40 Under 40, UCR Launches Search for Innovative, Early-Career Alumni
UCR's top-ranking education has given rise to a community of Highlander Alumni with exceptional career success, well-deserved accolades, and extraordinary achievements. The university has developed this new alumni recognition program to celebrate bold, industry-leading individuals working to change the world. The inaugural list will feature 40 of our exceptional alumni under the age of 40 and will be included in a special feature in the UCR Magazine issue for spring 2022.
The nomination period is open from October 5, 2021, through January 14, 2022. Self-nominations will be accepted.
Exceptional Education, Renowned Alumni
UC Riverside is one of the most dynamic universities in the nation and it's alumni like you that add to the rise of the university. Our rich history includes extraordinary alumni of all ages and we've built an extensive list of those with notable achievements. Distinguished alumni include a Nobel Laureate, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a United States Ambassador, a Poet Laureate, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. UCR is committed to recognizing the accomplishments of our alumni and ask our Highlander community to help us identify more of these individuals.
Below please see the criteria for each category of notable alumni.
Our more than 130,000 alumni have each gone on to make their mark in a variety of fields. Update us with your noteworthy accomplishments.
The following list* is a sampling of notable alumni with unique accomplishments. These alumni have used their UCR education to make a distinct mark in the world, strengthening the Highlander name and our community’s sense of pride.
Richard R. Schrock ’67 (Chemistry) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2006
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry.
Academia, Science, & Technology
L. Vaughn Blankenship ’56 (Political Science)
UCR charter student, PhD from Cornell University. Held faculty positions at UC Berkeley and SUNY Buffalo. Charter member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service holding executive positions at the National Science Foundation and U.S. Office of Management and Budget; at the University of Illinois, Chicago, associate chancellor, professor, director, professor emeritus of public administration in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. Received the 1999 Outstanding Faculty Member by Public Policy and Public Service Programs at UIC.
Tod Burnett ’85 (Political Science, Administrative Studies)
Tod Burnett served as president of Saddleback College from 2008 to 2017 and is now the Executive Vice Chancellor of Advancement and Special Projects at Brandman University.
Michael Devirian ’66 (Physics) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2014
Mission Control for the Mars Mariner and Lunar Lander Missions from 1966-70. He was also the operations manager for the Hubble Space Telescope and Camera Installation.
David Cyril Geary, M.A. ’84 (Psychology), Ph.D. ’86 (Psychology)
2012 AAAS Fellow. He is a Curators’ Professor in the department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Shah Selbe ’04 (Engineering) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 2014
National Geographic Explorer.
Tim D White ’72 (Anthropology, Biology) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2000
2010 Time 100 Most Influential People.
Arts, Film, & Literature
Steve Breen ’92 (Political Science), T.C. ’94 *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 1999
Editorial cartoonist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (1998 and 2009).
Jamie Chung ’05 (Economics)
An american actress first seen on MTV’s reality show, The Real World: San Diego. Jaime’s notable films include Sorority Row, The Hangover Part II, Sucker Punch, and the TV show Once Upon a Time.
Billy Collins, M.A. ’65, Ph.D. ’71 (English)
Poet Laureate for the United States from 2001-2003.
Robert Del Grande, Ph.D. ’81 (Biochemistry) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2010
One of the most celebrated chefs of America.
Elizabeth George ’70 (English), T.C. ’73 *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2011
New York Times and international bestselling author.
Rigoberto González ’92 (English/Creative Writing) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 2003
American writer and book critic. He is an editor and author of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and bilingual children’s books. His projects include Our Lady of the Crossword, a chapbook of poetry, and Mariposa U., the third book in The Mariposa Club trilogy. He is the 2015 recipient of the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from The Publishing Triangle.
Michael “Butch” Johnson ’76 (Psychology)
Spent 10 seasons in the NFL playing in five NFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls, winning a World Championship with the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII.
Hank Kanalz ’90 (Sociology)
Senior Vice President, Vertigo and Integrated Publishing, DC Entertainment.
Shola Lynch, M.A. ’95 (History) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2011
Peabody Award-winning documentarian known for Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012), Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004) and We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can’t Afford to Miss (2014).
Nakul Dev Mahajan ’02 (Sociology) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 2011
Nakul, considered “Hollywood’s Favorite Bollywood Choreographer.” He currently is a choreographer on the hit FOX television show So You Think You Can Dance.
Shakina Nayfack, M.F.A. ’06 (Experimental Choreography), Ph.D. ’09 (Critical Dance Studies)
Transgender and social activist who plays the part of Lola on the second season of the Hulu comedy series Difficult People that is co-executive produced by Amy Poehler.
Edward Mooney, M.A. ’82 (Geography)
Author, “The Pearls of the Stone Man.”
Business, Law, & Politics
Susan Atherton ’77 (Administrative Studies)
Susan is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross Bay Area and was awarded the American Red Cross Presidential Award for Excellence in 2011. The prestigious national award recognizes outstanding employee and volunteer performance.
