In 2018 we began a new tradition called Alumni Honors, designed to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of alumni who embody our core values of inquiry, care, integrity, agency, and interconnection.
Each year, Alumni Honors celebrates one alumna/us/x who is an emerging leader in his/her/their field and is already making important contributions at a local, national, or international level through personal accomplishment, professional achievement, or humanitarian service.
We invite our entire community to nominate candidates: alumni, current students, current and past parents, and current and past faculty/staff. Click here to nominate at any time during the year. Nominations are reviewed starting January 30 and recipients are honored at Reunion w
The chair of Alumni Honors is Leonard Chung ’98. An inspiring role model himself, Leonard is driven by a passion for innovation and people. He is the founder and CEO of Chava, a company automating collaboration through AI and cognitive science, and has been recognized for identifying emerging markets and launching successful products with a particular focus in SaaS, Cloud Computing, and Big Data. Leonard developed first gen products at SETI@home, Scale8, IBM, and Microsoft, and was the Founder & CEO of Syncplicity.
“Like most of us, my love of learning was nurtured at UHS,” says Leonard. “University gave me the early confidence and skills to pursue my interests beyond the classroom. Through Alumni Honors, we want to recognize in our young alumni that sense of agency, taking risks and growing from the experience and pursuing passions with confidence, creativity, and humility. We look forward to learning stories of trial, error, and innovation so we can all learn through their example.”
The selection committee includes:
- Julayne (Austin) Virgil ’94, trustee and president of the UHS Alumni Association
- Oscar Flores ’89, co-chair of the Summerbridge Annual Fund
- Frances Hochschild ’80, P’21, co-chair of the Alumni Annual Fund
- Katie Hultquist '92, honorary chair of UHS LGBTQIA Alumni Affinity Group
- Thomas McKinley ’02, co-chair of the Alumni Annual Fund
- Marianna Stark ’89, UHS director of alumni engagement and giving
- Andrew Williams ’00, UHS director of community engagement
- Katie Albright P '18, P '21, president of the UHS Board of Trustees
- Julia Russell Eells, head of school
2018 ALUMNI HONORS RECIPIENTS:
DR. NJEMA FRAZIER '88
Dr. Njema Frazier ’88 says her hobby is changing the world.
In the twenty years since obtaining her PhD in nuclear physics in 1997 and rising to a place of leadership within the field, Njema has been a lifelong mentor to youth and emerging professionals just beginning their path, specifically focused on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM professions. Due to her efforts, she has been recognized by countless organizations devoted to the same, from national entities to grassroots influencers, extending her reach even further.
The path to enter and excel in STEM is illuminated through the life choices she has made: a rigorous course of academic study, time spent in the House of Representatives on the staff of the Committee on Science learning the business of government, many years working as a physicist with the Department of Energy, and now leading the Office of Inertial Confinement Fusion with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). At the NNSA she manages scientific and technical efforts undertaken to ensure that the United States maintains a credible National nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. Her program is charged with researching high energy density and plasma physics and works closely with the nation’s top talent around the country, including researchers at Lawrence Livermore Lab.
It is through this combination of professional excellence and service to others that she embodies UHS’s core values of inquiry, care, integrity, agency, and interconnection. Njema is candid about the experience of being an underrepresented minority in her field. “There aren’t a lot of women or people of color in physics. Because of that, my qualifications have routinely been challenged, and my work has had to be strong enough to counter or change those views. Even today, in 2018, some established leaders in my field still are not ready for diversity. I guess it is a good thing they don’t sign my check!”
The academic rigor at UHS prepared Njema well for Carnegie Mellon, where she felt comfortable with challenging assignments like problem sets from day one. Being comfortable in the college classroom early on instilled a high degree of confidence in her. She credits her time in Summerbridge before UHS with making her take academics seriously as a middle school student. Njema’s first love is math, but the pervasive nature of physics drove her to pursue science instead. She remembers trips to the Exploratorium for homework assignments from physics instructor Tucker Hiatt; trips that made her realize physics is everywhere.
When asked how she has moved up through the ranks to leadership in her field, Njema offers advice that can be applied to any field. “My willingness and ability to find solutions to problems is one of the things that has made me successful. It’s not enough to identify a problem. Managers appreciate team members who identify a solution at the same time as presenting a challenge. Offering a solution means the team can work together to solve the issue and move the project – or program – forward.
Being a physicist means Njema was trained to find solutions. But looking for answers isn’t enough, you also have to listen for answers. “It’s important to be a good listener, an active listener, instead of simply preparing your next talking point while others are speaking.”
And the other ingredient for success? “You have to be an expert in your job before you can lead. Advancing into higher positions is a worthwhile goal, but take the time to learn your current role inside and out before you decide it’s time to advance. Doing the best job where you are will help you get the plum assignments. Then, when you do get the promotion, you’ll be more competent and valuable as a leader because you understand the details of how your discipline works.”
