2024 Recipients

T Cooper ’94

T Cooper ’94 has used his storytelling skills to bring traditionally underrepresented points of view to life for more than two decades—providing audiences insight, comfort, and entertainment. The Advocate listed him as one of 48 transgender men and women who changed the world.

The author of nine books, a television writer, journalist, and filmmaker, T is also an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. An English major at Middlebury and Bread Loaf Writers Conference and Bread Loaf School of English attendee, he earned a master of fine arts in fiction writing at Columbia University.

Anais Mitchell ’04

For 13 years, Anais Mitchell ’04 crafted and recrafted the songs and stories that make up the Broadway hit Hadestown. For her efforts, Hadestown snared eight Tony awards, a Grammy, and made history as the first Broadway production written and directed by women to win best musical honors.

Anais has also had a prolific musical career, creating eight albums and authoring a book. Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020. NPR described her as “one of the greatest songwriters of her generation.” She also holds an honorary doctor of arts degree from Middlebury.

Nuttida Rungratsameetaweemana ’14

When Nuttida Rungratsameetaweemana ’14 came to Middlebury from a small town in Thailand, she did not speak English fluently. Nonetheless, she went on to graduate summa cum laude with a degree in mathematics and neuroscience, and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in neuroscience from the University of San Diego at California. 

Nuttida is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University in New York, where she leads a lab focusing on cognitive functions in memory-impaired patients. Her research has invaluable real-life implications for those suffering from injuries and diseases of the brain, with a goal of improving our understanding of neurological disorders and increasing the efficiency of treatments in clinical settings.

2023 Recipients

Elsa Alvarado ’18

Formerly the youngest director at the Pentagon, Elsa Alvarado has already accomplished a great deal in the realms of strategic communications and public affairs, all while maintaining her commitment to advocating for Latinx youth.

Lesley Cadman ’73

Throughout a career that has included time at Parsons School of Design and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York, Lesley Cadman has committed herself to fostering the power of arts education.

Carl Hobert ’83

Across classrooms, boardrooms, and books, Carl Hobert has built a career studying human conflict and working with students and professionals alike to build conflict management skills for a more peaceful future.

2022 Recipient

Stephen Kiernan ’82

Storytelling is both compulsion and instinct for Stephen Kiernan ’82. With a writing career marked by journalistic and fictional pursuits alike, Stephen has emerged as a formidable literary force in the years since graduating with a B.A. in English from Middlebury College.

Though he initially worked at IBM after graduation, Stephen decided he wanted to pursue writing full time. He earned an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and then reported for the Daily Iowan. The lure of Vermont was strong, and he moved back East for a job at the Burlington Free Press, where he worked for more than 11 years. His investigative reporting on tax practices at the Vermont Medical Practice Board resulted in a George Polk Award.

However, the itch for fiction never left. The Curiosity, published in 2013, marked Stephen’s debut novel after decades of focusing on short fiction. Since then, Stephen has published three other novels, including the critically-acclaimed bestseller The Baker’s Secret. His most recent novel is Universe of Two, a work of historical fiction set in 1944 that blends the Manhattan Project with a love story. The Washington Independent Review of Books hailed it as a “romantic tale of love triumphant.”

Alongside his novels, Stephen has also written two nonfiction books. Last Rights, published in 2008, delves into both the logistical and emotional aspects of end-of-life care. His 2010 book Authentic Patriotism set Stephen on a path to explore and report on those across the United States who embody the idea of patriotism as “an act of service” and which led to his delivering a TED Talk on patriotism.

Since moving back to Vermont, Stephen has been a staunch advocate for empathetic palliative care, serving as a member of the Vermont Legislative Committee on Pain and Palliative Care. Stephen also chaired the board of the Young Writers Project, connecting with and supporting the next generation of literary voices.

The Middlebury Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award is presented to Stephen Kiernan ’82 in recognition of the personal achievements and the outstanding contributions he has made in his field. His distinguished accomplishments bring great credit to the College.

2021 Recipients

Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, in turquoise headscarf and khaki top

In 2008, while still a teenager and student at Middlebury, Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11 founded a school for girls in her hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan. Today, the School of Leadership Afghanistan—or SOLA, meaning “peace” in Pashto—is an Afghan-led private boarding school for girls, the first of its kind in Afghanistan. SOLA’s mission is to provide Afghan girls with a rigorous education that promotes critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and respect for self and others.

Shabana’s determination to create opportunities for girls grew out of her own experience as a child. In 1996, the Taliban banned girls’ education and any movement by girls without a chaperone, and soon secret schools for girls began to open. Shabana—dressed as a boy—and her sister risked their lives daily as they walked Kabul’s streets to one of those schools.

Shabana has never forgotten what her father told her during those years. “You can lose everything you own in your life,” he said. “But the one thing that will always remain with you is what is in your head. Your education is the biggest investment in your life.”

