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Celebrating Our Founding

What started in 1850 as the University of Deseret with just 25 students has grown to provide education for more than 30,000 students annually as the University of Utah. To commemorate this proud history, the U holds a Founders Day celebration each year to recognize and award alumni who have excelled professionally, served their communities, and supported the university in its mission. The awards are among the highest honors given by the U, and we’re proud to share the recipients’ stories.

“Public service is in my DNA. I get it from my parents. My father was a Mexican immigrant, and my mother was first-generation Mexican American. My dad used to say to me, ‘Take care of your people.’ As we wrestle with the challenges from the pandemic, I’ve seen people stepping up to help—checking in on neighbors to make sure they have food, lending a hand after someone loses a job. I’ve seen a fearless and selfless commitment to the public good, and that is so inspiring.”

Rebecca J. Chavez-Houck
BA’82 MPA’06 was a decade-long member of the Utah House of Representatives. She now provides leadership coaching and community engagement consulting through her public affairs firm, Aspira Public Affairs. She’s also an adjunct faculty member in the U’s Master of Public Administration Program.

“After I graduated from the U with a bachelor’s degree, I understood some things about sociology. But I left with a hole. I had no knowledge of myself as an African American male living in the United States of America. I found myself looking for identity. And I’ve had a chance as an educator to put some of what I learned from that search into the curriculum, back into the well whence I’ve drawn. And for that I’m very grateful. I am indebted to the faculty, colleagues, staff, and students whom I interacted with during my years on campus. Go Utes!”

Ronald G. Coleman
BS’66 PhD’80 was honored with a Humanitarian Award by the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice. He’s now an emeritus associate professor of history and ethnic studies. As a student-athlete he helped lead the Utes to their 1964 Liberty Bowl victory.

“In my 13-year tenure as dean of the College of Pharmacy, we grew from four faculty members to more than 50 and achieved national recognition for research funding and productivity. I’m very proud of my work with the Anticonvulsant Drug Development (ADD) Program, which I directed for many years. With decades of continuous NIH funding, we participated in discovery of more than 20 new drugs for the treatment of epilepsy. It’s immensely rewarding to see the ADD Program continue to grow and expand.”

Harold “Hal” Wolf
PhD’61 was dean of the U’s College of Pharmacy from 1976—1989 and was on faculty and consulted with the college until 2014. Hal and his wife, Joan, established an endowment for the Wolf Prize in the College of Pharmacy, as well as the Wolf and Meritus scholarships through University Neighborhood Partners.





As we mark the founding of the University of Utah in 1850, we want to recognize the work that is still ahead of us to critically review and question the histories related to the founding of our university. We recognize the enduring relationship between many indigenous people and their traditional homelands. We acknowledge that this land is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute peoples. The university remains committed to continued partnerships with Native Nations through research, education, and community engagement activities.

“I didn’t start out to be an educator. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I knew anything about college. I was just a small-town kid living the dream—climbing trees, fishing—and I loved learning. My grandmother was my first teacher in a little two-room schoolhouse in Antimony, Utah. Watching my grandmother create magic out of books instilled a sense of wonder in me. As an educator, I’ve tried to continue that tradition and help every student I come in contact with understand their potential.”

Sydnee Dickson
MEd’87 EdD’07 is Utah state superintendent of public instruction, with nearly 10 years’ experience working in the office of the Utah State Board of Education. Dickson has provided leadership and guidance for Utah’s K-12 system during the challenging times of the pandemic.

“Find environments where your uniqueness is appreciated. Those are the communities that will lift you up and allow you the freedom to share perspectives based on your own life experiences. You don’t have to be anyone else. Be you, and that will always be an asset. Sometimes it feels like everyone else has it all figured out. I’m here to tell you they don’t. So, don’t hold back. Try new things. Take risks and do what you want with your life.”

Sara Jones
HBS’98 is president of InclusionPro, which trains leaders on building inclusive cultures. She is passionate about women in STEM fields, and in 2007 she co-founded the Women Tech Council, a national organization focused on the economic impact of women in tech.

“We funded the first Wolf scholarship with University Neighborhood Partners in 2008. Since then, thanks to colleagues and friends, we now have more than 59 scholarships that have been awarded in the Wolf and Meritus scholarship programs and have raised more than $125,000. These scholarships help underserved students in the west side community to pursue postsecondary education. We’re inspired by the many excellent scholarship recipients now working in professional roles back in their communities.”

Joan S. Wolf
BS’60 is professor emerita of the U’s Graduate School of Education. Joan and her husband, Hal, established an endowment for the Wolf Prize in the College of Pharmacy, as well as the Wolf and Meritus scholarships through University Neighborhood Partners.

“I love teaching because at its core, teaching is storytelling. Whether it’s history, how to make a diagnosis, how to examine a patient, or any other topic—you’re telling a story. And I think the power of narrative drew me to radiology. A patient has a problem, and clinicians need an expert’s opinion. It’s like a game of Clue. We get to be the ones to open the envelope and tell people, ‘Mrs. Green did it in the dining room with the wrench!’ ”

Honorary Alum Anne Osborn Poelman, MD,
is recognized internationally for her contributions to the establishment of the field of neuroradiology. She is a Distinguished Professor of radiology at the U and was the first female president of the American Society of Neuroradiology.

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