Alumni Awards

The Albion College Alumni Association Awards are a decades-old tradition at Albion College during which we recognize alumni who embody Albion College values and who inspire pride in the Briton community.

The Distinguished Alumni Award honors alumni who have demonstrated excellence in career achievements and contributions to community and humanity. The Young Alumni Award honors alumni who have achieved great success and/or service to the College in their first ten years after graduation. These two awards are selected by the Alumni Association Board of Directors (Alumni Board).

The James L. Curtis, '44, Alumni Leadership Award recognizes Black alumni that have made significant contributions of time and effort to Albion College and its students. This award is selected by the Black Alumni Chapter leadership team.

Alumni Awards Ceremony - Saturday, October 23, 2021

The event features a reception, served three-course meal, entertainment, and formal presentation of the James L. Curtis Leadership Award, Distinguished Alumni Awards and Young Alumni Awards.

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2021 James L. Curtis Alumni Leadership Award Recipient

Dr. Coletta Thomas, ’76

Clinical Psychologist
Pontiac, Michigan

Newly retired this summer, Coletta spent the past 14 years with Common Ground Sanctuary, a behavioral health agency focused on youth and families in crisis. Thomas joined Common Ground as an inpatient and outpatient therapist at their runaway shelter, then moved to directing the crisis assessment team and the mobile services and crisis telephone line programs. Coletta taught for 25 years at the Detroit Institute of Commerce, General Motors Pontiac Skills Center, and the Michigan School for Professional Psychology, where she earned her own Psy.D. in clinical and humanistic psychology. Coletta has served on Albion’s Board of Trustees, headed the Alumni Board, established the Black Alumni Chapter Facebook page, served as an Admission volunteer, and been active with capital campaigns and a presidential search. A certified master gardener who also holds a certificate in Detroit/Motown style ballroom dancing, Coletta shares her Beverly Hills home with son Quinn Thomas, ’01, a psychologist in private practice.

2021 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Kent Beittel, ’69

Founder and Director Emeritus, Open Shelter
Columbus, Ohio
Posthumous award

In 1983, Beittel founded the Open Shelter—a nonprofit advocacy center and day-services shelter for homeless and marginally housed people in Columbus, Ohio. Beittel served as the first director of Open Shelter for over 30 years. To date, Open Shelter has worked with more than 40,000 individuals and developed innovative ways to address the complex needs of their clients. In particular, Beittel worked with financial institutions to set up banking and savings access for homeless people, a program that has since been adopted by communities across the country. Beittel and his late wife, Mary, received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, and in 2020 Beittel was named a Distinguished Alumnus by the Upper Arlington (OH) Alumni Association.

Matt Heinz, ’99

Supervisor, District 2, Pima County Board of Supervisors
Tucson, Arizona

Heinz is a practicing physician and a newly elected member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. He previously served two terms in the Arizona State House, where he was caucus whip and gathered bipartisan support for several bills to improve healthcare access for seniors and veterans. President Barack Obama appointed Heinz to serve as director of provider outreach in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Heinz spent two years in Washington, D.C., assisting the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and helping to coordinate the federal response to the Ebola virus. During that time, he returned to Arizona several weekends a month to treat patients. Similarly, these days Heinz continues to work the night shift at his hospital while serving on the Board of Supervisors.

Caryn Ryan, ’79

Founder and Managing Member, Missionwell LLC
Pasadena, California

Through Missionwell LLC, Ryan applies her business-world expertise to the service of Southern California religious and nonprofit organizations, providing top-tier human resource and financial advice and services. Her executive background includes service as chief financial officer for World Vision International, overseeing microfinance and financial operations in more than 80 countries helped by a development fund of more than $2 billion. In a 20-year stint with Amoco/BP, Ryan held CFO and vice president/finance positions, working in Houston, Chicago, London and Moscow. She currently holds leadership positions on the board of directors for Union Rescue Mission, dedicated to eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles, and ECCU, a credit union serving Christian ministries across the United States. She has also served on the boards of her local church and for Oasis USA, which focuses on poverty alleviation and human trafficking.

Richard Youle, ’74

Section Chief, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

Youle received the $3 million 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences from the Breakthrough Foundation, co-founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Youle’s research elucidated a genetically linked cellular mechanism that clears damaged mitochondria and thereby protects against Parkinson’s Disease. In a career spent entirely at the NIH, Youle has also investigated the immunology of bone marrow transplantation, therapies for brain tumors and mechanisms involved in programmed cell death.

2021 Young Alumni Award Recipients

Shea Gardner, ’12

Co-founder and Vice President, Maroon Village
Chicago, Illinois

With her husband, Gardner founded Maroon Village, a unique nonprofit organization designed to help student-athletes who are often navigating extreme and challenging circumstances, focusing on endurance and connectedness as important variables for success on and off the playing field. In addition, as a yoga instructor Gardner works with trauma survivors, both in person and via a YouTube channel. Her background includes more than 18 years of supporting nonprofit youth programming and instruction. Gardner also does program and instructor assessment for After School Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to young people throughout the Chicagoland area. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, in 2020 Gardner and Maroon Village provided successful in-person internships to two Albion College students.

