Alumni Awards

Award winners in front of screen

Award Categories

The Alumni Awards honor individuals who have demonstrated leadership and made significant contributions to the design and architectural professions. The School considers nominations in the following categories: 

Distinguished Alumni Award

Honors alumni who have demonstrated leadership, service, and professional merit in the design and architecture professions. 

Young Architect/Designer Award

Honors early-career alumni (in profession under 10 years) who have demonstrated leadership and made significant contributions to the design and architecture professions. 

Optional Categories

Nominations will be accepted for alumni working in other fields as well. Nominees with exceptional achievements in public and community service, related industries, and have made influential impacts in other professions will be considered. 

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two women stand in front of backdrop for 2019 alumni homecoming
three men stand in front of a backdrop for 2019 alumni homecoming

Past Winners

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Mariah Meyer is president and CEO of BRR Architecture. A 2002 architecture graduate, Meyer is the first woman to be named to this position in the firm’s 59-year history. Since joining BRR in 2010, she has managed multifunctional, award-winning client teams focusing on projects in hospitality and corporate environments. The work spanned across 28 states, and her team’s headcount increased by 81%. Beyond leading strategic planning and growth at BRR, Meyer is an engaged advocate for architectural education. She is a member of the KU School of Architecture & Design’s Professional Advisory Board and is actively involved in KU Women in Design, where she mentors aspiring young architects.

Sarah Mason Sears is the founder, principal and creative director at S Design Inc. An award-winning branding and design practitioner, Sears has led projects for some of the world’s most iconic brands, civic and state organizations, and nonprofits. Since graduating from KU in 1992 with bachelor’s degrees in visual communication design and illustration, she has won over 120 design awards and has been honored as an AIGA Fellow.

Distinguished Alumni Service Award

David Broz is principal-architect at Gensler. After graduating in 1997 with honors, he built a successful architecture career that was guided by an ethical and community-centered approach to design. He has initiated and led multiple volunteer and pro bono community masterplans that are reshaping Chicago's downtown and redefining urban placemaking standards. An advocate for design that is created in collaboration with community organizations and individual citizens, Broz leverages his architectural training to unite people, places and ideas. His passion for identifying and communicating practical, solutions-based strategies has been a major catalyst for revitalizing urban spaces and advancing the American Institute of Architect's Principles of Livable Communities. Since 2011, Broz has been involved with the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA), a nonprofit dedicated to attracting people and investment to the Loop in Chicago’s downtown. In 2015, Broz became the first architect to serve as CLA’s chair of the board and brought a new community-focused approach to the role.

Young Architect/Designer Awards

Jon Gripka is an associate and director of design at BRR Architecture. He works with multiple teams across the firm to provide high-level design services for grocery, retail, hospitality, industrial and office environments projects. Throughout his career, Gripka has been critical to the continual evolution and implementation of the BRR design process, and he has played an essential role in developing the firm’s brand standards for conceptual design presentations. Gripka earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies in 2008 and a master’s in architecture in 2011.

Michael MacGregor is the co-founder of MODUS Architecture where he leads the firm’s project management and project delivery. As technical designer, project manager and firm partner, he has led projects to success and allowed his organizations to position themselves as industry leaders. MacGregor earned master’s degrees in architecture and business administration in 2013.

Callum Vierthaler is director of innovation at Pulse Design Group and lecturer in the Department of Architecture at KU. Since graduating summa cum laude with a master’s in architecture in 2017, he has demonstrated leadership as an innovative practitioner with unique skills in the application of virtual reality to design. As an educator, Vierthaler has spearheaded the School of Architecture & Design’s efforts to integrate virtual reality technology into the traditional design studio.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Bryan Gross is an architect and principal at Helix. After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in environmental design in 1980 and architecture in 1982, Gross has led award-winning projects that have improved neighborhoods, transformed college campuses and advanced sustainable architectural design. Early in his career he worked on prominent projects such as the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and the U.S. embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. Later projects in Kansas City include the iconic stagehouse at Starlight Theatre, the masterplan and multiple buildings for the 18th & Vine historic jazz district, and multiple educational buildings. A passionate advocate for ecologically responsive and responsible architecture, Gross has led the design of multiple LEED Gold and LEED Platinum projects, one of which was honored with a prestigious Top Ten Green Project award by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment.

Dennis Wellner is founder and senior principal at Populous. After earning bachelor’s degrees in architecture and environmental design from KU in 1973, he went on to become one of the most widely acclaimed football stadium designers in the United States and helped build a practice with global reach. His visionary approach to stadium design is responsible for creating some of the first NFL stadiums to incorporate extensive amenities for fans. The success of these projects showed how stadiums could work as immersive entertainment experiences rather than just spectator seating and helped to revolutionize sports stadium design throughout the world. His portfolio of award-winning projects includes stadiums in Kansas City, Foxborough, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Charlotte, Miami, Tampa, Houston, and Cleveland. Wellner was an original founding principal of HOK Sport in 1983, which became the global design firm Populous in 2009. He has directly impacted more than $10 billion in sports venue design and construction across the United States. Populous’ global footprint now includes over 700 associates working on over 3,000 projects with venues in 34 countries that have attracted over 520 million visitors in the past 10 years.

Distinguished Alumnus Awardees

Earl Santee, FAIA, received bachelor’s degrees in both architecture and environmental design from KU in 1981. Santee, a senior principal and founder at Populous, is recognized as one of the most widely acclaimed sports designers in the world. With a guiding philosophy that dictates that sites should shape a building’s design, Santee has designed award-winning projects that have been part of major urban renewal efforts across the nation, including in Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh, Houston, Denver, Miami and St. Louis. His portfolio includes 18 Major League Baseball parks, 40 spring training facilities and minor league parks. In 2014, he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the organization’s highest honor bestowed upon an architect. 

