Since 1986, the UCR Alumni Association has honored graduates who personify the university’s tradition of excellence and service. Through their personal and professional achievements, these individuals bring distinction to UCR, contribute to the betterment of society and enhance their communities.
Honorees are celebrated and presented their awards at our annual awards ceremony. Learn about the 2019 award recipients below.
Distinguished Alumnus Award
The most prestigious honor bestowed by the UCR Alumni Association, the Distinguished Alumnus Award is based on national and international distinction in one’s field and significant contribution to humankind.
Helen Newman ’79
Helen Newman attended UCR from 1975-1979 and earned a BS degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in neuroanatomy from the University of Washington in 1983. Newman is the founder of Veterinary Transplant Services, Inc. and developed a surgical veterinary orthopedic product that is only one of its kind in the world. She and her team manufacture cadaveric biologically compatible orthopedic bone products for dogs, cats, and horses in a state of the art laboratory. Her company provides medical device companies with a source of animal tissue grafts that can reduce patient morbidity, operative time, and costs. Newman's facility also produces soft tissue and cornea allografts for transplant in animals.
Newman is also an internationally recognized expert in tissue typing and research. She has actively served the American Association of Tissue Banks as a member of the Standards and Procedures Committee, a tissue bank inspector, and as an elected member of the Board of Governors and Chair of the Tissue Bank Council. She is the founder of Progenica Therapeutics, LLC, which develops technologies to aid in the creation of novel molecules used to stimulate healing in biological settings.
Alumni Service Award
This award honors superior service in the public sector or a sustained pattern of volunteer service in the community, arts or for the benefit of UCR that has positively represented the university and fellow citizens.
Jerry Swain ’89
Jerry Swain graduated from UCR with a BS in business administration in 1989. He founded and served as CEO of Jer’s Chocolates, a company he conceptualized while living in the Aberdeen Inverness dorms. In 2014, he sold the business and became President of West Coast Operations. He now serves as a professional speaker, Partner at CEO Coaching International, and Chair for TIGER 21 in San Diego.
He has a long history of service to the community and the university, including 14 years as a UCR Alumni Association board member. His Jer’s (Chocolate) Cares Initiative donated over $250,000 to more than 80 local and national charities. He has served on many boards of directors for the American Cancer Society - San Diego, Young Professionals Against Cancer, and the San Diego Food Bank. He is a committed volunteer and advocate for the Special Olympics. For more than 25 years, Swain has volunteered to speak at K-12 schools throughout Southern California.
Outstanding Young Alumnus Award
This award recognizes alumni aged 40 or younger with a significant record of career and/or civic achievement and promise in their profession.
Sabrina Cervantes ’09
Assembly Member Sabrina Cervantes graduated with a BA in political science in 2009. She then completed an executive education program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2013. Cervantes was elected in November 2016 to represent California's 60th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Corona, Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Norco, and Riverside.
Cervantes' top priorities include veterans, public safety, transportation, higher education, and the economy. In her first year, she secured a $2 million allocation for a resource center for veterans at Norco College. She has authored legislation to support and protect California's veterans, seniors, students, and families. Cervantes also served as a director for the Legislature and the California Voter Project.
Prior to serving in the Assembly, she worked with community organizations to enhance the local economy and improve access to quality education and governmental services. Cervantes is a member of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and previously served on the board of directors for non-profit organizations, TruEvolution and Women Wonder Writers. She is also a member of the UCR School of Public Policy Advisory Board. One of her most notable acts was to work alongside Assembly Member Jose Medina to help fund the start of UCR's School of Medicine.
Who is eligible for nomination?
Current members of the UCR Alumni Association Board of Directors are not eligible for nomination.
Who can make nominations?
Alumni, friends, former award recipients, professional colleagues and members of the UCR community are encouraged to submit nominations.
Nominations from colleagues and associates will be given greater consideration than self-nominations.
What is required of nominees?
The awardees must attend the awards ceremony. The awards may not be conferred in absentia; however, they may be granted posthumously.
Can an individual be nominated in multiple categories?
Nominations are accepted in multiple categories; however, the Awards Committee reserves the right to consider nominees for the category it deems most appropriate.
When should nominations be submitted?
Nominations for the Alumni Awards of Distinction are accepted year-round. Nominees not selected for the current year will remain on file for three years for future consideration. The same paperwork may be used for an additional two years before a new nomination is required. However, those who wish to submit new paperwork are welcome to do so.