URI presents Distinguished Achievement Awards, Oct. 17

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – October 15, 2015 – An education leader, business executive, Navy admiral, pharmaceuticals researcher, and an iconic Rhode Island company will share the spotlight at the University of Rhode Island’s 10th annual Distinguished Achievement Awards on Oct. 17 at the Newport Marriott. In addition, 18 leaders in a diverse array of disciplines will also be honored by URI’s colleges and the Graduate School of Oceanography.


The awards honor alumni and friends of URI who have brought distinction to themselves and the University through their professional achievements, outstanding leadership and/or community service.

The President’s Award recipients are:


David Bergeron (’78, senior fellow, Center for American Progress) served in the U.S. Department of Education for more than three decades, most recently as acting assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, where he led work on key policy issues including the agency’s highly praised response to students and universities affected by Hurricane Katrina. Since leaving the department in 2013, as vice president for postsecondary education policy and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, he worked on a wide range of higher education topics, from student debt and loan refinancing to alternative modes of educational delivery and quality assurance. He lives in Alexandria, Va.


Cynthia Deysher (’78, principal, Deysher Advisory Services) is principal of Deysher Advisory Services, an interior design company focused on residential properties. She previously served as the vice president of operations and chief financial officer for ArrowPoint Communications and held leadership positions at Shiva Corp. and Bytex Corp. A longtime supporter of URI, she established the Cynthia and Bryon Deysher Business Scholarship and, with members of her family, the Robert Edmund Marcille Memorial Scholarship. She lives in Concord, Mass.


Rear Adm. Robert Girrier’s (M.M.A. ’90, director, Unmanned Warfare Systems, United States Navy) Navy career has included leadership positions around the world. A surface warfare officer, he recently served as deputy commander, Pacific Fleet and as director of operations for the U.S. Pacific Command, overseeing military activities throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific. He commanded two carrier strike groups, supporting operation Enduring Freedom, and disaster response for Japan during Operation Tomodachi. Earlier, he commanded USS Roosevelt, Destroyer Squadron 15 and USS Guardian operating throughout the Mediterranean and the Pacific respectively. He lives in Honolulu.


Mostafa Omar (Ph.D. ’82) president, PhytoCeuticals, Inc.) has been researching and developing medicines derived from natural sources for more than 40 years. His cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical formulations—based primarily on the modern application of ancient herbal medicines—have built him a reputation as a world leader in medicinal natural product chemistry. He invented the world’s only stabilized liquid creatine and liquid vitamin C, earning him the moniker “Father of L-Ascorbic Acid.” Formerly a scientific advisor to the Ministry of Health in Egypt and to Egypt’s leading pharmaceutical company, he is the author of two books about toxic plants in Egypt. He lives in Franklin Lakes, N.J.


This year’s corporate honoree is CVS Health, the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States. It has been recognized multiple times as a Best Employer for Healthy Lifestyles, a Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality, one of the Top 10 Companies for Veterans, and scored 100 percent on the 2015 Corporate Equality Index.

The company employs more than 400 URI graduates and interns and has a long relationship with the URI Center for Career and Experiential Education. It has been extremely generous to URI through the years, with gifts totaling more than $6.3 million supporting numerous programs and colleges. The company is based in Woonsocket.


The Rising Star Award goes to Robinson Fulweiler (M.S. ’03, Ph.D. ’07, associate professor, Boston University), who holds appointments in both the Biology Department and the Earth & Environment Department at Boston University, where she has also served as associate director of the university’s Marine Program. Her research focuses on the biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen and other nutrients in aquatic systems like Narragansett Bay and other watersheds in New England. She has already published more than 40 research papers, including one based on her doctoral dissertation, which appeared in the prestigious journal, Nature. She lives in Cambridge, Mass.


Selected for the Athletic Director’s Award is Anthony Rose (’54, Hon. ’91, Chairman, Technical Industries, Inc.), who has been a leading supporter of URI and its athletics program for decades. A trustee of the URI Foundation, he served on the executive committee of the Fifth Quarter Club and the Men’s Basketball Fast Break Club. He has contributed to numerous scholarship funds and the Ryan Center and Mead Stadium projects, and he made the lead gift to the Anthony J. Rose Athletic Training and Sports Medicine Center. He is the recipient of the Alumni Ram Award and the Athletic Appreciation Award, and he was inducted into the URI Athletics Hall of Fame and the College of Business Administration Hall of Fame. He lives in Wakefield.

