Alumni Achievement Award

In 1984, the UCSC Alumni Office began honoring alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their field. Recipients are alumni of UC Santa Cruz who have rendered special and outstanding service to UCSC; or who, by personal achievement, have brought distinction to the university. To nominate someone for this award, click here


2021-2022 Dr. Barbara Ferrer

Barbara Ferrer is a nationally-known public health leader with more than 30 years of professional experience as a philanthropic strategist, public health director, educational leader, researcher, and community advocate.

Dr. Ferrer served as the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, where she led a range of public health programs and built innovative partnerships to address inequities in health outcomes and support healthy communities and healthy families. Dr. Ferrer has also served as director of Health Promotion & Chronic Disease Prevention and director of the Division of the Maternal & Child Health at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. As a headmaster at a district high school in Boston, she led efforts to significantly improve high school graduation rates and ensure that every graduating senior was accepted to college.

Dr. Ferrer received her Ph.D. in Social Welfare from Brandeis University, a Master of Arts in Public Health from Boston University, a Master of Arts in Education from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

2020-2021 Stacy Jupiter

Stacy Jupiter is the Melanesia regional director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), based out of Suva, Fiji, where she previously directed WCS’s Fiji Country Program.

Originally from the U.S., she completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard University (A.B. 1997) and doctoral research at UC Santa Cruz and at the University of Queensland while on a Fulbright scholarship. Jupiter first became interested in community-based management and conservation while serving as a Peace Corps rural fisheries volunteer in the tropical rainforests of Gabon, Central Africa.

Broadly, the scope of Jupiter’s work could be captured under the umbrella of integrated catchment-to-reef management, though this has taken various forms, including evaluating effectiveness of locally managed marine areas and integrated island management projects; undertaking spatial planning to achieve biodiversity and livelihoods outcomes; assessing downstream impacts of catchment modification on biodiversity and human health; and understanding drivers of resilience in Pacific coastal communities. Jupiter was named a 2019 MacArthur Fellow.

Jupiter has been affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society since 2008. She served as director of the Fiji Country Program from 2009 to 2014 before assuming her current role as director of the Melanesia Program.

2018-2019 Natalie Batalha

Natalie Batalha, a NASA scientist who earned her Ph.D. in astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 UC Santa Cruz Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on a graduate of the campus. 

From 2011 to 2017, Batalha served as the science lead for NASA’s highly successful Kepler Mission, which discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets. In 2017, she was named to Time magazine’s list of the “100 most influential people in the world.” Batalha earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at UC Berkeley and received her doctoral degree from UC Santa Cruz in 1997. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Brazil, she returned to California, taking a position at San Jose State University as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and joining the exoplanet discovery team at NASA Ames Research Center led by space scientist William Borucki.

Borucki was working on transit photometry, then an emerging technology for finding exoplanets. He led the planning for and became principal investigator of the Kepler Mission, launched in 2009 to determine the frequency of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars. Batalha was involved with the Kepler Mission from the proposal stage and contributed to many different aspects of the science, from studying the stars themselves to detecting and understanding the planets they harbor. As her leadership role in the mission grew, so did her responsibilities. After ten years at San Jose State University, she moved to the Astrophysics Branch of the Space Sciences Division of NASA Ames Research Center to fully dedicate her time to the Kepler Mission.

Batalha led Kepler’s first efforts to generate high-reliability catalogs of planet detections. She also led the analysis that yielded the discovery in 2011 of Kepler-10b, the mission’s first confirmation of a rocky planet outside our solar system. In 2011, she was awarded a NASA Public Service Medal for her vision in communicating Kepler science to the public and for outstanding leadership in coordinating the Kepler Science Team. She has also received the Lecar Prize from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award for the Physical Sciences.

In 2015, Batalha joined the leadership team of a new NASA initiative dedicated to the search for evidence of life beyond the solar system. NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) brings teams from multiple disciplines together to understand the diversity of worlds. Kepler has demonstrated that Earth-size planets abound in the galaxy. NExSS contributes to NASA's efforts to understand which are most likely to harbor life.

At UC Santa Cruz, Batalha will explore the diversity of planets in the galaxy using space-based telescopes like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as well as UC’s ground-based telescopes like those at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the future Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). She will also bring multiple disciplines of study together to explore the broader question of planetary habitability.

