Knox College celebrated the accomplishments of six alumni at the 2021 Alumni Achievement Awards virtual ceremony, where Regine Rousseau '95, Virginia Steen '69, Amy Carlson '90, Melati Nungsari '10, Leah Heister Burton '08, and Otto “Casey” Jones '87, formally received their awards and made acceptance remarks.
The February 12 event commemorated the 184th anniversary of Knox's founding on February 15, 1837. The Alumni Achievement Awards, established in 1938, recognize outstanding career accomplishments by graduates who attended Knox or Lombard College for at least one full academic year.
Student Senate President Oluwabamise Afolabi '22 opened the ceremony by explaining to viewers that to him, Knox has come to mean home: “Home is your place of comfort. Home is where you’re not scared to be you. Home is where you are free. Home is where you grow,” he said. “This is what Knox is to many.”
President Teresa Amott delivered welcoming remarks, reminding everyone that “the value of a Knox education lies not only in what happens here at Knox.” She then introduced the recipients individually.
Regine Rousseau '95 is the owner and CEO of Shall We Wine, author of a book of poetry, and writer of numerous articles for wine magazines and a blog called Champagne Diaries. She also was named as one of the Top 40 African-American Tastemakers worldwide by wine writer Sabrina Jackson.
Rousseau’s relationship with wine began during her experience in Knox’s study abroad program in Besançon, France. At dinners with her host family, she learned the value of wine in meals and communities. She said of Knox: “Being in that environment gave me not only the confidence but the support to know that what I wanted to do is achievable. That is really special.”
As a Knox student, Rousseau studied theatre and was a member of Allied Blacks for Liberty & Equality (A.B.L.E.).
Virginia Steen '69, a pioneer in systemic scleroderma research, is a co-creator of the first worldwide medical registry for systemic scleroderma patients which became the prototype for various disease registries across the world.
“Take advantage of everything at Knox,” Steen advised current students in her acceptance speech. “Even if you’re going to be a doctor or a scientist or an artist, whatever your focus or passion is, it’s still important to have the whole spectrum and experience of being at a liberal arts school.”
Steen studied chemistry at Knox and was a member of Mortar Board.
Amy Carlson '90, an actor, director, singer, and community activist whose focus centers on women’s rights and health, has worked tirelessly with lobbyists to raise awareness, educate, and fight on behalf of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
“I think what my experience at Knox did for me as an actor was, it opened up the idea of possibility,” said Carlson. “I was able to switch majors, switch interests, take painting, do a dance class, and continue my studies as a history major—it really helped me understand that what I was most interested in was being human and having experience in life.”
During her time at Knox, Carlson was a member of Mortar Board, participated in Repertory Theatre Term, and was on the track team. She graduated cum laude with a degree in history.
Melati Nungsari '10, who received a Young Alumni Achievement Award, is an assistant professor of economics at the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She works directly with refugee communities to document the problems they face and test potential systemic improvement, and she has organized dialogue and collaboration among academics, NGOs, and governmental agencies.
Nungsari studied mathematics during her time at Knox, and she accepted her award by remarking that classes that might not seem “relevant” to a student nevertheless have a long-lasting impact. “You may not think they make a difference, but you don’t know what your career or life will look like,” she said. “I think you’ll be surprised.”
Leah Heister Burton '08, who received a Young Alumni Achievement Award, is deputy director and chief advancement officer for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.
When she first came to Knox, Heister Burton expected to study law and pursue a career in politics. Though she did study political science, she also participated in numerous other activities such as track, soccer, Mortar Board, and Delta Delta Delta Sorority.
“Those core competencies, learning how to be a global citizen, those sorts of things are what has helped me the most professionally,” she said. “They far outweigh any specialized knowledge that you’ll ever receive.”
Otto "Casey" Jones '87 has lived a lifetime of service as a nurse, educator, community activist, fundraiser, and Peace Corps volunteer. He recently served in Uganda with the Global Health Service Partnership, a collaboration between Seed Global Health, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
After studying Spanish at Knox, Jones went on to become a nursing instructor at Muni University in Uganda. “Nursing is all about people,” he said. “Think about being a lifelong learner, finding the things, whether it’s grad school or experiences like the Peace Corps or other voluntary experiences. Don’t see Knox as an end; see Knox as a beginning.”
Alumni Achievement Award recipients are nominated by their fellow alumni. Nominations may be submitted for next year’s awards until July 1, 2021. Read more about this year’s honorees and watch the online ceremony.
Composite photo above shows the six Alumni Achievement Award recipients. From top left, going clockwise: Regine Rousseau, Virginia Steen, Amy Carlson, Otto "Casey" Jones, Leah Heister Burton, and Melati Nungsari.