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13 alumni who made (or continue to make) a difference in the world

By Matt Hames on May 13, 2013

In celebrating the Year of ’13, we are posting a story or list that pertains to our lucky number on the 13th of each month. This month, we’ve compiled a list of alumni you might not know, but who made (or continue to make) a difference. With so many to choose from, we offer just 13 (in no particular order).

13. Thomas J. Pilgrim, 1828, founded the first school in Texas
A graduate of what was then known as Hamilton Divinity School, Pilgrim went to Texas in 1829 and thereafter founded the Austin Academy, an all-boys school.

12. Oswald Theodore Avery, 1900, co-discovered genetic properties of DNA
Avery was one of the first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry, but he is best known for his co-discovery in 1944 that DNA is the material of which genes and chromosomes are made.

11. Karon Konner, 1997, Social Worker of the Year for 2012
Konner, a social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, has provided crisis intervention and support in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

10. Armand Zildjian, 1944, influencing the sound of live music
Former CEO of the Avedis Zildjian Company, the maker of cymbals, started in 1623 in Istanbul. Like many people on this list, the cymbal doesn’t sit center stage, but it has tremendous influence.

9. George Burwell Utley, 1897, first librarian of the first public library in Florida
In 1907 Utley said the Jacksonville Public Library was “fast becoming securely established as a part of the municipal fabric, and is considered more and more a necessity and less and less a luxury by the citizens of Jacksonville.”

8. Bernie Siegel, MD, 1953, founder of Exceptional Cancer Patients
Exceptional Cancer Patients is a nonprofit organization designed to provide resources, professional training programs, and interdisciplinary retreats that help people facing the challenges of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

7. Monique Mehta, 1995, humanitarian, advocate for the rights of women
Recognized in 2013 by the National Women’s History project, Mehta became the first development director of Sakhi for South Asian Women in 2000,  where she worked in New York City with battered and abused women from South Asia.

6. Guyford Stever, 1938, early contributor to the space program
Stever chaired the Special Committee on Space Technology for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1958. The committee was formed to coordinate the federal government, private companies, and universities to harness their expertise in development of a U.S. space program.

5. Craig Hatkoff, 1976, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by Hatkoff, his wife, Jane Rosenthal, and Robert De Niro in a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

4. Mwisa Chisunka 2000, New York State’s first business ombudsman
In this role, Chisunka will work with chambers of commerce, small business development centers, major trade associations, and nonprofit organizations to promote business development in New York.

3. Michael Hiltzik, 1973, uncovered payola in the music industry
Along with Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Chuck Philips, Hiltzik won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for the articles they wrote on corruption and payola in the music industry.

2. Emil Frei III, MD, 1947, cancer research revolutionary
Frei revolutionized the treatment of cancer by demonstrating that multi-drug chemotherapy could be effective for previously incurable cancers

1. Rudolph Leibel, 1963, discovered the hormone leptin
Leibel’s co-discovery at Rockefeller University of the hormone leptin, and cloning of the leptin and leptin receptor genes, has had a major role in the area of understanding human obesity.

Who did we miss? Add your suggestions in comments.


  • Mark Shiner said:

    Armand Zildjian was a titan of the musical instrument industry and he built Zildjian into the largest and most influential cymbal company in the world. And to my delight, all their cymbals are made in the United States, just a few hours east of Colgate in Massachusetts. Several other members of the family are Colgate alumni and are carrying on his legacy with great success. Bravo to Armand Zildjian!

  • Will Keller '84 said:

    James A. “Jim” Corbett (October 8, 1933 – August 2, 2001) was an American rancher, writer, Quaker, philosopher, and human rights activist and a co-founder of the Sanctuary movement.

    He was born in Casper, Wyoming, and died near Benson, Arizona. The son of a teacher and a substitute teacher, Corbett was descended from European-American settlers and Blackfoot Indians, and spent part of his childhood living on an Indian reservation. He graduated from Colgate University and got his master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard. He took up ranching in Wyoming and Arizona and continued to herd goats and cows until his death and did research into beekeeping and goat husbandry. He also was librarian and philosophy instructor at Cochise College in Arizona.

    In the early 1960s he converted to Quakerism and became an opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1981, while living in Arizona, he became aware of refugees fleeing from civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala who were crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and seeking political asylum. At the time, very few of these refugees were receiving protection, as the U.S. government was funding the governments of the countries from which the refugees were fleeing, and immigration judges were instructed by the State Department to deny most asylum petitions.

    Together with other human rights activists, Corbett started a small movement in Arizona to assist these people coming across the border, by providing assistance, transportation, and shelter. These activists, under the auspices of churches and Quaker meetings, cited religious precedent of protecting people fleeing persecution, as well as the Geneva conventions barring countries from deporting refugees back to countries in the middle of civil wars, to justify their actions. They found support for their work in congregations in Arizona and Chicago, Illinois, as well as south Texas and eventually other communities in many states, including California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and others.

    This movement, which became known as the Sanctuary movement eventually involved over 500 congregations, and helped hundreds if not thousands of refugees find freedom in the U.S.

    (Source: Wikipedia)

  • Robert G. Reith ('51) said:

    I think Dr. Dan Fountain (’53) should be recognized for his medical work in Africa for so many years.

  • Robert O'Keefe '64 said:

    I remember Rudy Leibel well from my years at Colgate. He was a good friend to many of us in our fraternity and I always thought he would go on to do great things. I’m sure I speak for many of his classmates when I say how proud we all are of the outstanding contributions Rudy has made in the healthcare field.

  • Bernie Siegel, MD '53 said:

    Thank you and after receiving one C in four years at Colgate I now have 13 published books including a #1 best seller Love, Medicine & Miracles. I am teaching mind body interaction and trying to humanize medical education. Colgate helped prepare me. My web site has much to share.