2016-2017 Julie Snyder

Julie Snyder (Kresge ’95, Politics) is the co-creater of Serial, one of the most downloaded podcasts of all time. Her takeaways from her time at UC Santa Cruz to “be fearless, be progressive, challenge the orthodoxy, question the status quo, and don’t just follow what others do and have always done,” helped her — and co-creator Sarah Koenig — redefine storytelling by telling real-life narratives in suspenseful, weekly segments.

After graduating from UC Santa Cruz, Snyder launched her broadcasting career at This American Life in 1997. When she left her position as the broadcast's Senior Producer in 2014 to launch Serial with Koenig, little did she know that it would soon reach 5 million downloads — making it the fastest downloading podcast in iTunes History — or that the show would approach a total of 253 million downloads after the first two seasons, drawing listeners from every country in the world except North Korea and Eritrea. “I don’t know what Eritrea’s problem is!” Snyder joked at the UC Santa Cruz Founder’s Dinner in October 2016.

Snyder is now working on Season 3 of Serial, which will be released in mid-2017. She also produces S-Town, another fast-paced podcast that premiered earlier this year.

2015-2016 M. Sanjayan

M. Sanjayan (Ph.D Biology, '97) is the host of the new groundbreaking PBS nature series, EARTH A New Wild. Sanjayan's high-profile career keeps him traveling across the globe almost constantly and places him squarely in the public eye, whether he's reporting on Bangladeshi tigers, global warming, strange weather, extinctions, rising sea levels, or mega-fires.

Along the way, Sanjayan, who was born in Sri Lanka, was hailed as an advocate for diversity—in all its forms—in a Time magazine article entitled "Changing the White Face of the Green Movement." Sanjayan, executive vice president and senior scientist for Conservation International, has just returned from a global journey for his new five-part series, which debuted February 4 and features unusual and moving "partnerships" between human beings and ecosystems. 

His new program explores how humans are inextricably woven into every aspect of the planet's natural systems. With 45 shoots in 29 different countries, the show took Sanjayan from a preserve in India, land of the wild tiger, to the wilds of Montana, where he observed a specially trained group of cowboys who are helping ecosystems recover with their ranching practices.

Until recently, Sanjayan served as the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he spent 16 years specializing in development and conservation strategies, focusing on Africa, wildlife ecology, and media outreach.

UC Santa Cruz played a decisive role in his present career. Though he admits that he is "not one of those people who loves being on television," he comes across as confident and very much in the know—two traits he attributes in large part to his graduate school experience here.

2014-2015 Mark Headley (Stevenson '83, politics and economics)

Mark Headley is board chairman of Matthews International Capital Management, a capital investment firm with more than $20 billion invested in Asia. He is receving the Alumni Achievement award for for boldly pursuing opportunities unseen by others in the financial industry and providing generous support to the Global Information Internship Program.

When Headley became active in Asian investing in 1989, Wall Street had a "hands off" attitude toward the region, but he saw opportunity. Indeed, well-regulated public markets are emerging across Asia, a region where feudal hierarchies and government interference have historically shaped the financial landscape. Among his many accomplishments is a focus on corporate governance and long-term sustainability; additionally, his main fund, the Matthews Pacific Tiger Fund, won awards for stewardship and performance.

Headley has been widely quoted in major financial publications, has participated in panel discussions at conferences of major financial institutions, and has been a guest on both CNBC and CNN. 

A generous supporter of UC Santa Cruz, Headley and his wife, Christina Pehl, recently established the Dorothy E. Everett Chair. The endowment supports the campus's Global Information Internship Program (GIIP), which mentors students in information technology and social entrepreneurship. 

2013-2014 Jock Reynolds (Stevenson '69, Psychology)

Jock Reynolds  is an artist and director of the Yale University Art Gallery. Reynolds has created and shown his own artwork widely while also promoting fellow artists by organizing scores of other exhibitions, publications, and artist-in-residence programs.

He received two National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists fellowships, among many other grants and honors accorded him. During the last 25 years, he has directed the highly regarded teaching museums at Andover and Yale, whose collections are among the nation’s finest.