Today she still volunteers her time for STEM education and STEM advocacy. Algebra by 7th Grade which she co-founded and still chairs, has just ended a successful pilot program in Washington DC and has started to expand with a second program partnering with Purdue University’s Minority Engineering Program. Ab7G is evaluating the pilot’s results and preparing to take the program to scale. Njema has been involved with National Society for Black Engineers since her undergraduate days and now serves on their advisory board. She is an active speaker for the American Physical Society. And she is on the board of CHANGES, Coalition of Hispanic, African and Native Americans for the Next Generation of Engineers and Scientists.
And on a personal note, she shares the news that she is engaged to be married to Dr. Joe Haralson, an electrical engineer. The two met the summer before freshman year of college and have been lifelong friends. Joe got down on one knee and proposed the night that Njema was recognized by Black Girls Rock! as their STEM awardee.
Njema Frazier is indeed changing the world.
To watch a video of Njema's acceptance speech, click here.
Nominated by Steve Kubick ’85
GEORGE WATSKY '05
George Watsky ’05 (known professionally as Watsky) is an accomplished artist who has experimented with and mastered multiple genres: rap, poetry, music, writing, acting, and directing. He has been dedicated to his craft since his high school days as a poetry slam champ when he broke new ground with his 2005 spoken-word play, “The Fuse,” the first ever student-written main stage production at UHS.
From Lin Manuel Miranda to Ellen DeGeneres, established artists and performers have identified George as a rising talent and collaborated with him. George continually reinvents himself, rewarding his loyal followers while reaching new audiences. His essay collection, How to Ruin Everything, is a timeless look at the angst and humor of being a youth and young adult, like a Gen Y David Sedaris. And his short film excerpting the book is yet another example of genre-bending innovation. George was selected for Alumni Honors because of his innovative work, and because he uses his stage to question the status quo, advocate for those who are less fortunate, and expects the same from others.
George has always been interested in the craft of writing, figuring out how to add new tools to make language pretty, interesting, rich, or attention-grabbing, and there’s humor in most of what he does. At the center of everything he writes is sincerity and desire for emotional connection with the audience. When asked to describe the common thread in his work, George says, “I’m an atheist searching for church. I keep returning to the question of how we can find beauty and meaning in a world that may lack fundamental meaning. If we’re all gonna die and none of us matter, what’s the point of this exhausting dance we all do? I think the conclusion I tend to draw is, well, yeah, there probably is no point. But we’re here, our feelings are real to us, and it’s more fun to care than to cave in.”
George’s inspirations include the precision and clarity of Jhumpa Lahiri’s prose, the stream-of-consciousness brilliance of Andre 3000, and the passionate dedication of ropeless rock climber Alex Honnold. His poetry is largely influenced by the other teenage writers he grew up competing against.
Navigating a career in entertainment is not for the faint of heart. Unlike an author who can’t get published because his novel isn’t easily filed in a bookstore “section,” George has found a way to stay true to his art and keep himself in the public eye. “I’m an advocate for finding the balance. I aim for a sort of Trojan Horse strategy, i.e., give them what they want enough to get in the door, and once you’re in, subvert their expectations.”
UHS had a big impact on George. “I got to UHS and almost overnight became a better writer, a better listener, a better Greek-column-volute explainer. UHS believed in me, allowed me to make mistakes and bounce back, gave me a platform for my playwriting, and delivered me to leadership positions.” And after graduation, “we as University alumni are privileged to have the opportunity to spend our careers doing something that makes us happy.”
But true to his ethos, George recognizes his experience was not universal, and challenges us to be better: “What I’ve been coming to terms with over the last few years is that my experience of the school was not shared by everyone. Some of my good friends brilliant, hardworking, caring people—had a starkly different high school experience than I did, a straight, white male.”
“UHS can’t singlehandedly solve the patriarchy, or racial income inequality, and it would be unfair to expect the school to. All my experiences relate to the school as it was when I was there, so I can’t speak to the current environment. But I think if we're staying honest with ourselves about how to serve the needs of every student we’re moving in the right direction.”
His advice for aspiring artists? “You can do it! Try to create something you’ve never seen before. Dream big. Apply all those awesome analytical practical UHS skills to your art. Break your craft down into manageable chunks and master one little subset at a time. Be dedicated and determined. Every career takes hard work and you need to be your own taskmaster because usually there’s no one there to force you to show up. But never disassociate from the spark that made you fall in love with the arts in the first place.” And that advice can be applied to any discipline.
Remember, everyone starts somewhere: “I was, to my knowledge, the first person ever cut from the freshman basketball team.”
To watch a video of George's acceptance speech, click here.
Nominated by Henry Rittenberg ’11