Distinguished Alumni Award

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 Distinguished Alumni Award

Nominations collected year-round. A recipient is selected in the spring and awarded at a special event.

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

2022 Recipient: Michelle Gamboa

Alumna Michelle Gamboa, who graduated from the University of Washington Bothell in 2005 with a degree in Computer Science & Software Engineering, said that she was a tomboy growing up. “I loved science fiction, Star Wars and leading adventures,” she said. “But what I loved even more, was video games.”

Little did Gamboa know that the time she spent playing on those machines would serve her just as much as the time she spent in the classroom, leading to her being named by UW Bothell as the 2022 distinguished alumna for her work in the video game industry. “It’s rare that childhood dreams work out, but I am certainly grateful that mine did,” she said.

Read more about Michelle Gamboa.

2021 Recipient: Mary Howisey

As a founding member of the University of Washington Bothell Alumni Council, Mary Howisey has presented prior recipients with the Distinguished Alumni award but never imagined that one day she would receive it, too.

Mary Howisey has devoted many years to UW Bothell as a student, employee, donor and volunteer. Now, with the Distinguished Alumni Award, Mary Howisey is being recognized as one of the University’s outstanding alumni who have exhibited distinguished community service or professional achievements since graduation.

Howisey graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Society, Ethics & Human Behavior and a minor in Human Rights.

Read more about Mary Howisey.

2021 Recipient: Curtis Takahashi

When Curtis Takahashi first went to college, he did it because he thought it was what he was supposed to do. He had just finished high school and didn’t know what he wanted to do the next day, let alone the rest of his life. But without a sense of direction, he decided to forge his own path, left college and entered the workforce.

“At first, coming to UW Bothell was just about finishing my degree and counting down credits,” Takahashi said. “It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.”

He graduated in 2004 with a degree in Culture, Literature & the Arts from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

Read more about Curtis Takahashi.

2019 Recipient: Neil Low

Neil Low knows that going back to college when you’re working and raising a family can be difficult. It took him eight years to graduate from the University of Washington Bothell. Low retired from the Seattle Police Department in 2018 — 50 years after he became a police cadet.

Stick with the struggle, advises Low, recipient of UW Bothell’s 2019 Distinguished Alumnus Award. “I am so glad I went back to get that education,” he said.

Read more about Neil Low.

2018 Recipient: Taylor Hoang

The award recognizes UW Bothell alumni who have shown distinguished professional achievements or outstanding community service. Hoang, who received a business degree in 2002, heads the Pho Cyclo restaurant group and directs the Ethnic Business Coalition in Seattle.

Read more about Taylor Hoang.

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.

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.

Read more about Stephen Ssemaala.

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.

2015 Recipient: June Altaras

Altaras 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 Altaras.

2014 Recipient: Sue Ambler

The 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 Ambler.

2013 Recipient: Mike Collins

University 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 Collins.

2012 Recipient: Holli Martinez

While 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

Abigail 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.

Past Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

  • 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)