Alumni Five Awards

A celebration of distinguished alumni

The University of Illinois Alumni Association Alumni Five dinner and awards ceremony honors UIC alumni and friends who have given back to the University and the community. The Alumni Five ceremony includes presentations of the Alumni Achievement, Distinguished Service, Alumni Humanitarian and City Partner awards.


Friday, October 11, 2013
Illinois room, Student Center East
University of Illinois at Chicago
750 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL

2013 University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Award
Rajaa Abdullah Alsanea Rajaa Abdullah Alsanea ms ’08 dent, cert ’90 dent
Endodontist, Stem Cell Therapy Program Scientist
King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Dr. Rajaa Abdullah Alsanea’s debut novel, Girls of Riyadh, which tells the tale of four young women living in present-day Saudi Arabia, gained global notoriety upon its publication in 2005. The international bestseller drew critical notice, thousands of emails—and death threats—for its candid portrayal of women struggling with Islamic traditions and the realities of modern life.

Many elements underscore the rarity of this turn of events, not the least being that Alsanea’s vocation is dentistry. She serves as a consultant endodontist and researcher in the stem cell therapy program at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Alsanea’s honors include being named among the Power 500 Arab figures in the world in 2012; 2008 Woman of the Year (Al Arabiya news channel); and 2007 Cultural Figure of the Year and 2006 Intellectual Figure of the Year in the Arab world by Elaph, the top Arabic online newspaper.

2013 UIC Alumni Achievement Award
Ertharin Cousin Ertharin Cousin ’79 las
Executive Director
United Nations World Food Programme

In a world plagued by hunger, Ertharin Cousin has dedicated her life’s work to helping people in need, spending nearly three decades on the national, international, nonprofit, government and corporate scene to provide both immediate relief and long-term solutions to the persistent problem of food deprivation.

From her start as an administrator at two major U.S. grocery chains, Cousin currently serves as the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization. She previously held the posts of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, and head of the U.S. Mission to U.N. Agencies in Rome, Italy.

On the national level, Cousin has held top leadership positions in Feeding America and served as White House liaison to the State Department in the Clinton administration. She has played a vigorous role in the Democratic Party and in 2012 was named to Forbes Magazine’s List of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

2013 UIC Alumni Achievement Award
Axel F. StrotbekAxel F. Strotbek mba ’91
Chief Financial Officer
Ingolstadt, Germany

In a mere two decades in the world of business, Axel F. Strotbek has come to exemplify the executive of the 21st century: a leader with high business acumen, technological savvy, a global outlook and an ability to balance responsible financing with forward-looking investment.

Strotbek began his affiliation with the German automotive industry in 1991, when he joined the Volkwagen Group as an assistant. His star rose, and in 2007 at the age of 43, Strotbek became chief financial officer of AUDI AG, where he has successfully steered the company through the recent world financial crisis and invested in its work force, new products and future technologies.

On the international scene, Strotbek’s abilities have garnered attention, perhaps most notably as a repeatedly invited participant of the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and as a sought-after speaker on the difficulties of accommodating both crisis management and technological investment.

2013 UIC Alumni Humanitarian Award
James E. JenningsJames E. Jennings phd ’88 las
Founder and President
Conscience International

Executive Director
U.S. Academics for Peace

Cotsen Institute of Archaelogy
University of California at Los Angeles
Los Angeles

James E. Jennings is all too familiar with names that ring of violence and despair—Somalia, Haiti, Gaza, Peru. Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia and Iraq. He knows these places well and has seen the devastation wrought by nature and the suffering imposed by the wrath of man.

A history professor who passionately believes in the cause of peace, Jennings has worked for three decades both behind the scenes and on the front lines of wars, natural disasters and political danger zones, raising millions of dollars for assistance as well as organizing and participating in relief efforts. Founder and president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization, he is also the executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, which establishes dialogues among professors, politicians and religious leaders around the world.

Jennings, who worked with global health-related programs at UIC in the mid-1990s, is a Fellow at the Cotsen Institute of Archaelogy at the University of California at Los Angeles.

2013 UIC Distinguished Service Award
Linda Rae MurrayLinda Rae Murray ’73 las, md ’77 com, mph ’80
Chief Medical Officer
Cook County Department of Public Health/Cook County Health and Hospital System
Forest Park

In 2006, Dr. Linda Rae Murray was named chief medical officer of the Cook County Illinois Department of Public Health, but her dedication to the medically underserved began long before that.

For four decades, she has worked as a physician, mentor, teacher and activist, promoting public health, speaking out for social justice, defending organized labor and tirelessly advocating for health care as a basic human right. “Social justice is really the frame around which public health needs to function in our country,” she told the Faces of Public Health series of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2011. “We have to be visible – we have to speak out on issues that concern the health of the public.”

Murray has used her platform to encourage a vision in which public health functions serves as the “glue” that unites various factors that influence a community, such as transportation, sanitation, education, labor and recreation.

2013 UIC City Partner Award

Cassandra J. Francis

Cassandra J. Francis, mupp ’91
Principal, Kariatid Inc., Chicago

Cassandra J. Francis has devoted her career to providing strategic planning and project advisory services that develop—and redevelop—urban centers. She has helped construct new developments, expand transportation, revitalize areas and build bridges—both literal and figurative—within large and complex communities.

Francis is a principal of Kariatid Inc., a firm specializing in real estate, construction project management and strategic planning issues. She previously served as executive director and vice president of Clayco Inc., where she helped the St. Louis-based real estate and design-build construction firm enter the Chicago market.

Francis led master planning efforts for Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics, and at U.S. Equities, she helped develop the MetraMarket in the West Loop and the New Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis. A LEED accredited professional, she has also worked as a transportation planner at Metra and at The Habitat Company, where she helped acquire sites for the development of public housing.

2013 UIC City Partner Award

Alison R. Perona

Alison R. Perona, ma ’03 las
Inspector General, Chicago Park District

Safeguarding the public from harm forms the ethos of Alison R. Perona’s professional life. From protecting child abuse victims to eliminating fraud and inefficiencies in public agencies, she has spent more than 25 years establishing guidelines and emphasizing integrity in a variety of governmental entities.

The first-ever inspector general of the Chicago Park District, Perona previously served as deputy director of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and as inspector general of the Chicago Transit Authority.

In her 18 years in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Perona supervised its Child Advocacy and Protection Unit, helped establish national models for child forensic interviewing and assisted in the creation of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, where each allegation of child sexual abuse in the city is examined. In addition, she co-authored an investigation manual that is now used by the National Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers.