Celebrating the 2017 Communication Alumni of Distinction

Every year, the UW Department of Communication honors outstanding alumni who are making a difference in their careers and out in their communities by inducting them into the Department’s Alumni Hall of Fame. We also recognize the exceptional work of our recent graduates through the Outstanding Early Career Award, as well as celebrating the invaluable contributions of those who receive the Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

The 2017 awardees were honored at a ceremony on the evening of Wednesday, October 4 at the University of Washington Club on the UW campus. Selections were made based on input from faculty, staff, and current Communication Hall of Fame members.

This year’s honorees were a diverse group of exceptional individuals from all areas of the industry. From champions of community journalism, to business development, virtual reality experience pioneers and Los Angeles storytellers, these outstanding alumni were honored for excellence within their careers and also for their dedication to their respective communities.

The ceremony took place in the main dining room of the University of Washington Club, showcasing Lake Washington, a stunning harvest moon, and the Cascade Mountains. Friends, family members, faculty, and other supporters of the Department filled the room. After remarks by Department Chair David Domke and new Divisional Dean of Social Sciences George Lovell, each honoree was introduced and invited to speak before the audience.

Journalism lecturer Andrea Otanez first introduced Kaci Aitchison (B.A., 2001), recipient of the Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring. Otanez spoke about Aitchison’s dedication to communication students and guiding them along their career paths, even when they were often anything but straightforward. Aitchison then came up to the podium and discussed the importance of mentorship during her own eventful career and how it inspired her to mentor others. “It’s all too easy to get lost in that transition from the structure of college to the chaos of the ‘real world,’” she explained. “When students have that connection with a mentor, it helps things click because it shows them how they can apply their skills and not limit themselves to any one vision.”

Communication Leadership Associate Director Anita Verna Crofts then delighted the audience with an introduction to My Tam Nguyen (B.A., 2006) that was literally poetic. In verse, Verna Crofts praised Nguyen’s achievements and named her a deserving recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Early Career Award. In a moving presentation, Nguyen thanked her family and dear friends for their continued support of her personal and professional efforts to make Seattle, if not the entire state of Washington, a place where she can “be with others and actually solve problems, not just throw money at them or bury them in political rhetoric. We have to use our incredible rate of innovation to bridge the huge inequalities that exist in this country.”

To end the first half of the program, Communication Leadership program Director Hanson Hosein then introduced Andrea Zeller (M.C., 2007), inaugural recipient of the Communication Leader Award. Hosein explained how Zeller embodies the program’s four core values: Creativity, Leadership, Story, and Community. He praised Zeller for fearlessly tackling challenges through creative stories that spark change. Zeller, currently a content strategist at Facebook’s Bay Area headquarters, said that she is proud of working with Comm Lead to support her peers. Referring to an event last year, she says, “I just felt this warmth coming from this community that I had helped to build.”

After a brief intermission, the second half of the celebration, honoring the 2017 Communication Hall of Fame inductees, began. Professor Carmen Gonzalez introduced Kriss Turner Towner (B.A., 1984), sharing Turner Towner’s story of determination as she worked hard to “make it” in Hollywood. “The day after graduation,” Gonzales said, “Kriss drove down to Los Angeles and worked in the Nordstrom shoe department during the day and wrote scripts at night.” In her remarks, Turner Towner extolled the power of storytelling and the community she found while a student at the UW. She encouraged any student interested in working in Los Angeles to reach out. “Tell me what you need,” she exclaimed. “We’ll talk, grab lunch, and I will do everything I can to help!”

The next inductee to be honored was Scott B. Wilson (B.A., 1978 | M.A., 1986), a champion of community journalism. Professor Richard Kielbowicz spoke of Wilson’s decades-long career, for which he’s received three dozen community media awards for journalism, photography, editorials, marketing and community service. Since 1989, Wilson and his wife Jennifer were co-owners, and then the sole owners, of the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader. “Good journalism has a deep and rapid impact on a community,” Wilson explained. “In Washington state, there are about 120 community newspapers, all of which are closely read and have a greater influence on what happens locally than any of the larger publications.” Wilson ended his remarks with an appeal for “young, morally strong people” to enter into journalism.

Journalism lecturer Caley Cook then introduced the final Hall of Fame inductee, Dolores Eyler (B.A., 1971). She noted that as a result of having moved so often due to family business opportunities, Eyler came to embrace the philosophy “that every single person, in every single place, has a story to tell.” She spoke of how Eyler had dedicated her life to telling these stories as a features reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, The Oregon Journal, and the Rocky Mountain News. Of her own career, Eyler says she often asks herself “what makes for a good life… is it being happy? Successful? Experiencing new things? All of those matter,” she said. “But giving of oneself to others is the key to all. Selfishly, it just feels good.”

To learn more about our award recipients, read their full biographies linked above, or watch their Chats with the Chair interviews. For information about any of our incredible Communication alumni, please contact Junko Westling at jpsakuma@uw.edu.