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2024 Laureates Awards Celebration

Join the Association of Rice Alumni in honoring our extraordinary Laureates Awards recipients at the 2024 Laureates Awards Dinner on May 2. This year, the honorees include groundbreaking engineers, enterprising leaders, devoted professors, exceptional volunteers and more. The special evening will include a reception with the honorees, a formal dinner and an awards ceremony. To register and for event details, visit the 2024 Laureates Award Dinner page.

Gold Medal Award

Melissa Kean ’96, ’00

Melissa Kean ’96, ’00

Melissa Kean ’96, ’00

For over three decades, Melissa Kean ’96, ’00 carved out a niche as the go-to vessel of Rice University’s institutional knowledge. With her deep historical perspective, sharp wit and dedicated service, she is considered by many as one of the best friends Rice has ever had.

Kean was three credit hours shy of completing her master’s degree at Creighton University when she moved to Houston in the early 1990s. After enrolling in a southern history course with Rice professor John Boles for transfer credit, Boles urged her to pursue a Ph.D. and became her advisor. Kean's dissertation on the desegregation of five major southern universities, including Rice, was named the best in the humanities and later became a published book. As a graduate student, she was selected to be the sole graduate student representative on the strategic planning committee commissioned by then president Malcolm Gillis. When Rice began the search for a new president, Kean was named as the executive director of the search, which eventually resulted in the appointment of former president David Leebron.

Named the Rice University Historian in 2005, Kean began to accumulate materials and artifacts for the university’s archives in the Woodson Research Center, often personally going to departmental offices to identify and secure important records. Kean also acted as a liaison with Rice’s administration and Board of Trustees, answering complex and time-sensitive reference questions. A former lawyer, she combined her knack for writing, deep knowledge and relentless research in Rice’s archives to begin the popular Rice History Corner blog, a meeting space for staff, alumni and others interested in Rice and Houston history.

With the approach of Rice’s 2012 centennial, Kean was named the Rice University Centennial Historian and appeared in dozens of Centennial Series videos. She also strengthened Rice’s place in the broader community when, after Hurricane Harvey flooded synagogues and businesses, she and her colleagues salvaged countless important records, many of which were later donated to the Houston Jewish History Archives in the Woodson Research Center.

Kean’s nominators praised her winning combination of intelligence, sense of humor and warmth, noting that her “greatest accomplishment is her long history of creating a sense of community.”

Albert Kidd ’64, ’65

Albert Kidd ’64, ’65

Albert Kidd ’64, ’65

Albert Kidd ’64, ’65 has influenced almost every aspect of the university with his thoughtfulness, extensive service and dedication to excellence. As an undergraduate, he demonstrated his characteristic enthusiasm as a member of Hanszen College, the Rally Club and as a Rice cheerleader. He received his bachelor of arts and bachelor of science in mechanical engineering.

Even as he led a distinguished executive career at Exxon, Kidd always found time for extensive involvement at Rice. He served two terms on the Association of Rice Alumni Board, from 1973-76 and from 1993-96, serving one year as president. During both terms, he led initiatives to reconnect alumni to campus life through lectures and programs. From 1989 to 1993 he served on Rice’s Board of Governors as an Alumni Governor. In 1996, he was elected to the Board of Trustees. As a board member and then trustee emeritus, he served on the Buildings and Grounds Committee for 31 years, having a major impact on the Rice campus and always pushing for excellence.

Albert and his wife, Elizabeth, are known throughout the Rice community for their participation on campus and for their support for numerous programs, including the Shepherd School, Baker Institute, the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, the Moody Center, and the School of Engineering. In the School of Humanities, the Kidds established an endowed fund for Art History. In 2008, they launched Rice Public Art with their donation to Fondren Library of an art installation by Italian glass artist Lino Tagliapietra. In 2009 they were the honorees at the Friends of Fondren Gala.

Kidd was a longtime member of several additional committees and boards, including the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, the Lynn Lowery Arboretum and the Brown School of Engineering. He also served on leadership committees for Rice’s Next Century Campaign and the Centennial Campaign, among many other notable fundraising efforts. He received the Meritorious Service Award in 2004.

As one nominator noted, “Albert's unwavering dedication to Rice University, his boundless enthusiasm and his generous support embody the very essence of what the Gold Medal and Rice University stand for — excellence in all endeavors."

