UT Dallas alumni and friends recently gathered to celebrate the distinguished accomplishments and dedicated service of six award recipients at the 2018 UT Dallas Awards Gala on March 24. During the ceremony, the University’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Aziz Sancar, Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who earned his PhD in molecular and cell biology from UT Dallas in 1977 and won the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
“UTD is really the cause and the source of my success in science,” Sancar told the audience at the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center. “My mentor, Dr. Claud Rupert, is the man who made me a scientist.”
After graduating at the top of his medical school class in his native Turkey and serving as a physician there, Sancar came to the U.S. to learn more about the underlying mechanisms of disease, including the field of DNA repair. He said the research he pursued with Rupert, one of the pioneers in the field, provided the foundation for his life’s work.
“UTD is home for me,” said Sancar, who presented the 2018 Anson L. Clark Memorial Lecture on campus the day before the Awards Gala.
The Honorable Helen Giddings, who represents District 109 in the Texas House, received the Gifford K. Johnson Community Leadership Award, a recognition named for the one-time president of the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, the precursor to UT Dallas.
“I have worked alongside my UTD family for the advancement of the University and creating a better state for students, and I think we’ve made great strides,” Giddings said. “When we improve education, we improve lives.”
Over the course of her 13 terms in office, Giddings says education has been her highest priority. Her advocacy was crucial to the development of the University’s Academic Bridge Program, and she has been instrumental in securing continued state funding. “Each of us has a responsibility and an obligation to pay some rent for the space that we occupy on Earth,” she said. “None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.”
A dedicated supporter of UT Dallas, Jerry L. Comer MS’77 received the Green and Orange Award for Alumni Service. Comer, a retired project manager and engineer, said he was both honored and surprised by the award. He has donated a number of photographs from his personal collection to the University and sponsors an annual guest photographer program to enrich academic experiences for graduate students.
“Just recently, the school has seen fit to dedicate a special space on the north end of campus for the Comer Photography Collection, and we’re looking forward to great things coming out of that,” he said.
Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Gabriel Dawe MFA’11 recognized his professors, many of whom were in attendance, for their support and influence during his years as a student, as well as after graduation in his career as a visual artist.
“My time at UTD was particularly special because of my stay at CentralTrak,” said Dawe, who was a part of the University’s former artist residency program. “It was really fundamental in my development, and it really holds a dear place in my heart.” Dawe initially created pieces from his Plexus series while studying at UT Dallas, and his work can be found on campus in the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History.
Chuck Butler BS’91, a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, reflected on the path set before UT Dallas graduates.
“I don’t think I’m any different than any of the people I graduated with,” he said. “We were all looking for an opportunity like the school gave to me. When you take opportunity and preparedness and put them together, greatness will happen.”
Butler, founder and managing partner of Palomino Capital LLC, credits a successful career with enabling him the time and resources to support causes near to his heart, such as cancer research, his temple and his children’s schools.
“My career isn’t what I do — these activities and nonprofits and mission-based organizations are who I am,” he said. “Without this University, I would never have been able to take this path.”
The University has continued to play a prominent role in the life of Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Satyajit P. Doctor after he earned his master’s degree in 1991. Co-founder and president of Award Solutions Inc., Doctor launched the company with UT Dallas classmate Ramki Rajagopalan; it now employs 20 University graduates.
“A good university actually helps somebody achieve far more than what they could on their own. That is exactly what UTD has done for me,” he said. “Now, UTD is giving me opportunities to pay it forward.” Passionate about encouraging young people to develop interests in science and business, Doctor serves on the executive council at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Sponsors of the 2018 event were Award Solutions, Axxess, the city of Richardson, Highland Capital Management and Palomino Capital.
See a video from this year’s event and learn more about previous honorees at utdallas.edu/gala.