May 7, 2021

Burning Bright: Introducing the 2021 Recipients of CGU’s Distinguished Alumni Awards

CARRYING THE CGU FLAME: This year's Distinguished Alumni Award recipients embody CGU's ethos of excellence and giving back. (Photo credit: Marco Verch;

When Walt Johnson developed carpal tunnel in one of his hands, his career as a brain surgeon was over. But, as we chronicled in a previous story published in The Flame magazine, Johnson overcame that shattering situation. He forged a new career and a new way to serve people as part of the World Health Organization.

That ability to face tough situations and find unexpected ways to help the world is honored with the university’s Distinguished Alumni Awards.

CGU presents these awards annually to recognize alumni of the university’s schools and divisions for their professional excellence and serve as prime examples of CGU’s motto, multa lumina lux una (“many flames, one light”). Johnson is among the alumni recipients chosen for this year’s award.

The 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winners (top row, from left): Inés Familiar Miller, Walter Johnson, Daniel Solórzano; (middle row, from left) Michael Uhlmann, Angela Lalas, Aragna Ker; (bottom row, from left) Juanita Dawson, Daniel Pick, and Robyn Iraheta.

In addition, an award rooted deep in the university’s emphasis on social impact and community involvement—the Distinguished Alumni Service Award—is also presented. This year’s recipient is outstanding educator Robyn Iraheta, who teaches in the San Bernardino City Unified School District.

“Our alumni have an impact on the world in so many different ways, and our awards are a way to honor that,” explained Rachel Jimenez, director of the Office of Alumni Engagement.

Jimenez said the awards have been around for more than 40 years and offer a way to salute alumni efforts, both large and small, to improve the world as well as to achieve in their professions.

“With this award, we’re testing the definition of what impact really means,” she says, “and in the process, hopefully, we’re inspiring our current CGU students to understand what’s possible for them, too.”


A selection committee of deans and members of the Offices of Alumni Engagement and Advancement was responsible for this year’s selection. Each recipient is being honored with a special tribute video shared with the respective schools of each award winner. (For more on these videos, see the link at the bottom of the story.)

2021 Award Recipients

Service Award: Robyn Iraheta (Teacher Education, ’12)
Robyn Iraheta is a program specialist and demonstration teacher for San Bernardino City Unified School District. While studying at UCLA, Iraheta became a counselor for the American Indian Student Association and a tutor for ages 6-18 at various California Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) centers. She has worked with indigenous youth in the Los Angeles area and in the Inland Empire to advocate for higher education among urban native populations. As a program specialist, she mentors new teachers in San Bernardino. She has filmed professional development videos that have been viewed nationwide and garnered attention from published authors. As a teacher, she specializes in raising test scores, specifically in English language learners and special education populations. She believes in giving students the tools they need to be successful in college. Her core belief is that the achievement gap will narrow only if and when educators learn to respect each student’s strengths, culture, and lived experiences.

Arts & Humanities: Aragna Ker (MFA ’04)
After spending time in the Los Angeles and international art scenes, Aragna Ker discovered his passion for working in the arts with adults with disabilities. In 2013, Ker began a mission he calls “Toni’s Touch” and funneled his skills into designing art-making tools tailored to the physicality of those living with cerebral palsy. (Ker was inspired by his little sister, Vuthona “Toni” Ker, diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy at 14 months.) Ker, who received his MFA in Sculpture in 2004, is employed as the curatorial and adaptive design manager for United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles. Ker strives to support the organization’s mission by creating tools that facilitate independence, productivity, and full citizenship through the power of professional art-making.

Center for Business & Management of the Arts: Inés Familiar Miller (MA, Arts Management, ’16)
Inés Familiar Miller is an associate program officer for the Arts & Culture Program at The Kresge Foundation, a philanthropic private foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development efforts. She helps advance the program’s priorities by reviewing grant requests, making recommendations for funding, and managing a portfolio of grants. She joined the foundation in 2020. Previously, she served as a program associate at the California Community Foundation. She was involved with initiatives such as LA n Sync, the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, and the Fellowship for Visual Artists. She started her career in higher education and arts administration at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Los Angeles and has served on the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative Advisory Committee for the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture and the leadership council of Emerging Arts Leaders in Los Angeles.

Center for Information Systems & Technology: Juanita Dawson (MS, Information Systems and Technology, ’05)
Juanita Dawson has a passion for information security. As a director at Raytheon Technologies, she provides the vision and leadership for developing and supporting initiatives critical to compliance in security, cyber intelligence, risk management, records management, disaster recovery, and business continuity. She also serves as the principal liaison with key internal and external partners, product teams, and support groups, ensuring that the organization’s practices and technologies comply with all applicable laws and regulations. As a doctoral student, Dawson is researching cybersecurity, compliance, and interoperability of information systems. Her connection to CGU is a family affair. Her son Quincy earned his master’s in education in 2020, and her daughter Nicole graduates this year with an MBA.

