Boles wins ARA’s highest award

ARA presents Distinguished Alumni, Meritorious Service awards

Each year the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA) recognizes the contributions and accomplishments of outstanding Rice alumni and friends of the university. Below are this year’s winners of the Gold Medal, the Distinguished Alumni Awards and the Meritorious Service Awards.

2012 Gold Medal

John Boles


John Boles ’65, the William P. Hobby Professor of History, is the recipient of Rice’s 2012 Gold Medal, the highest award presented by the ARA. The Gold Medal recognizes alumni, faculty, staff or friends who have rendered extraordinary service to the university.

Boles is perhaps one of the best-known professors at Rice today. He began teaching history at Rice in 1981 and has served on committees both on and off campus, taken an active role on editorial journals and in professional societies, taught both undergraduate and graduate students and published books and articles on Southern History and on Rice’s founding president, Edgar Odell Lovett.

In the past 20 years, Boles has participated in approximately 15 Alumni College Weekends, both in Houston and on the road, been a speaker in travel programs, given dozens of lectures at the request of the President’s Office and Office of Alumni Affairs and served as a faculty lecturer at Families Weekend and Homecoming & Reunion events. Having presented nearly 50 talks as a part of Continuing Studies courses, he is also an ambassador for Rice to the Houston community.

A past winner of the ARA’s Meritorious Service Award and the Distinguished Alumni Award, Boles has proven himself as uniquely engaged in university life and history and as an exemplary scholar.

Allen Matusow, a previous Gold Medal recipient and the William Gaines Twyman Professor of History, said, “The only issue regarding the nomination of John Boles for the Gold Medal of the Association of Rice Alumni is why he has not already been a recipient. In nearly 50 years at Rice, I have known no one who has been more devoted the university, served it in more ways or enjoyed more success as a teacher and scholar.”

2012 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Four Rice graduates — Orenthial Brigance ’92, James Powell ’51, Charles Renfro ’87 and Rebecca Greene Udden ’73 — have received the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award, presented to alumni who have advanced the interests and standards of excellence of Rice through distinctive professional or volunteer careers.

OJ Brigance


Brigance, who earned his degree in managerial studies, received a number of Rice and Southwest Conference recognitions for his collegiate football career. Off the field, Brigance served as team liaison to the Career Services Office (now the Center for Career Development) and inspired many football players to consider how they would be better prepared for life after Rice. His gridiron career spanned two professional leagues, four professional teams and nearly 10 years.  He is one of very few players to have won both Canadian Football League and National Football League Championships and the only player to have done so in the same city, Baltimore. In 2004, Brigance made the transition to an NFL front office when he became director of player development for the Baltimore Ravens.  In that position, he developed programs to assist players with positioning themselves to have robust careers on and off the field of play, including player internship and continuing education programs.  The NFL honored Brigance with the Best Overall Player Development Program Award in 2005 and 2006, the Most Outstanding Internship Program Award in 2005 and the Outstanding Continuing Education Program Award in 2007.  That same year, 2007, Brigance was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that currently has no cure. He chose to make the best of his diagnosis and has since founded the Brigance Brigade Foundation and partners with the Johns Hopkins Center for ALS Research as their ALS ambassador.

James Powell


Powell has spent the majority of his professional career as a rancher.  His nominators said he “has been a committed and visionary leader of organizations that support agriculture and stewards of agricultural land.”  Powell said he learned to diversify at Rice, which has made him successful in several fields of endeavor and an important benefactor of communities, museums and universities. Powell served as president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) from 1988 to 1990 and was instrumental in sweeping improvements in the ranching industry as well as the growth of the organization whose members now manage or own more than 5 million acres. TSCRA is a 134-year-old trade organization and the largest livestock association in Texas; it represents more than 15,000 beef cattle producers, ranching families and businesses. Powell has encouraged continual research into animal health and diseases and strongly supports national biosecurity programs. In addition, he is dedicated to education and has worked with students in ranch-management programs. Powell has led other industry organizations, including the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association and the National Wool Growers Association. On a national level, he served on the Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Packers and Stockyard Administration and on the Secretary of Agriculture’s Technical Advisory Committee for Multilateral Trade Negotiation. His awards include induction into the International Stockmen’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Texas Heritage Hall of Honor in 2008, the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership Achievement Award in 2005 and the National Golden Spur Award from the National Ranching Heritage Center in 2002.

Charles Renfro


Renfro graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art/architecture and in 1989 completed his Bachelor of Architecture, both from Rice. Since then, he has become one of the most celebrated architects representing the Rice School of Architecture. His firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has just completed the renovation of the Lincoln Center in New York and the conversion of an abandoned elevated rail line into the wildly successful High Line, a linear public park in Manhattan. Additionally, in the past year Diller Scofidio + Renfro has obtained commissions for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Renfro played a key role in the firm’s transition from upstart studio at the margins of the architectural professional to a major influence in contemporary design worldwide. He is known for his intellectual curiosity and multidisciplinary approach — a hallmark of Rice graduates — that binds together an interest in architecture and design, art and urban culture. Renfro has been a faculty member at Columbia University since 2000, is a visiting professor at Parsons New School for Design and in 2010 traveled to New Zealand, where he gave lectures at the University of Auckland and at the Adam Auditorium in Wellington. Additionally, he mentors young designers and welcomes qualified Rice fifth-year architecture students to intern at his firm.

