Samuel P. Capen Award recognizes notable and meritorious contributions from alumni to the university and its family, such as contributions influencing the growth and improvement of UB and stimulating others to give their active interest and material support to UB. It is named for Samuel P. Capen, UB Chancellor from 1922 to 1950.
Walter P. Cooke Award is given to nonalumni. It also recognizes notable and meritorious contributions to the university and its family, such as contributions influencing the growth and improvement of the university and stimulating others to give their active interest and material support to UB. It is named for the lawyer, financier and civic leader who was chair of the University Council from 1920 to 1931.
Clifford C. Furnas Memorial Award is presented annually to a graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or a graduate in one of the natural sciences or mathematics disciplines within the College of Arts and Sciences, who has distinguished himself or herself in a field of science. It is named for Clifford C. Furnas, who served UB both as chancellor (1954–1962) and later as president following the merger with SUNY (1962–1966).
Distinguished Alumni Awards are given in recognition of exceptional career accomplishments, community or university service, or research and scholarly activity. An International Distinguished Alumnus Award has been established this year.
Community Leadership Medal is presented to alumni or nonalumni in recognition of, and in appreciation for, outstanding accomplishments in making the UB community a better place to live and work.
Philip B. Wels Award is given to individuals and groups, both alumni and nonalumni, who have contributed to and advanced the university for a specific purpose, or served UB in a voluntary capacity for a significant period of time.
Richard T. Sarkin Award for Outstanding Teaching acknowledges outstanding and significant achievements of UB alumni who have earned distinction as educators at accredited institutions of higher education. It is named in honor of the late pediatrician Richard T. Sarkin, Ed.M. ’98, who was associate professor of clinical pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
Getting to Know Them
On April 15, eleven individuals, one posthumously, were cited for their professional accomplishments and contributions to UB at the Alumni Association’s annual Celebration of Excellence dinner. But the awards don’t tell the stories of these purposeful lives, or the personalities that spark our admiration and respect.
Story by Grace A. Lazzara
Photo by Eric Frick
Samuel P. Capen Award
Elizabeth Olmsted Ross
Ophthalmologist Elizabeth Olmsted Ross’s professional life took flight because of the shortsightedness of the U.S. Air Force in the 1940s: Ross, a licensed pilot and physician, applied to aviation medical school. The military advised her to get eye training and reapply. She followed the advice, but it took a world war (when so many male doctors had been recruited for war service and not enough physicians were available to cover hospital commitments on the home front), to get her accepted into an accredited residency program. Ironically, at the same time, the air force approached her to become a ferry pilot. She stayed with medicine, however, and became a board-certified ophthalmologist.
And, indeed, vision has played more than one role in Ross’s long career. Yes, she’s a renowned ophthalmologist in practice for some 60 years. Yes, she has been so instrumental to the aims of the former Blind Association of Western New York that the organization now carries her name—the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D., Center for the Visually Impaired. Yes, she conducted research into the ocular effects of radar exposure in the military. In her mind, Ross’s vision for the future has been the overriding theme, manifested in the goal of establishing an ophthalmic institute for research, education and clinic activity in Buffalo. The institute is now under development.
Money isn’t everything
Walter P. Cooke Award
Leave it to a professor of business to say that money isn’t everything. But that’s what Frank Jen believes, and every aspect of his professional life proves his sincerity. Take his teaching, for instance. A member of the UB School of Management faculty from 1964 to 1997, Jen’s attitude has been fatherly; he says he lives through his students’ accomplishments. “It’s not how much money they make or how many articles they publish, it’s how much they’ve contributed,” he says. “I want them to make their mark and do something for the world.”
His efforts seem to have made an impression: Lawrence Peckham, also a Celebration of Excellence recipient, cites Jen as his favorite M.B.A. instructor. Jen’s own proudest accomplishment is his contribution to the economic development of his country of origin—China. Jen was instrumental in establishing an executive education program in Dalian, China, in which some 6,000 senior Chinese business managers participated. His groundwork with the program also led to the selection of UB as the university to offer an M.B.A. program at Dalian University of Technology and, in 1998, to the creation of the School of Management’s executive M.B.A. program at Renmin University in Beijing. Today, Jen is still lending his expertise and knowledge to the cause of helping economies—both those of the United States and Southeast Asia—to improve and develop.
Clifford C. Furnas Award
Larry Peckham might be the poster child for goal-setters. He doesn’t cycle; he completes a 500-mile bike ride across Iowa. He doesn’t go boating; he cruises the Great Circle Route around eastern North America. He didn’t go back to school for his M.B.A.; he graduated first in his class, while founding a software company in his student apartment. His career, according to Peckham, has been his hobby and greatest source of fun. “If I had an extra hour, I’d go to work,” he says, “and I never had a bad day.”
