Distinguished Alumni, Supporters Honored at Awards Gala

Editors’ Note: This feature appears as it was published in the winter 2019 edition of UT Dallas Magazine. Titles or faculty members listed may have changed since that time.
Dr. Aziz Sancar PhD’77 (right), the University’s first alumni recipient of the Nobel Prize, was honored with the inaugural UT Dallas Lifetime Achievement Award. As a special surprise for the longtime Dallas Cowboys fan, Sancar was also presented with a commemorative UT Dallas football by former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson.
As if the night weren’t special enough for Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar PhD’77, he received a surprise after collecting the University’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award—a visit with former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson.
Pearson gave Sancar, a longtime Cowboys fan, a commemorative UT Dallas football signed by himself and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. It was a memorable moment to cap a memorable night.
Sancar was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 Awards Gala, during which alumni and friends gathered to celebrate the distinguished accomplishments and dedicated service of six award recipients. This was the first year for the event to be held at the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center.
Sancar, who is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, earned a PhD in molecular and cell biology from UTD and won the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
After graduating at the top of his medical school class in his native Turkey and serving as a physician there, Sancar came to the U.S. to learn more about the underlying mechanisms of disease, including the field of DNA repair. He said the research he pursued with the late Dr. Claud Stanley Rupert, who conducted seminal research in the field of light-activated DNA repair and was one of the founding faculty members of UTD, provided the foundation for his life’s work.
“UTD is really the cause and the source of my success in science,” said Sancar, who presented the 2018 Anson L. Clark Memorial Lecture on campus the day before the Awards Gala. “My mentor, Dr. Rupert, is the man who made me a scientist. UTD is home for me.”
UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson (right) gathers with gala honorees (from left) Satyajit P. Doctor MS’91, Jerry L. Comer MS’77, Aziz Sancar PhD’77, State Rep. Helen Giddings, Chuck Butler BS’91 and Gabriel Dawe MFA’11.
State Rep. Helen Giddings received the Gifford K. Johnson Community Leadership Award, which is named for the first and only president of the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, the predecessor to UT Dallas.
“I have worked alongside my UTD family for the advancement of the University and creating a better state for students, and I think we’ve made great strides,” Giddings said. “When we improve education, we improve lives.”
Over the course of 13 terms in office, Giddings placed a high priority on education. Her advocacy was crucial to the development and state funding of the University’s Academic Bridge Program.
“Each of us has a responsibility and an obligation to pay some rent for the space that we occupy on Earth,” she said. “None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.”
A dedicated supporter of UT Dallas, Jerry L. Comer MS’77 received the Green and Orange Award for Alumni Service. Comer, a retired project manager and engineer, said he was honored and surprised by the award. He has donated a number of photographs from his personal collection to the University and sponsors an annual guest photographer program to enrich academic experiences for graduate students.
“Just recently, the school has seen fit to dedicate a special space on the north end of campus for the Comer Photography Collection, and we’re looking forward to great things coming out of that,” he said.
Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Gabriel Dawe MFA’11 recognized his professors, many of whom were in attendance, for their support and influence during his years as a student and throughout his career as a visual artist.
While a student, Dawe began to create pieces that are part of his Plexus series. Some of his pieces can be viewed in the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and in the Bioengineering and Sciences Building.
“My time at UTD was particularly special because of my stay at CentralTrak,” said Dawe, who was a part of the UT Dallas Artists Residency program. “It was really fundamental in my development, and it really holds a dear place in my heart.”
Chuck Butler BS’91, a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, reflected on his path after graduation.
“I don’t think I’m any different than any of the people I graduated with,” he said. “We were all looking for an opportunity like the one the school gave to me. When you take opportunity and preparedness and put them together, greatness will happen.”
Butler, founder and managing partner of Palomino Capital, credits his successful career with allowing him the time and resources to support causes near to his heart, such as cancer research, his temple and his children’s schools.
“My career isn’t what I do — these activities and nonprofits and mission-based organizations are who I am,” he said. “Without this University, I would never have been able to take this path.”
The University has continued to play a prominent role in the life of Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Satyajit P. Doctor MS’91. He is co-founder and president of Award Solutions, a company he launched with a UT Dallas classmate. He now employs 20 UTD alumni.
Passionate about encouraging young people to develop interests in science and business, Doctor serves on the executive council for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
“A good university actually helps somebody achieve far more than what they could on their own. That is exactly what UTD has done for me,” he said. “Now, UTD is giving me opportunities to pay it forward.”
Sponsors of the 2018 Awards Gala were Award Solutions, Axxess, the city of Richardson, Highland Capital Management and Palomino Capital.