Deputy director at NASA Goddard, neurosurgery professor among those honored at Alumni Weekend kickoff event.
By James Irwin
Five George Washington University graduates—including a deputy director at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a former college president—were honored Thursday night at the 79th annual Alumni Achievement Awards.
Christyl C. Johnson, Ph.D. ’12, NASA Goddard’s deputy director for technology and research, and Gregory H. Williams, J.D. ’71, MPHIL ‘77, Ph.D. ’82, former president of the University of Cincinnati, were joined by Elad I. Levy, M.D. ’97, Richard D. Heideman, J.D. ’72, and Jay S. Kaplan, B.S. ’08, M.S. '09, as honorees at Thursday’s reception, which kicked off the university’s ninth annual Alumni Weekend celebration.
“Universities contribute to society in a wide variety of ways—through our research, through our service activities—but the product we give to the nation and the world that is more important than anything else is our alumni,” George Washington President Steven Knapp said. “It’s the people we have educated and sent out to make a difference in their communities around the world.”
The awards, created in 1937, recognize GW graduates who have distinguished themselves through notable achievements in their professional and personal lives.
“This is a tremendous honor because I feel it was GW that kick-started my academic career,” said Dr. Levy, professor and chair of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “The community here instilled in me the basics to develop a career in academic medicine. For that I’m forever grateful.”
Elad Levy delivers remarks upon receiving the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. The chair of neurosurgery at SUNY Buffalo has provided leadership for cutting-edge work in stroke treatment. (Dave Scavone/For GW Today)
A glance at Dr. Levy and his fellow 2015 recipients:
- Mr. Heideman is senior counsel of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC and represents victims of terrorism whose rights have been violated. On their behalf, actions have been brought against Libya, Syria, Islamic Republic of Iran and banking institutions accused of funding or sponsoring acts of terror. He previously served as president of the GW Law School Alumni Association.
- Dr. Johnson, as deputy director for technology and research at NASA Goddard, manages the space flight center’s research and development portfolio. She previously worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, serving under President Barack Obama’s science adviser.
- Dr. Levy is among the youngest tenured professors in the history of the SUNY system. He has provided leadership for cutting-edge innovations in stroke treatment, culminating in a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine paper that provides convincing evidence in favor of combination procedures that can benefit selected stroke patients.
- Dr. Williams is a former lawyer who joined the faculty at the University of Iowa in 1977. He eventually became president of the Association of American Law Schools and later served as president of the City College of New York (2001 to 2009) and the University of Cincinnati (2009 to 2012).
- Mr. Kaplan is the founder of the venture-backed cyber security startup, Synack, which leverages a global hacker network to uncover potential paths that hackers can access to harm organizations. He previously served in multiple cyber-related capacities at the Department of Defense and National Security Agency.
Richard Heideman, center, flanked by (left) Jim Quinlan, vice president of awards for the GW Alumni Association Board of Directors, and (right) Blake Morant, dean of the GW Law School. (Dave Scavone/For GW Today)
For Dr. Johnson, who attended Thursday’s ceremony with her family, it was a special moment to share with her son.
“He’s a freshman at George Mason University and is studying electrical engineering,” she said. “For him to follow my career—to be there at my Ph.D. dissertation a few years ago and also here tonight—is an amazing thing.”
Family and friends also were there to celebrate with Mr. Kaplan, who received the Recent Alumni Achievement Award (created in 2007). His parents, sister, brother-in-law and nephew were in the crowd, along with his roommate from his freshman year.
“This award is really special, especially coming from an alma mater with so many talented graduates from all walks of life and industries,” he said. “The achievements [of the other recipients] in their careers have been amazing. It’s great to be part of this group.”
The Alumni Achievement Awards are the highest form of recognition given by the university and the George Washington Alumni Association to a GW graduate annually. Past recipients include 16-time NBA champion Arnold “Red” Auerbach, B.S. ’40, M.A. ’41; Nobel Prize winner Julius Axelrod, Ph.D. ’55; and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71.
Six graduates received the honor in 2015. Dae-Whan Chang, M.A. ’76, chair and publisher of the South Korean-based Maekyung Media Group, received his award in June while traveling in the United States.
As he reconnected with old professors and introduced himself to the other recipients, Dr. Levy said he felt as though he had traveled back in time.
“I could have woken up, and it was 1994 or 1995 again—it feels like yesterday,” he said.
The award, he added, is significant because of where it comes from.
“It really all started here,” he said. “Being recognized by my alma mater I think is one of the most tremendous and meaningful awards I’ve received in my entire career.”