Honorees at the 2009 UC Irvine Medal awards
Honorees at the 2009 UC Irvine Medal awards were, from left, William Parker, chair of UCI's Department of Physics & Astronomy and former vice chancellor for research and dean of graduate studies; Anthony James, Distinguished Professor of microbiology & molecular genetics and molecular biology & biochemistry; Laurel Wilkening, third chancellor of UCI, 1993-98; and Fariborz Maseeh, micro-electro-mechanical systems expert. Carlos Puma

At an annual gala celebrating recipients of the UC Irvine Medal, donors pledged $1.1 million in critical funding for student support and other key programs.

More than 600 people attended “A Celebration of Stars” on Oct. 3 to pay tribute to the 2009 winners of UCI’s highest honor: Anthony James, Fariborz Maseeh, William Parker and Laurel Wilkening. Traditionally, the awards ceremony is the university’s largest community event dedicated to raising funds for Regents’ Scholarships, graduate fellowships and other programs.

“To have received such an overwhelming show of support from our community partners, especially in the current economic climate, is truly gratifying,” said Chancellor Michael Drake. “Throughout the evening, we were inspired by the stories of the Medalists, who – along with so many on our campus – are shaping a bright future for our region and beyond.”

Melanie and Gary Singer ’74 co-chaired the event. A partner in O’Melveny & Myers LLP’s Newport Beach office, Gary Singer sits on several UCI advisory boards. His wife is a community volunteer and philanthropist. The couple supports many campus programs.

The ceremony, at the campus’s Bren Events Center, was hosted by Drake and the University of California, Irvine Foundation, which is chaired by James Mazzo, senior vice president at Abbott Laboratories and president of Abbott Medical Optics.

“With Melanie and Gary Singer’s vision and tireless support, along with an amazing effort from our volunteer committee, this year’s gala was a tremendous success,” Mazzo said. “While honoring our extraordinary Medalists, we raised vital funding for student scholarships and fellowships, as well as academic programs, so that UCI can address the issues that matter to people in their daily lives.”

Top-flight talent from UCI’s performing arts students and alumni provided the evening’s entertainment. Students from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts premiered a song, “Creation/Be My Light” from “e-$cape,” an original musical by Scott Guy and Nick DeGregorio.

UCI alumni who have gone on to careers on Broadway and in Hollywood returned to campus to perform and make the fundraiser a success. Alumni performers included Jenn Colella, Max Haymer and Stephanie Powell. Colella starred on Broadway in “Urban Cowboy” and “High Fidelity” and holds an M.F.A. in acting from UCI. Haymer is musical director for Musical Theatre of Connecticut. In 2008, he released his debut album, “Pickpocket Witness.” Powell is perhaps best known to Southern California audiences for her performance in the Los Angeles production of “The Lion King.” She is a certified instructor of the New York City Ballet Workout who has presented her scholarly research on African American women in ballet at the Congress on Research in Dance.

The highlight of the Medal gala is the formal recognition of individuals who have made remarkable contributions to the university’s mission, spirit and vision. The 2009 Medalists are:

Anthony James ’73, Ph.D. ’79, Distinguished Professor of microbiology & molecular genetics and molecular biology & biochemistry at UCI. He has a long history with the campus, where he earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees.

An internationally known biologist, he leads a global effort to develop new methods of controlling dengue fever transmission. His research interests include the molecular biology of insect vectors of disease, the genetics of vector competence, and malaria and dengue fever. In 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 1994, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. James received the UCI Alumni Association’s Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004.

Fariborz Maseeh, an expert in micro-electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS. In 1991, after earning a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he founded IntelliSense, a technology company specializing in the custom development of tiny, computer-controlled chips used in products such as cardiac pacemakers and aircraft landing gears. After selling the company in 2000, Maseeh established the Massiah Foundation, whose mission is to make transformational investments in education, science, healthcare, and the arts and humanities.

He is the founding benefactor of UCI’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies & Culture in the School of Humanities and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and he has made significant contributions to The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. Maseeh serves as a University of California, Irvine Foundation trustee and sits on the advisory boards of several nationally prominent engineering schools.

William Parker, chair of UCI’s Department of Physics & Astronomy and former vice chancellor for research and dean of graduate studies. He joined the faculty in 1967, two years after the university opened. His work on the electronic properties of metals has led to a better understanding of fundamental physics.

Parker helped create the Irvine Campus Housing Authority – the organization responsible for the development of University Hills, a highly regarded model for faculty and staff communities. He has also served as director of Network & Academic Computing Services and as associate executive vice chancellor. His numerous campus honors include awards for outstanding teaching from the School of Physical Sciences, the Lauds & Laurels Extraordinarius Award and the Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Distinguished University Service Award.

Laurel Wilkening, third chancellor of UCI, 1993-98. A renowned planetary scientist and expert on comets and meteorites, she was appointed vice chairman of the National Commission on Space by President Reagan and served on other presidentially appointed committees concerning the U.S. space program.

During her tenure at UCI, the campus received its first two Nobel Prizes, became a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, completed 250,000 square feet of construction, and increased private, state and federal funding. Wilkening’s goal to move UCI into the ranks of America’s top 50 research universities was realized in 1995, and she was instrumental in the creation of University Research Park – now a national model for collaboration between the private sector and university researchers.

The Medal was first awarded in 1984 to UCI’s founding chancellor, Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Recipients have included Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, authors, inventors, captains of industry, scientists and pioneers in virtually every field of endeavor.