2008 Distinguished Alumni Awards

On May 16, 2008, Arts & Sciences honored six recipients who exemplify the ideals of a liberal arts education, and in so doing, bring honor to the University through their lives, work, and service.

Meet The 2008 Recipients

Andrew M. Bursky, AB ’78, BS ’78, MS ’78

An entrepreneur even in elementary school, Andrew Bursky came up with the idea of a lawncutting business at the age of 11. With the help of a fleet of friends on riding lawn mowers, Andy’s Lawn Cutting soon dominated the trade on Indianapolis’ north side. A few years later, he won a National Merit Scholarship and a Presidential Scholarship; Mr. Bursky entered Washington University as a Langsdorf Fellow in 1974. He left with three diplomas: one in economics and two, including a master’s degree, in chemical engineering. In 1981, after earning an M.B.A. from Harvard University, Mr. Bursky co-founded Interlaken Capital, Inc., which became one of the nation’s largest privately owned businesses within nine years, according to Forbes magazine. Today, following numerous other successful ventures, he is a founding and managing partner of Atlas Holdings LLC. Mr. Bursky expresses his “deep and abiding love for the institution” in part by serving on the Washington University Board of Trustees and on the New York Regional Cabinet. Five years ago, he and his wife, Jane Miller Bursky, A.B. ’78 (French), established the Spirit of Washington University Scholarship; this endowed fund provides a lifeline for students who would otherwise have to leave school because of family emergencies. Mr. Bursky has received the School of Engineering’s Young Alumni and Alumni Achievement Awards. He sits on the boards of many public and private businesses and philanthropic organizations, and he is a trustee of the Eisenhower Fellowships. The Burskys have two children, Stephen and Jenny, A.B. ’06 (psychology), and reside in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Sherman A. James, PhD ’73

Social epidemiologist Sherman James is well known for his research on racial and ethnic health disparities. His concept “John Henryism” — named for the legendary black steel-driver who died after triumphing over a machine — formed one of the bases of his ongoing scholarly research, which focuses primarily on uncovering the multitude of factors that put African Americans at risk for diseases that are preventable. The inaugural Susan B. King Professor of Public Policy Studies at Duke University, Dr. James holds faculty appointments in sociology, in community and family medicine, and in African and African American studies. After graduating in 1964 with a degree in psychology from Talladega College near Birmingham, Alabama, he served as captain in the United States Air Force until 1969, when he entered Washington University to earn a doctorate in psychology. After graduation, Dr. James joined the faculty in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and became the first African American faculty member in the UNC School of Public Health. He then moved on to the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, where he was the John P. Kirscht Collegiate Professor of Public Health and founding director of the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health until he departed for Duke University in 2003. Dr. James’ numerous awards and honors include his current presidency of the Society for Epidemiological Research, election to the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, the American Public Health Association’s Lilienfeld Award for Career Excellence in the Teaching of Epidemiology, and two distinguished lectureships at Harvard University. He is married to Vera Moura and has two sons, Sherman Alexander James, A.B. ’91 (history), and Scott Anthony James.

Ira J. Kodner, AB ’63, MD ’67

Compassion and the wish to help people in serious need drew Ira Kodner to surgery — and prompted his pioneering work in ethics. The Solon and Bettie Gershman Professor of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Dr. Kodner is founding director of Washington University’s Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values. It is one of the few university programs to bring together people from diverse fields to study, research, and teach about ethical issues of critical importance to human lives. Dr. Kodner conceived the idea after collaborating on an ethics curriculum for surgery residents at the request of the American College of Surgeons. After earning his bachelor’s degree in zoology, Dr. Kodner proceeded to the School of Medicine for his medical degree, completed his internship, fulfilled his military obligations, and then returned to Jewish Hospital for his surgical residency. He found his field in colon and rectal surgery when senior surgeon Sam Schneider told him of the huge group of patients with intestinal stomas desperately needing care. He completed his fellowship in colon and rectal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, then spent 10 years in private practice before joining the faculty at the School of Medicine, where he launched the fellowship training program in colon and rectal surgery as well as the palliative care program. Dr. Kodner has published extensively. His professional service includes presidencies of the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. He served six years as a director of the American Board of Surgery. As medical consultant for KMOV Channel 4, he spoke on-air each week about a range of important topics. He and his wife, Barbara, have three children and a two-year-old grandson. His hobbies include growing orchids, photography, and cooking.

