratton, USN (Nur ’81), Rear Admiral (retired), Nurse Corps, U.S. Navy
1997   Valerie B. Ackerman (Col ’81), President, Women’s National Basketball Association
1998   Elaine Ruth Jones (Law ’70), Director, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
1999   Rebecca Rimel (Nur ’73), President and CEO, Pew Charitable Trusts
2001   Hallam Hurt, M.D. (Med ’71), Chair, Neonatology, Albert Einstein Medical Center
2003   Lawton W. Fitt (Darden ’79), British Royal Academy of the Arts
2004   Janet A. Napolitano (Law ’83), Governor of Arizona
2005   Denise G. Sherer, PhD, RN, FAAN (Nur ’70), Director, US Division of Nursing, Health Resources & Service Admin.
2006   Dawn M. Staley (Col ’92), Olympic Basketball Gold Medalist
2007   Jill S. Tietjen (Engr ’76), President and CEO, Technically Speaking, Inc.
2008   Christine Painley Gustafson (Col ’82), Senior Vice President, UBS Financial
2009   Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (Educ ’76), Congresswoman, WV 2nd Congressional District
2010   Cheryl D. Mills (Col ’87), Counselor & Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of State
2011   Alexandra Arriaga (Col ’87), Human Rights Advocate
2012   Kimberly Dozier (Grad ‘93), Journalist
2013   Jacqueline Novogratz (Col ’87), Founder and CEO, Acumen Fund
2016   Elizabeth Garrett (Law ’88), President, Cornell University
2017   Carolyn Miles (MBA ’88), President, CEO, Save the Children
2018   Sharon Wood (Engr '82), Dean, Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas at Austin