The Oberlin Alumni Association has established five awards to recognize outstanding contributions and achievements to the College, to society at large, and to the Association: the Alumni Medal, the Distinguished Achievement Award, the Distinguished Service Award, the Outstanding Young Alumni Award and the Alumni Appreciation Award.
Congratulations to this year's recipients!
Read below to learn more about each awardee:
The Alumni Medal is the highest honor that the Alumni Association awards. The Alumni Medalist exemplifies outstanding, sustained or unique service to Oberlin College.
Forty years ago, Cindy Brown received a wonderful phone call, one asking her to help Oberlin alumni in the Columbus, Ohio, area to engage with the college and each other. Over the following decades, as the regional alumni coordinator in Columbus, Brown planned concerts, outdoor events, art museum lectures, and dinners. She invited Oberlin professors to talk with alumni about their fields and organized admissions events for prospective students.
Brown also created volunteer opportunities through which alumni could build something enduring. On the grounds of a wildlife rescue organization, alumni and students dug ponds, erected bird shelters, and planted vegetation, creating a permanent exhibit about backyard wildlife sanctuaries. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources donated several thousand native plants, and the Oberlin volunteers created a display about riverbank health in downtown Columbus.
Brown hosted receptions for Oberlin presidents and concerts by conservatory students at a historic governor’s mansion. She took part in a project that brought together the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Fisk University leaders, and Oberlin’s president for a lecture and concert, celebrating the two institutions’ historic relationship. She met alumni in Tokyo and worked with the Cluny Museum in Paris to host an event for alumni in Europe to meet with Oberlin’s president.
With the Oberlin Alumni Association, Brown chaired the nominations committee, served multiple terms on the trustee search committee, and led the executive board’s governance and bylaws committee.
Brown’s daughter, Kate Lansky, is a 2003 Oberlin graduate; her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Cunningham, was a student in 1872. Brown considers her time spent with alumni as a “spa for the soul” that leaves her renewed, inspired, and humbled. She wishes the same for all new graduates during the years ahead.
The Distinguished Achievement Award honoree has demonstrated in his/her life outstanding contributions and achievements that reflect Oberlin’s values in a career field.
Phan Wannamethee '51, who will celebrate his 101st birthday in January 2024 and is currently one of Oberlin's oldest living alumni, is currently advisor to the Thai Red Cross after his resignation at the age of 98 as secretary-general of the same organization. A veteran Thai statesperson, Phan has served as a diplomat in many key positions including Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand (1973-1976), Ambassador of Thailand to Germany (1976-1977), Ambassador of Thailand to the Court of St James, U.K. (1977-1984), as well as the Secretary-General of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (1984-1986). He is also currently honorary chairman of the World Buddhist Fellowship after serving as President in 2020.
Phan is father to Sek Wannamethee who also works as a foreign diplomat, currently serving as the Thai ambassador to Belgium.
The Distinguished Service Award recipient has demonstrated in his/her life service or volunteer activities that reflect Oberlin’s values by directly improving the quality of life for humanity.
Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr. received his Ph.D. in Environmental, Evolutionary and Systematic Biology from Wayne State University in 1988. In 1994 he was elected a Fellow of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS.) In 2012, he was chosen as one of the “Sensational Sixty” commemorating 60 years of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award. In 2017, he was listed as an “Outstanding Graduates” in Biology at Oberlin College; and was an “Innovator of the Year” in US Black Engineer Magazine. In 2021, he was named “Researcher of the Year,” Department of Nanoengineering, North Carolina A&T, 2022, “Researcher of the Year,” College of Science and Technology, North Carolina A&T; and in 2023, “Senior Researcher of the Year”, as well as “Community Engaged Teacher of the Year”; North Carolina A&T State University; in the fall of 2023 he was nominated for the James E. Holshouer Award, which rewards faculty for community service, University of North Carolina Board of Governors, October 2023.
His research in the evolutionary genomics of adaptation shapes our understanding of biological aging and bacterial responses to nanomaterials. He is presently the Director, Genomic Research and Data Science Center for Computation and Cloud-Computing, GRADS-4C, NIH; Associate Director, Precision Microbiome Engineering (PreMiEr) NSF Gen-4 Engineering Research Center; and the Director, NC Amgen Biotech Experience which provides cutting biotechnology experiences to K12 teachers. He has published five books.
