What do the Oscars, the Grammys, the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prizes and the RIT Distinguished Alumni Awards have in common? They all celebrate creativity and passionate performance in one’s profession, and they elevate the very best representatives in a competitive field.
Each year, the senior leaders select one graduate from each college who embodies the best of RIT. This year, RIT honors nine distinguished alumni who stand out amongst the more than 111,000 accomplished graduates. President Bill Destler and the leaders of RIT’s colleges will present the Distinguished Alumni Awards on April 12. For more information, go to www.rit.edu/alumni/recognition.
At an early age, Alex Kipman ’01 (software engineering), fell in love with what he calls the art form of software because it is the youngest of all art forms. “For epochs we have been building bridges, painting caves and creating amazing music while discovering and philosophizing about our universe,” he says. “In contrast, we have been creating software for less than a century.” He sees software as the only art form in which the laws of physics can be easily and purposely ignored, making it “the only medium where nothing is impossible ... and with a little imagination and a lot of pixie dust we yield signal from noise and make the improbable possible.” Today, Kipman is the general manager of incubation for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft where he has led three major innovations for the company. The Kinect sensor is one of his best-known creations and anyone who has used this gaming system has experienced the seeming defiance of the laws of physics. The application of this hands-free gaming technology now extends into areas such as health care and education.
Kipman is the primary inventor and holder of more than 60 patents since 2001. He was recently named IPO Foundation’s 2012 Inventor of the Year.
After graduating from SUNY Morrisville, George Peterson IV ’88 (computer engineering technology) joined the second graduating class of his program. Peterson credits one of his most admired professors, Robert E. Lee, for not only shaping students’ technical skills but also honing the non-technical components of students’ coursework—specifically spelling and grammar skills.
He also values RIT’s co-op program, which led him to his first job at Telog Instruments, where he worked for 11 years. Peterson is still friends with Telog’s owner and considers him a mentor and life coach. Currently, Peterson is an analog field application engineer for Texas Instruments, assisting electronics companies throughout upstate New York with the design of electronic circuits. He has been an active member of RIT’s Computer Engineering Technology Industrial Advisory Board. He has worked with Texas Instruments engineering and management teams to recruit RIT students.
He lives in Henrietta, N.Y., with his wife, Laura, and their three daughters. His advice to students and recent graduates is to “always seek people out who are willing to invest in you.”
Paul M. Russo ’05 (health systems management) has dedicated more than 30 years to serving America’s heroes while working for the Veterans Health Administration. He began his professional life as a clinical dietician after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo. As he rose to a managerial role, he looked to his hometown of Rochester to further his education and enrolled in RIT’s health systems administration online master’s degree program. As a nontraditional student, he values the quality of his RIT education and feels that it gave him the essential skills to succeed in hospital administration.
Russo was recently named director of the Bruce W. Carter Veterans Affairs Medical Center/Miami VA Health Care system, and he has also served as director of the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VAMC in Salisbury, N.C., and associate director of the West Palm Beach, Fla., VA Medical Center. He lives in Miami with his wife, Karen, who has also dedicated her career to America’s veterans.
He enjoys mentoring rising healthcare administrators through various professional organizations including his role as a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Over a career spanning 25 years, Bruce James ’64 (printing) founded and led 13 printing and publishing organizations, each built on an emerging new technology. The businesses varied from the Polish American Printing Co. with high-tech newspaper plants in Warsaw, Gdansk and a castle in Krakow, to Barclays Law Publishers in San Francisco, which Inc. magazine ranked for five years as one of the country’s 500 fastest growing companies.
Since retiring from business in 1993, he has served on seven higher-education-related boards, including RIT where he is chairman-emeritus of the Board of Trustees. Additionally, in 2002 he was appointed by President George W. Bush, and confirmed by the Senate, to follow in Benjamin Franklin’s footsteps as the nation’s 24th Public Printer. He led the U.S. Government Printing Office through a complete transition into the digital world for which he was recognized in 2006 as the Federal Executive of the Year.
Asked about the most important decision he ever made, he said it was letting go of the past. “You can’t move forward and do dramatic new things unless you’re willing to let go of the past and embrace the future.”
