Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools' Alumni Association recognizes and honors one graduate each year with the Distinguished Alumni Award. The Award is the highest honor the Laboratory Schools bestow upon an outstanding alumna or alumnus, and it celebrates the accomplishments of exceptional alumni whose professional achievements, personal lives, public or civic service, philanthropic or volunteer endeavors reflect on society through dedication and meritorious accomplishments.

The 2016 Distinguished Alumna Award Winner:

Margo Jefferson, '64

Margo Jefferson is an arts and culture critic. Her Chicago-based memoir, Negroland, won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Her first book, On Michael Jackson, was published in 2005. She was a book critic for Newsweek from 1973 to 1978 and a book, theater, and cultural critic for The New York Times from 1993 to 2005. She received a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Her reviews and essays have appeared in Believer, Bookforum, New York, The Washington Post, Salon, The Nation, Grand Street, New York Magazine, Vogue, and O, the Oprah Magazine. They have also been anthologized in The Best American Essays: 2015; Best African American Essays: 2010; The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; The Jazz Cadence of American Culture; and elsewhere.

Jefferson’s interest in theater led her to write and perform two pieces at the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Culture Project in New York: An Evening with Phillis and Harriet, a collaboration with her niece, Francesca Harper, and Sixty Minutes in Negroland, a solo piece.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, she received a bachelor of arts from Brandeis University and a master of science from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

See a list of previous Distinguished Alumni Award winners.

Rising Star Professional Achievement Award

New to the Laboratory Schools in 2012, the Rising Star Professional Achievement Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has made an impact in their field and graduated within the last 30 years.

The 2016 Rising Star Professional Achievement Award Winner:

Smita N. Shah, '91

Engineer and entrepreneur Smita N. Shah founded her infrastructure firm, SPAAN Tech Inc., two years after she graduated from MIT with a degree in civil engineering. The firm has a breadth of expertise, including planning and designing transportation, airports, and buildings. She has been recognized for her leadership as the Small Business Administration Illinois 8(a) Graduate Business of the Year in 2014 and as a finalist for Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. SPAAN Tech was also included on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies for 2007 and 2009. She developed her technical and management skills by earning a bachelor of science from Northwestern University, a master of science from MIT, and a postgraduate certificate in management studies from Oxford University.

She has been personally recognized for her philanthropy and civic leadership and dedicates her time and expertise to professional, civic, and community organizations. She serves as a member of the MIT Corporation Development Council; the vice chair of the Chicago Plan Commission; a board member of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation; a membership chair of the Economic Club of Chicago; and a vice chair of the Regents for Loyola University of Chicago. Passionate about children and our future, she serves as a trustee at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and as vice president of the President’s Council at the Museum of Science and Industry, where she works to contribute to the museum’s vision of connecting children and the sciences.


She served on the regional selection panel for the White House Fellows Program in 2006 and 2007. She served as a member of the Illinois Arts Council for seven years, chairing the Program Grants Panel and the Master Apprentice Program. She participated in the past five Democratic National Conventions by serving as a delegate; as a member of the Rules Committee and the Platform Committee; or, most recently, as a parliamentarian. In 2011 she was selected National Community Leader of the Year by the American Consulting Engineers Council.

See a list of previous Rising Star Professional Achievement Award winners.