Peckham’s enthusiasm paid off. His company, LPA Software, grew over 26 years to become a major player in commercial software systems for inventory control, warehousing, defect management and supply chain management. (An investor group bought LPA in 1998 for $40 million.) Along the way, Peckham undertook every project with the belief that “if you work on something long enough, you’ll get better. That’s why I liked to work every day—to get better.” Peckham still sets goals. He recently became part-owner of a packaging/ fulfillment company, with the idea of helping it grow. And most important, he says, is a goal that is everything to Peckham: “Watching my four-year-old daughter grow up.”
International Distinguished Alumnus Award
Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao
Few and far between today are those who can rightly claim the mantle of public intellectual. Sociologist Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao can. Over the past 25 years, Hsiao’s research, teaching, writing and action have helped shape the course of economic, political and social development in Taiwan. Executive director for Asia-Pacific Area Studies at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s leading research institution, Hsiao studies the multifaceted societal changes taking place as Southeast Asia transforms itself into a global economic power. He’s a self-described “disciplined scholar” who advises his students to tackle issues bravely.
That advice might shed some light on why Hsiao is not content simply to witness events from an ivory tower. He has taken an active role in numerous Taiwanese civil movements, including helping to found the country’s environmentalist movement. He has been a national policy advisor to Taiwan’s presidents since the mid-1990s. And, today, he’s the designated vice president of the Control Yuan, which keeps a close eye on the performance and activities of the executive branch of government for the future.
Hsiao considers his most important activity, as a public agent of change, to be his long-time involvement in Taiwan’s pro-democracy movement. Indeed, he advised the opposition’s presidential candidate during the elections of 2000—elections that led to unprecedented change in the country’s political regime.
Distinguished Alumnus Award
William F. Balistreri
William Balistreri, director of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tellingly quotes Albert Einstein, who said, “Never lose your holy curiosity.” Tellingly, because Balistreri’s own curiosity clearly drives his work and philosophy: He transferred to UB as an undergraduate, needing a more challenging academic environment than his first school provided. Since graduating, he helped develop a new medical subspecialty because he became fascinated with why certain diseases afflicted babies. As a professor in the department of pediatrics at the medical center, he hopes to stimulate students and to “test the waters and see how far I can take my own curiosity.”
One of the world’s foremost authorities on pediatric gastroenterology and liver disease, Balistreri, through his writing, teaching and medical practice, has significantly advanced the understanding of pediatric hepatology, the branch of medicine concerned with the liver and its diseases. Not so curiously, Balistreri is the recipient of many prestigious awards from international and national medical societies, and has, on four occasions, been recognized as one of “the Best Doctors in America.”
Balistreri asserts that, even as a senior scholar in the university and medical center, “I’m still continuing to learn. Every day is a new lesson—just like my days at UB!”
Distinguished Alumnus Award
Though she applies it to herself, “dogged” seems too weak a word for Juanita Hunter’s attitude toward the things she cares about. Noted for her perseverance to the task at hand and a steadfast belief in the notion of professionalism, she constantly asks the question, “What is your full responsibility as a professional?” Hunter feels that responsibility, whatever the discipline, should include a promise to serve all humankind. “I taught students that you have to have commitment and if you’re committed,” she says, “you’ll prepare yourself to the best of your ability.”
Hunter has spent more than 50 years as a practicing nurse, academic, researcher and community activist. She started out caring for patients, spent 20 years teaching at UB’s School of Nursing, and served as president of the New York State Nurses Association. She also played a significant role in creating and directing the Nursing Center for the Homeless, helping individuals in the Buffalo area. There, her work and research brought national attention to the needs of the homeless, influencing the kind of health care indigent people receive. Even now, in retirement, Hunter is determined to create meaning in the volunteer activities she takes on. “I’m constantly evaluating what I’m doing and whether it’s having an impact,” she says. Her fellow nurses also acknowledge her work. Sigma Theta Tau, the professional nursing honor society, named Hunter one of its Distinguished Lecturers, and the American Academy of Nursing elected her a fellow in 1990.
Distinguished Alumnus Award
Does happiness beget success, or vice versa? To Hadi Makarechian, chair of the board, CEO and president of Capital Pacific Holdings, the distinction might be moot. As owner of this nationally ranked diversified real estate company that builds homes, office buildings, hotels and more, he’s surely successful. But, he says, “I’m a happy guy who wants to have comfortable, happy relationships with others. When I make other people happy, I’m happy.”
Makarechian clearly relishes his work, enjoying the creativity of constantly developing new projects that are frequently featured in national media. Makarechian’s favorite project thus far has been the St. Regis Resort and Spa in Monarch Beach, California, a mixed-use development with residences, a hotel, resort, golf, spa and restaurants. “It has almost everything that a real estate developer likes to do,” Makarechian says. His colleagues’ and customers’ satisfaction is also of primary importance. He says he strives not only to be profitable and productive, but also to have “happy, happy partners and customers. Real estate development is the only manufacturing business left in the U.S. that’s going to stay here. So customer satisfaction becomes the most important issue. That’s what I really focus on because it’s the future of our business.”
