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Four Alumni Honored During 2024 Knox Alumni Achievement Awards

Knox College recognized the accomplishments of four alumni during the 2024 Alumni Achievement Awards presentation on May 3, 2024. Talip Kilic ’04, Terry Smith ’63, and Pamela Schuller ’09 received Alumni Achievement Awards, while Oliwia Zurek ’10 received the Young Alumni Achievement Award. 

Established in 1938, the Alumni Achievement Awards recognize outstanding career achievements by graduates who attended Knox or Lombard College for at least one full academic year. The Knox College Young Alumni Achievement Award, established in 2004, is given to one alumna or alumnus 35 years of age or under who has exhibited exceptional work in a field or endeavor, community, state, or nation.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Talip Kilic ’04

Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Talip Kilic ’04 graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics and international relations. Kilic distinguished himself not only as a stellar student but also as a compassionate leader and mentor on campus.

After Knox, he continued his studies in economics, earning a Ph.D. from American University in Washington, D.C. in 2008. Since receiving his graduate degree, Kilic has worked for The World Bank, where he currently serves as senior program manager. His work in the fields of economics and humanitarian development has been an inspiration, particularly in the “Global South,” and his commitment to service and recognition of the rights and dignity of every individual exemplifies Knox's values. 

“It’s with profound gratitude and honor that I stand before you today,” Kilic said during his award acceptance speech. 

Over the past 15 years, Kilic has made significant contributions to the field, particularly in poverty, agriculture, labor, and gender issues in low- and middle-income countries. Kilic originally joined The World Bank as a research economist at their flagship household survey program housed at the Development Data Group. He was also a core team member for the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives. 

In March 2023, his dedication and hard work were recognized with a promotion to senior program manager, overseeing the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) program as a whole. Under his leadership, the program has raised more than 100 million USD in external funding, supporting its mission of providing open-access data, methodological innovations, and policy research. 

Over the last year alone, the LSMS has supported 47 countries across six regions. One-third of these supported countries were in fragile and conflict-affected situations.

Kilic's journey from a dedicated student at Knox College to a senior program manager at The World Bank is a testament to his unwavering commitment to excellence and his passion for making a difference in the world of development economics.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Terry Smith ’63

Terry Smith ’63 graduated from Knox with a degree in mathematics. ​​His academic journey at Knox began at the age of 16 when he entered as a first-generation college student. 

His time on campus was the foundation for a dynamic and successful career, including serving as NASA's contract programmer for lunar landing missions during the Apollo era, co-originating the first generation of Auto-Tune software, and working as an employee of Landmark Graphics, a pioneer in oil exploration technology. 

Smith truly embraced the spirit of lifelong learning. His expertise supported pediatric medicine through database development for a consortium of doctors studying inflammatory bowel disease treatment and the development of computer systems to solve problems for a variety of industries, like cruise control software for tugboats to maximize fuel efficiency. 

Beyond his professional achievements, Smith dedicated five years to Habitat for Humanity, constructing homes and mentoring new owners, and taught GED math classes for second-language learners. 

This life-long commitment to Knox finds its roots in his personal experience at the College. In the summer before his senior year, Smith’s father passed away and his ability to continue his education was uncertain. Knox responded with additional scholarship money, a loan, and more hours of employment. His service to Knox is his effort to return the generosity shown to him, a true embodiment of Knox's commitment to excellence and service to humanity.

Throughout his life, Smith has remained deeply grateful to Knox for the education, inspiration, and support he received. He has continuously looked for ways to show his appreciation, contributing to the College every year since his graduation. He has also actively participated in recruitment efforts, representing Knox at high school college fairs, and serving on the 50th Reunion Committee for his class in 2013.

“I believe Knox gave me the confidence to use my intelligence to help people,” Smith said. “Having a career is important, but leaving the world as a better place is even more important.”

Smith's journey from Knox College to a life of service, achievement, and gratitude is a testament to the transformative power of education and the enduring values of kindness and generosity.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Pamela Schuller ’09

Pamela Schuller ’09 graduated from Knox with a major in psychology and also holds a Master of Arts degree in advocacy and policy, as well as certificates in executive coaching and DEI methods. She has transformed her personal challenges into a powerful platform for disability advocacy and mental health awareness. 

“I was pushed at Knox to think differently. It made finishing a master's degree like a walk in the park,” Schuller said. 

Receiving a Tourette's diagnosis as a teenager, Schuller shifted her perspective, using her experiences as fuel for personal growth and empowerment. She is not only a globally recognized disability and mental health advocate but also a professional stand-up comedian. Her engaging, funny, and powerful stories resonate with audiences worldwide, showcasing her ability to blend humor with meaningful insights.

Schuller has performed stand-up comedy in six countries and nearly every state in the United States, reaching more than 100,000 individuals with her inspiring message of self-acceptance and inclusivity. Beyond the stage, she has made appearances on Netflix, Curiositystream, and NBC, and has consulted with major companies like Disney, Google, and Salesforce on inclusion best practices. 

As the founding director of HereNow, a Jewish teen initiative promoting mental health and wellness, Schuller continues to drive positive change in communities. Her impact has been recognized through honors alongside icons like Ed Asner and appearances alongside actors Matthew Broderick and Michael Douglas.

Schuller’s journey is a reminder that adversity can be the catalyst for positive change. Through her advocacy, humor, and unwavering determination, she continues to make a difference in the lives of others, proving that the power of resilience and self-acceptance can truly change the world.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Oliwia Zurek ’10

Oliwia Zurek ’10, originally from Poland, began her U.S. education with minimal English proficiency but refused to be defined by language barriers or professional labels. Her determination propelled her through Knox with Honors, followed by a Ph.D. in immunology and infectious disease from Montana State University and postdoctoral work in biotech at Stanford University.

During her research career, Zurek secured significant grants, authored numerous publications, and became a sought-after speaker worldwide. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 2012, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the preservation of the National Institute of Health funding that helps support basic scientific research in the biomedical field.

Her pivot into the biotech sector while at Stanford showcased her problem-solving skills, leading to roles in clinical trials and Federal Drug Administration market launches for chronic disease treatments, and life-saving medical and public health advancements. She credits those who believed in her for her success, driving her to pay it forward by mentoring students and helping others find their dream roles.

Now, as Zurek looks towards the next phase of her career, she is focusing on implementing advanced technology in the health sector. She remains committed to empowering others, mentoring students, and helping strangers find their dream roles. For Zurek, this is the most fulfilling aspect of her journey—continuing to embrace opportunities, shed labels, and empower others to flourish, just as she has done since her days at Knox College.

“Anyone who worked here seemed like they were on a common mission to help us succeed,” Zurek said. “Knox was the perfect place for me.” 

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Printed on Sunday, June 16, 2024