2012-2013 Shannon Brownlee (College Eight '79, Biology, '83 M.S. Marine Sciences)

Shannon M. Brownlee is a writer and essayist whose groundbreaking work on health-care issues has appeared in major newspapers and magazines across the country.  Her book, Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, was a semi-finalist for the National Book Award. Her current research focuses on health-care costs and delivery system reform.
Brownlee is acting director of the New America Health Policy Program at the non-partisan think tank New America Foundation, and an instructor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.
Click here to see a video tribute.

2011-2012 Julia Sweig (Porter '86, Latin American studies)

Julia Sweig is the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and director for Latin America studies for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). She is an internationally recognized authority on Latin America and U.S. foreign policy, especially with respect to Latin America. An award-winning and prolific writer, she is the author of Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground (2002) and Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century (2006). Sweig’s most recent book is Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know (2009). Her writing also appears in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Cigar Aficionado, the Nation and a host of international publications, including in Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba. She is researching a new political biography about the people behind Brazil's new global footprint.

Click here to see a video tribute.

2010-2011 Richard Harris (Crown ’80, biology)

Journalist Richard Harris reports on science issues for NPR's newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Harris, who joined NPR in 1986, has traveled to the ends of the Earth for NPR, reporting from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, and the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis). Harris’s reporting on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a consistent source of information, helping listeners grapple with that environmental tragedy. Harris is an honorary member of Sigma Xi (a scientific research society), received the Sagan Award for improving the public understanding of science, and shares a Peabody Award for investigative reporting about the tobacco industry. He is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, as well as past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He was valedictorian of his Crown College graduating class in 1980.

Click here to see a video tribute.

 2009-2010 John Rickford (Stevenson ’71, linguistics)

John Rickford is professor of linguistics and Pritzker University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford University. Through his scholarly work in sociolinguistics, Rickford has enhanced our understanding of the connections between language, ethnicity, and social class. He received recognition during the Oakland Ebonics controversy of 1996-97, which erupted when the Oakland School Board voted to take into account African American vernacular language ("Ebonics") in their language arts lessons. Rickford has been a dedicated mentor to students; among his former students are a member of the U.S. Congress (Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, CA), faculty at the nation’s top linguistics programs, and many others.

Click here to see a video tribute.

2008-09 Dana Priest (Merrill ’81, politics)

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest earned her second Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for a 2007 exposé of the mistreatment of wounded Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, becoming the first UCSC alumna to have twice been awarded journalism's highest honor. Her first Pulitzer was awarded in 2006 for exposing secret U.S. government "black site" prisons, the international transport of alleged terror suspects, and the torture memo that authorized "enhanced interrogation" techniques to obtain intelligence. 

Click here to see a video tribute.

2007-2008 Gary Heit (Oakes ’77, individual major, psychobiology)

Gary Heit helped develop Deep Brain Stimulation, a treatment for neurological disorders such as chronic pain and Parkinson's disease. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA and his M.D. from Stanford University. He served as assistant professor of neurosurgery and director of functional neurosurgery at Stanford before joining the neurosurgery staff of the Permanente Medical Group of Northern California. He cofounded a medical nonprofit which promotes modern neurosurgical care in developing countries.

Click here to see a video tribute.

2006-2007 Joseph DeRisi (Crown '92, biochemistry and molecular biology)

Joe DeRisi has been called a "virus detective," a "scientific polymath," and a "rock star of the science world." A UCSF associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics, he gained international attention in 2003 when his laboratory deployed its state-of-the-art microarray, or "gene chip," to identify the unique "coronavirus" that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. DeRisi led the development of the microarray, wrote its software, and even built the robot that imprints it. One of his career goals is to find a cure for malaria; his research may help battle cancer and even the common cold.

Click here to see a video tribute.

2005-2006 Cheryl Scott (Oakes '74, biology)

As director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operations in Tanzania from 2001 to 2005, Cheryl Scott was in the thick of the global battle against AIDS. Nearly 1.5 million Tanzanians, or an estimated 10 percent of the population, were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2003. Under Scott's leadership, CDC-Tanzania helped the nation's government improve its national HIV/AIDS surveillance system, strengthen laboratory services, advance blood-transfusion safety, and develop a network of antenatal health centers that target prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

2004-2005 Roberto Nájera (Merrill '79, sociology)

Roberto Nájera, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is the child of a widowed farmworker and spent much of his childhood picking vegetables on the Monterey coast. Now a Contra Costa County deputy public defender, Nájera was an unlikely choice to argue a case before the Supreme Court, where those who actively represent indigent clients are rarely seen. Despite that he was battling colon cancer, Nájera successfully argued that a California law unconstitutionally deprived his client's right to due process, thereby invalidating the law and setting free many individuals who had been unconstitutionally convicted.