Rebecca Greene Udden '73


Udden is the founding artistic director of Houston’s Main Street Theater. Begun in 1975 as a collective of artists in Autry House, it became a more conventional nonprofit theater in 1978 and was transformed again in 1981 when the theater outgrew its original location and remodeled a new space in West University into a 99-seat theater. By 1996, the theater had grown enough to open a second space in Chelsea Market. The newest 274-seat theater showcases large-scale classics and musicals and is home to Houston’s top youth theater program, The Main Street Youth Theater.  Udden has championed new works by young playwrights and has helmed several Houston premieres from playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, Wendy Wasserstein and Tina Howe. The theater has aided the careers of local actors, such as Tess Harper, who went on to star with Robert Duvall in “Tender Mercies,” but has also nourished the growth of a few local playwrights. She has also championed the work of women playwrights, including Frances Burney, Lillian Hellmann and Clare Boothe Luce. Through the Main Street Youth Theater and the Kids on Stage, Udden has brought the magic of theater and the educational experience theater can provide to children throughout the Houston area.

2012 Meritorious Service Awards

The ARA honored three people — Robert Flatt ’69, Eva Jean Lee and Edward Williams — with the 2012 Meritorious Service Award, which recognizes those who have made significant, sustained and voluntary contributions of energy, time and creativity toward the advancement of the university.

Robert Flatt


In 1987, Flatt began teaching as an adjunct professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business, where he developed and taught the core second-year course in Production and Operations Management until 2010.  He remains as an instructor teaching a second-year elective on Leading Operational Change. Flatt served on the curriculum committee for the Executive MBA program at the Jones School in 1999. Through his work at Rice’s business school, he has influenced more than two decades of leaders in the Rice and Houston communities. He has had as much an impact on others through his work with many other groups on campus, including the ARA, Rice Athletics and Wiess College.  In the early 1990s, Flatt was engaged in long-term planning for the ARA, including ensuring that the current alumni board more fully captured the alumni of the university by adding positions to the board representing cities and regions other than Houston. He remains a community associate at Wiess College, where he continues his nearly 30-year engagement with those students, including working with Wiess senior Austin Lipinski to produce the documentary “Running Water.” Flatt is probably best-known around campus as the talented photographer who has captured images of owls on campus.  He has taken nearly every photography course on campus and has taught a number of them himself.

Eva Jean Lee


Lee came to the Rice campus in 1969 to teach physical education and to help run the women’s sports programs. She unexpectedly found herself a home for the next 40 years; Lee was awarded professor emeritus status in 2000. She coordinated women’s basketball, volleyball and tennis and also taught in the Department of Kinesiology. At the time she came to Rice, women’s athletics were not formally organized, so Lee’s involvement coaching those sports required practices and travel, not financed by the university, to venues outside of Houston. These activities were outside of her actual job responsibilities. Equally important was Lee’s role as a faculty associate and, from 1975 through 1983, as a resident associate at Jones College, where she assisted in the transition from an all-female to a co-ed residential college. In addition, she served as director of the Equal Opportunity Office (EEO) for 13 years before to returning to kinesiology in 1993 to resume her teaching and research responsibilities. As the director of the EEO, Lee formed a women’s commission and worked closely with the members to identify issues and develop avenues for correction of biases and misconceptions and to equalize workloads, position descriptions and salaries of staff and faculty members. Lee is still active on the Women’s Athletic Advisory Board and maintains an interest in all athletic endeavors.

Edward Williams


Williams is the Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Management at the Jones School and professor of statistics. Since he joined the Rice faculty in 1978, he has made extensive contributions to the university. The Jones School Entrepreneurship Program was initiated by Williams when there were few such programs established in business schools within the United States. In 2010, the Entrepreneurship Program was recognized as the sixth-best graduate school level program of its kind, and the highest in Texas, as determined by the Princeton Review. Williams has received the Teaching Excellence Award from Jones School students seven times and finally asked that he not be considered for the award again. One year, his student evaluations were recognized as the highest throughout the university.  His work to improve the reputation and class programming at the Jones School remains an important part of his focus. He has served on numerous committees, including the Entrepreneurship Enhancement Committee, and in several programs, including the Jones Graduate School Entrepreneur Organization, where he works on creating alliances between the Entrepreneur Organization and the Jones School by bringing Houston-area entrepreneurs together with Jones students. Williams was also the driving force behind the beginnings of Rice’s Business Plan Competition, which has evolved into the leading business plan competition for graduate schools in the world.



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