Alumni Awards Gala
Hosted by the College of Charleston Alumni Association and
Presented in partnership with the College of Charleston Foundation
Each year, the Alumni Awards Gala recognizes alumni whose accomplishments in their chosen fields have brought honor to the College, showcasing the role the College has played in their lives as well as the impact they have had on society. Tickets include a cocktail reception and gourmet dinner. Proceeds will benefit the Alumni Association’s programs and scholarships. Purchase Tickets today!
This year we are honoring the following recipients:
Pre-Medical Society’s Outstanding Service Award in Medicine
Rahul N. Mehra ‘83
Rahul Mehra was born in India and immigrated with his family to Gaffney, SC as a young boy. He was active at the College of Charleston, majoring in biology and taking leadership roles in Alpha Epsilon Delta and Alpha Phi Omega. He was also the recipient of the C. Norwood Hastie Award his senior year. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina, and today he is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in Tampa, Florida. Mehra is the co-founder, chief executive officer, and chief medical officer of MehraVista Health, LLC, an employee health and wellness management firm. He is actively involved in his community and recognized for his work with Voices for Children, the Guardian ad Litem Program, the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Mehra has also remained actively involved with the College. He serves as president of the Tampa alumni chapter and serves on both the Alumni Association Board of Directors and the School of Sciences and Mathematics Board of Advocates. He has endowed a scholarship at the College for a student from Gaffney High School in memory of his parents, Kamla Kapur Mehra and Krishna Mandan Mehra.
Howard F. Rudd Jr. Business Person of the Year Award
R. Keith Sauls ‘90
Committed involvement describes Keith Sauls and his relationship with the College of Charleston. As a business major and President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, he was actively involved as a student. His involvement continued after graduation, especially with the School of Business. Sauls is a member of the School of Business Board of Governors and the Sauls’ family has endowed an undergraduate scholarship for business students. He is a mentor for School of Business students and uses his private equity and venture capital experience as Managing Partner of AppleGold Investment Company and Exeter Venture Group, to offer advice to students considering careers in Finance. He also serves currently as secretary of the College of Charleston Foundation Board, is past Chairman of the Foundation’s Investment Committee, and served on the steering committee for the Boundless Campaign. He is a past recipient of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
In 2014, Sauls initiated a new Boundless Opportunity Scholarship with an endowment to create a more diverse student body. Sauls’ leadership is epitomized by his 2014 climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro with his daughter, Lillie. At the summit, he unfurled a CofC flag, symbolizing the great heights you can reach with a College of Charleston education and the committed involvement of alumni.
Young Alumna Award
Rebecca Shaw Whitener ’06
As a physical education major and a member of the College’s women’s volleyball team, Shaw learned teamwork was essential to success. Her coursework in psychology and media studies allowed her to learn about what motivates people. She used these skills in her position as vice president of business development at Major League Baseball Advanced Media in New York City. Her purview went beyond the ballpark to handle third party business for non-baseball clients such as HBO Now, WWE Network , PGA tour and the live streaming of March Madness. She also handled licensing agreements with partners such as Yahoo and YouTube and ensured baseball fans could access game action when they weren’t in the ballpark.
A trailblazer for other women in the sports industry, Shaw earned a seat on the board of WISE (Women in Sports and Events) and was included in Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list.
Shaw has recently relocated to Mobile, Alabama where she will certainly blaze new trails.
Alumna of the Year Award
Joni Harvey McLeod ‘82
The College of Charleston is in Joni McLeod’s DNA, as is teaching. She comes from a long line of College of Charleston alumni, many of whom are teachers. After graduating with a degree in English, McLeod taught English at Goose Creek High School and Academic Magnet before going to Cario Middle School. At Cario, she felt the school needed a drama department and set about to make that happen. In the process, she learned she has a talent for motivating, inspiring and directing students.
Each year, McLeod works with over 150 middle school students and their parents to give the students a rich, once-in-a-lifetime experience of participating in musical theatre. She oversees all aspects of the production from costume design, sets, lighting, music, and choreography. This year, the CBS Dream Team chose McLeod as a Hidden Hero for their Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Hidden Heroes program.
The program searches for extraordinary acts of love and kindness by ordinary people who give their energy, time and hearts to others. For the students of Cario Middle School, Joni McLeod has done that and more. She has given them a chance to be part of something they will always remember.
Alumnus of the Year Award
Evan Linder ‘04
Evan Linder spent much of his time as a College of Charleston student in the Emmett Robinson Theatre and at the Pi Kappa Phi house. His experiences as a theatre major prepared him well for his move to Chicago after graduation, and his time at the fraternity house led to an award-winning play, FRAT. In Chicago, he became an integral part of the theatre community and co-founded The New Colony Theatre where he is the co-artistic director. He also teaches playwriting at the University of Chicago.
In January, Linder’s play, Byhalia, Mississippi, opened in Chicago, Memphis, Toronto and Charleston. Readings from the play were staged in Birmingham, Boulder and Los Angeles. The play is an incredible examination of race in the 21st century and has garnered glowing reviews. Steppenwolf, one of Chicago’s premier theatre institutions has also performed the play this year. The play received six nominations at the 2016 Non-Equity Jeff Awards and Linder received the Jeff Award for Best New Work. Linder also made Chicago Magazine’s Power List of Theatre Scene Stealers.
Distinguished Alumna Award
Michelle Asha Cooper ’95
An English major and member of Delta Sigma Theta at the College, Michelle Cooper received her master’s degree in Africana Studies from Cornell and her PhD in education policy and leadership from the University of Maryland. She has held positions with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance for the U.S. Department of Education, and since 2008, she has been president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, D.C. In this role, she oversees the organization’s research portfolio and programs. She also develops new ideas and strategic approaches that help low-income, minority, and other underserved student populations gain access and achieve success in college.
Cooper has been named one of the Top 25 women leaders in higher education and received the Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership Award from the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. She is a 2016 recipient of the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship and has recently co-authored the book, Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success.
Cooper has also been actively involved with the College, having served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Alumni Award of Honor
Charles J. Baker III ‘80
Chuck Baker has been connected to the College of Charleston his entire life. His father, Charlie Baker, was a member of the Class of 1937 and many of his father’s classmates became mentors. As a student at the College, Baker played on the tennis team coached by another mentor, Billy Silcox ’65. After graduation with a degree in biology, Baker decided upon career in the law. Today he is the office managing partner for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP in Charleston.
Following in his mentors’ footsteps, Baker began volunteering at the College. Eventually he would become president of the Cougar Club Board, president of the Alumni Association and serve on the Foundation Board. As president-elect of the Alumni Association, Baker led in the development of the Association’s strategic plan based on three simple tenets: Stay Informed, Get Involved, and Give Back.
If accomplished, these tenets would produce a base of informed, engaged, and generous alumni. The culmination of the Boundless Campaign with 10,089 alumni donors is a testament to the efficacy of the strategic plan.The Alumni Association and the College owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Baker for his leadership in crystalizing and then mobilizing a plan that will be used for years to come.