The University of Arkansas at Little Rock honored three of its remarkable graduates during the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony on Nov. 4.
Stuti Chatterjee, a May 2021 graduate, was honored with the Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award. Helaine Williams, Sunday Style editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was awarded the Presidents Award. Dr. Jaafer Golzar, a cardiologist and chief medical officer for Avinger, Inc., received the Distinguished Alumnus Award. All three recipients were honored during a ceremony at the Clinton Presidential Center.
UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale said that the stories of the three honorees serve as a testament to the potential for every student that aspires to be more and entrusts UA Little Rock to provide the right experience to reach their goals.
“Each of these individuals, in their own way, exemplify our very highest aspirations as an institution and for the students we serve,” Chancellor Drale remarked. “It is our responsibility, as it has always been, to prepare the students of today with the skills for tomorrow. The alumni being honored today demonstrate exactly what that looks like.”
The winner of the Whitbeck Memorial Award represents the top graduate of the year. During her time at UA Little Rock, Chatterjee’s list of accomplishments include receiving three Signature Experience Awards and two Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship awards; and copy editing Dr. Michael Wilson’s book, “Behavioral Emergencies for the Healthcare Provider.”
She also worked with Dr. Noureen Siraj, assistant professor of chemistry, to study the use of nanodrugs for effective cancer cell therapies, and was named the 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Student for the Department of Chemistry.
“It should come as no surprise that Stuti Chatterjee’s list of accomplishments is impressive indeed,” Hawkins said. “When she came to the university, Stuti struggled with her writing. English is not her first language. It’s not even her second language. Stuti doesn’t make excuses. She solves problems. She started writing her papers earlier. She brought her papers to her professors for advice. She went to her friends for peer reviews. She did whatever she could to improve. She laughs about her struggles and gives others the sense that they can make it too.”
As a native of India who moved to the U.S. at age 10, Chatterjee said she tried many different activities and subjects in order to find her identity while in college.
“Someone gave me the best advice I have ever received to this day. He said that if your heart doesn’t scream ‘I want to do it,’ don’t do it. Life is too short to settle for mediocracy,” she said. “With that suggestion in mind, I started narrowing down the options that I felt passionate about. Working in healthcare was always a dream of mine, but being able to interact with patients and the healthcare community only solidified what I wanted to do for a career. Being an undergraduate research assistant and being able to work on cancer therapy research allowed me to build skills that I will be utilizing far beyond my career. I feel fortunate to have been a part of a community where we took care of each other and guided each other as need be.”
The second honoree, Williams, is a local icon in the journalism world with more than four decades of experience and is a 2021 inductee in the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. Williams earned her bachelor’s degree in 2000, after taking what she calls a “14-year spring break” from college the first time around.
“This is one of those honors you expect to be on the sidelines clapping as someone else gets it,” Williams said. “For me to be standing here having received this award myself is surreal. For years, I didn’t think I would be considered a UA Little Rock alumni at all. Coming back to the university was truly an act of faith. I’m happy to represent an entity that has become much more than the sum of its parts. Our university is the present and the future for those who would seek an affordable, quality education that prepares them for the ever-changing career landscape we find ourselves in today.”
The Presidents Award recognizes a UA Little Rock graduate who achieved success in their career, donated time and talents to their community, and remained in touch with their alma mater as a volunteer and resource person.
Williams served on the UA Little Rock Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2013-2019. This year, she participated in “Dancing With Our Stars” with Stephen Stone, associate professor of dance at UA Little Rock, to raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
Williams is also the president of The Umoja Network and founder of its subsidiary, Make it Plain Ministries. Through these organizations, she is able to share her skills and knowledge with others by providing invaluable assistance to new writers and authors working to get published, public relations-related consultations with organizations seeking to make positive impressions with their audiences, and guiding the content creation process for print materials.
As the recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Golzar, a 1995 graduate of UA Little Rock, is being recognized for his extraordinary distinction in his chosen field and special contributions to the community.
Golzar is an interventional cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group, the director of Limb Salvage and Endovascular Intervention at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, and a key opinion leader in the treatment of peripheral artery disease. He is also a leading educator on interventional techniques and technologies and the founder of the Chicago Endovascular Conference, the first large-scale medical educational conference in the Midwest.
“As a physician, clinical thought leader, and innovator, Dr. Golzar has been a critical contributor to all of the advancements we have made at Avinger,” said Jeff Soinski, Avinger’s president and CEO. “More than that, in his leadership role as our chief medical officer, Dr. Golzar inspires each of us to do our best to achieve our mission of radically improving the way vascular disease is treated. A mission he personifies in the work he does every day.”
Golzar’s close friend, Dr. Sara Tariq, an associate dean for student affairs in the College of Medicine at UAMS, said he developed his passion for helping patients in medical school.
“We were in high school together. We went to UALR in the Donaghey Scholars program together,” Tariq said. “Then in medical school is when I really saw him become so deeply excited about something, so deeply excited about patient care, so interested and driven about medicine.”
Likewise, Golzar said his time in the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program was a pivotal moment that helped shape him as an individual.
“I got into the Donaghey Scholars following Sara’s footsteps,” Golzar said. “That is when that change took place from me conforming to being an individual, to unlocking doors. Those were the most influential days of my life where I really learned how to be an individual and think for myself and ask questions, be curious, and to realize that not every question has to have a safe answer.”