Distinguished Alumni

Each year the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University nominates an alumnus or alumna for an Alumni Achievement award.


Erich Pica is president of Friends of the Earth, a Washington-based environmental group. He graduated magna cum laude from Western Michigan University in 1997 with majors in political science and environmental studies. Before becoming Friends of the Earth’s president in 2009, Pica served as the organization’s director of domestic programs. Washingtonian calls Pica one of Washington, D.C.’s “40 Power Brokers Under 40.” He was named by Washington Life Magazine as one of Washington’s “Green City Leaders.” Pica is a nationally recognized expert on energy subsidies who has worked to reform U.S. tax and budget policy in ways that reduce pollution and spark a transition to clean energy. He has testified before Congress and appeared extensively in the media, including on NBC Nightly News, the News Hour, National Public Radio and PRI’s Marketplace. Pica comes from a family of farmers and educators in southwest Michigan. He discovered his passion for the environment while attending WMU.


Dennis A. Swan is president and CEO of Sparrow Hospital and Health System in Lansing, Mich. He received his B.A. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1969 and later earned a law degree from Cooley Law School. Swan has served in various executive-level positions within Sparrow since 1981, such as senior vice president-operations and chief operating officer, before becoming president and CEO in 2005. Prior to that, he worked in the financial services industry.


Daniel A. Witt received his B.B.A. (’83) and M.B.A. (’84) from Western Michigan University. Witt is the president of the International Tax and Investment Center, which he helped found in September 1993. The center is a multinational, nonprofit organization that is helping facilitate the exchange of information between business executives, academic experts and government officials. Since 1991, Witt has led more than 30 private sector delegations to Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Libya, Azerbaijan and Vietnam to hold meetings with top finance, taxation and government and parliamentary officials. Previously, Witt was executive director of the Tax Foundation, the oldest tax and budget research organization in the United States, and vice president and director of membership with Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington-based public interest group.


Dr. John Petrocik is professor and chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He received his Ph.D. in 1976 from the University of Chicago. His specialty is electoral politics, with particular emphasis on public opinion, voting and political parties. Petrocik has authored or coauthored books and research articles on mass attitudes and behavior, political parties, and elections and campaigns. One of the books, The Changing American Voter (Harvard University Press, 1976, Revised 1979), received the Woodrow Wilson award in 1977 from the American Political Science Association for the best book on American politics in that year. In Unconventional Wisdom (Oxford University Press, 2008) with Darron Shaw and Karen Kaufman, he examines (and rejects) several popular myths about American voting and public opinion. Petrocik centers his research on social group dynamics and institutional structures that influence attitudes and behavior of individuals. His recent work has emphasized the social basis of politics and the influence of social divisions on electoral politics.


Lee Reno is a founding Member of Reno & Cavanaugh, a Washington, D.C., law firm established in 1977. Reno & Cavanaugh has been at the forefront of affordable housing and community development law and policy at a national level. Reno's experience in housing development began in 1970. He has practiced extensively in the affordable housing field during his legal career, with a special emphasis on public housing and rural housing. His practice consists of representing public housing authorities in their mixed finance transactions, serving as general counsel to the Housing Authority Insurance Group, Housing Assistance Council and other national nonprofit organizations.  The practice also represents public housing authorities and their employees being investigated by the HUD Inspector General and in enforcement proceedings brought by the HUD Enforcement Branch. He was recognized by the District of Columbia Bar Association for his work in Pealo v. USDA (USDC for the District of Columbia, 1974), litigation that restored the USDA rural housing programs that had been suspended by the Nixon Administration. Reno received his B.S. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1963 and his law degree from Howard University. Prior to entering law school, Lee served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia West Africa from 1963 to 1965.


Nancy Diehl has worked as a prosecutor for more than 24 years and heads the Felony Trial Division in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, overseeing general trials, homicide, auto theft and major drugs prosecutions, and directing the Child and Family Abuse Bureau. According to the Michigan Bar Journal (October 2004), Diehl has received more than 20 professional and community awards. She had the distinction of being the first recipient of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association's Champion of Justice Award. She was the 1999 winner of the Federal Bar Association's Leonard Gilman Award to the Outstanding Practitioner of Criminal Law. She was also honored by the Alumni Association of the Wayne State University Law School. She is a past president of Michigan State Bar Association (2004-05), has served on the Prosecuting Attorney's Association of Michigan Family Law Committee and the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners, and is a member of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. Diehl served as chair of the Wayne County Council Against Family Violence, served on the Governor's Task Force on Children's Justice, on the Community Advisor Board for the Junior League of Detroit and the Archdiocesan Review Board, Archdiocese of Detroit. Diehl completed her political science degree at Western Michigan University in 1975.


Richard Reed is an attorney at the firm of Lewis, Reed and Allen in Kalamazoo. Reed earned his B.A. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1957 and went on to complete his J.D. at the Detroit College of Law in 1962. He is well-known as a participant in municipal tax disputes, frequently appearing as counsel to townships and other municipal interests. Reed has been very active in the legal profession as a commissioner of the State Bar, a member and chairman of the State Bar Representative Assembly and a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. He visited campus in November 2005 and led a discussion of "The Constitution, 'Under God' and the Pledge of Allegiance."


His Excellency Ambassador Omar Bader Al Dafa of the State of Qatar earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Western Michigan University in 1975 and went on to earn a master's degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University in 1979. Ambassador Al-Dafa is a career diplomat with more than 25 years experience. His diplomatic career began in 1976 when he was made diplomatic attaché at Qatar's Foreign Ministry in Doha. He served as ambassador to Spain from 1982 to 1988 and to Egypt from 1988 to 1993. While serving in Cairo, Ambassador Al-Dafa was also his country's permanent representative to the Arab League. From 1993 to 1995 he was ambassador to France. From 1995 to 1998 he served as ambassador to the Russian Federation. He then served as director of European and American affairs at the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Doha, Qatar. He was named Ambassador to the United States in September 2000 and continues in that post. He was the 2004 College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Achievement Award Recipient. 


Christopher C. Womack received his B.S. in political science from Western Michigan University in 1979 and his M.P.A. from American University in 1985. Womack worked in Washington, D.C., from 1979 to 1987, serving as a legislative aide to Rep. Leon Panetta and as staff director for the Subcommittee on Personnel and Police for the Committee on House Administration. Womack was employed by the Alabama Power Company in 1988 as their Federal Governmental Affairs Representative. Womack is now the senior vice president and senior production officer for the Southern Company, the largest producer of electricity in the United States. He serves on seven boards including the Birmingham Museum of Arts, the Alabama Charitable Business Trust Fund and the National Hospice Organization.


John Daniel received his M.A. from Western Michigan University in 1970. Daniel is director of research for the Human Sciences Research Council that is South Africa's national social sciences research facility. Prior to this appointment in 2001, he served eight years at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa, first as professor and then chairperson of political science. Professor Daniel presented a lecture and also spoke with political science students during his October 2002 visit to campus.