Each year, the Alumni Awards Gala recognizes alumni whose accomplishments in their chosen fields have brought honor to the College of Charleston. Hosted by the College of Charleston Alumni Association and presented in partnership with the College of Charleston Foundation, this highly anticipated event honors these alumni by showcasing the impact they have had on society and by celebrating the role the College has played in their lives.
“I firmly believe a university’s greatness comes from its people,” says President Glenn McConnell ’69, “and, this week, we will honor seven great people who have helped to make this a special and extraordinary institution.”
As part of the College’s Fall Alumni Weekend, the 2016 Alumni Awards Gala will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, at Charleston Place Hotel. Tickets include a cocktail reception and a gourmet dinner. Proceeds will benefit the Alumni Association’s programs and scholarships.
The seven 2016 Alumni Award recipients are:
Rahul Mehra was born in India and immigrated with his family to Gaffney, S.C., as a young boy. He was active at the College of Charleston, where he majored in biology and took 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 is a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist in Tampa, Fla. 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-U.S. 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. To honor his parents, Mehra has established the Kamla Kapur Mehra and Krishna Nandan Mehra Endowed Scholarship for a student from Gaffney High School to attend the College of Charleston.
When one considers Keith Sauls and his relationship to the College of Charleston, the words commitment and involvement come to mind. As a student, he majored in business, served as president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and was actively involved in campus activities. His involvement continued after graduation, especially with the School of Business. Sauls is a member of the school’s Board of Governors and a mentor for its students. Using his private equity and venture capital experience as managing partner of Charleston-based AppleGold Investment Company and Exeter Venture Group, Sauls offers advice to students considering careers in finance. He also serves as secretary of the College of Charleston Foundation Board and is past chairman of the its investment committee. In addition, he served on the steering committee for the BOUNDLESS Campaign and is a past recipient of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Not only has his family endowed a scholarship for business students, but Sauls recently initiated another endowment: In 2014, he created the Boundless Opportunity Scholarship to help build 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 one can reach with a College of Charleston education and proving just how much commitment and involvement CofC alumni truly have.
As a physical education major and a member of the College’s women’s volleyball team, Rebecca Shaw Whitener learned that teamwork was essential to success. Her coursework in psychology and media studies taught her what motivates people, and she used these lessons in her position as vice president of business development at Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) 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 March Madness live-stream. 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 2012 30 Under 30 list. Shaw has recently relocated to Mobile, Ala., where she will certainly blaze new trails
The College of Charleston is in Joni Harvey 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 in Mt. Pleasant, where she saw the need for a drama department and set about establishing one. 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 the rich experience of participating in musical theater. She oversees all aspects of the production – from costume design, sets and lighting to 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.
RELATED: Watch the CBS Dream Team go undercover to show McLeod that she is a Hidden Hero on Chicken Soup for the Soul.
As a College of Charleston student, Evan Linder spent much of his time 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 his highly renowned play, FRAT. In Chicago, he became an integral part of the theater community and co-founded The New Colony, 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 examines race in the 21st century and has garnered glowing reviews. Steppenwolf, one of Chicago’s premier theater institutions, has also performed the play. At the 2016 Non-Equity Jeff Awards, the play received six nominations and Linder received the Jeff Award for Best New Work. Linder also made Chicago magazine’s Power List of Theatre Scene Stealers.
Linder is also the recipient of the 2016 Award of Achievement from the College of Charleston School of the Arts
Upon graduating from the College, where she was an English major and a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Michelle Cooper earned her master’s degree in Africana studies from Cornell and her Ph.D. in education policy and leadership from the University of Maryland. She has held positions with the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance for the U.S. Department of Education. Since 2008, she has served as president of the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for Higher Education Policy, where she oversees the organization’s research portfolio and programs. She also develops new ideas and strategic approaches to help low-income, minority and other underserved student populations gain access to and achieve success in college. In 2012, Cooper was named the Top Postsecondary Leader in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine’s special issue, “Leading the Way: 25 Women Making a Difference”; in 2014, she received the Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership (EXCEL) Award from the Center for Nonprofit Advancement; and, in 2016, she received the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence and co-authored Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success (Jossey-Bass).
Cooper has also been actively involved with the College, where she has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Chuck Baker has been connected to the College of Charleston his entire life. His father, Charlie Baker Jr., was a member of the Class of 1937, and many of his father’s classmates became his mentors. As a student at the College, Baker played on the tennis team coached by Billy Silcox ’65. After graduating with a degree in biology, Baker pursued a career in 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 and eventually became president of the Cougar Club Board, president of the Alumni Association and member of the College of Charleston Foundation Board. As president-elect of the Alumni Association, Baker was author of the association’s strategic plan and was integral in engaging 10,089 alumni during the College’s BOUNDLESS Campaign. His leadership in crystalizing and then mobilizing a plan that will be used for years to come is the reason that the Alumni Association is recognizing Baker with its highest honor.