Community and Global Health: Walter Johnson (MPH ’12)
Walt Johnson holds professorships in surgery, neurosurgery, and public health and is the founding director of the Center for Global Surgery at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. Prior to this position, he led the Emergency and Essential Surgical Care program at the World Health Organization in Geneva from 2015-2019. Johnson completed his medical degree at Loma Linda University, followed by neurosurgery training at SUNY-Health Science Center at Brooklyn and a cerebrovascular fellowship at UCLA. He was involved in academic neurosurgery until 2009, serving as the Vice-Chairman of Neurosurgery at Loma Linda University for over a decade. Johnson also holds a master’s in business administration from the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management, as well as a master’s in public health from the School of Community & Global Health.

Drucker School of Management: Angela Manalo Lalas (MBA, ’13)
Angela Lalas has served as Chief Financial Officer for Loma Linda University Health since May 2018. In her role, she provides leadership and oversight over the academic health center’s financial strategy, planning, and reporting. She has led the finance team in securing funding for and managing the budget for the $1.3 billion Campus Transformation Project, which includes the construction of the new seismically compliant adult hospital and expansion of the Children’s Hospital. Previously she served as vice president of finance for the system and director of the Loma Linda University Foundation. She joined Loma Linda University Health in 2006 as director of internal audit after working as a senior tax consultant for Deloitte and senior associate at McGladrey & Pullen. In 2016, 2017, and 2019, she was recognized among Becker’s Healthcare “Rising Stars: 50 Healthcare Leaders Under 40,” “150 CFOs to Know,” and “100 Academic Medical Center CFOs to Know”. She also received Modern Healthcare’s recognition as one of the 15 Up and Comers in 2017.

Educational Studies: Daniel Solórzano (PhD, Education, ’86)
Daniel Solórzano is a social science and comparative education professor at UCLA, where he is also the inaugural director of the Center for Critical Race Studies. His teaching and research interests include critical race theory in education, racial microaggressions, critical race spatial analysis, and critical race pedagogy. Solórzano has authored over 100 research articles, book chapters, and research reports on educational access and equity issues for underrepresented student populations and communities in the United States. In 2007, Solórzano received the UCLA Distinguished Teacher Award; in 2012, he was presented with the American Education Research Association’s (AERA) Social Justice in Education Award. In 2014, he was selected as a fellow of the American Educational Research Association. In 2017, Solorzano received the inaugural Revolutionary Mentor Award from the Critical Educators for Social Justice within AERA.

Mathematical Sciences: Daniel Pick (MS Mathematics, ’95)
As a computational biologist, bioinformaticist, and scientific software developer, Daniel Pick took on a range of mathematical and scientific challenges, including metagenomics, differential gene expression, and microarray data analysis. He is an expert in statistical learning, including supervised and unsupervised learning methods, such as univariate and multivariate linear regression. He also applied his expertise to software consulting in areas as varied as gene expression collection, protein-ligand complex geometry refinement, and genetic programming. Daniel Pick manages a rental real estate partnership in retirement, focusing primarily on vacation rentals in the San Diego area. You can bet the numbers always come out right.

School of Social Science, Policy, & Evaluation: Michael Uhlmann (PhD, Government, ’78)
The late Michael Uhlmann served as Assistant Attorney General to President Gerald Ford and as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, among other government positions. His other professional experience included many years in private legal practice and a leadership role with a philanthropic foundation. Long before he joined the faculty in 2002—his other academic posts also included teaching at Claremont McKenna College—Uhlmann completed his doctorate in government at CGU after receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and a law degree from the University of Virginia. For many on campus, Uhlmann was not only an insightful critic and commentator but also a colleague and dear friend—a mentor to generations of students wanting to learn how government works (or, he might have said, how it doesn’t) from someone whose experience extended to a distinguished career in public service. A prodigious writer, he was on the board of The Hill School for many years and is nationally recognized for authoring a report credited with stopping the abolition of the Electoral College. A tribute in The American Mind hailed Uhlmann as “that rarest of specimens—a scholar whose practical, first-hand knowledge at multiple levels of government” richly informed the experiences of his students. Uhlmann passed away in the fall of 2019. He was 79.


  • Video: Watch an announcement from CGU President Len Jessup about this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.
  • Past award recipients: Visit here to see a full list of past recipients of both awards.