The University of Utah Office of Alumni Relations annually presents its Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards to alumni for their outstanding professional achievements, public service, and/or commitment to the U.
This year, all four recipients of the award, given out March 1, stemmed from the College of Science. A fifth individual, was presented as an “honorary alum” who has contributed significantly to the advancement of the U.
Musician trapped in scientist’s body
Clifton Sanders PhD’90, arrived in Salt Lake City from Baltimore via University of Michigan in 1977. During his appearance as the featured speaker at the Hugo Rossi Lecture Series March 15, he detailed what it was like to be one of very few Black residents in Utah. Even so, his experience in the Department of Chemistry was generally a positive experience. Today, he is the Provost for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the education of more than 61,000 students annually.
A saxophonist like his father, Sanders has been called “a musician trapped in a scientist’s body.” “I look at playing music almost as a research program, just like a scientist would,” Sanders says. “There are little experiments you do and in the craft you figure out … how to make it work.” For the past five years, Sanders has volunteered as a mentor for the U’s African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, providing a scholarly community and educational services to prepare Black Ph.D. students at the U for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through mentoring, advising, and professional development. Recently, he’s back with his sax, appearing locally with the George Brown Quintet known for its unpretentious, “killin’ straight ahead” jazz.
Army 'Brat'-turned neurosurgeon
“Utah is now complimented for its ‘connectedness’” says J. Charles Rich BS’62 MD’65 “—a culture where so many have known each other for so many reasons over so many years. The University of Utah plays a central role in providing that valuable resource.” Rich served as president of both the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and American Academy of Neurological Surgeons and was vice chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery.
He was also a neurosurgical delegate to the American Medical Association House of Delegates and was chief medical officer of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games before joining the Utah Sports Commission Board of Directors. Rich was president of the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine’s Alumni Association for eight years, a member of the U Alumni Board of Directors for three years, a neurosurgical consultant to the University of Utah Athletics Department, and a member of the Crimson Club Board of Directors.
A self-identified “army brat” growing up during WWII, Rich, a biology graduate who went on to medical school at the U, also served with his family as a foster family for basketball student-athletes and contributed to athletic scholarships for many years.
Anke Friedrich BS’90 MS’93 is an endowed professor of geology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich where she established a Master's degree program in geology, led international student field trips involving U students, and set up student exchange programs with several international institutions, including the U. "I benefited enormously from the vibrant and collegial environment at the University of Utah,” she says, “both as a student-athlete and a geology major. Therefore, I am very grateful to my former ski coaches, faculty mentors, and fellow students for their tremendous support and friendship over the years."
An adjunct professor at the U's Department of Geology & Geophysics, Friedrich received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. She played a crucial role in establishing one of the world's first continuously operating space-geodetic networks which served to monitor the tectonic activity around Yucca Mountain, the then-proposed nuclear waste repository site.
Friedrich volunteered for the Salt Lake Olympic Games in 2002 before moving to Potsdam and helping to establish the first research group in Active Tectonics at a geological institute in Germany. As a student, she was a member of the U’s alpine ski team, earning All-American honors by winning three individual NCAA championships in giant slalom and slalom.
Catalyst for education and growth
James S. Hinckley BS’71 MS’77 is chairman of the Hinckley Institute of Politics Board of Directors and Investment Committee, positions he has held since 1990. Both he and his wife Lyn Hinckley (BS’73), a former elementary school teacher and, currently, a community advocate for the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, received the award.
Graduating with his bachelor’s at the U in biology, Jim joined the family business early on selling cars. He was a member of the Chrysler Corporation West Region Dealer Council 1982 through 1990 and the Chrysler Corp. National Truck Advisory Board from 1988 through 1992. He was president of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association from 1988 through 1989 and was inducted into the Utah Automobile Hall of Fame in 2013.
An alumnus of what is now the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences, Jim is a sustaining member of the U’s National Advisory Council and has been a member of the National History Museum of Utah’s Board of Advisors since 2018. “I love learning and sharing my enthusiasm for knowledge by creating opportunities for education and growth,” he says. “My involvement in both academic and community-facing organizations at the U has allowed me to engage with and support students of all ages throughout their educational journeys.”
Flashing the 'U'
Legendary Utah fan John Bircumshaw popularized the “Flash the U” gesture. His passion for the University of Utah Gymnastics program has led him to become a staple in the Utah gymnastics world; he travels with the team, provides a community for the gymnasts’ parents, and is the person that out-of-town parents can depend on to help their daughters. John was hired by Utah Power in 1973 as a meter reader. He apprenticed and became a journeyman lineman before becoming director of apprentice training from 1996 through 2015. John received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the company for his involvement in building the Olympic Rings for the 2002 Olympic Games, where he served as venue captain at the figure skating and short track speed skating venue. John also served as a Park City volunteer firefighter, a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol at the Park City Ski Resort, and volunteer director of the resort’s Saturday Patrol.
“The University of Utah provides a high-quality education for all of the Student Athletes who have the opportunity to attend school and participate in sports,” says Bircumshaw who was presented an honorary distinguished alumni award during the Founders Day celebration.
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