Bruce Smith received a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from KU in 1978 and has been in various design roles with Steelcase Inc. since 1986. Smith is currently Steelcase’s global design director and been responsible for numerous innovations in workplace product design. With a focus on innovation and sustainability, Smith takes a collaborative approach to product design that considers everything from materials, to user research, to manufacturing, to marketing, thereby utilizing the expertise of specialists at all stages of product development to improve performance and sustainability standards. 

Todd Voth, FAIA, received bachelor’s degrees in both architecture and environmental design from KU in 1981. Voth, a senior principal and founder at Populous, leads the firm’s convention center practice. He had led the design of hotels, retail facilities and 40 convention centers. Under his leadership, Populous has become a global leader in convention center design. He has received numerous awards and recognitions for his work, including a Historic Preservation Award; National Chairman, Young Architects Forum, American Institute of Architects; and a National Presidential Citation Award, American Institute of Architects. In 2017, he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. 

Young Architect/Designer Awardee

Eddy Tavio received a master’s degree in architecture in 2012. Tavio is currently a project designer and senior associate at Populous, where he focuses on conceptual design, 3D visualizations and innovative thinking to help clients see the future possibilities for their buildings and surrounding developments. He has experience working on a variety of project types spanning higher education, civic buildings, campus master plans and sports facilities, assisting with all phases of design. Since 2018, he has been an adjunct instructor in the KU Department of Architecture. 

Originally from Venezuela, Tavio is also a co-founder of the nonprofit Kinitiative, which provides humanitarian architecture to towns and villages in West Africa.

2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Rick Embers has been with Pulse Design Group, a leading health care design practice, for more than 30 years where he is currently a principal. His leadership has led to the development of Pulse’s in-house virtual reality capabilities.

Jamie Koval graduated from KU in 1985. He is a founding partner of VSA Partners, an internationally renowned brand and marketing agency. He has received more than 200 design awards, and his work is preserved by the Library of Congress. Currently, he is a founder and chief design officer of Cooler Screens, a technology company creating the world’s largest point of sale media platform.

2019 Young Architect/Designer Award

Kate Renner is a rising star as an associate at the global interdisciplinary design firm HKS. She has worked as an architect, medical planner and researcher for top health care systems in the U.S. and abroad. She now leads HKS’ Functional Performance Evaluation (FPE) process, sharing its transformative benefits at conferences worldwide. an brand.  

2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards

John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED AP has produced a distinguished body of award-winning architectural projects that scale from a children’s clubhouse to the master plan of a 67-square-mile city. He has been recognized by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the organization’s highest honor. His work has received over 50 national, regional, and local awards from the American Institute of Architects and a diverse array of professional organizations, civic groups, and publications.

David W. Hill holds over 60 issued patents related to design and user experience, and has garnered over 200 international design awards for his work, including 11 IDEA Awards, IDSA’s coveted Design of the Decade award, multiple “IF” Top 10 awards and German Red Dot Best of the Best Awards, and the acclaimed Japanese G-Mark Top 100 Award for design excellence. His work is included in the permanent collections of museums in Europe and the United States. As the Chief Design Officer for Lenovo’s personal computer and enterprise business groups, Mr. Hill led an international team of over 100 designers in four countries. Prior to joining Lenovo, he led IBM’s most strategic design activities for nearly 20 years. His combined IBM and Lenovo design experiences include computing systems ranging from high performance servers to the now iconic ThinkPad.

2018 Young Distinguished Architect-Designer Award

Laura Eder is an Associate and Project Architect at GFF. Joining GFF in 2010, Laura has extensive experience in corporate office projects such as TD Ameritrade and Capital One as well as mixed-use, multi-family projects such as Fiori on Vitruvian Park, 3700M and Ardan in West Village. As Director of Sustainability, she manages the firm’s LEED and Green Globes certifications. Laura served as the Chair of the AIA Dallas Committee on the Environment in 2015 and is currently serving on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) North Texas Regional Council. She is a graduate from the 2015 AIA Emerging Leaders Program and TREC’s 2017 Associate Leadership Council (ALC) class.   

2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Wendell Castle has been called “the father of the art-furniture movement.” His furniture seamlessly merges the industrial design and sculpture he studied at KU, earning him a Gold Medal from the American Craft Council and many other awards. Examples of his work are held in the collections of more than 50 museums and some 20 corporations.

Silva Vargas is an urban planner who has worked for over two decades to develop plans—ranging from site, to city, to regional—that represent the consensus of a community’s priorities. She has been a project manager and team leader for more than 15 years, directing the creation of plans and implementation tools such as urban design guidelines and zoning code updates, in the U.S. and abroad. 

Jim Walters is a founding partner of Populous. During his 25-year career at Populous (formerly HOK Sport Venue Event), he led the design of more than 20 major stadium projects around the world. He is on the Board of Commissioners on the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, and serves on the Mid-America Regional Council Board of Directors.

2017 Young Distinguished Architect-Designer Awards 

Justin Cratty is a senior associate at Gensler. Based in the United Kingdom, Cratty has worked on millions of square feet of laboratory space in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East; data centers; skyscrapers; and retail and hospitality projects. He was also the president of the American Institute of Architects’ U.K. chapter.

Kenneth Simmons, as an architect with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has helped develop technical policy, guidance and criteria for USACE construction activities, and led technical advancements in construction. He has served both the nation and profession as a public-sector architect by managing critical infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars