Distinguished Alumni Awards

The Distinguished Alumni Awards are the highest honor bestowed by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Since 1936, WAA has been presenting the awards to the most prestigious graduates of UW-Madison for their professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university.

2013 Distinguished Alumni Award honorees

Michael Splinter

Michael Splinter ’72, MS’74

As a 40-year veteran of the semiconductor industry, Splinter has honed a leadership strategy that blends engineering and business with a heavy dose of social responsibility.

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Laurie Benson. Photo Credit: Tadsen Photography

Laurie Benson ’75

A tireless force for Wisconsin’s emerging technology industry, Benson has spent 30 years as an entrepreneur growing businesses in the Midwest and beyond.

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Iris Apfel. Photo Credit: Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times/Redux

Iris Apfel ’43

This “rare bird” spent a lengthy career in antique textiles and design restoration, but her latest title — fashion icon — has been a lifetime in the making. Since her days as an art-education student, Apfel has been refining a bold personal style, which includes her signature oversized and utterly round eyeglasses. Her wardrobe has inspired a book, an upcoming documentary and a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit titled “Rara Avis.” For Apfel, who ran the international textile house Old World Weavers for more than forty years with her husband, Carl, style isn’t just about clothes. It’s about developing a sense of self-confidence that can spill over to other areas of life. She’s currently crafting accessory lines for older women and inspiring younger fashion gurus, most recently as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Vel Phillips LLB'51, Photo Credit: Andy Manis

Vel Phillips LLB’51

Velvalea "Vel" Phillips LLB'51 is associated with a long list of firsts, including being the first African-American woman to graduate from the UW Law School. Yet to fully appreciate Phillips's impact and legacy across the state of Wisconsin — and why she's being honored as a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award winner — there are several other numbers to consider.

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Carl Djerassi: Then and Now

Carl Djerassi PhD’45

Djerassi is not only the co-inventor of the birth control pill — he’s also a playwright and author of at least twenty books and plays. He began graduate studies in chemistry in Madison at age twenty, and his research with Syntex in Mexico City led to the development of the first successful oral contraceptive in the early 1950s. Djerassi's growing interest in fiction led him to publish his first novel at age sixty-seven and his latest play was be presented in Madison in October 2012.

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