CU Boulder’s Alumni Awards ceremony is among the university’s longest-standing traditions. Be fueled by the emotion, dedication and stories of the award winners and take renewed pride in your alma mater. 

George Norlin Award

Christine Marie ArguelloChristine Marie Arguello (Edu’77)

When Christine Marie Arguello was a junior in high school, her classmates laughed at her aspirations to get a degree from Harvard Law School. But her English teacher, Mrs. Poplin, knew otherwise: She looked her in the eyes and said, “Chris, I know you can do it.”

The encouragement from Mrs. Poplin and others propelled Arguello to success. Her trailblazing career as a lawyer, judge, educator and public servant has consistently broken down barriers and inspired other underrepresented students to follow their dreams.

After attending CU for a bachelor’s degree in education, Arguello graduated from Harvard Law in 1980 — the first Latina from Colorado to graduate from the prestigious program. She went on to become a private practice lawyer, tenured professor at the University of Kansas School of Law and university counsel at CU Boulder. Since 2008, she has presided as a district court judge in the U.S. District Court for the State of Colorado. 

“She has made a positive impact on a national scale through her service as a federal judge,” said Professor Joseph Polman from CU’s School of Education. “She has demonstrated a long-lasting commitment to excellence in her professional career and a devotion to the betterment of society and her community.”

Arguello has been lauded throughout her career with awards such as the 2013 Latina Trailblazer award from the Latinas First Foundation, induction into both the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame (2014) and the Colorado Latino Hall of Fame (2020), a 2020 Award of Merit from the Denver Bar Association and the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Legal Inclusiveness. 

Perhaps her most defining characteristic, though, is her generous spirit. In 2014, she founded a Colorado-based law school pipeline program, “Law School… Yes We Can (Sí Se Puede)” to mentor underrepresented students who, like her, dream of going to law school. Since 2014, the program has delivered over 350 workshops, mentored nearly 80 fellows and facilitated 25 internships. The program has a 95% college completion rate. Two students in her program have graduated from law school, and five others are currently in law school.

"As a federal judge, [Arguello] does not have to devote her energy to these causes, does not have to pause to encourage diverse young students to pursue their dreams, and does not have to work to make the legal system better, fairer and more equitable," said Patrick O'Rourke, former board chair of the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, as well as executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at CU Boulder. 

"But she does, and that says everything about her."

Jim Gray (Advert’81)Jim Gray

A 12-time Emmy Award winner with a knack for thought-provoking interviews, sportscaster Jim Gray started his fabled career at CU Boulder in the 1970s. In the 40 years since he graduated with an advertising degree, Gray has given the American sports audience a front-row seat to many classic sports moments.

Always asking the tough but fair questions, Gray has used his skilled reporting to allow anyone to experience the magic, joy and heartbreak of professional athletes on and off the court, the field or the green.

“Jim Gray is a legendary figure in sports broadcasting,” said Lori Bergen, dean of the College of Media, Communication and Information. “He has been trusted by countless iconic athletes to tell their stories — of both triumph and disgrace — and Gray has had unprecedented access to the biggest names, events and moments in the last four decades of sports.”

Besides his numerous Emmy wins, Gray has earned some of the most prestigious honors in sports journalism. He was inducted into four Sports Halls of Fame, including the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was also named Sports Reporter of the Year three times.

Currently, he works for Showtime, Fox and SiriusXM Radio. At Sirius, Gray is the host of a weekly show alongside broadcast partner Tom Brady, the most decorated quarterback in Super Bowl history.

Outside of his professional work, access to education is Gray’s most significant philanthropic priority. At CU Boulder, he and his wife, Frann, established an endowed scholarship in honor of his parents, Jerry and Lorna Gray, to benefit first-generation college students who graduate from Denver Public Schools. He participated in CMCI’s first media summit and held a public Zoom event for CU Boulder about his book, Talking to GOATs: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard, a national bestseller published in fall 2020.

In addition to his scholarship support at CU, Jim and Frann are very active in numerous philanthropic endeavors, charities and events.

On and off screen, Gray has garnered a reputation for being an honest reporter and a trusted friend.

When asked if he had one word to describe Gray, the legendary Kobe Bryant responded, “Honest.”

“Jim interviewed me after my prolific fights. We were a sensational duo,” said acclaimed boxer Mike Tyson. “Out of the ring, Jim became my most trusted friend. He’s there no matter what and never afraid to give it to me straight. He’s always coming from a place of love and compassion. You know where you stand.”

Tandean Rustandy (Fin’87)Tandean Rustandy

Many young minds are attracted to CU Boulder for the beauty of the mountains. For Tandean Rustandy, his decision to become a Buff came down to being able to work his first semester of college washing dishes. 

