College of LAS « Illinois

Unexpected journeys to a higher cause

Six alumni win LAS Alumni Achievement Awards and LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award

(from left) Doris Derby, Sharon Mosher, and Laura Niklason are receiving LAS Alumni Achievement Awards. (Photos courtesy of the photo subjects.)
(from left) Doris Derby, Sharon Mosher, and Laura Niklason are receiving LAS Alumni Achievement Awards. (Photos courtesy of the photo subjects.)
Some of this year’s College of LAS alumni award winners knew from an early age what they wanted to do in life. One of them was mixing chemicals—sometimes explosively—in his home chemistry lab as a child.

But not all of them saw that far ahead. A pioneer in the treatment of concussions called her studies at the University of Illinois part of her long and winding road to sports neuropsychology.

What these honorees all had in common, however, were key moments—unexpected turns in the road—that changed them forever, whether it was the death of a brother or working in a lab. They also all passed through the halls of LAS.

Six alumni will be honored at LAS Homecoming celebrations this weekend. Five of them—a concussion specialist, an artist and civil rights activist, a biochemist, a biomedical engineer, and a renowned geologist—will receive an LAS Alumni Achievement Award. One, an HIV researcher, will receive an LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award. Click their names in each summary to read a more detailed story about the alumni and their achievements.  

When Doris Derby (MA, ’75, PhD, ’80, anthropology) was watching the news in 1963, she saw police attacking civil rights protestors in the South, using billy clubs, dogs, and fire hoses. Those images convinced her to move from New York City to Jackson, Mississippi, where she participated in many dramatic and dangerous moments of the civil rights movement. She also used her visual art, especially photography, to document what was happening. For this and other actions, Derby has received a 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.

(from left) Elizabeth Pieroth and James Spudich are receiving LAS Alumni Achievement Awards. Deborah Paul is receiving an LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award. (Pieroth and Spudich photos courtesy of the subjects; Paul photo courtesy of the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.)
(from left) Elizabeth Pieroth and James Spudich are receiving LAS Alumni Achievement Awards. Deborah Paul is receiving an LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award. (Pieroth and Spudich photos courtesy of the subjects; Paul photo courtesy of the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.)
Her master’s and PhD in anthropology at Illinois then launched her academic career. But through it all, she was most impressed by the extraordinary courage of ordinary people.

Prior to family vacations as a child, Sharon Mosher (BS, ‘73, PhD, ‘78, geology) would map the route, figuring out stops where she and her older sister could find rocks.

Today, Mosher still hunts for rocks—only she is now dean at the acclaimed Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. For her leadership in her field, she will be awarded a 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.

In addition to leading Jackson, and her renowned research on mountain formation, Mosher was president of two major geological societies and chaired the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. She also started GeoScienceWorld, one of the first aggregations of journal articles in any scientific field.

Laura Niklason (BS, ‘83, physics; BA, ‘83, biophysics) decided to grow blood vessels in the lab after seeing the great need for replacement vessels in heart bypass surgery.

Niklason created a prototype engineered blood vessel in 1997, and in 2012 an advanced version was used successfully in the first dialysis patient. The FDA has fast-tracked the engineered blood vessel, moving it into Phase 3 human clinical trials.

For her innovations in the health field, Niklason has been awarded a 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.  

She is also working to grow new lungs in the lab. As Niklason puts it, “We are on the cusp of what I think is going to be a permanent change in medicine.”

Elizabeth Pieroth (BS, ’88, psychology) jokes that she is not gifted athletically. But when it comes to protecting an athlete’s most important body part—the head—she is the go-to person.

Pieroth is the concussion specialist for several professional sports teams. She is also associate director of the sports concussion program in the NorthShore University HealthSystem. She created “A Step aHead,” an award-winning joint education [image:19824 class:fright]program with the Blackhawks, Athletico, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, and NorthShore.

For her efforts, Pieroth has received a 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.

In the meantime, her two young boys continue to play all types of sports. The fear of concussions, she said, should not stop any child from being active.  

They’re called molecular motors, the tiny powerhouses responsible for movement at the cellular level. James Spudich (BS, ’63, chemistry) has unraveled some of their key mysteries. 

He proved that out of the 5,000 or so proteins in a cell, you only needed two—actin and myosin—to create movement that was the equivalent of a muscle contraction. It was a huge breakthrough that influences every scientist who studies molecular motors. Spudich has received a 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.

In another breakthrough, Spudich’s team at Stanford University helped to open up the field of single molecule biology. Spudich also co-founded Bio-X, a major interdisciplinary research lab, and he founded two companies that have drugs in late-stage clinical trials.

A mysterious ailment struck Deborah Paul’s younger brother, Tim, in 1982.  Doctors determined the problem was caused by AIDS, and in 1985, he passed away at the age of 28.

One year later, Deborah Paul (MS, ’79, biology) became the first person to develop a test that detected HIV, the virus behind AIDS, in the blood. The test was used by Abbott Laboratories to develop Norvir, the first protease inhibitor to target the HIV virus. Paul has received the 2016 LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award for her devotion to her family, her work, and Illinois.

In memory of Tim, Paul has established the Deb and Tim Paul Endowment Fund to support University of Illinois work in infectious disease and immunology.

Doug Peterson
10/24/2016

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