Today, as president of SOLA, she is creating paths for others to invest in their own education. SOLA enrolls nearly 100 students in the pre–6th grade, middle school, and high school programs. Ultimately, the school aims to empower students to return to their communities to break down the barriers to women’s visibility and to lead Afghanistan into a prosperous and peaceful future.

“The most effective antidote to extremism is to create the best-educated generation in Afghanistan’s history,” Shabana says. “Our girls today—the women of tomorrow—will make that happen.”

Shabana knows the need is great. In Afghanistan, 66 percent of girls ages 12 to 15 are out of school; 63 percent of adolescent girls are illiterate; there are not enough women teachers; and girls are at risk of violent assault as they walk to school.

Since Middlebury, Shabana has received an MA in public policy from Oxford University and honorary degrees from SOAS University of London and Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania. She was named one of CNN International’s Leading Women of 2014 and a National Geographic 2014 Emerging Explorer. She is a global ambassador for Girl Rising, a call to action seeking investment in girls’ education worldwide. In 2018, she received the Malalai Medal, one of Afghanistan’s highest national honors, and in 2019, she was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30 Asia” list in the social entrepreneurship sector.

The Middlebury Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award is presented to Shabana Basij-Rasikh in recognition of her personal achievements and the outstanding contributions she has made to her country. Her distinguished accomplishments bring great credit to the College.

Brad Corrigan ’96

Brad Corrigan in fedora and tshirt, singing & playing drums

Musician, storyteller, activist, and philanthropist, Brad Corrigan ’96 has made a mark in many fields since he graduated from Middlebury with a degree in music, but music is the thread that connects all of them.

In 1995, Brad and two friends, Pete Francis Heimbold ’99 and Chad Urmston ’98, formed the band that became Dispatch and then spent years building a fan base. They became the College’s first rock stars—a remarkable do-it-yourself success story.

When they decided they needed a break in 2004, they found a spectacular way to say goodbye: with a free show in Boston at the Hatch Shell, which drew more than 110,000 people from 29 countries. When they came together again in 2007, it was for a cause. “Dispatch: Zimbabwe” was a three-night series of benefit concerts with the African Children’s Choir at Madison Square Garden, with all proceeds going to organizations fighting disease, famine, and social injustice in the African nation.

In the process of staging those shows, Dispatch made history. They became the first independent rock band to sell out Madison Square Garden! The band, years and miles from their humble beginnings on the Middlebury campus, played to 60,000 people over the course of a single weekend. And they did it again in 2015, playing to sell-out crowds at the Garden. And music (literally) to their fans’ ears, the band will go on tour again in September.

The band’s decision in 2007 to give all proceeds from the Garden shows to NGOs helping Zimbabwe and to start the Dispatch Foundation reflected in large part Brad’s desire to combine purpose with platform wherever he could. That same year, he founded Love Light + Melody, after a life-altering experience meeting Ileana, a young girl who was living and working in a trash dump in Managua, Nicaragua. Two years later, as a former member of the Middlebury lacrosse team, and through his platform in the trash dump community with Love Light + Melody, he co-founded Lacrosse the Nations, using the sport to help connect vulnerable kids with education, first in Nicaragua and later around the world.

“My heart breaks for kids that don’t have the love and protection and encouragement of a family,” he says. “And as an athlete and musician, I have always wanted to use sports and art to inspire kids to have fun and dream again.”

Right now, Brad is focused on two Love Light + Melody projects: Ileana’s School of Hope and a documentary film titled Ileana’s Smile. Ileana’s School of Hope will be a grade school serving up to 400 students in the community that has grown up around the trash dump. It will offer preschool through Grade 6 education, with hopes of expanding to high school in the future. 

Middlebury is proud to have such an accomplished alumnus and we are pleased to honor him.

Heather Vuillet Lende ’81

Heather Vuillet Lende in light blue fleece sweater, with lake and mountains in the background

For 30 years, Heather Vuillet Lende ’81has been chronicling the lives—the joys, sorrows, and challenges—and sometimes the deaths of friends and neighbors in Haines, Alaska. Haines, a small coastal town in southeast Alaska, has a population of 2,500 and lies on a fjord at the top of the Inside Passage, about 70 miles north of Juneau.

Her intimate stories have gained Heather national recognition and many accolades—including, most recently, selection as Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2021–2023.

Heather has contributed essays and commentary to the Anchorage Daily News, National Public Radio, Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She is a former contributing editor at Woman’s Day magazine, and over more than 20 years has written some 500 obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines. She is the author of bestselling memoirs from Algonquin Books—Find the Good; If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name; Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs; and, most recently, Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics. Published in 2020, Of Bears and Ballots is the story of her experiences navigating the often-fraught landscape of local government after winning a borough assembly seat.

Heather often addresses the reader directly and personally, and even those who have never met her feel they are in conversation with a friend. On her blog, she writes to “dear reader.” In following Heather’s story, we come to know the colorful characters who are her neighbors and friends and become part, for a time, of the interdependent logging and fishing community, where she and husband Chip ’79 own a lumberyard and hardware store.