Jeffrey Culver ’82 (criminal justice) never imagined that his career would take him to where he is now: director of corporate security for the World Bank. Yet as soon as Culver enrolled in RIT’s criminal justice program, he knew he was on the right track. He spent 24 years working for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the government agency responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy throughout the world as well as managing reciprocity and immunity issues for foreign diplomats in the United States.
A member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, Culver served as principal deputy assistant secretary and director of diplomatic security from October 2009 until his recent retirement from public service. Moving from government to the private sector has given Culver more control over his schedule, making it possible for him to spend more time with his family.
In his current position at the World Bank, he is responsible for the safety and security of the bank’s operations and personnel in Washington, D.C., and in 128 country and regional offices around the world.
Jon Roberts ’70 (imaging science) has taken his father’s advice seriously: Do what you have to do so you can then do what you want to do. As a senior partner in the Marbury Law Group, he practices in security clearance law, patent, copyright and trademarks. He has counseled, tried and documented more than 100 security clearance cases and submissions for applicants for security clearances for U.S. government agencies.
He also personally holds more than 50 U.S. and foreign patents and he counsels U.S. and foreign clients on development and protection of intellectual property. He previously worked for the CIA while he finished his Ph.D. from Syracuse University and then took night classes to earn his law degree from George Washington University National Law Center.
Throughout his busy career, he has maintained a steadfast passion for the arts and music, singing with the National Symphony Orchestra and acting in theater productions with his wife, Jessie.
He was a student at RIT during the “big move” from downtown Rochester to the Henrietta campus and credits the excitement and fond memories of that time for his dedication to RIT. He serves on the President’s Roundtable and has established a scholarship with his wife in support of science students who participate in the performing arts.
Even as a child, William J. Prentice ’99 (business administration finance) was industrious and motivated. When he was 10 years old, he worked on a farm and mowed his neighbor’s lawn. At 12, he washed dishes at a local restaurant, worked in a bowling alley washing pins, and helped his father paint fire hydrants one summer.
Today, he owns Prentice Wealth Management LLC, overseeing whole-family accounts focused on disciplined financial security and goal-based wealth management. Prior to establishing PWM, Prentice served as vice president at Westminster Financial. He began his career in financial services as a representative with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.
He established an annual scholarship for first-generation college students. He serves on the Saunders College Alumni Advisory Board, chairing the annual golf tournament committee. He is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. He has participated in Junior Achievement team teaching. He has been a mentor and coach to the Saunders students, advising them to “take that entry level job. Everyone starts at the bottom. There is a bottom rung on the ladder for a reason. Stand on it and climb your way up.”
After 18 years with IBM, where he became known for establishing IBM’s blade server product line, Jeff Benck ’88 (mechanical engineering) made one of the toughest but best decisions of his career—to move his family across the country and to take on a new set of challenges in California.
He is now president and chief operating officer of Emulex Corp., where he guides the corporate strategy. Benck led the company into the groundbreaking converged networking space. While his vocation at Emulex is time consuming, he still makes time for his family: his wife, Nina, and daughters Gabrielle, 14, and Gracyn, 12.
He believes in giving back and volunteers with several organizations. He’s on the board of the Discovery Science Center of Orange County, the University of California Irvine CEO Roundtable, and the UCI Paul Merage School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board. At RIT, he is an active member of the KGCOE Dean’s Advisory Council, and he has shared lessons learned with students as a featured KGCOE Dean’s Alumni Speaker: “Never stop learning, take risks but learn to fail fast, and don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Robert W. Rice ’94, ’97 (management and leadership, MBA), is the founder, president and managing partner of BayFirst Solutions LLC, a government contracting firm specializing in risk management, information technology and homeland security. Rice, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md., started his career with Coopers & Lybrand LLP and went on to work as an information technology consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and PricewaterhouseCoopers before founding BayFirst. He served as chairman of the NTID Foundation Board of Directors and RIT President’s Roundtable. He now is a member of the RIT Board of Trustees. He advises others to “surround yourself with people who think along similar lines, but have different skills that complement your own.”