ASU honors alumni, staff innovators for Founders’ Day

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When renovations are complete, Sun Devil Stadium will be a year-round cultural hub for the surrounding community, and W. P. Carey School of Business alumnus Jack D. Furst can say he had a guiding hand in it.

Thanks to Furst’s involvement as a lead donor, more than $80 million has been raised toward the stadium reinvention project. His vision, leadership and philanthropy embody just the sort of character that ASU praises on Founders’ Day.

For fostering innovation, excellence and the evolution of Arizona State as the New American University, the ASU Alumni Association will honor Furst and other alumni, faculty and university supporters at its annual Founders’ Day Awards Dinner, which will take place at 6 p.m. March 16, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa.

Alissa Serignese, vice president of programs and constituent relations for the Alumni Association, said Furst and the others being honored “go above and beyond.”

“Furst is spearheading this effort and even enlisting others,” she said, “which is really unique.”

Along with Furst, the following individuals will be honored this year: ASU alumnus Michael Burns, for his role in building Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. into a multi-billion dollar global content leader; ASU faculty members Joshua LaBaer, for his groundbreaking work in the emerging field of personalized medicine; Manfred Laubichler, for his multi-faceted research in tracing the role of gene regulatory networks in development and evolution; and Sharon Hall, for her commitment to teaching, particularly as it relates to incorporating innovative pedagogical methods and championing the education of underrepresented groups in science.

The award ceremony has been a signature event for the university for decades, and calls attention to individuals who “exemplify the spirit of the founders of the Territorial Normal School of Arizona,” ASU’s predecessor institution, which received its charter from the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature on March 7, 1885.

“Founders’ Day is an opportunity to celebrate the best of the best as far as ASU alumni, faculty and philanthropists,” while also paying homage those who “put ASU on the map” in the first place, Serignese said. “If it wasn’t for those people, ASU would not exist.”

The celebration is also a chance to reflect on ASU’s history as an institution founded by and for the people of the community it serves. At Thursday’s dinner, ASU President Michael M. Crow will provide an update on the university, which has progressed with that intention in mind and expanded considerably.

When Hiram Bradford Farmer, John Samuel Armstrong, Charles Trumbull Hayden, Joseph Campbell, T.J. Butler, A.C. Baker and R.L. Long proposed the establishment of the Tempe Normal School in 1885, they envisioned a school that provided “instruction of persons ... in the art of teaching and in all the various branches that pertain to good common school education.” Under subsequent leaders in the more than hundred years that followed, ASU has become a highly regarded prototype of the New American University and a leading research institution.

The journey from simple schoolhouse to revered university is a testament to the vision, tenacity and hard work of its founders, leaders, faculty, students and alumni through the years, according to the alumni association.

“Without a doubt, ASU helped me achieve my dream,” Furst said.

Tickets to the Founders’ Day event are $150 for Alumni Association members at the Sparky, Maroon or Gold contribution levels and $200 for other alumni and guests. Table and corporate sponsorship opportunities are available. For additional information about Founders’ Day, or to RSVP, visit

The following individuals will be honored by the Alumni Association at the Founders’ Day event. (Read their full bios via the links below.)

Faculty Achievement Awards

Faculty Research Achievement Award
Joshua L. LaBaer
, interim executive director, Biodesign Institute at ASU; director, Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics; Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine; professor, School of Molecular Sciences; adjunct professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

LaBaer is being honored at Founders’ Day for his groundbreaking work in the emerging field of personalized medicine. His efforts involve the discovery and validation of biomarkers — unique molecular fingerprints of disease — that can provide early warning for those at risk of major illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. Much of his work concerns proteomics, a branch of biotechnology concerned with analyzing the structure, function and interactions of the proteins produced by the genes of cells, tissues or organisms. His research is recognized as extremely relevant and impactful for a number of chronic health conditions, with direct application from bench to bedside. 

Gitta Honegger, professor in ASU's Herberger Institute’s School of Theatre and F

Faculty Service Achievement Award
Manfred D. Laubichler
, distinguished sustainability scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; President's Professor, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; director, ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems; director, ASU-Leuphana Center for Global Sustainability and Cultural Transformation; director, Global Biosocial Complexity Initiative, associate director, Origins Project; professor, Santa Fe Institute.

Laubichler, a theoretical biologist and historian of science, is being honored for his service to Arizona State University and to his profession. Laubichler's multi-faceted research involves tracing the role of gene regulatory networks in development and evolution, as well as studying the conceptual structure of modern and historical biology. He also studies the theory of Complex Adaptive Systems, focusing on complexity as a unifying principle in the social and life sciences, including applications in biomedicine, sustainability and the study of innovations. He is recognized as a positive “disrupter” in his work, identifying scientific and intellectual trends years before others do and working with others in a transdisciplinary manner to translate these insights into use-inspired solutions and collaborations. 

portrait of woman

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award
Sharon J. Hall
, senior sustainability scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; associate professor, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Hall is being honored at Founders’ Day for her commitment to teaching, particularly as it relates to incorporating innovative pedagogical methods and championing the education of underrepresented groups in science. As an ecosystem scientist, she and her students are exploring the many ways that people are changing the natural world – and in turn how nature changes us. She shares the results of her work in the many courses she teaches to undergraduate and graduate students. The topics she explores with her students focus on the intersection of nature and society, ranging from classes on the conservation of biodiversity, to  courses on ecosystem ecology, “grand challenges” in environmental science, and peer mentoring for environmental majors.

Alumni Achievement Awards

portrait of michael burns

Alumni Achievement Award
Michael R. Burns
, ‘80 BS, vice chairman, Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.

Burns is being honored at Founders’ Day for his role in building Lionsgate into a multi-billion dollar global content leader. Since becoming vice chairman of Lionsgate in March 2000, he has played an integral role in building the company into a $6 billion operation with a reputation for innovation. He recently helped spearhead Lionsgate’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Starz, the biggest deal in the company’s history, as the studio continues to grow into a diversified global content platform.

portrait of Jack Furst

Philanthropist of the Year Award, presented by the ASU Foundation For A New American University
Jack D. Furst
, ‘81 BS, founder, Oak Stream Investors

Furst is being honored as the 2017 Founder's Day Philanthropist of the Year for his vision, leadership and philanthropy at Arizona State University. Due to his noteworthy and strategic involvement as a lead donor in the Sun Devil Stadium reinvention project, ASU has raised more than $80 million dollars toward that effort. In addition to enlisting others to support the project, Furst has contributed significantly to fulfill his passion and commitment to the role of athletics in higher education.