Thank you to all who submitted nominations for the 2020 CBS Alumni Awards. Look for the next call for nominations in early 2021.
Learn more about our alumni award recipients.
- Alumni Service Award: Mary Kemen, M.D.
Mary Kemen (B.S. Botany, ’78; B.S. Biochemistry, ’79;) has a long track record of serving communities as a physician both here at home and abroad. An anesthesiologist based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kemen spent much of her professional life working in operating rooms in the Midwest since completing her medical degree from the University of Minnesota in 1984.
She’s also volunteered her time and expertise, most recently serving COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Long Island, New York. In addition, she spent time with Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan and Nigeria, caring for burn victims and malnourished children.
The CBS alumna gives back to the University as well. A fourth-generation Gopher, Kemen is a member of the College’s Campaign Steering Committee and Conservatory & Botanical Collection advisory board. She supports both the Conservatory and the College’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve field station.
“I am truly humbled by the company I keep in the greater CBS family,” says Kemen. “If such recognition spurs others to leave their comfort zone and step into the fray for the greater good of our fellow human beings or the environment, then we will have passed an important torch. We can ignite the next generation of alumni who feel the need to give back in ways that push the envelope.”
- Alumni Achievement Award: Sarah Pallas, Ph.D.
After completing her undergraduate degree at the College of Biological Sciences, Sarah Pallas (B.S. Biology, ’77) went on to receive her Ph.D. from Cornell University and complete a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. She served as an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine before accepting a position at Georgia State University where she advanced to full professor. After 22 years there, she moved to the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, where she studies developmental neuroscience with an eye to understanding how visual and auditory pathways in the brain develop. Among her research achievements, Pallas demonstrated that the auditory cortex can be rewired to process visual data.
In addition to her work in the lab, Pallas is a leader in the field of science education who developed coursework for undergraduate students designed to build their skills in analyzing scientific literature. She is an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow and recipient of the National Association of Biology Teachers Evolution Award.
“I am coming to the end of my career, having mentored and trained several students and postdocs who now have their own labs,” says Pallas. “My main focus now is improving the climate for young scientists from underrepresented groups.”
- Emerging Leader Award: Priya Kamdar, DDS
After completing her undergraduate degree at the College of Biological Sciences, Priya Kamdar (B.S. Biology, ’07) received her doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) degree from the University of Minnesota in 2011. In 2013, she joined the faculty of the University’s School of Dentistry, where she currently serves as a clinical associate professor. Kamdar’s research focuses on providing dental care for medically complex patients.
In addition to her research, Kamdar is a gifted educator and practitioner. She received the school’s Best Teaching Faculty award twice for her role in the classroom instructing students on how to treat medically complex patients and deal with medical emergencies in dentistry. She also practices dentistry at Boynton Health Services, where she was voted Best Dentist in Minnesota by her peers in 2018. Going forward, she plans to continue to teach and practice dentistry, as well as pursue research on how to best educate dental students to handle medical emergencies.
Her nominator says of Kamdar: “[Dr. Kamdar] serves as an exemplar of what a CBS alumnus is capable of achieving through forging her own path to serve others, teach the next generation, and perform research that brings together specialties and changes the field.”
- Alumni Achievement Award: Steve Jacobsen, Ph.D.
Steven Jacobsen (Ph.D. Plant Physiology, ‘93) is a world-renowned researcher in epigenetics, a field that focuses on gene expression due to gene modification in lieu of changes to genes themselves. He studies the epigenetic modification of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Jacobsen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
I hope that by the end of my career, gene silencing pathways in plants are understood at a deep level. I also hope that my former postdocs and students continue on in fruitful science careers, are happy, and impart their love of science on future generations of students. Finally, I hope that our understanding of DNA methylation and gene silencing pathways leads to tools that are used in plant breeding and crop improvement.
Point of pride
My record in training postdocs and placing them in academic positions.
Best memory from your time in CBS?
The thrill of joining Neil Olszewski’s lab, and feeling like I had the chance to really learn how to do basic research.
- Emerging Leader Award: Sarah Weatherman
Sarah Weatherman served as a post-baccalaureate fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases where she helped develop a vaccine for the Nipah virus. She is currently pursuing her Master of Healthcare Administration and MBA degrees at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and volunteers for the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic in south Minneapolis.
“I’m a big believer in “think global, act local,” and my goal is to have a career that I can look back on and feel that I got up every morning and contributed to the world around me. I am personally passionate that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and I hope I can continue to advance that idea through working with healthcare systems.”
Point of pride
My winding journey to get to where I am today! ... There is no one right path and I’m proud to say my path has been unique and successful.
Best memory from your time in CBS?
Upper-level microbiology labs and courses. I met some of my best friends in those courses. I’m even going to be maid of honor at my Microbial Physiology and Diversity Lab partner’s wedding!
- Alumni Achievement Award: Robert Desnick, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert Desnick completed his undergraduate, Ph.D. and M.D. degrees at the University of Minnesota, and was a CBS faculty member in the Department of then-named Genetics and Cell Biology until 1977. Since then, he has been a faculty member at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine where he is now the Dean for Genetics and Genomics Medicine and Professor and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences. Desnick’s research explores medical genetics and genomics, particularly aiming to understand and find ways to treat rare genetic diseases. One of his main focuses is on lysosomal storage diseases and finding therapies from individuals dealing with these genetic disorders. He is board certified in molecular and biochemical genetics and is certified by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Alumni Achievement Award: Angela Trepanier
Angela Trepanier earned her master’s degree in genetic counseling from the University of Minnesota in 1994. She is currently an associate professor of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, as well as the director of the Genetic Counseling masters program at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on developing and evaluating approaches for educating both medical providers as well as the public on issues relating to genomics and genetic counseling. Trepanier has been recognized for her work in genetic counseling and education with the Strategic Leadership Award from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, as well as the Wayne State University President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
- Emerging Leader Award: Kimberly VanderWaal, Ph.D.
Dr. Kimberly VanderWaal graduated from CBS with an EEB degree in 2007, spending a portion of her undergraduate career studying under lion researcher Craig Packer in the lab and in the field in sub-Saharan Africa. After completing her degree in CBS, she went on to complete her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, where she studied disease spread among cattle and wild ruminants in Kenya. Her work in this area earned her the Elton Prize runner-up for best paper by an early career author from the Journal of Animal Ecology. VanderWaal is now an assistant professor at the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of disease spread among animals and ways to model that behavior for further understanding and disease prevention.
- Alumni Achievement Award, Kip Thacker, Ph.D.
Kip Thacker earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in microbiology at the U of M, completing his Ph.D. in 1984. He currently serves as the Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President of Lifecore Biomedical, a medical product developer and manufacturer based in Chaska, Minnesota. Kip holds five patents and is the co-inventor of the Lifecore hyaluornan fermentation and manufacturing process.
He and his colleagues at Lifecore Biomedical produce medical products for ophthalmic, orthopedic and veterinary markets all over the world. These materials are used for treating knee pain for patients with osteoarthritis, use as a surgical aid in numerous procedures performed on the eye and to coat the bladder lining to treat interstitial cystitis.
- Emerging Leader Award: Aliredha Walji
After graduating from CBS, Aliredha Walji served with AmeriCorps, then went on to earn his MBA from Crown College. He worked in the mortgage industry prior to joining ShariaPortfolio, an asset management firm, where he now serves as an investment advisor representative.
In addition to his career accomplishments, Walji serves as the president of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals and volunteers with the United Muslim Foundation. He also worked with local leaders and helped crowdfund support for victims of the Orlando shooting at the Pulse NIghtclub.