Penn honors seven alumni including Creative Spirit awardee, composer Jennifer Higdon

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw to receive Faculty Award of Merit

Jennifer Higdon
Jennifer Higdon  

The University of Pennsylvania will honor seven distinguished alumni at the 2019 Alumni Award of Merit Gala on Friday, Nov. 8.

Award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon will receive the 2019 Creative Spirit Award for her life-long commitment to and excellence in the arts. Higdon received her Ph.D. and master’s degrees from Penn following a certificate from the Curtis Institute of Music and bachelor’s from Bowling Green State University. 

A Pulitzer Prize and two-time Grammy Award winner, Higdon is one of this country’s most frequently performed living composers. Her list of commissioners is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

As the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition at the Curtis Institute of Music and a frequent composer-in-residence at universities throughout the country, she is known as a dynamic and committed teacher. One of the nation’s most distinguished queer composers, she has also been an engaging role model for the LGBT community. In addition to returning to Penn for Music Department colloquia and University talks, she welcomed Penn students into a behind-the-scenes experience at Opera Philadelphia’s production of her opera, “Cold Mountain.” 

Sharing the spotlight with Higdon will be William W. M. Cheung, Dean A. Henry, Andrea Berry Laporte, Jeffrey L. Seltzer, and Stacey Deutsch Shoer, who will all receive the Alumni Award of Merit, along with Shannon Hedvat, who will accept the Young Alumni Award, and Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, who will accept the Faculty Award of Merit.

2019 Penn Alumni Award of Merit honorees.
Left to right: William W. M. Cheung, Dean A. Henry, Andrea Berry Laporte, Jeffrey L. Seltzer, Stacey Deutsch Shoer, Shannon Hedvat, and Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw.

William W. M. Cheung, a 1982 alumnus of the School of Dental Medicine, has developed a thriving dental practice in his native Hong Kong while serving Penn as a leader and global bridge builder. An emeritus trustee, his leadership extends to two decades of service as a member of the Penn Dental Board of Overseers including a tenure as chair. Currently, he serves as campaign co-chair for the Power of Penn Dental Medicine Campaign. His own philanthropy includes gifts to the Penn Dental funding the Cheung Advanced Dental Care Center and the Cheung Auditorium and creating the Cheung Family World Scholars. Expanding Penn’s global reach and engagement in East Asia has been a part of his legacy, recruiting internationally recognized faculty and fortifying the Cheung Center’s curriculum. He also oversaw Penn’s establishment of the Hong Kong Foundation and was a key supporter in the development of the Penn Wharton China Center. He is father to two involved alumnae, Stefani and Liana.

Dean A. Henry is a member of the Wharton Class of 1974. After retiring from a distinguished career in information technology, he started a business specializing in African-American genealogy. Inspired by the graduation of his daughter Kristen from Penn in 2004 and by Penn President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact with its emphasis on diversity and inclusion, he became an active member of the Black Alumni Society. Soon after he joined and took up leading roles in the James Brister Society, the alumni group dedicated to improving the campus experience for students, faculty, and administrators of color. In 2006, Henry chaired the Finance Committee for the 125th Anniversary Commemoration of James Brister, Penn’s first African-American graduate. Beginning in 2013, he served a two-year term as the Society’s co-chair, helping to hone the group’s priorities, reconfigure programming, and reach out to a broad range of alumni. Most recently, in addition to serving on his Class’s Reunion Committee, he has been active in the Brister Society’s efforts to support first-generation/low-income students. 

Nursing alumna Andrea “Andie” Berry Laporte, Class of 1969, is a trustee emerita. She joined the Board of Trustees as an Alumni Trustee in 2010 and in 2015 was named a Term Trustee. In addition, she has served on the Penn Alumni Board of Directors, as a member and chair of the Board of Overseers of the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), and as a member and chair of the Penn Nursing Board of Overseers. Her philanthropic support spans Nursing, the ICA, and the School of Dental Medicine. At Nursing she helped to endow the Theresa I. Lynch Fund and established the Killebrew-Laporte Center for Admissions & Student Affairs and the Andrea B. Laporte Endowed Professorship as well as supporting the Center for Global Women’s Health. At the ICA, she created the Andrea B. Laporte Curator Fund. The daughter of Penn alumni Dorothy Thornburg Berry and Harrison M. Berry Jr., she recently honored her father’s 30-year tenure at Penn Dental with the creation of an endowed scholarship in his name. Having served on the University’s steering committee for the Making History Campaign, she currently serves in the same capacity on The Power of Penn Campaign. 