Heather is actively involved in her community—from the library and public radio to sporting events and hospice care. She is the recipient of the 2016 Alaska Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities and the Episcopal Bishop of Alaska’s Bishop’s Cross Award.

“I’m trying to be,” she said in a recent interview, “I want to be, the kind of woman who says, and believes, that she can change the world through small acts, in small places, and have enough confidence — or is the word ‘wisdom’? — to actually do it.”

It’s clear from Heather’s work and life and the testimony of her community that she has succeeded.

The Middlebury Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award is presented to Heather Vuillet Lende ’81 in recognition of the personal achievements and the outstanding contributions she has made in her field. Her distinguished accomplishments bring great credit to the College.

2020 Recipients

Dr. John “Bull” Durham

Dr. John “Bull” Durham ’80

John “Bull” Durham is an orthopedic hand surgeon with specialized training in trauma, fracture care, and reconstructive techniques. He freely shares his talents and expertise with some of the most traumatized and grievously wounded people in the world, bringing them hope and healing—from Haitians ravaged by the 2010 earthquake to patients in a Mongolian trauma hospital to the underserved community of the Navajo Nation in Tuba City, Arizona, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, leveling Port-au-Prince, killing 280,000, and leaving millions homeless, John felt compelled to help. It was not his first international volunteer effort, but it was among the most dire. The devastation and suffering were tremendous, the people’s injuries catastrophic, and Haiti’s few hospitals ill equipped to treat even the most basic injuries. John plunged in, helping in any way he could. Since Haiti’s hospitals had sustained so much damage, he operated in non-sterile surgical theaters, trying to save as many lives as possible.

Since then, John has returned to Haiti dozens of times to provide medical care, to help build the hospital and health care infrastructure, and to offer assistance to the many orphanages that were needed after the quake. He helped to build an orthopedic residential program at Hospital Bernard Mevs, which has been restored and transformed into Haiti’s main trauma center. Over time, his mission has become focused on educating the local medical professionals so that improvements will become enduring. He has brought U.S. surgeons, nurses, and technicians with him to work with and mentor their counterparts at Bernard Mevs. When he visits, he brings surgical tools, hardware, and implants that he coaches Haiti surgeons to use.

Today, John leads efforts with Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps, a medical volunteer group founded in 1995 to help those in need all over the world.

In 2015, the University of Vermont presented him with the Outstanding Service to Medicine and Community Award for his “outstanding record of community-oriented medical service.”

The Middlebury Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award is presented to John “Bull” Durham ’80 in recognition of the personal achievements and the outstanding contributions he has made in his field. His distinguished accomplishments bring great credit to the College.

Robin Bell

Robin E. Bell ’80

Robin Elizabeth Bell has been blazing scientific trails since the day she graduated from Middlebury. To travel to her first job, for example, she and her now husband, Karl Coplan, built a 24-foot dory on the banks of Otter Creek and sailed from Vermont to the Hudson River, out to the Atlantic waterway, and on to Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

An intrepid explorer and researcher, and the Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Robin has pioneered a diverse array of achievements and made significant contributions to our understanding of the changing planet. Her work examines the implications of climate change on polar regions and adapts scientific instruments to produce new insights about them.

She played a central role in launching the 2007 International Polar Year—which pulled nearly 60,000 scientists from more than 63 nations for an intense campaign to research and explore polar regions. During the Polar Year, she led a major expedition to investigate the Gamburtsev Mountains, a mountain range larger than the Alps, completely covered with ice, and unexplored until then.

Robin has organized and participated in numerous expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland. She discovered a volcano beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet and several large lakes trapped under miles of ice. She has made multiple important discoveries about ice sheet dynamics, overturning long-held assumptions. For example, she demonstrated that water hidden beneath the ice sheet runs uphill and that ice sheets can thicken from below.

Beyond polar regions, Robin has led research projects on the Hudson River. One project involved mapping the Hudson River from Staten Island to Albany. Her team identified critical habitats and contaminated deposits and discovered dozens of sunken ships and artifacts dating back to the Revolutionary War.

In her role as a senior research scientist at one of the world’s top science institutes, Robin serves as an example for women who wish to enter science fields. She is actively involved in promoting the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in science and engineering, and is an outspoken advocate for women in the sciences, including speaking out about sexual and gender-based harassment in labs and on expeditions. Robin served as the director of ADVANCE at the Earth Institute of Columbia University, a program funded by the National Science Foundation designed to expand opportunities for women in science and engineering.

Robin was the first woman to chair the National Academy of Sciences Polar Research Board. She was voted by her peers to be president of the American Geophysical Union. The professional scientific organization has more than 65,000 members in 139 countries. Robin assumed the presidency in 2019. In 2011, the National Academy of Science’s Polar Research Board named a mile-long Antarctic ridge “Bell Buttress” in Robin’s honor.. Middlebury College awarded her an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 2006.

The Middlebury Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award is presented to Robin Bell ’80 in recognition of the personal achievements and the outstanding contributions she has made in her field. Her distinguished accomplishments bring great credit to the College.