Three high-profile graduates to receive WMU's top alumni honor

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Leaders in business, broadcasting and biological sciences next month will receive Western Michigan University's Distinguished Alumni Award--the highest honor WMU can confer on its graduates.

The 2018 award recipients are Ed Gordon, an Emmy award-winning journalist and radio and TV host; Carrie Jones-Barber, CEO of Dawn Foods; and Dr. James Olson, an innovative scientist who researches brain cancer in children.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Established in 1963, the Distinguished Alumni Award program honors and celebrates graduates who bring distinction to their alma mater through professional accomplishments and who have achieved a high level of success in their careers. They are nominated by their peers and selected by the WMU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

The University's 55th Distinguished Alumni Award recipients will be recognized during the WMU Night of Excellence, a new gala-style reception that will serve as the University's signature event for recognizing its alumni and will celebrate select groups of graduates from all of the University's colleges.

The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, on campus in University Arena and include a reception, entertainment and dinner. Early registrations for the event are due Friday, Sept. 28. For information about registering and complete bios of the Distinguished Alumni Award winners, visit the award program's website.

Ed Gordon

Headshot, Ed Gordon.

Ed Gordon

Gordon, who resides in Oakland County, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communication from WMU in 1982. He is president of Ed Gordon Media, a multi-service production company, and an active broadcaster. He is the host and executive producer of "Ed Gordon," an hourlong quarterly news magazine on Bounce TV, as well as host of the nationally syndicated radio program "Weekend with Ed Gordon."

Additionally, he can be heard on "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" and he delivers "Right Now" with Ed Gordon, daily commentaries for radio stations across the country. He also has been a correspondent for "60 Minutes" at CBS, led "News and Notes with Ed Gordon" on NPR, and was a contributor for NBC’s "Today Show" and "Dateline."

Over the course of his career, Gordon has developed into a news powerhouse. He initially earned distinction during two stints with the BET cable TV channel, where he filled numerous roles while helping to cement the station's news programming. These roles included serving as host of "BET Tonight," anchor for "BET News" and the creator of his signature series, "Conversations with Ed Gordon."

He is known for pressing hardline issues that revolve around the overlooked and underrepresented and for bringing viewers and listeners face to face with controversial figures and shining a light on their stories. In 1996, for instance, Gordon became the first person to interview O.J. Simpson after his famous acquittal, which earned him a three-year stint at NBC-TV.

Additionally, he has interviewed many well-known figures. The list includes presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and celebrities such as Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce and Michael Jackson.

 Carrie Jones-Barber

Headshot, Carrie Jones-Barber.

Carrie Jones-Barber

Jones-Barber, who resides in Ann Arbor, graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in management from WMU in 1982. After a short stint in medical sales, she joined Dawn Foods in a sales role in 1985 and climbed the ranks before being named CEO in 2006. Jones-Barber previously also served as president of Dawn Foods International, business development manager at Dawn Foods UK Ltd. and chief information officer.

One of the world's premier bakery companies, Dawn Foods produces more than 4,000 products, employs nearly 5,000 people and does business in more than 105 countries. The company supplies a complete line of mixes, bases, icings, glazes, fillings, frozen dough, par-baked and fully baked products, and equipment to the food industry worldwide.

During her tenure at Dawn, Jones-Barber has focused on growing the company internationally and introducing significant organizational changes, including global strategic planning processes and change management best practices.

Her leadership also has placed an emphasis on social responsibility and sustainability, as demonstrated through initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote greener packaging, support literacy and art programs, work on the prevention of hunger, and provide vocational baking opportunities. Additionally, the Dawn Foundation has had a wide impact on the communities it serves.

Dr. James Olson

Dr. James Olson

Olson, who resides in Seattle, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences from WMU in 1984. He is the principal investigator at the Olson Laboratory and a member of the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He also serves as a professor of pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and is an attending physician at the Seattle Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

His work prioritizes and advances therapeutics into clinical trials for children with brain cancer, with increasing focus on types of brains tumors that are uncommon and have the greatest need for research. The Olson Laboratory intends to increase the cure rate for children with these types of brain cancer by at least 10 percent. It also aims through state-of-the-art DNA sequencing to discover why and how tumors become resistant to drugs.

One of his more notable breakthroughs literally lights up cancer cells and helps to improve tumor removal. In 2013, he launched along with colleagues Project Violet, a citizen-based crowd-funding initiative to develop a new class of anti-cancer compounds derived from chemical templates from organisms such as violets, scorpions and sunflowers.

Olson and his team of researchers developed Tumor Paint, a drug that acts like a paint, attaching to tumor cells and illuminating them so that surgeons can easily remove an entire tumor without causing damage. Additionally, they are developing a new class of anti-cancer compounds known as optides, with the goal of creating therapies that do not destroy healthy tissue, only cancerous cells.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.

Related stories

Homecoming and Family Weekend events planned | September 27, 2018
Plan to #GiveGold in October | September 26, 2018