Four Receive 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award

Grotzinger, Isern, Stearns, Thomas awarded highest honor presented by UM Alumni Association


Categories: Alumni , Campus , Academic , History

The outstanding accomplishments of four UM alumni are being recognized with the University’s 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award.

John Grotzinger, M.S. ’81; Jennifer F. Isern ’89; Sheila MacDonald Stearns ’68, M.A. ’69, Ed.D. ’83; and Sidney R. Thomas, J.D. ’78, will be honored at a September 25 ceremony during Homecoming weekend. The award is the highest honor presented by UM’s Alumni Association.

John Grotzinger

Grotzinger is the mission leader and project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission. He has conducted field research on every continent except Antarctica and now directs a team of more than 400 scientists as they explore Mars via the Curiosity rover. Grotzinger has fulfilled several appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has received numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award and the Donath Medal, which recognizes a scientist under age thirty-six for outstanding original research marking a major advancement in earth sciences. In 2014, he received the NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal, and the Roy Chapman Andrews Explorer Award.

Isern is senior manager with the Finance and Markets Global Practice in the Asia Pacific region for the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. She is a global expert in financial sector development, including access to finance for the poorest populations. She previously served as regional manager of access to finance for South Asia with the IFC. For thirteen years, she worked for the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor based in the World Bank Group, including serving in the management team, leading work in Africa and China, and launching several global initiatives. With CARE International, she launched and managed projects in microfinance, community development, and girls’ education in Africa. Isern has published widely on international issues, financial sector development, and financial inclusion, and is a founding member of the board of directors for PAMIGA, a network of rural microfinance institutions that reaches 1.2 million people in Africa.

Jennifer Isern

Sheila Stearns

Stearns was Montana’s longest-serving commissioner of higher education and is a highly respected advocate for educational opportunity. As a vice president of UM, she led the external relations of the University, including legislative, alumni, and foundation relations. As chancellor of UM-Western for six years, she supported faculty as they implemented a complete transformation of curriculum from the typical semester structure to the only block scheduling program offered by a public college in the country. As president of Wayne State University in Nebraska, she maintained strong support and morale through a period of recession and budget cuts. As Montana’s commissioner of higher education for nine years, Stearns built a stronger alignment with K-12 education, a focus that now is a nationally recommended best practice.

Thomas is chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest judicial circuit in the country. The third Montanan to serve as chief judge in the history of the Ninth Circuit, Thomas is the administrator for Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. He was nominated to serve as a judge on the Ninth Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1996. Thomas was interviewed by President Barack Obama and placed on the short list for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. He previously practiced with a private firm in Billings and was an adjunct instructor in law at Rocky Mountain College, from which he received an honorary doctorate of law in 1998.

Sidney Thomas

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