2003-2004 John Laird (Stevenson '72, politics)

Elected in 2002, John Laird served through 2008 as the California State Assembly member representing the 27th District, which includes Santa Cruz, the coastal Monterey peninsula, Big Sur, and Morgan Hill. Laird had served as mayor and city council member in Santa Cruz and was on the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees. He is a former member of the UCSC Alumni Association Council and for many years worked as a senior administrative analyst for the County of Santa Cruz.

2002-2003 Martha Mendoza (Kresge '88, individual major in journalism)

Martha Mendoza shared the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the story on the massacre of South Korean refugees by the U.S. military during the Korean War. While continuing to report for the Associated Press, Mendoza has returned to UCSC's Writing Program as a journalism lecturer. She is co-author of the book The Bridge at No Gun Ri : A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War.

2001-2002 Victor Davis Hanson (Cowell '75, classic literature)

Victor Davis Hanson has attracted scholarly as well as public attention for his provocative perspectives on the demise of the family farm, the humanities and their place in the intellectual health of the nation, military history, and the global role of the United States. Hanson received his Ph.D. in classics from Stanford University and has been a professor of classical studies in the School of the Arts and Humanities at CSU Fresno for 12 years. He operates his family's raisin farm in the San Joaquin Valley.

2000-2001 Katy Roberts (Kresge '74, politics)

After receiving her bachelor's degree at UCSC, Katy Roberts studied Russian language at the University of Toronto and received an M.A. in journalism and Russian-area studies from Indiana University in 1977. She was named national editor of the New York Times in 2000 after having been the newspaper's op-ed page editor since 1995. She previously worked in several other positions at the Times.

1999-2000 Terence Unity Freitas (Crown '97, biology and environmental studies)

After graduating from UCSC, Freitas became a full-time activist on behalf of the U'wa people of Colombia. The ancestral lands of an indigenous tribe of 5,000 Andean Indians were threatened by Occidental Petroleum's government-backed drilling plans. Freitas traveled to Colombia a half dozen times on behalf of the U'wa. He formed the U'wa Defense Working Group, a coalition of non-governmental organizations. In 1999, Freitas and two other American activists were murdered while assisting the U'wa with an education project. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, later took responsibility for the crime, blaming a rogue rebel commander. In choosing to honor Freitas, who exemplified "the highest UCSC ideals of service to others," the Alumni Association made its first posthumous award.

1998-1999 Brent Constantz, Ph.D. (Graduate Division '86, Earth sciences)

When Brent Constantz invented revolutionary products for healing broken bones, he was inspired by the research on coral reefs he had conducted as a UCSC graduate student.

Constantz is known for the development of innovative high-performance medical cements and devices. He founded and was CEO of three medical device companies, is named as inventor on more than 70 issued U.S. patents, and his cements for bone fractures are used worldwide.

Now, drawing on the same source of inspiration, Constantz has developed a new process for making construction cement that could help reverse global warming. His latest company, Calera, captures carbon emitted by power plants and converts it into a form that can be reused to make "green cement" (the standard manufacturing process for the cement used in concrete releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

1997-1998 John Reid (Merrill '78, economics)

John Reid is the founder and former executive director of "A Grassroots Aspen Experience," a nonprofit organization in Aspen, Colo. Reid helped inner-city youth experience an outdoor adventure far from their urban neighborhoods. The outdoor challenges are designed to teach kids how to overcome obstacles.

1996-1997 Geoffrey Marcy (Graduate Division: M.A., astronomy and astrophysics, '78; Ph.D., '82)

Geoffrey Marcy served as a Distinguished University Professor at San Francisco State University, and is now a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley. He is part of a team recognized worldwide for its success in finding planets around stars in other solar systems.

1995-1996 Laurie Garrett (Merrill '75, biology)

Laurie Garrett won the first Pulitzer Prize given to a science writer for her reporting from Zaire on the Ebola virus outbreak (1996). She is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.

1994-1995 John Wilkes (Cowell '67, literature; M.A., '69; Ph.D., '73)

Member of UCSC's faculty; founding director of UCSC's nationally renowned Science Communication program.