Wharton Class of 1978 alum Jeffrey L. Seltzer has, since 2003, served as an overseer for the University Libraries. In this capacity, he helped to cultivate a strong bond between the Penn Libraries and his class, negotiating such gifts as the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion to house the David Rittenhouse Orrery, the Class of 1978 Group Study Room, and the Library Scholars Alcove. His generosity to Penn includes establishing the Seltzer Family Digital Media Awards, the Seltzer Family eMedicine Fund, and the Seltzer Family Studio, home to Penn’s student radio station, WQHS. In 1998 as a member of the Advisory Board for what has become the Huntsman Program, he established the Seltzer Family International Studies and Business Scholarship. Since 2005, he has provided his expertise in sports management to the Alumni Advisory Committee for the Wharton Sports Business Initiative and has for nearly two decades participated in the Penn Alumni Interview Program. In addition to making other contributions to Penn Medicine, he joined with family in establishing the Dr. Ramon Sifre Prize for Excellence in Diagnostic Medicine honoring his father-in-law and grandfather-in-law, both alumni of what is now the Perelman School of Medicine. 

Stacey Deutsch Shoer, Class of 1989, began volunteering her time for Penn as a student guide for the Kite and Key Society. As an alum she has enhanced Penn’s presence in South Florida. Serving as the president of the Penn Club of Miami, she has expanded the membership of the club, quadrupling the number of members in her first year. She also serves as the Alumni Interview Committee chair for the Miami area as part of her involvement with the Alumni Interview Program. In 2014, she helped the Class of 1989 achieve the Class Award of Merit for its fundraising efforts. In addition, as an active member of the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women (TCPW), she has served as co-chair of the Miami Regional Event Committee and the Leadership Committee, creating signature events for Homecoming Weekend, volunteer leadership retreats, and twice-yearly TCPW conferences. Her Penn alumni family members include sister Alison Schonwald, husband Howard Shoer and sons Carter and Maxwell.

Shannon Hedvat holds three Penn degrees. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering in 2007 and 2008 before graduating from Penn Law in 2011. As an intellectual property attorney, who has won awards for her commitment to pro bono work. Her volunteerism at Penn began while an undergraduate. She earned a Penn Alumni Student Award of Merit in 2007 for service as president of both the Kite and Key Society and the Engineering Student Activities Council and as co-chair for the University Honor Council and the Class of 2007 Gift Drive. She continues to volunteer for Penn Law Admissions, the Alumni Interview Program, Host Committees for various Penn events, and The Penn Fund Executive Board. Her service to the Class of 2007, includes leadership roles such as vice president of the class and gift chair. She has also been a guest lecturer on the legal aspects of entrepreneurship and been a mentor to current engineering students. Together, with her active alumni siblings, sister Lauren and brother Brandon, she established the Mikail Hedvat Ijadi Family Scholarship. 

This year’s Faculty Award of Merit goes to Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw of the School of Arts and Sciences. An associate professor in the History of Art Department, DuBois Shaw is a scholar and a curator who explores race, gender, sexuality, and class in art from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. She has engaged alumni in numerous ways: As a faculty host for Penn Alumni Travel for 10 years, leading trips to Peru, Spain, Portugal, France, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and the Caribbean; as a speaker at Trustees’ Council of Penn Women and Penn Spectrum events; and as part of Experience Penn, accompanying alumni on behind-the-scenes tours at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and Art Basel Miami.

In addition to the individual awards, the Class of 1994 will receive the Class Award of Merit, and the Class of 1989 will receive the David N. Tyre Award for Excellence in Class  Communications. A special acknowledgement will be made to the Penn Club of Southwest Florida for outstanding leadership and alumni engagement within its region.