Each URI college will also recognize noted individuals with a Dean’s List Award. The honorees are:

Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education

Elaine Coderre (’89, former representative, District 60, Rhode Island House of Representatives) was the longest-serving member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives when she retired in 2014 after 30 years in office. She held roles on the House Oversight and House Rules Committees, served as Speaker Pro Tempore, and she authored several laws that strengthened penalties against domestic abusers and provided better protection for victims. She also sponsored a bill requiring health care providers to give mammogram patients more information, and a law providing temporary family paid leave for individuals caring for seriously ill relatives. She lives in Ormond Beach, Fla.

College of Arts and Sciences

Kathy O’Donnell-White (’90, senior vice president and head of public affairs, Citizens Financial Group, Inc.) leads Citizens Financial Group’s public affairs activities throughout the company’s 11-state retail operation, including management of its charitable contributions, community outreach, local sponsorships and colleague volunteerism. She serves on the board of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank where she recently chaired the agency’s successful “Empty Bowls” event. She served previously on the boards of Day One and Children’s Friend & Service where she chaired the development committee. She lives in Wakefield.


Robert Vincent (’75, senior vice president for human resources and public affairs, International Game Technology, PLC) is responsible for global human resources, facilities and support functions as well as corporate communications for the company formerly known as GTECH. He also leads the company’s branding and corporate social responsibility efforts. He previously served in a number of other capacities at GTECH, was a senior partner at the RDW Group, and held administrative positions in the offices of the Rhode Island governor and secretary of state and the Providence mayor. He lives in North Kingstown.

College of Business Administration

William Eigen (’90, managing director, founder and chief investment officer, Absolute Return Fixed Income, J.P. Morgan Asset Management), manager of the $21 billion J.P. Morgan Strategic Income Opportunities Fund, well known for his “common sense overlay” approach to managing money. International media outlets and investors value his “tell-it-like-it-is” communication style. During his 25-year career, he has pioneered democratization of hedge fund strategies that take “hedge” quite seriously. Before joining J.P. Morgan, he led Highbridge Capital Management’s Fixed Income Group and was lead portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments. He started his career at CIGNA. He lives in Southborough, Mass.


When Deborah Imondi (’83, M.B.A. ’86, executive director at Rhode Island 4-H Club Foundation, Inc.) retired from Textron in 2013, the former assistant treasurer chose to make a big investment in something close to her heart. The investment management executive with decades of experience at a Fortune 500 company was named executive director of the Rhode Island 4-H Club Foundation. She has been affiliated with 4-H for nearly 50 years, first as a young member and now as leader of the team dedicated to supporting 4-H programs and providing scholarships, awards, recognition, and travel opportunities for its youth. She lives in Johnston.

College of Engineering

Brent Cunningham (’96, managing director, Jefferies LLC) is a managing director and global head of packaging investment banking at Jefferies LLC, a global investment banking firm based in New York City. Cunningham has 15 years of investment banking experience, focusing on advising clients in the packaging and broader industrial and manufacturing sectors. His expertise is in mergers and acquisitions and general corporate finance activities, working on transactions with public and private companies of various sizes. Before joining Jefferies, Brent worked at Sagent Advisors and Bear Stearns & Co. He began his career as a manufacturing engineer at National Semiconductor Corp. He lives in Rye, N.Y.


Bill Jasper (’75, M.S. ’77, chairman and CEO, Unifi, Inc.) is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Unifi, Inc., a leading producer of multi-filament polyester and nylon textured yarns and related raw materials. Prior to his role as chairman of the board, he served as president and CEO, vice president of sales, and general manager of Unifi’s polyester division. Before joining Unifi, Jasper was the director of INVISTA’s DACRON® polyester filament business and held various management positions in operations, technology, sales and business for DuPont. He lives in Greensboro, N.C.

