Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis recognized the achievements of six alumni during the 15th Annual Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony, held March 22 at the Crowne Plaza Clayton.
Gary S. Wihl, PhD, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, and the Arts & Sciences National Council, led by Chair Barbara Schaps Thomas (AB ’76), hosted the awards dinner.
Five alumni received the Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes graduates who have exemplified the ideals embodied by an Arts & Sciences education and have brought honor to Washington University through their lives, work and service.
National Council members who are previous Distinguished Alumni Award recipients introduced this year’s awardees.
Wihl presented the Dean’s Medal to Robert L. Virgil, (MBA ’60, DBA ’67, honorary doctor of laws ’09), dean emeritus of Olin Business School and a Washington University emeritus trustee. The Dean’s Medal is awarded to a person who has made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of the ideals of an Arts & Sciences education.
During the ceremony, the six honorees shared personal stories about the impact of their educational experiences on their lives and accomplishments.
Robert A. Ansehl (AB ’76), introduced by Schaps Thomas (AB ’76), 2001 Distinguished Alumna
A partner at Clyde & Co, transactional lawyer Ansehl has been involved in some of the most significant insurance transactions in the international insurance world. His representation of U.S. and international insurance and reinsurance companies, commercial and investment banks, private equity and hedge funds, and derivative and financial products companies involves decisions that help determine the organizations’ immediate direction.
Among his challenges is being knowledgeable about exceedingly complicated developments ranging from potential industry impacts of a European Union breakdown (or the consequences of survival and growth) to the effects of events in Asia and the Middle East.
Ansehl, who has been a partner in four major law firms, has been recognized by EuroMoney Institutional Investor and as a Super Lawyer.
At WUSTL, he has endowed a scholarship in Arts & Sciences and served on the New York Regional Cabinet.
Among the other institutions he supports are Columbia University’s School of Nursing; the University of Chicago, his daughter Jessica’s alma mater; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and a fund for cancer research.
He and Amy Ansehl (AB ’78), assistant professor at New York Medical College School of Health Sciences, also have a son Larry, a WUSTL senior, and William, an 8th grader.
Samuel Halperin, PhD (AB ’52, MA ’52, PhD ’56), introduced by John Michael Clear (AB ’71), 2001 Distinguished Alumnus
A respected leader in academia, government and nonprofit organizations during his career of more than 50 years, Halperin has devoted his life to serving disadvantaged children and non-college-bound youth. In the practical world of education politics, he helps policymakers bridge research, policy and practice in education, youth development and career readiness.
During the 1960s, he was director of the U.S. Office of Education’s Office of Congressional Relations and assistant U.S. commissioner of education for legislation. He helped develop the flagship Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education Acts of 1965, the Adult Education Act and student aid programs.
All remain bulwarks of the federal role in education and youth development. Then as deputy assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare during the drive for the Great Society, he helped pass myriad educational and social service legislation.
From 1969-1981, Halperin led the Ford Foundation-established Institute for Educational Leadership. A prolific writer, he co-authored the groundbreaking studies The Forgotten Half: Non College Youth in America and The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families.
The recipient of major awards, Halperin is senior fellow at the American Youth Policy Forum, which he founded in 1993 with underwriting from seven foundations.
Naomi G. Lebowitz, PhD (MS ’55, PhD ’62), introduced by William B. Pollard III (AB ’70), 2005 Distinguished Alumnus
During a 2000 Department of English retirement party for Lebowitz — the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Professor Emerita in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences — colleague Daniel Shea, PhD, referred to her as “their teacher, their prophet and their chanteuse.”
Among other English professors paying tribute were Joseph Lowenstein, PhD, who spoke of Lebowitz’ “utterly miraculous personhood,” and Wayne Fields, PhD, who talked of the “profound knowing that made her work so urgent.” He also described how she “went into class with books in shreds from her repeated and obviously violent readings and with sheets of notes.”