Distinguished Alumni Award

Miriam John ’70

Miriam John ’70

Miriam John ’70

An exceptional leader, mentor and engineer, Miriam “Mim” John ’70 has been a strong force for improving national security for decades. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Rice, John earned her master’s degree from Tulane University and a Ph.D. from Princeton University in chemical engineering. She joined Sandia National Laboratories as a staff member in 1978 and ultimately became the vice president of its California division. During her long career at Sandia, she worked on a wide variety of programs, including nuclear weapons, chemical and biological defense, missile defense and solar energy, and she provided leadership for several of the laboratory’s energy, national security, biosciences and homeland security programs.

With a proven track record of service, John has utilized her expertise to serve on multiple advisory boards, including the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium. She was a long-time member of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Defense Science Board (DSB) and has been tapped to help co-chair a new permanent subcommittee of the DSB for weapons of mass destruction threat reduction. She is a past member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, the Board on Army Science and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s National Commission on Science and Security.

John has received many honors and awards for her service to technology and national security. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and appointed a National Associate of the National Academies. She is the recipient of the Navy’s Superior Public Service Award, Air Force’s Meritorious Civilian Service Medal and DoD’s prestigious Eugene G. Fubini Award. She is the first woman awarded the John S. Foster, Jr., Medal.

As one nominator summarized, “In her long and distinguished career, Mim has brought her education in science and engineering, exceptionally incisive mind and leadership skills to impact the national security of our nation in remarkable ways.”

Travis McPhail ’04, ’07, ’11

Travis McPhail ’04, ’07, ’11

Travis McPhail ’04, ’07, ’11

An accomplished engineer executive and pioneer in his field, Travis McPhail ’04, ’07, ’11 is a visible force in the geospatial field and champion of advancing diversity and inclusion in tech.

McPhail’s Rice education includes two undergraduate degrees, a master’s and a Ph.D. in computer science. While at Rice, he distinguished himself for excellence in scholarship, becoming a NSF Graduate Fellow, and for mentoring minority graduate students in STEM. After leaving Rice, McPhail worked with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Schlumberger and IHS before joining Google. Over his 10-year tenure at Google, McPhail has shown consistent dedication to his profession by redefining geospatial platforms at a global scale, driving technical strategy for the future, and contributing his time, leadership skills, energy and talents to positively impact the geospatial community.

McPhail’s tremendous impact on diversity tech is reflected in the 3D exhibit that he spearheaded with a team of Google designers and engineers for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He served as an advisor for both the Googler-in-Residence program and the Google Howard West Initiative to engage more Black students in computer science and STEM areas. Additionally, McPhail served as a global lead for the Black Googler Network, sponsoring hackathons, fostering internship opportunities and championing inclusive products.

His impact extends outside of tech through his involvement as a member of the Strategic Urban Development Alliance, which strives to bring more equitable economic outcomes within urban development and construction/asset management across the Bay Area and parts of Africa. McPhail also serves on the board of Recidivism, an organization that uses data to reduce incarceration in the U.S.

As one nominator described McPhail, he is a proven and trusted leader who “embodies a brand of humility with a respected track record for delivery.”

Talithia Williams ’07, ’08

Talithia Williams ’07, ’08

Talithia Williams ’07, ’08

Talithia Williams ’07, ’08 is a trailblazer and passionate advocate for making STEM relevant and empowering for all. As an award-winning college professor, she brings statistics to life by demystifying complex mathematical concepts, making them accessible and exciting for all. In her popular TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” Williams emphasizes the critical role of statistics in quantifying and understanding personal health information. She authored the book “Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics,” which celebrates the often-overlooked women of mathematics.

As the first Black woman tenured at Harvey Mudd College, Williams has broken barriers, holding degrees from Spelman College, Howard University and Rice University. The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, a collaborative effort of the American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, recognized Williams with their 2022 Communications Award for bringing mathematics and statistics into the homes and hands of millions through her work as a TV host, renowned speaker and author.

As the host of PBS NOVA documentaries like "Zero to Infinity," she takes audiences on a journey exploring scientific and mathematical wonders. Her narration of films, including "Hindenburg: The New Evidence" and "The Universe: Revealed," adds depth to science documentaries. Williams has researched at JPL, the NSA and NASA, partnering with the WHO on a cataract model for African countries, contributing to health disparity understanding.

Beyond academia, she champions STEM diversity, urging women and African Americans to pursue science. Williams aims to redefine STEM's image, portraying it as dynamic and accessible. Her passion extends to family and her faith, shared with her husband Donald and three sons, Josiah, Noah and Micaiah, who infuse her life with joy and purpose. As one nominator noted, “It is fair to say that Dr. Williams is an inspiration to many, and a national treasure.