He leads programs addressing underrepresentation of minorities in science (PreMiEr; GRADS-4C, NC Amgen Biotech Experience). He has aided underserved youth in Greensboro via the YMCA chess program. He has also served on the Racial Reconciliation and Justice Commission, and COVID Vaccination Task Fore of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina; and also served as the science advisor to the Chicago, New Brunswick, and Methodist of Ohio Theological Seminaries through the AAAS Dialogues of Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program.
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient must be 40 years of age or younger at the time of consideration and have distinguished himself or herself in one or more of the following areas: professional career, service to humanity, and service to Oberlin College.
Dr. Alexandria Cunningham '16 is an interdisciplinary scholar, educator, creative consultant and sexuality practitioner. She came to campus as a POSSE Foundation Scholar which inspired a great deal of her work in multicultural admissions, financial aid, student employment and advocacy. During her Oberlin years, Alex was a researcher as a Mellon Mays Fellow, a student leader as co-chair of ABUSUA, a creative as a blogger, an educator as an ExCO instructor, a student-employee in several offices and, somehow, she also managed to sneak in a double major in Africana Studies and Sociology. Alex's passion for community, culture, play and research's potential to co-empower those she loves took root at Oberlin and sustains her as a professional.
As a newly minted Ph.D. in African and African Diaspora Studies with a portfolio in Women's and Gender Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, she is incredibly passionate about unlocking imaginative, pleasure-centered methods to connect people with culturally affirming, life-giving resources. Alex has been a John Money Fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and her work has been published in the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships as well as mentioned in popular venues such as OkayPlayer. Currently, Alex is based in her hometown of Chicago working at the intersections of nonprofits, arts and reproductive health advocacy. She is excited to soon become a certified sexuality educator and create an eclectic space to bridge access to holistic sexual wellness for Black and queer of color communities.
The Alumni Appreciation Award honoree has performed a unique service or made a unique contribution to the Oberlin College Alumni Association.
Channeling his interdisciplinary interest in Biology and Government (settling on a major in Bio), Ed Milner's career has featured a variety of technical interests, at various levels (Director, manager, supervisor, and individual contributor), in various capacities (R&D, manufacturing, process engineering, operations, and quality). With a common thread of new product introduction, Ed finds his work interesting, and has been successful in launching more than a dozen products, mostly in the medical device industry. Currently, Ed has a consulting business in the medical device industry, making client products safer, and compliant to regulations.
After Oberlin, Ed attended Washington University where he obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering as part of the 3-2 program at the time (he notes that his version of it was actually more like 4-1.5!). Recently, in 2016, Ed earned a Master’s degree in Sustainable Energy Engineering, echoing an interest in sustainability identified since attending Oberlin.
Despite his numerous professional achievements, Ed considers his most important title to be "Dad." Ed is a father to son Henry and daughter Liz. He labels this achievement as his proudest and characterizes his children as interesting and good at heart!
Ed started volunteering with Oberlin while at Washington University, participating in the Alumni Recruiting Network. Upon returning to California, he began participating in Interview Day in San Francisco. He fondly recalls a number of Interview Day friends, having a blast meeting talented prospective students and trying to to beat out New York City for the greater number of interviews!
A few years ago, while attending an Oberlin alumni event at SFMOMA, Ed's interest in regional alumni activities was peaked. Fellow alumnae Sandy Miller shared the sentiment, “you can do whatever events you want, just let me know, and I’ll help you figure out the logistics of hosting.” A catalyst for a wonderful partnership, Ed tries to plan at least one alumni event per month, mostly hiking, but also sporting events (baseball, hockey, basketball), city walks, art museums, and community service days. When COVID hit, the group pivoted to Zoom meetings at which he had the privilege and honor of interviewing Dan Levy about Admissions, and Dean Quillen about the Conservatory.
A parting note from Ed, "Between Pell grants and scholarship, loans and work study, I got a free ride from Oberlin. I love Oberlin, so I have wanted to give something back! While my time at Wash U partly determined what I do, Oberlin College determined who I am."