1993-1994 Michael Woo (Cowell '73, politics and urban studies; M.A., city planning, UC Berkeley '75; Institute of Politics Fellow, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, '93)

Michael Woo was the first Asian American and the first trained urban planner to sit on the Los Angeles City Council (1985-93). He was narrowly defeated in Los Angeles mayoral race in 1993 and was an unsuccessful candidate for California Secretary of State in 1994.

1992-1993 Antonio Velasco (Crown '75, biology; M.D., UC Davis '79)

Antonio Velasco was named 1992 Family Physician of the Year by the California Academy of Family Physicians. He was the recipient of UC Davis Alumni Association Humanitarian Award in 1991. He co-founded the Salvadoran Medical Relief Fund and the Natividad Medical Center's Farmworker Pesticide Treatment Clinic in Salinas.

1991-1992 Richard Sergay (Merrill '78, politics; John S. Knight Fellow, Stanford University, '91-'92)

Richard Sergay covered the events that led up to the end of apartheid in South Africa for ABC-TV News as field producer in Southern Africa from 1985 to 1989 and as correspondent and bureau chief for Southern Africa from 1989 to 1991.

1990-1991 Patricia Nelson Limerick (Cowell '72, American studies; Ph.D., American studies, Yale University; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award recipient, '95)

Patricia Nelson Limerick is a leading revisionist of the history of the American West. She is a professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

1989-1990 Douglas Michels (Porter '76, information sciences)

Douglas Michels pioneered putting the UNIX operating system on desktop computers as the co-founder of Santa Cruz Operation (SCO).

1988-1989 Art Torres (Stevenson '68, politics; J.D., UC Davis)

Art Torres served as the California Democratic Party Chairman (appointed as acting chairman in February 1996, and elected in April 1996). He served as a California State Senator from 1982-1994, and as a California State Assemblyman from 1974-1982.

1987-1988 Julie Packard (Crown '72, biology; M.A,. '78)

Julie Packard helped found the Monterey Bay Aquarium and has served as the aquarium's executive director since it opened in 1984.

Her dedication to advancing ocean conservation has been demonstrated through the aquarium and far beyond. She serves on numerous boards, including the California Nature Conservancy, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. She was also a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, which in 2003 issued recommendations for a comprehensive overhaul of national ocean policy.

1986-1987 Kent Nagano (Porter '74, music and sociology)

Kent Nagano is an internationally acclaimed opera and symphony conductor, serving as Berkeley Symphony Music Director from 1978 through 2009. In 2006, he was named music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and also became general music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Nagano's early professional years were spent in Boston, working with Seiji Ozawa at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1984, Olivier Messiaen selected Nagano to assist in premiering his opera, Saint François d'Assise. He became the first music director of the Los Angeles Opera in 2003. A much sought-after guest conductor, he has worked with most of the world's finest orchestras including the Vienna, Berlin, and New York Philharmonic Orchestras. He has recorded widely, receiving multiple Grammy awards as well as prizes from Grammophone, Grand Prix du Disque, Edison, and Musical America.

1985-1986 Steven Hawley (Graduate Division '77, Ph. D., astronomy and astrophysics)

Steven Hawley was selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1978. He made five space flights from 1984 to 1999, logging a total of more than 770 hours in space. From 2003 to 2004, Hawley served as First Chief Astronaut for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, and from 2002 to 2008 he headed the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate. Hawley was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2007. He retired from NASA in 2008 to join the University of Kansas faculty.

1984-1985 Kathryn Sullivan (Cowell '73, Earth sciences; Ph.D., geology, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia)

A scientist, astronaut, and award-winning educator, Kathy Sullivan became the first U.S. woman to walk in space in 1984. She is a veteran of three shuttle missions and a 2004 inductee to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. In 1993, Sullivan left NASA to serve as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, Sullivan was part of a team that called for the immediate reform of U.S. ocean policies. From 1996 to 2006, Sullivan served as president and CEO of COSI (Center of Science & Industry), an innovator of hands-on, inquiry-based science learning resources. She was named founding director of the Battelle Center in November 2006.

In January 2011, Sullivan was nominated by President Barack Obama to become Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction, a position that oversees the National Weather Service and other programs related to predicting oceanic, atmospheric, and climate dynamics.