Alumni Awards

Wall displays alumni award winners graphics

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

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