“I had to work right away to pay for my expenses, and I started my work-study job at the bottom — in the dining hall, washing dirty pots and pans,” said Rustandy. “I took it very seriously. Little by little, I was asked to take on more responsibility. I was asked to cook, I started working with the manager in the cafeteria and I also worked at the University Club.”

Rustandy’s family sacrificed greatly to send him to college, and he took his education and work in Colorado seriously. He was committed to expanding his knowledge and expertise so he could bring it back to his home country. 

Despite his dedication to work, finances were tight. In his junior year, Rustandy’s parents sold their house to pay for his tuition. By senior year, with that money gone, Rustandy’s roommate lent him money to pay for part of his tuition.

“We are friends to this day,” said Rustandy. “I will never forget his kindness and generosity.”

Rustandy’s dedication and his family’s sacrifice paid off. After graduating from CU, he moved back to Indonesia and started his career in the lumber industry. In 1993 he transitioned to the ceramic tile business, developing an environmentally friendly business model that also supports local people through job placement and access to education and healthcare. 

His ethical and green-focused business, PT Arwana Citramulia Tbk, now has five factories and employs 3,000 people. His lines of tile are developed specifically for low-income Indonesians; its affordability allows many families to enjoy tile flooring rather than dirt floors. 

“Tandean has demonstrated exceptional devotion to the betterment of society, consistent integrity and has made a transformative impact on a national and global scale,” said Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business. “He credits CU Boulder for teaching him entrepreneurial thinking and the importance of creating economic and social value at the same time, through thoughtful business decisions.”

Rustandy has given over $10 million to CU Boulder, most notably in support of the Rustandy Building connecting the Leeds School of Business and College of Engineering and Applied Science. The building celebrates its ceremonial grand opening Nov. 7, 2021. He has also partnered with Leeds to support the highest caliber of faculty as well as global career treks to bring students to Indonesia to learn about international business. 

“Being at CU laid the foundation for everything I would do,” he said. 

Rustandy is unequivocal about the impact of his CU education and his commitment to paying it forward.

“He is a stellar role model for our students. Throughout his professional life, he has showcased how a business can be both profitable and community minded,” said Matusik. “His tenacity, commitment to his values and unwavering dedication to education can be seen in everything that he does.”

Alumni Recognition Award

Mary Ann Casey Mary Ann Casey (IntlAf’70)

Coloradan Mary Ann Casey exemplifies what it means to be an internationalist, a trailblazer and a leader. After studying international affairs at CU Boulder, her education was a launchpad for her diplomatic career, during which she became the first woman U.S. ambassador in North Africa, serving in the countries of Algeria and Tunisia. 

Following her tremendous international career — including two ambassadorships and a fellowship at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution — Casey returned to her alma mater in 1997 as a State Department Diplomat in Residence. 

In that role, she taught international relations classes, mentored CU students who are now diplomats themselves, helped launch the Smith Hall International Program and helped power the international affairs committee for the Conference on World Affairs. 

Casey also co-founded and generously contributes to the International Affairs Global Grants Endowment at CU, which annually funds over 20 scholarships for education abroad for Boulder-based international affairs majors.

She also chaired the Advisory Board for CU Boulder’s International Affairs Program for nearly a decade, building it up to become a model for alumni engagement in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“Ambassador Casey's dedication to CU Boulder is extraordinary in every way,” remarked Alexander F. Becker (Ger’06), chair of the Advisory Board for CU Boulder’s International Affairs Program. “From the mentoring of students to her unprecedented engagement with the International Affairs alumni community to the co-founding of and major financial support to the Global Grants Endowment, her leadership and service to CU Boulder will continue to make a lasting impact for decades to come. 

“She established opportunities for future generations of Colorado students to create positive change around the globe. Her accomplishments and contributions indeed define what it means to serve Colorado and to be engaged in the world.” 

Leanne Skupa-Lee Award

Lisa Ayala-WilliamsLisa Ayala-Williams (Mktg’86)

If Lisa Ayala-Williams is your mentor, you’ve got a friend for life. 

The former Disney vice president has been a CU student mentor since 2012. She makes time for regular communication, lending support, career guidance and networking. A former student even landed her dream job in marketing at Walt Disney Animation Studios after Ayala-Williams helped her become an intern.

“She truly bleeds black and gold and is always promoting the benefits of a CU Boulder education and staying involved with the institution, to everyone with whom she interacts,” said the Alumni Association’s senior director, Julann Andresen. 

In 2002, Ayala-Williams joined the film marketing team at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment as a supervising producer. As a vice president for eight years, she led creative services and strategic marketing teams at The Walt Disney Studios. Over a more than 17-year tenure, she and her teams created global advertising campaigns for Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel films on digital, movie apps, DVD, Blu-Ray and for 3D theatrical film releases.

