About the Award

Established September 15, 2000, the UW Bothell Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes outstanding alumni who have exhibited distinguished professional achievements and/or community service since graduation from the University of Washington Bothell.

Nominate an individual for the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award

Nominations are due Friday, April 20, 2018.

2017 Distinguished Alumnus

2017 Recipient: Stephen Ssemaala

A political refugee from Uganda who graduated from the University of Washington Bothell and the UW School of Law is the recipient of the 2017 UW Bothell Distinguished Alumni Award.

Stephen Ssemaala (global studies '03) is honored for distinguished professional achievements and outstanding community service. The award was established in 2000, and the winner is selected by the UW Bothell Alumni Council.

For someone who grew up on a small island in Lake Victoria and who sought asylum in the USA, Ssemaala says it’s amazing that he’s a teacher of American government in Olympia.

The 52-year-old Tumwater man was once a politician in Uganda where he had started an AIDS education organization after his brother died of the disease. But in 1996 he had to flee to avoid persecution from political opponents.

Landing in Washington he worked at a fast food restaurant and a warehouse until he was laid off and offered retraining at Everett Community College. From there he transferred to UW Bothell and was mentored by Alan Wood, a founding faculty member who taught world history. It was Wood who encouraged Ssemaala to apply to the UW Law School.

UW Bothell was a community for him. “I had a lot of support when I had ideas. Professor Wood was more like a father to me,” he said. “When you are there you a part of a big supportive community, no matter where you came from or what your views are.”

After earning his law degree in 2006, Ssemaala became an assistant state attorney general, and since 2012 has been a contracts counsel for the state Department of Social and Health Services in Olympia.

Since 2011, Ssemaala also has been an adjunct instructor at South Puget Sound Community College where he loves teaching the American political system, “which is fascinating compared to other countries. Being a foreigner, coming into a new culture, learning everything and being able to teach American students their own government – interesting,” he said. 

He also started the KamuKamu Learning Foundation to improve schools and provide resources to children in Uganda.

“If they can learn a skill – raise cows, use a computer, at least sew – they may have a chance in life,” he said.

Ssemaala and his wife Harriet have four children, a son who joined the Army after 9-11 and is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and three daughters. One is a teacher in Burien, one a marketing manager in Washington, D.C., and one a nanny in Seattle.

Ssemaala remains interested in politics, but lost his first bid in 2015 for the Tumwater City Council. Very little in life comes on the first try, he said. “I will try again some day.”

“If you think there’s something you can contribute, you can’t sit back and wait for the other guy to come along,” he said. “We all have to be active participants rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

Past Recipients

2016 Recipient: Fredrika Smith

Smith, who goes by “Deka,” earned her bachelor’s degree in the liberal studies program in 1994 and reconnected with the University as a lecturer six years ago in the Leadership Development for Educators (LEDE) master’s program, which leaves about 60 percent of graduates as principals.

Read more about Fredrika here: https://www.uwb.edu/news/june-2016/distinguished-alumni 

2015 Recipient: June Altaras

Sue Ambler

Mike CollinsAltaras graduated with her bachelor’s in nursing in 1998 and she was so impressed with the student-centered experience at UW Bothell that she returned to get her master's degree in 2007.

Read more about June here: https://www.uwb.edu/news/press/2015/060915


2014 Recipient: Sue Ambler

Sue AmblerThe University of Washington Bothell has named Workforce Snohomish president and CEO Sue Ambler the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Each year, the university recognizes an alumnus who has exhibited distinguished professional achievements and outstanding community service. Ambler graduated in 1997 with a Master of Education degree from UW Bothell.

Read more about Sue here: https://www.uwb.edu/news/press/2014/061114 

2013 Recipient: Mike Collins

Mike CollinsUniversity of Washington Bothell alumnus Mike Collins was selected as the recipient of the 2013 UW Bothell Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes outstanding alumni who have exhibited distinguished professional achievements and/or community service since graduation from the UW Bothell. Collins graduated in 1994 from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Read more about Mike here: https://www.uwb.edu/news/press/2013/052313 


2012 Recipient: Holli Martinez

Photo of HolliWhile researching educational issues for a class at UW Bothell, Holli Martinez, 08’, learned that many children in under-represented neighborhoods in the state of Washington were in desperate need of relatable role models. This discovery would change the course of her life, and the lives of countless students living in Washington.

Through her class research she learned about the gap between the number of minority teachers and students in public schools. She discovered that students often have better academic outcomes when they have teachers who share similar cultural backgrounds and can serve as role models.

She was determined to make a difference. In 2008 she and her husband, former Mariner Edgar Martinez, founded The Martinez Foundation. Its mission is to promote, support, and retain exceptional teachers of color in public schools throughout the state of Washington.

The foundation provides scholarships to students of color working toward a master’s degree from the UW, Washington State University or Seattle University. After students finish the program, they agree to begin their careers teaching in underserved communities where they can be supportive role models for young students.

As president of The Martinez Foundation, Holli works with community partners to develop support programs that will enable and sustain teachers of color to teach in underserved areas. Holli also supports a variety of non-profits and community organizations including Hopelink, Ronald McDonald House, Children’s Hospital, Powerful Schools and Washington Women in Need.

Holli grew up in the Bellevue area, and still resides locally. She earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from the UW Bothell School of Interdisciplinary Studies in 2008; and graduated magna cum laude. In 2012, Holli earned a master’s degree from the Evans School of Public Affairs.

2011 Recipient: Abigail Echo-Hawk

Photo of Abigail Echo-HawkAbigail Echo-Hawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, but has made Seattle her home for the past 12 years. In Ms. Echo-Hawk's role as Tribal Liaison for the University of Washington's Institute for Translational Health Sciences, she works with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in a five-state region to identify health priorities.

As a dedicated advocate for women's health, Abigail was first appointed by the mayor of Seattle in 2006 to serve on the Seattle Women's Commission; she is now in her third mayoral appointment to the commission and currently serves as co-chair. Abigail has concentrated on policy and institutional change in order to minimize disparities for Native American and African American women in Seattle. Ms. Echo-Hawk also focuses on policy advocacy in areas such as: domestic violence, sexual assault, youth prostitution and educational disparities.

Abigail earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with an option in American Studies and a minor in Human Rights in Spring 2007. She continued on to graduate school and received a Master of Arts in Policy Studies in Spring 2009.

2010 Recipient: Mahnaz Javid

After earning her Master's in Education at UW Bothell, Mahnaz has been improving access to education around the world. Mahnaz attributes much of her success to UW Bothell's engaging professors that helped stimulate her curiosity about how people learned and the idea of an equal education for all. It was from this passion that Mahnaz founded the Mona Foundation, a non-profit organization which consists of several projects and campaigns ranging from providing solutions to teacher shortages in India to building schools in Vietnam.

Mahnaz Javid serves as an inspiration for all who hear her story of dedication to education. She shared her legacy at UW Bothell's 2010 Commencement.  To learn more about Dr. Javid, see the UW Bothell Insight articles  

  • 2009 - Mike Hope (MAPS '06)
  • 2008 - Natalie Kay Lang - (Liberal Studies '97)
  • 2005 - Vicki Austin (Liberal Studies '92)
  • 2004 - Barbara A. Haner (BSN '95, MN '98)
  • 2003 - Wendy L. Hough (MEd. '02)
  • 2002 - Travis Fairchild (Business '99, MBA '06)
  • 2002 - Chad S. Estes (Business '99)
  • 2000 - Bonnie L. Blachly (BSN '94, MN '04)

Did You Know?

Seventy percent of first-year students are from diverse backgrounds