The Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University is recognizing recipients of its 2016 Alumni Awards during homecoming. The awards are for professional accomplishments, service and overall achievement. Podcast conversations with the six winners will be available starting in October at case.edu/alumni/resources/podcast.
DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD
Morton L. Mandel (HON '07, CWR '13)
Just three years after earning his degree, Morton L. Mandel has won the highest honor the university's Alumni Association bestows: the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Of course, he had met most of the criteria—exceptional professional and community contributions—well before he received his diploma.
In 1940, Mandel left Adelbert College (later part of Case Western Reserve) to co-found Premier Industrial Corp. in Cleveland with his brothers Jack and Joseph. Just more than a dozen years later, the trio launched their family foundation. With investments in such areas as higher education, high-potential leadership, the Jewish community and the humanities, the philanthropy regularly fulfills the brothers' mission to invest in programs and people who can change the world.
Mandel felt so strongly about the importance of education that, in 2013, he went on to complete his degree. With that act and so many more, this university emeritus trustee has inspired and enabled thousands of others. His life exemplifies the title of his 2012 book, It's All About Who.
DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD
Fred Gray, JD (LAW '54, HON '92)
Fred Gray pegs his ambition to become a lawyer in the 1950s to a single, grinding purpose: "to destroy everything segregated I could find."
During the next six decades—he still practices full time at age 85—Gray played a central role in the civil rights movement.
Gray defended Rosa Parks in the fight to desegregate the city bus system in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. He was Martin Luther King Jr.'s first civil rights attorney, and obtained school integration, voting rights and the right to serve on juries for African-Americans. He also successfully sued the federal government on behalf of African-American men exploited by the Tuskegee syphilis study.
He is widely considered one of the most successful civil rights attorneys of the 20th century and his cases are studied in law schools across the country.
The Case Western Reserve emeritus trustee said people who see a problem, prepare themselves and are ready to sacrifice can "help create change that is fair and right."
NEWTON D. BAKER
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD
Donald Foster (ADL '50)
Donald Foster has made lasting contributions to both Case Western Reserve and an Ohio nonprofit that helps children and families.
Committed to giving back to the university that was a "major contributor" to his personal growth, Foster worked with others, including the late Ted Castele, MD (ADL '51, MED '57), to raise funds to expand campus alumni facilities. Before the end of the year, the Linsalata Alumni Center will be complete with a new terrace and a banquet facility called the Foster Castele Great Hall.
Foster also has been a key leader for more than 35 years at the Village Network, which provides behavioral, physical and emotional care through a variety of programs at centers across the state.
Foster has served as a board member and as treasurer there. In 2014, the nonprofit organization's headquarters in Wooster was named the Donald Foster Center for Family Preservation in recognition of his substantial financial support.
"I've just been so impressed with how they're able to help these kids both clinically and emotionally," said Foster, now an emeritus board member.
DANIEL T. CLANCY
ALUMNI SERVICE AWARD
Nancy Fink (WRC '73)
In the early 1990s, Nancy Fink lost a job, found another one—and became a big proponent of the virtues of networking.
And that's what led her to become active in the university alumni network in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area.
When The Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University formed in 2005, Fink was an active board member and two years later became president, serving two one-year terms. She remained on the board until 2013.
Through the years, Fink has been known for her enthusiasm and chapter recruitment. She also ran some alumni job-search workshops in the wake of the 2008 recession.
As president, Fink worked with Dan Clancy, who then was the association's executive director.
"I was just so tickled to win this award," said Fink, who lives outside Annapolis, Maryland. "It's an award named for an amazing man, and I am just so completely honored to be the recipient."
Today, Fink is an emeritus member of The Alumni Association board and director of the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center within Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Tshilidzi Marwala, PhD (CWR '95)
Tshilidzi Marwala took to heart the wisdom his grandmother imparted years ago: "Knowledge not used for the advancement of society is no knowledge at all."
"I pursued engineering to prepare myself to take a leading role in the development of the African continent," said Marwala, who is deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation and a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Johannesburg.
Marwala also has served in government and business.
While working with South Africa's Department of Health, Marwala sought to better understand the drivers of HIV infection to help slow the disease's spread.
Marwala also was a member of a national government advisory council on innovation, and later wrote journal and newspaper articles about the importance of technological education to accelerate development.
In addition, he helped lead the restructuring of Telkom, a wireless telecommunications provider in South Africa that is about one-third publicly owned.
And as a scholar, Marwala is a recognized expert in the use of artificial intelligence and has mentored more than 60 graduate and PhD students.
YOUNG ALUMNI AWARD
Aleksandra V. Rachitskaya, MD (MED '08)
A patient came to Aleksandra Rachitskaya after a rare eye condition and resulting advanced blindness impaired his ability to work. Her expertise was precisely what he needed.
"I'm the type of ophthalmologist you see when something is really wrong," said Rachitskaya, who has focused her career on retinal diseases.
Today, she's at Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute, working as a lead surgeon on a team—one of a few in the country—that uses a new technology to give people a different kind of vision. It involves a retinal implant, customized eyeglasses and electrical stimulation that help the brain interpret flashes of light so a person can recognize objects.
"Having the ability to address serious eye issues is really gratifying," she said.
Rachitskaya previously was a research fellow with the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
A Russian immigrant, Rachitskaya also enjoys using her native language with patients who otherwise would face a language barrier. And after having several inspiring mentors, she now gives back by training ophthalmology students, residents and fellows.