College of the Environment and Life Sciences

Aram Calhoun (M.S. ’89, professor of wetland ecology, University of Maine) is a leader in vernal pool ecology and the conservation of wetlands in the Northeast. The former director of the University of Maine’s Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program, she has given hundreds of workshops and presentations about wetlands, appeared in countless news reports, organized two major citizen science initiatives to map vernal pools in Maine, and testified numerous times before the Maine legislature about wetland ecology. She lives in Amherst, Maine.


John Grant (M.S. ’86, senior geologist, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) is one of the chairs of the Mars Exploration Rovers Science Operations Working Group, a long-term planner for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, and a co-investigator of the high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In addition, he co-chairs the Mars Landing Site Steering Committee and he is developing a ground-penetrating radar for possible future deployment to Mars. He is involved in the day-to-day operations of the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. He lives in Arlington, Va.

College of Human Science and Service

A veterinarian and fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health, Susan Corning (’75, veterinary advisor, World Organisation for Animal Health) has spent her career leading international programs addressing human and animal health and welfare. Specializing in “One Health” initiatives, she has consulted for Collaborating for Global Health and World Veterinary Consultants, led nonprofits, and held senior positions in the animal pharmaceuticals industry. Her experience working in developing countries motivated her to promote donor alliances, and she established the Global Health Philanthropy Summit, endorsed by Nobel Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Oscar Arias.


In his 32nd year with the NFL, Steve Watterson (’79, assistant head coach for strength and conditioning, Tennessee Titans) is considered a top strength and rehabilitation expert. His 30 years with the Titans is an NFL record for consecutive seasons by an assistant coach with the same organization. His innovative training methods are considered a standard for training elite athletes. Watterson has coached U.S. Army Special Forces instructors in kettlebell training and team building. He was named Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year and earned the Professional Football Strength Coaches Society’s President’s Award. He lives in Hendersonville, Tenn.

College of Nursing

Mary Beth Mancini (M.S. ’82, professor and senior associate dean for education innovation, University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation) is senior associate dean, professor and chair for undergraduate nursing programs at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Her research interests include innovative teaching strategies, collaboration among different professions, and the use of simulation to create high-performing health care teams. She previously was senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Parkland Health & Hospital System. She lives in Dallas.


A nurse for more than 40 years, Anne Manton (Ph.D. ’95, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, Cape Cod Hospital and editor-in-chief, Journal of Emergency Nursing) has been involved in nursing education for more than two decades and serves as a mental health nurse practitioner at Cape Cod Hospital. She retired as associate professor of nursing from Fairfield University, where she also served as graduate program director and acting dean. Widely published in research journals and the editor of several nursing books, she is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Emergency Nursing. She lives in Buzzards Bay, Mass.

College of Pharmacy

Matt Leonard (’88, executive vice president, pharmaceutical contracting, purchasing and network administration, CVS Health) leads strategy and operations for CVS Health’s pharmaceutical purchasing program, encompassing retail, mail and specialty pharmacies, while also managing relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers. He directs the trade strategy associated with CVS Health’s commercial, government and health plan customers. Over his 20-year career with the company, Leonard has developed an extensive background in health care. A five-time recipient of the company’s CEO Award, he was named Chain Drug Pharmacy Executive of the Year in 2009. He lives in Wakefield.


Richard Piacentini (’77, executive director, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens) has transformed one of the oldest and largest conservatories in North America into a bastion of sustainability. He is responsible for the greening of the buildings, operations and programs throughout the organization and providing leadership in developing and implementing a master plan for improving horticultural exhibits, collections, and public programs that build on traditions of the past. He is the recipient of leadership awards from the International Living Future Institute, U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Building Alliance. He lives in Pittsburgh.

Graduate School of Oceanography

Barclay Collins (M.S. ’74, Ph.D. ’78, general manager, Anadarko Petroleum Corp.) has led successful oil and gas exploration and production and business development projects for Anadarko Petroleum in Africa and the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is based in Mozambique, where Anadarko is developing one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects. His previous overseas assignments included Eritrea and Qatar. Prior to Anadarko, he led research and exploration programs for British Gas, Tenneco Oil and Gulf Oil. He began his professional career in the late 1970s as a research geophysicist, using his expertise in seismic processing and interpretation to develop and apply innovative analytical techniques and technologies for oil and gas exploration. He lives in Houston.