CEE at Illinois alumnus William F. Baker (MS 80) has received the 2017 University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor conferred by the University of Illinois Alumni Association on behalf of the University. The award is presented to alumni who have attained outstanding success and national or international distinction in their chosen profession or life’s work. Baker will be honored by the UI Alumni Association during Commencement weekend activities (May 12-13) on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.
Also being honored are world-renowned geneticist and cancer researcher Dr. Stephen J. Elledge, who has also received the University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Award, and Colleen R. Callahan Burns, the 2017 recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, which is presented to an individual whose commitment, dedication and service have contributed significantly to the advancement of the University of Illinois.
“These three alumni exemplify what we mean when we say Illinois graduates change the world,” said U of I at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert J. Jones. “We are excited to welcome them back home to honor their achievements at Commencement—our most important day of the year.”
~ ~ ~William (Bill) F. Baker is a Structural Engineering Design Partner for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, a Chicago-based architectural and engineering firm. His work has included leadership roles in scores of major building projects. As the designer of the structural system that enabled construction of the world’s tallest building—the Burj Khalifa in Dubai—Baker is internationally known for structural engineering innovation.
Baker is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and an International Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He is a recipient of the Gold Medal from the Institution of Structural Engineers (UK), the Fritz Leonhardt Preis (Germany), the Gustav Magnel Gold Medal from the University of Ghent, the Fazlur Rahman Khan Medal from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Outstanding Projects and Leaders Lifetime Award for Design. He received the University of Illinois Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association (CEEAA) Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2009. He has received Honorary Doctorates in engineering from the University of Stuttgart, Heriot-Watt University, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
He previously served on the CEEAA Board of Directors and he established the Baker Structural Engineering Fund to support a faculty scholar in structural engineering. He is a 1980 graduate of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering. Baker is originally from Fulton, Mo. and currently resides in Evanston, Ill.
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Dr. Stephen J. Elledge is the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and Medicine in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the Division of Genetics at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Elledge is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator.
Dr. Elledge began his career at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and moved to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2003. His research interests focus on using genetics and genetic technologies to solve problems relevant to human disease. He is a world leader in studying the genetics, biochemistry, genomics and proteomics of cancer cell biology. Elledge has made fundamental contributions to the current understanding of the cellular mechanisms of cancer and the development of novel therapeutic strategies. More recently, he and his team developed immunological tools, such as VirScan, that allow researchers to test for current and past viral infections using a single drop of blood.
Elledge is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2010 Dickson Prize, 2013 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in the Basic Medical Sciences, the 2013 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Elledge is a 1978 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Originally from Paris, Ill., he currently resides in Brookline, Mass.
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Colleen Callahan Burns has a distinguished career in agricultural broadcasting, communications and administration. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from the University of Illinois in 1973, Burns became the first woman Agribusiness Director for WMBD Radio and TV in Peoria, Ill. After 30 years there, she started her own communications firm and specialized in giving motivational speeches, facilitating meetings and debates, and connecting people.
The Obama Administration named Burns State Director for USDA Rural Development in Illinois, and she began her duties in July 2009. She oversaw the agency’s 13 offices, and her focus on staff development led to communication training for Rural Development staff in Illinois, before expanding to other states and the Washington D.C. office. In September 2012, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack named Burns the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Drought, leading the national recovery efforts for the Drought of 2012. She founded Colleen Callahan Consultancy in 2017.
Her service to the University of Illinois includes leadership roles with the following organizations: College of ACES Alumni Association (President), University of Illinois Alumni Association, Fighting Illini Pork Club (Chair) and Ag Communications Alumni Leadership Council. She was instrumental in the expansion of the annual Salute to Agriculture Day that is coordinated among the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois commodity associations. Burns also served on the endowment committee that helped raise $2 million for the Dr. Jim Evans Endowed Chair position in the Colleges of ACES and Media. She has served on numerous community boards. A 1973 graduate of the College of ACES, Burns is originally from Milford, Ill. and currently lives in Kickapoo, Ill.
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