Meritorious Service Award

James “Jimmy” Disch

James “Jimmy” Disch

James “Jimmy” Disch

James “Jimmy” Disch, associate professor emeritus in the department of sport management, has dedicated his life to Rice as a prize-winning teacher, coach, college master, college associate and member of countless advisory committees. One nominator described Disch as having “enriched all aspects of the Rice community through his dedication, service and love for the institution and its members.”

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education from the University of Houston and his P.E.D. from Indiana University, Disch joined Rice’s faculty in 1973. He served as the men’s club volleyball coach and sponsor, coached the intercollegiate women’s basketball and volleyball teams, and served as department chair for kinesiology from 1995 to 2001. In the classroom, Disch delivered complex theory with a folksy personality, inspiring many students to follow their passion. His research focused on prediction in sport, and he founded the sport analytic concentration curriculum, one of the first of its type in the country. He also helped place a number of students in sport analytics positions with professional teams. Among his many professional accomplishments, he received the National Measurement and Evaluation Council Honor Award and was named a Sports Ethics Fellow by the Positive Coaching Alliance and the Institute for International Sport. He also received the David K. Brace Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance and received a CoFES Prize in Computational Statistics at the 9th Eubank Conference.

A dedicated faculty member and mentor, Disch served as the magister of Sid Rich College from 1986- 1991 as it transitioned to co-ed occupancy and was named outstanding faculty associate at Sid twice. In 2021, the Jimmy Disch Sport Analytics Award was founded to carry on his legacy.

As one nominator summarized, “Rice is family to Jimmy, and his devotion and commitment to the Rice community is strong.”

Wanda ’78 and Richard Gass ’78, ’79

Wanda ’78 and Richard Gass ’78, ’79

Wanda ’78 and Richard Gass ’78, ’79

Wanda ’78 and Richard Gass ’78, ’79 have been pillars of dedication and excellence at Rice University, beginning more than 45 years ago when they were undergraduate students. One nominator noted that “their passion for making a positive impact is truly inspiring.”

Wanda and Richard each received their bachelor’s degrees from Rice, with Wanda later receiving her master’s from Duke and Richard receiving his master’s from Rice. Their combined service to Rice spans decades. Wanda has served as a Rice trustee, an advisory board member of the School of Engineering, and a member of the Association of Rice Alumni Board. Notably, she was one of the organizers of the Rice Engineering Alumni chapter of Dallas-Fort Worth. Richard has served as an alumni volunteer for admissions for more than thirty years; he has a particular passion for interviewing and encouraging first-generation college students. They both served as volunteers for the successful billion-dollar Centennial Campaign culminating in 2013.

As alumni leaders of the Dallas-Fort Worth alumni group, Wanda and Richard have worked tirelessly to enhance the university’s reputation and foster a sense of belonging. In addition to supporting Rice with their time and talent, they are loyal donors to the university and members of the William Marsh Rice Society.

As one nominator summarized, “Their combined contributions have not only enriched the lives of countless individuals but have strengthened our institution’s commitment to excellence, inclusivity and community engagement.”

Honorary Alumnus Award

Cynthia Allshouse

Cynthia Allshouse

Cynthia Allshouse

Cynthia Allshouse has demonstrated a truly inspiring legacy of volunteerism for more than three decades at Rice. As one admirer noted, her “engagement with Rice has been so ubiquitous and impactful that most people probably just assume that she’s an alumna.”

With steady leadership and attention to detail, Allshouse has contributed to the planning and execution of multiple fundraising events and galas for Rice. She has led several signature events for Friends of Fondren and has been instrumental in securing the commitments of major political and media leaders to speak at high-profile stewardship events recognizing Rice’s closest supporters.

Allshouse’s volunteer service has been instrumental in the success and visibility of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. In 1997, she chaired the Baker Institute’s building dedication and inaugural celebration, an event that featured the attendance of three secretaries of state as well as former Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev. She also chaired the tenth and twentieth anniversary galas.

Allshouse was pivotal to the success of another of Rice’s crown jewels, the Shepherd School of Music, where she served as president of the Shepherd Society and was designated a lifetime member-at-large in recognition of her service. She also regularly chaired, along with Linda and Walter McReynolds and her husband Bucky ’71, the biennial Rice Athletics gala, “An Evening for Rice’s Honour,” which since its inception in 1984 has raised more than $6 million dollars for student athletes.

While serving as a leading force in mobilizing the Rice community and creating memorable events, Allshouse also raised three children, triplets Chandler, Channing and Chance, of which the latter two graduated from Rice in 2022. Another admirer praised Allshouse’s benevolent spirit, describing her as “a true and loyal Rice Owl committed to advancing the success and impact of our university.”