The Top 15

Categories: General News

Noble Niners, indeed. On Friday, April 1, the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association bestowed its 2020 and 2021 Alumni Awards to 15 impressive individuals for their service to the University. Two celebratory events were held to recognize each award class at the UNC Charlotte Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, hosted by Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber and Sallie Sistare, director of alumni engagement. Frenchie Wilson Brown ’91 and Krista Manns ’95, the current and past presidents of the Alumni Board of Directors, respectively, presented the awards.

Nominations for the 2023 Alumni Awards are open. To learn more about each award and its qualifications, click here.

2021 Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumni Award

Craig Albert, along with his wife Darla, has established two student success programs at UNC Charlotte, the Albert Engineering Leadership Scholars Program and the Freeman Scholarship, which invest in superior students who have demonstrated excellence in academic achievement, leadership and community engagement. As a result of their incredible generosity, in 2020, the Albert & Freeman Energy Production and Infrastructure Center building was named in honor of the Alberts for the immeasurable impact they have made at UNC Charlotte. Currently, Albert serves as president and chief operating officer of Bechtel Group Inc., where he is responsible for the management and oversight of Bechtel’s global operations, is chairman of the operating committee and serves on the company’s board of directors.

For more about Craig Albert, read his full bio.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Susan Jamison earned an accounting degree from the University’s Belk College of Business before going to work for Belk Inc., where she held several positions, including vice president and tax advisor, retiring from the company in 2014. Currently, Jamison manages her own consulting firm, Wealth Matters LLC, helping family offices and private foundations. One of her passions is supporting UNC Charlotte, and she uses her career success to give back to the University and community. In 2018, she established the Susan N. Jamison Accounting Scholarship to support rising juniors and seniors from North Carolina enrolled in the Turner School of Accountancy, giving preference to those like herself who are first-generation college students and from the state’s rural areas.

For more about Susan Jamison, read her full bio.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Demond Martin

Demond Martin is a successful businessman, investor, philanthropist and dedicated servant of upward mobility and supporter of the underserved. He is currently a partner at Adage Capital management in Boston and serves on the Obama Foundation’s Board of Directors. Martin and wife Kia ‘98, have focused their philanthropic efforts on addressing the gaps created by racial and social injustice, with an emphasis on education and health care. They established the UNC Charlotte Martin Scholars Program, a leading merit scholar opportunity supporting high-achieving students who have the highest level of financial need. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin made contributions to the Student Emergency Fund, established to aid Charlotte students dealing with the difficulties of the pandemic.

For more about Demond Martin, read his full bio.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Jason Saine completed a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He is married to Kathryn Saine, an alumna who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1997 and a master’s in health administration in 2001. Their son, Jackson, is an avid Charlotte 49ers fan. Saine’s greatest contributions to the University are evident in his tireless advocacy for the campus including building legislative support among his colleagues. He was instrumental in securing funding for transformative campus projects, including the recently completed science building, the University Recreation Center and Levine Hall. Most recently, Saine helped secure $9 million in CARES Act funding — the largest state appropriation for research in Charlotte’s history — for UNC Charlotte to conduct cutting-edge pandemic research and wastewater testing which helped save lives and kept students on campus to the greatest extent possible.

For more about Jason Saine, read his full bio.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Tiffani Teachey currently serves as a senior mechanical engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company’s global product and services, design engineering/plant modifications unit. From co-founding the Charlotte Professional Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers to serving on the board of the Black Political Caucus of Mecklenburg County and as a leader in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Teachey is the epitome of giving back to the causes she loves, including UNC Charlotte. She is a driving force for alumni engagement in The William States Lee College of Engineering. Teachey is a forward-thinking engineer with a proven track record of success in developing and executing strategic plans to drive organization goals while cultivating an environment of excellence. She represents her profession and civic commitments with a passion and dedication that is second to none.

For more about Tiffani Teachey, read her full bio.

Outstanding Young Alumnus Award

Larry Ogunjobi, following three years with the Cleveland Browns, just finished his fourth season in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ogunjobi was the first 49er to be selected in the NFL Draft, the first to play in an NFL game and the first to go to the Super Bowl. With a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University’s College of Computing and Informatics, he was known as a “gentle giant” by his professors and driven by his constant desire to excel on the field and in the classroom. It is that drive that still fuels him every day. Ogunjobi, a member of the 49ers’ first recruiting class, was the first to wear the honorary No. 49 jersey, the first 49er to earn first-team all-Conference USA honors and the first to surpass 200 career tackles. While Ogunjobi’s on-field achievements stacked up, he also had a desire to make an impact off the field. Once in Cleveland, he stayed engaged with the Charlotte organization Dream on 3, providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences to children with chronic illnesses, intellectual and developmental disabilities, or life-altering conditions.

For more about Larry Ogunjobi, read his full bio.

Distinguished Faculty Award

A pioneer in the field of children’s literature, English professor Mark West, Ph.D., is a luminary in his profession, known not only for his thought-provoking and impeccable research but for his excellence in teaching and his dedication to area school districts and the Charlotte community. West has been cultivating relationships between the University and the community since joiningUNC Charlotte in 1984. He was the recipient of the Gov. James E. Holshouser Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service, given by the UNC System Board of Governors. He also was the recipient of the UNC Charlotte Bonnie Cone Professorship in Civic Engagement in 2019 and the Anne Devereaux Jordan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Literature, the most prestigious honor given in his field.