Rhiki Swinton, ’16

Center Manager, Kalamazoo College Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership
Battle Creek, Michigan

In her role with the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Swinton directs the day-to-day building operations and is the content producer and primary moderator for Radical Futures Now, the Arcus Center’s podcast. Swinton also develops curriculum and works with groups addressing antiracism, compassionate accountability and mass incarceration issues. Her personal passion for empowering Black women led Swinton to create a YouTube channel where she shares poetry as a form of literary activism. As a graduate student at Central Michigan University, Swinton organized and developed CMU’s first ever Women of Color Conference and was a member of CMU’s Black Graduate Student Association. After graduating from Albion College, Swinton worked in admissions as a regional counselor and played a central role in increasing the diversity of the student population, including strengthening the College’s relationship with Chicago Noble Network students.

2020 James L. Curtis Alumni Leadership Award Recipient

Darrell Williams, ’77

Detroit, Michigan.

Williams practices dentistry with Advantage Health Care Centers, providing his services to underserved communities in the Detroit area. He also provides free dental screenings and referrals for elementary schools in marginalized Detroit neighborhoods. Additionally, he works with local youth, volunteers his time, created with his wife, Yolanda, the Troy & Shirley Williams Scholarship to help minority students at Albion, and in 2014 was ordained as an elder in the Faith Tabernacle Worship Ministries in Southfield.

2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Deanna M. Behring, ’85

Assistant Dean for College of Agricultural Sciences International Programs, Faculty Affiliate in the School for International Affairs, Penn State University
City Councilwoman
State College, Pennsylvania

Deanna Behring leads and coordinates Penn State's portfolio of international research and educational programs in food security, often utilizing her skills in speaking Chinese and French. Prior to joining Penn State, she was assistant director for international affairs for President Clinton's White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Deanna has also worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Commerce as well as on projects for the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Agency for International Development. She is serving her first term as councilwoman for the city of State College and is working on her first book, a guide to help students find their way in the "passion economy." As an undergraduate, Deanna was involved with Alpha Chi Omega, Albion College Players and College Democrats.

Kevin Chalut, ’99

British Royal Society Research Fellow in Physics, Cambridge University
Cambridge, England, UK

Kevin Chalut is currently leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers that is making important new discoveries about the nature of stem cells and development. Based at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute at Cambridge University, he is the principal investigator on a large program grant that applies physics and engineering to stem cell and developmental biology to better understand the how, when and where of the "choices" stem cells make. Kevin's work has been featured in Nature and in the international press, and in the past two years alone he has shared his work with top research institutions in the Netherlands, Mexico, France, Singapore, Germany, Canada and the U.S.

Bonciel Griffin-Burress, ’97

Orthodontist and Owner, Griffin Orthodontics and Ivory Dental Specialists
Chicago, Illinois

Bonciel Griffin-Burress is believed to be the first African American female to own a multi-office orthodontic and dental practice in the metropolitan Chicago area. In addition to treating her own full load of orthodontic patients and managing her business, Bonciel mentors interns and dental assistant trainees. In 2012, Bonciel was named one of WVON-Chicago's 40 Under 40 Game Changers. The Chicago native studied dentistry at the University of Michigan and earned an orthodontics specialty at Howard University's School of Dentistry. In 2017, Bonciel established Albion's Gregory and Patricia Griffin Scholarship. While at Albion, she was involved with United Voices of Albion College and Black Student Alliance.

Craig Kirby, ’85

Founder/CEO, Golf. My Future. My Game.
Washington, DC

A retired political strategist whose clients included presidents and federal legislators, Craig is applying his networking and problem-solving talents to open the business and sport of golf to many who historically have been shut out. His nonprofit organization—Golf. My Future. My Game.—gives youth, people of color and women a unique opportunity to strengthen problem-solving and career-development skills through mastering a challenging sport. His efforts have led to successful partnerships with equipment manufacturers, golf courses, educational institutions, equal-access-focused groups, and both the PGA and USGA. In 2019 Craig was featured on ABC's "Holey Moley" with NBA superstar Stephen Curry. While a student at Albion, Craig was active with Student Senate, Black Student Alliance and Delta Sigma Phi.

2020 Young Alumni Award Recipients

Christopher N. Blaker, ’14

Editor, Marine Corps University Press, U.S. Department of the Navy
Quantico, Virginia

Christopher Blaker is an American historian who works for the Department of the Navy as a scholarly book and journal editor at Marine Corps University Press. Most of his publishing work focuses on political and military history, international relations, national security and geopolitics. He has published a book and numerous articles in journals and magazines, gives lectures throughout the country, has offered historical consultation on a Hollywood film, and was recently featured on NPR. At Albion, Blaker was president of Euphonics, historian for Phi Mu Alpha, and a member of the History and English Department honor societies.

Soe Yu Nwe, ’13

Artist in Residence, Pottery Northwest
Seattle, Washington

Soe Yu Nwe earned an MFA in ceramics from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and since then has embarked on a successful international career as a professional artist. Currently a resident artist at Pottery Northwest in Seattle, Soe Yu has held residencies and participated in exhibitions on four continents, including her home country of Myanmar. Her work has been acquired by the esteemed Australian state museum, Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Soe Yu was Albion College’s youngest Philip C. Curtis Artist-in-Residence and in 2019 was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30: Art & Style list. While at Albion, she won the Michigan Mud student prize, an award rarely given to undergraduates.