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Five Alumni Honored for Achievements

UCR Honors Five Alumni for Outstanding Achievements, Contributions

Honorees include an assistant professor whose research in the area of air quality has led more stringent regulations in California, and the interim superintendent for Alvord Unified School District.

(May 16, 2008)

David H. Song Enlarge

David H. Song

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — The UCR Alumni Association will recognize five graduates for excellence in their professions and service to their communities at the 22nd Annual Alumni Awards of Distinction Banquet, which will be held on Saturday, May 17 at the University Theatre.

Those being honored include:

David H. Song (’92 B.S., biomedical sciences) He has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, which is based on national and international distinction in one’s field and significant contribution to humankind.

Song, chief of the Section of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, is one of the youngest chief of plastic surgery in the country. He specializes in breast reconstruction for women who have had cancer. He also performs pro bono reconstructive surgery on children in Latin America and is a pioneer in robotic surgery for nerve reconstruction.

Song was one of a group of surgeons who removed a 200-lb tumor from a woman, a surgery that was chronicled on the Discovery Health Channel. He has been on the board of the philanthropic organization Medical Aid for Children of Latin America. He travels to the Dominican Republic and Bolivia to perform surgery on children with congenital deformities, such as cleft palates.

Tod A. Burnett (’85 B.A., political science) Burnett has been chosen to receive the Alumni Public Service Award, which recognizes service to the public sector or contributions to the arts that has positively represented the university and its fellow citizens.

Burnett is vice chancellor of strategic planning and communications for the California Community Colleges, the largest higher education system in the world with 109 colleges and 2.5 million students each year. He was formerly the deputy appointments secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was appointed to a post in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by President Bush, and has worked for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

David R. Cocker, III (’96 B.S., environmental engineering) He is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, which recognizes alumni under the age of 35 who demonstrate significant record of career and/or civic achievement and promise in their profession.

Cocker, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Bourns College of Engineering, now teaches courses that he took when he attended UCR.

His research on fine particulate matter in the atmosphere has included air quality studies in Mira Loma, Calif. and in India, and the contribution of diesel emissions to air pollution. He also works with a state-of-the-art smog chamber at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). He received a National Science Foundation Early Development CAREER award to investigate secondary organic aerosol (SOA) processes.

Katherine A. Wright (’81 M.A., administration) Wright has been chosen to receive the Alumni Community Service Award, which recognizes active and superior service as a community volunteer that goes beyond the call of business or professional duty.

Wright, the interim superintendent of the Alvord Unified School District, is well-known in the educational community and in the community at large. She’s been active in numerous organizations including the YWCA, the Rape Crisis Center, Riverside Against Drugs, Meals on Wheels, Riverside Community Hospital Foundation Board/Trust and Chambers of Commerce’s Leadership Riverside program.

“It sounds like a cliche to a certain extent but I feel like it’s my sort of community responsibility, my civic responsibility just to make a contribution and to help make our community a better place for everybody,” she said.

James E. Baldwin (’60 B.A., history) He is the recipient of the Alumni University Service Award, which honors a sustained pattern of volunteer service, contribution and support for the benefit of UCR.

Baldwin, who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for more than three decades, has degrees from several other universities but has advocated continuously for UCR. He was the founding member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the UCR Alumni Association, and the former chair and member of the UCR Alumni Association’s scholarship committee. He’s also taken on numerous other duties on behalf of the university.

“It has been UCR I have chosen to return to and work in the best interest of over the long haul,” he said.

One of the reasons is the relationships students can forge with professors.

“Even though the campus is larger now, there still is a feeling of a smaller campus where things are very much personalized, friendly, open.”

Tod A. BurnettEnlarge

Tod A. Burnett

David R. CockerEnlarge

David R. Cocker

Katherine A. Wright

Katherine A. Wright

James E. BaldwinEnlarge

James E. Baldwin

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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