For more about Mark West, read his full bio.

Honorary Alumni Award

Sadler and Debbie Barnhardt have embraced UNC Charlotte as an extension of their community and city. The Barnhardts have been significant donors to 49ers athletics over the years, impacting every aspect of the program. In spring 2020, the Barnhardts supported RallyGreen, an initiative that allowed UNC Charlotte to make scholarship support available to spring student-athletes to extend their eligibility by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to their generous financial support, the Barnhardts spend their time at UNC Charlotte, regularly attending campus and athletic events. Sadler serves on the UNC Charlotte Athletics Foundation Board and chairs the finance committee. Because of Sadler’s hard work and dedication, he is one of only two individuals to hold director emeritus status for long-time service. The Barnhardts give generously of their time, talent and treasure, serving as role models for students, alumni, colleagues and community members.

For more about Sadler and Debbie Barnhardt, read their full bio.

2020 Award Recipients

Bonnie E. Cone Lifetime Achievement Award

John Cato refers to himself as a dedicated business leader, philanthropist and ardent supporter of UNC Charlotte. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University’s Belk College of Business, he joined Cato Corporation, a leading specialty retailer of value-priced fashion apparel and accessories founded in 1946 by his father and uncle. Cato was inducted into the UNC Charlotte Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2016, Cato and the Cato Corporation made a $5 million-dollar gift to establish the Cato Scholarship for Education and the Cato Award for Faculty Excellence to prepare a new generation of teachers. The College of Education was named the Cato College of Education for the Cato Corporation in honor of the Cato’s commitment to North Carolina’s children and their educators.

For more about John Cato, read his full bio.

Distinguished Alumna Award

Wendy Grubbs currently serves as an independent consultant, following a career spanning more than 30 years in legal, government and corporate positions. In addition to serving as special assistant to the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, she was a managing director of Citigroup. Grubbs earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and completed a law degree from Wake Forest University School of Law. She spent time as a law clerk and adjunct professor, and practiced law in the private sector before starting her longtime career in Washington, D.C. and New York. Grubbs joined the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees in 2021.

For more about Wendy Grubbs, read her full bio.

Distinguished Alumnus Award

With 50 years of experience in the car wash business, Chuck Howard is one of the most highly regarded car wash operators in America. Even before earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University’s Belk College of Business, he worked alongside his father, Charlie Howard Sr., Autobell’s founder. He is now the owner of Autobell along with his three children and serves as the company’s CEO. In 2000, he established the Autobell Scholarship Program, awarding more than 1,000 scholarships totaling more than $1 million to deserving employees seeking a college education. Howard’s generous support has given new opportunities to future leaders. He enjoys employing high school students who start off washing cars, mature and develop into executive roles and remain at Autobell.

For more about Chuck Howard, read his full bio.

Outstanding Young Alumna Award

Shabari Basu is an accomplished businesswoman, scientist and engineer. Currently, Basu serves as vice president of project development for NTE Energy, where she plays a key role in their growing renewable energy projects. Basu earned an MBA from the University’s Belk College of Business in an unprecedented one and a half years, while working full-time as a technical leader for Duke Energy. An inspiration to young professionals to improve themselves and the environment they are living in, she holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in space sciences from the California Institute of Technology. In 2017, she was honored with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award from the Belk College of Business. In 2016, she was named an honoree of the Charlotte Business Journal Women in Business awards.

For more about Shabari Basu, read her full bio.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University’s College of Arts + Architecture, Kevin Brawley became an award-winning Charlotte-Mecklenburg School music educator at Torrence Creek Elementary in Huntersville, North Carolina, where he taught for over nine years. Every child had a voice in Brawley’s classroom and choir, which is why he developed the Quarter Notes where all students who signed up for the after-school choir were accepted and welcomed. In 2019, he was honored by the Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation as a Music Teacher of Excellence, a recognition given to only 30 music educators across the United States.

For more about Kevin Brawley, read his full bio.

Distinguished Faculty Award

Since joining UNC Charlotte in 1998, Jeffrey Leak, Ph.D., has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses and his students describe him as “intriguing and energetic.” As a professor of English, director of the American Studies Program and a faculty fellow for the Martin Scholars, Leak has been a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion throughout his career. Most recently, he was among the recipients of a new American Association of University Administrators award for a special issue of the Journal of Higher Education Management that focuses on the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial justice and equity.

For more about Jeffrey Leak, read his full bio.

Honorary Alumnus Award

At the time of his retirement on June 30, 2020, Philip L. Dubois, Ph.D., UNC Charlotte’s fourth chancellor, was the senior chancellor in the University of North Carolina System. He led the System’s fastest-growing and third-largest institution, directing a 43% growth in enrollment, an expansion of academic programs, implementation of diversity-related initiatives, growth in research funding and significant construction and renovation of campus facilities. In 1991, he was recruited to UNC Charlotte, where he has served five and a half years as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. In 1997, he became president of the University of Wyoming, and in 2005, he was named chancellor of UNC Charlotte. Dubois increased the University’s visibility in the Charlotte region and beyond, with undergraduate enrollment reaching nearly 30,000 under his leadership. Dubois has been recognized regionally and nationally as an expert in higher education, earning many awards and accolades during his respected career.

For more about Philip L. Dubois, read his full bio.