Appreciative students included her dissertation advisee Brian Walter, who noted that each semester, Lebowitz designed two new courses — which covered “the full historical, philosophical and cross-cultural foundations of modern narrative.” Doctoral candidate Lisa Eck praised “a personality made mammoth by wisdom,” and marveled at the number of students who had regularly packed Lebowitz’ office, even as a line grew outside her door.
A voracious reader since childhood, Lebowitz keeps up her French, German, Danish, Italian and Spanish for her work in comparative literature. She has published nine books and many scholarly articles.
Lebowitz and her husband, Albert, a novelist and attorney, have two adult children.
Susan Fisher Sterling, PhD (AB ’77), introduced by Diane DeMell Jacobsen (MLA ’95, MA ’00, PhD ’03), 2005 Distinguished Alumna
Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., Sterling has built her career and the stature of the museum around the message of equity for women through the example of excellence in the arts.
When she signed on as associate curator of the new museum in 1988, she had just graduated from Princeton University with a master’s and PhD in art history, specializing in modern and contemporary art. During her 24-year tenure, the museum has flourished, showcasing key American and international women artists in a stream of major exhibitions, while its collection has grown to include more than 4,000 artworks.
Among Sterling’s honors are Orders of Merit from Brazil and Norway, the President’s Award of the Women’s Caucus for Art, and selection in 2011 as one of ArtTable’s 30 most influential professional women in the visual arts.
Under Sterling’s leadership, NMWA marks its 25th anniversary in 2012 as the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to advancing women in the arts. Among her recent initiatives is Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists.
Sterling, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, met her husband, Scott A. Sterling (AB ’77 psychology) at WUSTL. They have two daughters, Pamela and Leslie.
Mark Steinberg Weil, PhD (AB ’61), introduced by Mark E. Mason (AB ’51), 2003 Distinguished Alumnus
Weil grew up on Forsyth Boulevard, across the street from the Danforth Campus, as part of a family whose philanthropy strengthens Washington University’s art collection and its academic programs today.
Now the E. Desmond Lee Professor Emeritus, Weil first studied art history with noted scholars ranging from George Mylonas (classical archaeology; an excavator of Mycenae) to Frederick Hartt (Italian Renaissance) and Norris K. Smith (architectural history and medieval art).
Weil, who was recruited to WUSTL following completion of his PhD degree at Columbia University, is an expert in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture and art connoisseurship.
He was chair of the Department of Art History and Archaeology for 10 years and directed the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and the multidisciplinary center that became the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
Among his contributions to his profession, WUSTL and St. Louis, he led interdisciplinary efforts in the humanities on campus; he helped found the Center for Archaeometry, which drew scholars across departments; he organized a national baroque festival; and he helped orchestrate a significant Japanese festival.
In 2011, in celebration of his 50th Class Reunion, Weil provided WUSTL $2,525,000 to support Arts & Sciences and programs in the humanities.
Robert L. Virgil, PhD (MBA ’60, DBA ’67, honorary doctor of laws ’09)
Business school dean during 16 years of growth and rising national recognition, Virgil has spearheaded memorable university initiatives ever since.
In October 1992, he chaired the group that organized the first nationally televised three-person presidential debate, held in the Athletic Complex — with only one week’s advance notice. He also chaired the commission that planned the university’s Sesquicentennial year as well as the campaign for the Danforth University Center.
Virgil currently chairs “Opening Doors to the Future: The Scholarship Initiative for Washington University,” which addresses a crucial need he heard every WUSTL school dean articulate before the trustees.
Virgil’s honors from Washington University include the Eliot Society’s “Search” award, Olin Business School’s dean’s medal, and the honorary doctor of laws degree.
In 2010, Virgil and his wife, Gerry, received the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award, recognizing their contributions to the St. Louis region. The Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award, now in its ninth year, is given to WUSTL community members who exemplify a character of service to the St. Louis region.
From 1993–2006, Virgil was general partner of Edward Jones, responsible for management development.
The Virgils have four children and nine grandchildren, with the 10th grandchild due in July.