Distinguished Alumnus Award
Mark W. Nusbaum
Few characterizations illustrate a thing’s elusiveness as succinctly as likening it to the Holy Grail. Architect Mark Nusbaum took on a quest for what Architectural Record called “The Holy Grail of the landmark preservation movement”—the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. And he succeeded. An associate at Beyer, Blinder, Belle Architects and Planners, Nusbaum was project architect for the terminal’s restoration. He devoted seven years to the $200-million undertaking—the most expensive in modern U.S. architectural history. For Nusbaum, the project tied right into what he holds most dear about his work. “I take great pride in knowing that the buildings I’ve worked on have had such a positive impact on people’s lives,” he says. “When I worked on Grand Central Terminal, I was always amazed at how passionate people were about the building.”
Nusbaum is a dedicated UB alumnus, a board member of the Alumni Association who hosts an annual “insider” terminal tour for alumni and prospective students. Says Nusbaum, “My education, with its strong emphasis on the design studio backed up by a broad-based technical curriculum, has enabled me to take on complex projects like Grand Central and, more recently, a $500 million retail, hotel and residential complex outside of Boston.”
Philip B. Wels Outstanding Service Award
Kenneth A. Manning
Engineering has, in a way, book-ended attorney Kenneth Manning’s career. Manning got his bachelor’s in engineering from UB, then graduated from the university’s law school. His time in the engineering program so impressed him that, after some 25 years as partner in one of the region’s biggest law firms, Phillips Lytle LLP, he’s returning to school to get his master’s in engineering.
But Manning is no engineering dilettante. The two fields converge in his legal work for some numerous noteworthy corporate names, many of which have been with Manning for more than 20 years. “I use my engineering education in my practice all the time, especially with the clients who make or buy products and services,” he says. Law and engineering also come together in his tireless volunteer work on behalf of both the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Law School. Manning not only gives his time to UB, but he also gives his strategic acumen. Indeed, Manning seems to value the ability to give more than any other aspect of his personal and professional life. Helping his son move into his first apartment, giving pro bono legal advice to people who can’t afford a lawyer, lobbying Albany for UB’s School of Law C9 he’s plainly sincere in his efforts to give—and, according to Manning, to “give back.”
Community Leadership Medal
Honorable John T. Curtin
As United States District Court Judge for the Western District of New York, the Honorable John T. Curtin surely could pontificate all he wants. But when he speaks of his nearly 40 years on the bench, the word “listen” comes up most frequently. As in: “I try to listen carefully to the suggestions of lawyers on both sides, listen closely to the arguments.” His judicial attentions—in landmark cases dealing with Love Canal, the Attica prison riots and the desegregation of Buffalo’s schools among others—have contributed to his stature as a jurist of eminence. Demurs Curtin, “I follow the law as carefully as I can.”
His prudence, however, is tempered by concern for those who find themselves in the system, always considering the background of the people involved and “their prospects for future conduct.” In fact, Curtin agrees with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding fault with strict adherence to sentencing guidelines: “We should do everything we can—especially for first-time offenders and people on the periphery of a situation—to get them into the probation system, if possible.” His long-time tenure in one of the nation’s busiest federal courts (ranked sixth out of 94 in number of pending cases) has made Curtin well nigh irreplaceable.
on a mission
Richard T. Sarkin Award for Outstanding Teaching
Richard T. Sarkin
Richard Sarkin was a pediatrician’s pediatrician, a doctor who inspired medical students to enter his specialty. Yet in the short period since his untimely death in a commuter plane crash in Kirksville, Missouri, in October 2004, colleagues, friends and former students remember him most for his commitment to teaching. Not garden-variety teaching: Sarkin taught about teaching itself, convinced that effective teaching and evaluation are the linchpins of learning, superior care and patient satisfaction.
A UB faculty member since 1981, Sarkin was an attending physician at the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, where he also directed the general pediatrics newborn nursery service. He became internationally known for his efforts to improve doctor-patient communication and the teaching skills of faculty and residents. He spoke of his work and ideas to countless audiences nationally and abroad. And he further evidenced his commitment to teaching by earning a master’s degree in education from UB in 1998.
Sarkin’s own presentations were marked by passion, humor and the confidence of the deeply knowledgeable. Imagine, if you will, the plenary session he ran at a national conference on HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, the end of which featured his audience singing “H-I-P-A” to the tune of “YMCA.” If awards are any indication of accomplishment, Sarkin was an accomplished teacher indeed. A three-time recipient of UB’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ Siegel Award recognizing faculty teaching excellence, Sarkin also received SUNY’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Grace A. Lazzara is a freelance writer based in Buffalo.