While working, Ayala-Williams also established a strong relationship with CU Boulder, beginning with the Leeds School of Business and expanding to the Alumni Association. She served as an executive board member for the Alumni Association for nearly four years, serving as a brand ambassador to help guide decisions related to alumni and student programming, especially Homecoming Weekend. 

While she’s proud of her many creative awards, becoming CU’s PAC-12 “Spotlight Alumnus” in 2016 was a career highlight.

At Leeds, she’s a three-time “Mentor of the Year” nominee. She also regularly speaks to MBA student groups and on women’s panels. 

“Every time Lisa visits Boulder, we get together for a meal to catch up and discuss our goals,” said a mentee of Lisa’s in 2017. “Lisa’s love of the university is contagious, and makes me look forward to coming back and being involved as an alumnus.”

Today, Ayala-Williams is also a board member for ForeverGold, a highly engaged group of alumni and friends of the university who advance CU through the support of student scholarships, capital projects and increasing overall engagement. 

Said Andresen, “CU Boulder needs more involved, engaged and generous people like Lisa.” 

Kalpana Chawla Award

Vanessa AponteVanessa Aponte (PhDAeroEngr’06)

Vanessa Aponte’s career is out of this world — quite literally.

A systems engineer focused on human spaceflight and landing systems, she has spent the past two decades pursuing humanity’s final frontier.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Aponte first came to CU in 1996 as part of the Summer Multicultural Access to Research Training (SMART) program for undergraduates. There, she met the crew of NASA’s 77th space shuttle mission and was inspired to pursue an advanced degree and career in aerospace.

As she was working on her doctorate in aerospace engineering at CU, she worked on life support systems as well as controls, dynamics and propulsion at NASA’s Kennedy, Dryden and Johnson space centers.

After graduating with her PhD, she was hired at Lockheed Martin, where she has since launched a remarkable career working on the Orion Spacecraft, leading the company’s new technology evaluation board, spearheading research and development for human space exploration and leading mission ops for the ascent element of their human landing system. Through all that, she was an astronaut candidate finalist herself … twice. 

“Vanessa helped pave the way for humanity’s return to the moon and then Mars,” said Kathryn Tobey, former vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Space, who recruited and hired Aponte in 2006. “She is a system thinker who ties all the elements of a complex system together and sees what others cannot see.” 

In addition to her professional work, Aponte has devoted time and expertise to CU’s engineering college, serving on the Aerospace Engineering Executive Advisory Board and Engineering Advisory Council. She’s also an enthusiastic advocate for closing the gender gap in STEM, often volunteering as a speaker and mentor for the Brooke Owens Fellowship and STEMblazers. Vanessa is also a board member for College Track, a nonprofit organization dedicated to seeing students through their education from high school through college graduation.

“Her extensive work promoting STEM opportunities to underrepresented communities highlights her dedication and impact,” said Dr. Penina Axelrad, a distinguished professor in the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research. “Vanessa is an alumna who personifies CU’s mission, vision and values.”

Aponte’s work is inspiring to anyone who looks up at the stars in wonder. And when humanity takes its first steps on Mars — and beyond — Aponte will have contributed to those milestones.

According to Tobey, “Vanessa dreams of making space accessible for all. But she isn’t just a dreamer — she’s a doer.”

Robert L. Stearns Award

Pandemic Response TeamCU Boulder Pandemic Scientific Steering Committee and Science Team (“The Team”)

Kristen Bjorkman (PhDBioChem’07), Gloria Brisson, Jose Jimenez, Mark Kavanaugh, Daniel Larremore (ApMath’09; PhD’12), Leslie Leinwand, Cresten Mansfeldt, Jennifer McDuffie, Matt McQueen (Psych’96), Shelly Miller, Roy Parker and Melanie Parra

Most people will forever remember where they were in March 2020 as the world began to shut down. For many at CU Boulder, an incredible haul of work instantly followed.

Like the COVID-19 virus, their tasks were new, momentous and immediate.

“I can think of no more difficult year than the one that began on March 13, 2020, and was dominated by COVID-19, its impact on our students, faculty and staff and our institutional response,” said CU Boulder provost Russ Moore.

One group of faculty and staff — the CU Boulder Pandemic Scientific Steering Committee and Science Team, or “The Team” — was set on determining how the university could remain operational during a pandemic.

“Without being asked, and in the true spirit of public service, the members of the Scientific Steering Committee and Science Team dropped what they were doing in order to develop the science and many of the associated operations that allowed our campus to successfully open and operate,” said Moore.

The Team consisted of Kristen Bjorkman, Gloria Brisson, Jose Jimenez, Mark Kavanaugh, Daniel Larremore, Leslie Leinwand, Cresten Mansfeldt, Jennifer McDuffie, Matt McQueen, Shelly Miller, Roy Parker and Melanie Parra. Their priority was the safety of the CU Boulder community and beyond.

