Each year, the College of Arts and Sciences recognizes outstanding alumni for their contributions to their fields and to the lives of others. The winners of the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards will be honored during this fall’s Homecoming and Reunion Weekend, Oct. 12-15.

Distinguished Undergraduate Alumni Award

Brian Keating, PhD (CWR ’93, Physics)

Brian Keating is a Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of physics at the Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences (CASS) in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. He is a public speaker, inventor, and an expert in the study of the universe’s oldest light, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), using it to learn about the origin and evolution of the universe.  

Keating is a writer and podcaster and the best-selling author of one of Amazon Editors’ Best Non-fiction Books of All Time, “Losing the Nobel Prize.”  It was  ranked a Best Science Book of the Year by Science Friday, Physics Today, Forbes Magazine

He co-leads the Simons Observatory Cosmic Microwave Background experiments in the Atacama Desert that work to provide breakthrough discoveries in fundamental physics, cosmology, and astrophysics.

Keating received an NSF CAREER award in 2006 and a 2007 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for a telescope he invented and deployed at the U.S. South Pole Research Station called “BICEP”.  He was also named Fellow of the American Physical Society and holds two patents.

Keating earned an undergraduate degree in Physics from Case Western Reserve University and went on to complete his PhD at Brown University.  

Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award

Michael Jirousek, PhD (GRS ’89, Chemistry)

Michael Jirousek was the founding Chief Operating Officer of Frequency Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company in the Boston area focused on restoring function by developing therapeutics that activate a person’s innate regenerative potential. Prior to Frequency, he co-founded Catabasis Pharmaceuticals and served as Chief Scientific Officer, where his contributions helped create several potential new therapeutics and guided the company to an IPO in 2015. 

During his almost 30-year career, Jirousek has overseen hundreds of R&D programs and has brought more than 15 new therapeutics from discovery into clinical study to address muscular dystrophy, dyslipidemia, cancer and a variety of metabolic diseases. Jirousek is the former Senior Vice President of Research for Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, acquired by GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 after an IPO in 2007. He also led the metabolic disease therapeutic area at Pfizer’s Laboratories in La Jolla, California and has had leadership roles at Abbott Laboratories and Eli Lilly. 

Jirousek holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Case Western Reserve University and completed his postdoctoral study at Harvard University. He recently joined the Chemistry department faculty as an adjunct professor.

Professional Achievement Award

Mark Chao, MD, PhD (CWR ’04, Biology)

Mark Chao, MD, PhD is a physician-scientist and biotech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in oncology research. Chao is venture partner at Foresite Labs and he was co-founder and Senior Vice President of clinical development at Forty Seven, Inc., an immuno-oncology company developing macrophage-directed therapeutics which was acquired by Gilead Sciences in 2020. 

In addition to Forty Seven, Chao most recently co-founded TenSixteen Bio, a company working to discover and develop novel therapeutics to treat age-related diseases. In 2018 he launched HepaTx, which is focused on using stem cell therapy as an alternative to transplant in treating liver disease. 

Chao is dedicated to improving therapies for patients with cancer and  has successfully treated patients using novel therapies, identified new therapeutic targets, and developed therapies that have moved to Phase 3 clinical trials. Chao helped lead research and oversaw clinical development of magrolimab, a first-in-class CD47 targeting antibody across multiple cancers from early to late stage development. 

Chao earned his BA in Biology from CWRU. He received his PhD in cancer biology in the lab of Dr. Irving Weissman, MD and conducted his internal medicine and hematology training at Stanford University. He serves on the board of directors for Hepatx Corporation, the Silicon Valley chapter of the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and on the scientific advisory board of TigaTx.

Distinguished Service Award

Sandra Kauter Kops, PhD (FSM ’72, Nutrition)

Sandra Kraeuter Kops, PhD is the president and science director of Nutrition Security Solutions, Inc., a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that provides innovative food services to elderly and disabled clients facing food insecurity. She started NSS as a small food supplement pantry that serviced 28 seniors, and quickly expanded to 150 residents. It now provides over 3,000 meals a month. Sandra has been working in this field since 2017. 

After completing a degree in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, Kops attended graduate school at Cornell, earning her PhD. Kops’s early career was as an associate research scientist at Yale University, devoting many years to laboratory work focused on what is now known as the gut “microbiome,” the collection of microorganisms in the digestive system that play a key role in digesting food and absorbing and synthesizing nutrients.

Later, as Kops served on a number of nonprofit boards, she saw first-hand the impact of food insecurity, particularly on underserved populations in public housing facilities.  She now leverages technology already in many low-income homes to give people choice, dignity, and anonymity in selecting nutritious food delivered to their home. 

Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Shikha Tandon (GRS ’12, Biology)

Shikha Tandon has combined athletic achievement and academic pursuits into a career committed to raising excellence in sports. Shika is an Olympian swimmer and the first Indian swimmer to qualify for two events at the Olympics – the 50 m and 100 m Freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics.  She is also an Arjuna Awardee,  the second-highest sporting honor of India. Tandon won 37 International medals for India, 146 National medals, and created 75 National Records. 

In her professional career, she has combined her academic knowledge and athletic experiences to work as the Science Program Lead at the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Tandon is currently  the Director of Partnerships, Silicon Valley Exercise Analytics (SVEXA), an exercise intelligence and sports analytics company. 

Tandon has presented at TEDx and serves on the Board of Directors for a non-profit organization, Bridges of Sports.  The organization provides athletic training programs to children from tribal and underserved communities in India.

Tandon holds an MS in Biology and Biotechnology from Case Western Reserve University and a BS in Biotechnology, Genetics, Biochemistry from Bangalore University. 

Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Irina Yakubenko (CWR’14, Political Science)

Irina Yakubenko is currently Senior Manager of Strategic Planning with luxury jewelry and watchmaker Cartier. In this role, she guides the direction and brand strategy of Cartier North 

America’s marketing and communications and leads major product and client-oriented initiatives. 

Prior to her work at Cartier, Yakubenko served as Head of Brand and Social at IBM Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) where she was the youngest member of the EMEA Marketing leadership team. She began her decade-long career with IBM as an information developer, writing technical documentation with fortune 500 banks.  She later joined the marketing team and served as the communications lead for the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. Her marketing work has been published in various press publications.  She has received three Chief Marketing Officer Awards from Adweek for demonstrable impact to IBM, in addition to external press.

Irina studied Political Science and Marketing while at CWRU. After graduation, she was awarded the Eva L. Pancoast Memorial Fellowship to study political culture at the National University of Kyiv.