Edward Blakely ’60 (History) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus, 2007
Served as the Executive Director of Recovery Management for the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Ruben Barrales ’84 (Political Science and Administrative Studies) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 1998.
Former Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush, and was also the Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. He also served as the CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Jack Clarke Jr. ’80 (Administrative Studies)
Named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Attorneys in California.
Paul Cook, M.A. ’00 (Political Science)
Paul was elected in 2012 as a U.S. Representative California’s 8th congressional district. He has held leadership posts with his local United Way and Red Cross chapters and served as past Executive Director of the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce. Paul is a member of the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and American Legion.
David S. Cunningham, Jr. ’62 (Political Science)
David S. Cunningham, Jr. was an elected member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1973 to 1987. He served as the Chair of the Carter California Delegation in 1976, on the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities, and is a former member of the Board of Southern California Association of Governments.
Julie Furuta-Toy ’81 (Comparative Literature)
U.S. Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea where she has held office since January 2016. Prior to her current role, she was the U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Norway from 2013 – 15.
Michael Huerta ’78 (Political Science) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus, 1986
The chief of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Jose Medina ’74 (Latin American Studies), M.A. ’84 (History)
Jose Medina was elected as a representative assembly member in 2012. He is a Democrat representing the 61st district, encompassing parts of northwestern Riverside County. Prior to being elected to the state assembly, he was a teacher and Riverside Community College District trustee.
Byron Pollitt, Jr. ’73 (Economics) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2015
Served as the Chief Financial Officer for Visa, Inc.
Virginia Phillips ’79 (History), J.D. *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2013
Phillips was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be a district judge for the Central District. Phillips ruled that the U.S. Department of Defense’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unconstitutional and issued a permanent worldwide injunction ordering the military to immediately “suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or another proceeding, that may have been commenced” under “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
V. Manuel Perez ’95 (Political Science, Ethnic Studies)
Elected in November 2008 to represent the 80th Assembly District in the California State Assembly.
Andre Quintero ’96 (Political Science) *Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus 2010
The Mayor of El Monte. He previously served two terms on the Board of Trustees of the Rio Hondo Community College District.
Anthony Rendon, Ph.D. ’00 (Political Science)
Dr. Rendon was elected in 2012 to represent California’s 63rd Assembly District. In 2015 he was elected as the Speaker Designate for the California State Assembly. He also served as adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at CSU, Fullerton from 2001 to 2008. He previously worked with the California League of Conservation Voters (CLVG); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; AIDS Walk Los Angeles; and Refugio Para Niños Foster Family Agency.
Gloria Romero, M.A., ’80 (Psychology), Ph.D. ’83 (Psychology)
Elected to the 24th Senate District in 2001, she was elected by her peers to serve as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair and as Senate Majority Leader – the first woman ever to hold that leadership position in the history of the California State Senate.
Pedram Salimpour ’90 (Biology)
Senior Vice President at CareNex Health Services and a leader in the Los Angeles County Medical Association.
Stan Sniff ’80 (Philosophy) *Alumni Association Public Service Award, 2005
Stan has served as the 13th Sheriff of Riverside County since 2007 and has over 3 decades of service in law enforcement. He is the grandson of one of the pioneering date and citrus growing families of the Coachella Valley.
Mark Takano, T.C. ’88, MFA ’10
Mark was elected to the United States House of Representatives 2012. He has also served on the Riverside Community College Board of Trustees since 1990.
Cory Butner ’05 (Statistics)
Olympic level bobsledder who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and was on the silver medalist team for the 2012-13 World Cup.
Gary McCord ’71 (Economics)
American professional golfer, commentator, author, and actor. During his years on tour, he had nearly two dozen top-10 finishes. has also written two books, Just a Range Ball in a Box of Titleists and Golf for Dummies.
Brenda Martinez ’10 (Sociology)
Brenda is a three-time All-American and in 2013 took home the bronze medal in the 800m at the World Championships and became the 1st US woman to medal in the 800m. In 2015 she set the world record in the distance relay at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
Brendan Steele ’05 (Business Administration)
Brendan is a professional golfer on the PGA Tour winning his first title in 2011 and his second in 2016.
Juliet Beni ’08 (Psychology), M.A. ’10 (Psychology), Ph.D. ’12 (Psychology)
Juliet is the youngest Ph.D. graduate ever at UCR at just 19 years old. Her parents, Gerardo Beni and Susan Hackwood, are both engineering professors at UC Riverside. After graduation, she will continue at UCR as part of the Haider program in Biomedical Sciences and hopes to receive an M.D. from UCLA.
Marigold Linton ’58 (Psychology) *Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2012
Marigold is Cahuilla-Cupeno, and an enrolled member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. She is the first California reservation Indian to have ever left a (California) reservation to go to a university. She is reportedly the 17th American Indian to have ever earned a Ph.D. in any discipline.
Roy Overstreet ’58 (Physics)
The first African American to receive a degree from UCR. He also has the distinction of becoming the country’s first Black oceanographer, and worked for nearly 30 years tracking oil spills and nuclear material in oceans.