Their work was evident in every aspect of campus life.

They developed saliva- and wastewater-based SARS-CoV-2 screening tests to find both individual infections and larger outbreaks on campus. They created a contact tracing program that involved eager students and became one of the most responsive in the state. They helped design the HVAC systems that were installed throughout campus to reduce airborne disease transmission. They guided physical distancing and masking protocols. Most importantly, their solutions were grounded in science.

Their ideas and implementations were constant — sometimes happening from the hours of 2 to 4 a.m. or on weekends. The work is not done. Much of The Team’s scientific work will be studied, reviewed and published to help future crisis response practices.

 In the words of the provost, speaking on behalf of thousands positively impacted by their work, “The Team’s dedication serves as an inspiration to us all.”

Forever Buffs Student Award

Taylor Hirschberg (Soc’21)Taylor Hirschberg

Taylor Hirschberg is passionate about the intersections of human health and the natural environment, and how those influence global equity among marginalized populations. 

Growing up in eastern Kentucky, he was surrounded by abundant nature and outdoor activities, while also experiencing first-hand the challenges of widespread poverty. This upbringing, in addition to years of working as a humanitarian in underserved communities, has led to his lasting interest in activism for environmental and social justice. 

While studying sociology and public health at CU, Hirschberg was very active on campus. In his first semester, he founded the first planetary health club at a public university, which offers wellness activities in nature, networking, speakers and opportunities for community service. That same semester, Hirschberg also joined a lab housed in the integrative physiology department, where he participated in study design and grant writing opportunities that included developing a partnership with Rocky Mountain Healthcare and the Denver Botanical Gardens to create a nature immersion program for older adults living with HIV. 

Hirschberg also has influenced several of his peers to pursue degrees at CU, recruiting students from the Community College of Denver. To remove barriers to their success, he chauffeured them from Denver to Boulder, helped with scholarship applications and connected them with affinity groups on campus. Currently, every one of those recruits is in their senior year with a full scholarship. 

According to one of those peers, “Every day of every week, Taylor works to make this world a better place.”

After a rash of tire slashing in Hirschberg’s neighborhood, where he raised money for full repairs and later created a microloan program with leftover funds, Hirschberg found journalism as an avenue for activism to tell the stories of those who often cannot speak for themselves. Much of his work has focused on how global events impact the LGBTQI+ community. One of these stories was the April 2020 Out Magazine cover that uncovered the mistreatment of the Venezuelan LGBTQI+ diaspora. 

Since graduation, Hirschberg moved to NYC to attend Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, where he is the single recipient of the Hearst Family Endowment. His current goal is to open an academic research center that focuses on forced migration among LGBTQI+ communities.

In a nomination for the Center for Student Involvement’s Leigh Wyman Family Award, which Hirschberg won in 2021, a peer wrote, “In every action Taylor has taken, he exemplifies the Colorado Creed” — a social responsibility code started by CU Boulder students emphasizing honor, respect and integrity.

Thaala Loper (MBA’21)Thaala Loper

On her first day at the Leeds School of Business, Thaala Loper was keenly aware that she was the only Black woman in the room. So she dedicated herself toward diversity efforts at Leeds, which she pursued with great force alongside her MBA. 

Over the course of her time at CU, Loper devoted her time to service far beyond her academic pursuits. She served those at CU Boulder by providing opportunities for community engagement, education and racial unification. 

Whether leading social impact projects or diversity initiatives, Loper consistently dedicated herself towards the betterment of her community. 

“I showed my pride in CU by showcasing the importance of diversity and inclusivity at the university,” said Loper. “My hope was to help place CU and the Leeds School of Business in the position of being viewed as a thought leader in racial equity initiatives.” 

At Leeds, Loper served as the vice president of Sustainable Business Partners, an MBA club that helps local businesses attain B Corp status, an outside certification signifying high social, environmental, public and legal standards. She was also the co-president of the Leeds Social Impact Consulting club, a student-run consultancy that helps mission-driven companies pursue strategic objectives though semester-long consulting projects. 

As part of the school’s MBA Association board, Loper was the vice president of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. In this role, she led multiple initiatives, including a non-partisan Get Out the Vote campaign during the 2020 presidential elections and a racial equity habit-building campaign during Black History Month. She was awarded the Graduate Student Leader of the Year award for this work. 

Further, Loper also founded a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion committee to pursue inclusive excellence at the Leeds School of Business. 

“I am leaving CU with a treasure trove of skills and experiences, an exciting job at Apple and an incredible array of friends,” said Loper. “Earning my graduate degree was a long-held goal and one that I wish my mother could have seen. Graduation was a proud moment and a reminder of the many sacrifices my parents made so I could pursue my passions.”