Horace Mitchell, AB ’68, MAEd ’69, PhD ’74

Throughout his illustrious career Horace Mitchell, president of California State University, Bakersfield, has had a mission: to make an impact on students' growth and development. The first in his class at St. Louis’ Soldan High School, he received a scholarship to Washington University, where he majored in psychology. As he pursued advanced degrees in education and then in counseling psychology (with an interest in what was called minority mental health), he served as assistant dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. In 1974 he accepted a joint appointment in counseling psychology and in African American studies. In 1978, Dr. Mitchell moved on to the University of California, Irvine. Among other academic appointments, he became associate dean for student and curricular affairs in the medical school, vice chancellor for student affairs for the campus, and associate clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior. In 1994, he became vice chancellor for business and administrative services and affiliated professor of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon leaving UC Berkeley, he was awarded the Berkeley Citation, one of the campus’ highest honors. In 2004, Dr. Mitchell assumed leadership of CSU Bakersfield, where his initiatives are benefiting students, faculty, and the university’s future. He has received numerous awards in the field of psychology, and sits on the board of the American Council on Education, among other honors. Service to his alma mater includes past membership on the Alumni Board of Governors. Also active in the community, Dr. Mitchell has held continual leadership positions in the United Way. He and his wife, Barbara Jean Barrett Mitchell, BS ’77 (psychology), MSW ’77, and MAEd ’78, have two daughters, a son, and five grandchildren.

Chezia Thompson Cager Strand, AB ’73, MA ’75

Committed to using art forms to solve problems and to develop a more progressive and humane environment, Dr. Strand is a poet–scholar–artist–activist. She is a member of the faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art and formerly served as executive vice president and senior consultant to two major community development corporations. The daughter of survivors of the Great Migration, Dr. Strand is nominated for election to the 2008 MLA Executive Board for American Indian Literature. She bends poems on the CD Unleashed and equipped the Spectrum of Poetic Fire Series to receive a “Best of Baltimore” award from Baltimore Magazine. The series encouraged her to write the creative writing curriculum and edit the book series When Divas Laugh, When Divas Dance, and the bilingual tricountry When Divas Howl at the Moon. Dr. Strand has received numerous awards, including the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in poetry. She also was a finalist for the 2007 F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest and the River Styx 2006 International Poetry Contest. Her dissertation on the Harlem Renaissance Classic Cane led to the development of the “Vertical Technique” as a theoretical model that better delineates the work of many Africana Diaspora literary authors. Her book, Teaching Jean Toomer’s 1923 Cane, began with Sumner High School English department chair Dorothy Matlock and culminated, years later, in the CD of the first Cane performance at Forest Park Community College. She thanks the late Dr. Gloria White, Dean Burton Wheeler, Professor Robert Williams, and Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth for illuminating her work. A grateful former student of Washington University poets Howard Nemerov and K. Curtis Lyle and editor Melba Sweets of the St. Louis American, Dr. Strand cites the turning point in her life coming as an assistant in setting up Olin Library’s African American Collection.

Robert E. Thach

An extraordinary career in scientific research and educational leadership will take a new turn when Robert E. Thach concludes 15 years as dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences on June 30, 2008, to explore new vistas. Professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the School of Medicine, Dean Thach will move into epidemiology and environmental medicine, focusing on vector-borne disorders like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Dean Thach’s innovative and much-emulated programs have greatly enhanced the experiences of Washington University’s graduate students. He has reduced time-to-degree and increased doctoral candidates’ completion rate by admitting fewer Ph.D. students. He secured financial support for six years of graduate education and offered year-round support to those with departmental approval. He developed a novel way to recruit Chinese graduate students through International Graduate Scholarship Conferences in China. He chairs the Responsive Ph.D. initiative, a consortium of research universities seeking to provide a richer purpose for graduate education in the United States. In addition, he recently completed leadership roles in the Association of Graduate Schools, the Council of Graduate Schools, and the Graduate Record Examination Board. Capping his deanship is a new University-wide subsidized day-care program. Before 1993, Dean Thach was chair of the Department of Biology, coordinator of the Program for Special Major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and director of both the Graduate Program in Molecular Biology and the Center for Basic Cancer Research. The author of two books and nearly 100 published research articles, Dean Thach has made significant scientific discoveries on the genetic code, virus replication, and the regulation of iron metabolism.