While students may know that Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin and Karen Carpenter are Cal State Long Beach alumni, they may not be aware of who the university chooses to recognize as their most illustrious alums.
The university grants awards to alumni who are deemed to have made positive contributions to the community and foster pride in the university through their accomplishments.
Winners will be recognized at the annual Alumni Awards Banquet this May, where one person will be chosen from each of the seven colleges at the university: arts, business administration, education, engineering, health and human services, liberal arts, natural sciences and mathematics.
Recipients will be acknowledged in the Alumni Association magazine, Beach Connection, on the association’s website and in the college commencement booklet.
“We just want this opportunity for us to identify alumni that have done great things,” said Gay Arakawa, executive director of the Alumni Association. “The success and achievements [of] our alumni is a reflection of how good this university is.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia was one of the seven winners of the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards, representing the College of Education. Other recipients have included the Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck; Denise Austin, known for her aerobics TV shows and books; and retired chief operating officer of the Long Beach transit systems, 2017 recipient Guy Heston. Heston created the U-pass program that allows students, faculty and staff to ride Long Beach transit for free through the use of a TAP card.
“I have a long-standing affinity with the university, but [winning] just sort of renews your affinity and makes you feel – at least it did for me – even better about the university,” Heston said. He said the award came as a shock. When he considers how proud his parents would be, he gets emotional.
Bill Shumard, president and CEO for the Southern California special olympics, won the award in 2015 from the College of Liberal Arts.
“Gay had called my office to say I had received the award,” Shumard said. “The woman that had received the call first told me that she thought it was a crank call, so I always say that success is relative.”
Storyboard artist and costume illustrator Robin Richesson won the award for the College of the Arts in 2007.
Richesson has illustrated costumes for several movies, such as “Forrest Gump,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Stuart Little,” “Ironman” and “The Polar Express.”
“I know [the award] looks nice on your resume and I have this little marble chunk on my dresser, but the award itself is nice,” Richesson said. “It makes you feel confident, but in terms of the film industry where I mostly do my work, they’re not particularly interested in academia.”
There’s so many notable alumni that come out of the College of the Arts, Richesson said that she feels embarrassed and self conscious to be given the award.
Arakawa said that it’s too soon to tell where next year’s awards will be held, but last year’s event took place at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach in the Regency ballroom with tickets that were $200 each.
The Alumni Awards Banquet is funded through ticket sales, ad sales or donors, according to Arakawa.
Recipients are chosen through a series of stages. Three potential winners are chosen by the Nominations Committee which contains members of the Alumni Association, Academic Senate, Staff Council, Administration and Associated Students. The seven winners are then selected by the Alumni Association Awards Committee.
According to Arakawa, the Distinguished Alumni Awards began in the ‘60s but there was only one given out of the whole university because of the smaller population and by the ‘80s recipients were selected from each college.
The annual banquet is supposed to promote a sense of community among all those involved with in the university.
Arakawa said that the association “hope[s] the awards will be an inspiration to students, that students will look to these alums and say ‘Wow. This person went here and I can maybe achieve that in some point in my life too.’”
Nominations for the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards are being accepted until Nov. 6 and can be from the university’s alumni, employees and students.
The nomination form and criteria information can be found on the university website.