Alumni awards

By UIC Alumni Magazine

UIC and the University of Illinois Alumni Association honored outstanding graduates Sept. 22 at the Chancellor’s Alumni Awards Luncheon.

M. Christine Schwartz, ’70 BSN

M. Christine Schwartz

M. Christine Schwartz

For years, the lobby inside the UIC College of Nursing building on Damen Avenue was a tired, disjointed mess, punctuated by a boarded-up escalator that consumed the facility’s core.

M. Christine Schwartz changed that dreary reality, giving the now 46-year-old structure the physical heart it lacked for too long.

In early 2013, a year after reconnecting with her alma mater, Schwartz finalized a $2.2 million gift with the College of Nursing to renovate its west campus home.

“We needed a space that reflected the quality of the work being done inside the building,” Schwartz said. “I wanted the project fast-tracked because the College needed the morale boost and energy sooner rather than later.”

Within months of Schwartz’s gift, work began on the ambitious renovation. Crews removed the escalator, freeing up 2,500 square feet across four floors, and upgraded stairwells for safety. They began constructing communal and workspaces in the lobby, as well as high-
fidelity simulation rooms for clinical scenarios, research seminar rooms and experiential learning labs. Completed last fall, the project transformed the once-lackluster facility into a vibrant destination teeming with natural light, people, action and spirit.

“When the project was completed, you could actually feel the energy in the building change,” Schwartz said. “The College now has something usable and practical at its core, and it has created a real home for one of the top nursing schools in the country.”

Schwartz has been a key member of the College of Nursing Dean’s External Advisory Board since 2012 and co-chairs the professional group that works with Dean Terri Weaver to help the college achieve its education, research and mission objectives. Schwartz also made a $100,000 pledge through the Access Illinois campaign to provide need-based scholarship assistance to College of Nursing students.

In addition, Schwartz is a member of the University of Illinois’ President’s Council recognition program and a life member of the University of Illinois Alumni Association.

“As an alum, I give back because I benefited from my education and I want to be a part of helping the next generation succeed,” she said. “We have incredibly hard-working faculty and students at UIC, and it’s been meaningful for me to play a role in the Institution’s continued growth.”

Rina Dukor, ’86 BS,’87 MS, ’91 Ph.D.

Rina Dukor, ’86 BS,’87 MS, ’91 Ph.D.

Rina Dukor

Shortly after her family moved from Russia to the Rogers Park neighborhood in 1980, Rina Dukor, then 15, began selling cosmetics door-to-door. Today, as CEO of a biotechnology firm she co-founded in 2000, she sells sophisticated, award-winning medical research instrumentation and services to the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Dukor’s path to the American dream crisscrossed the UIC campus throughout the 1980s, starting with her undergraduate chemistry studies, and leading to a Ph.D. and a post-doctoral research
position in the biotechnology division
of Amoco.   

In 2000, Dukor left Amoco (now Vysis) to launch BioTools with professor emeritus Laurence Nafie of Syracuse University. The company, now based in Florida, introduced the first commercial dedicated vibrational circular dichroism spectrometer, and soon became a world leader in developing biopharmaceutical research instrumentation for drug companies, regulatory agencies and universities. Two of the company’s products have received recognition from the annual R&D 100 Awards, widely regarded as the Academy Awards of scientific research and development.

BioTools instrumentation enables pharmaceutical companies to determine more quickly whether compounds meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements. Questions that once could take months to answer now can be answered in days, Dukor said.

“Our work has opened a new way to understand the structure of molecules that are called chiral and biologics,” she explained. “These molecules compromise a majority of a new class of pharmaceutical drugs. Use of our technology leads to a better understanding of drug actions and helps with the design of new structures. For regulatory agencies, our products allow a simple method to check the correctness of structure, such as the handedness of a molecule. And in academia, scientists in all fields — from biology to nanotechnology — are using our methods for exploring structures of new compounds and materials.”

Dukor has served on the Board of Visitors for the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 2008.

“I will forever be grateful to UIC,” Dukor says. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today and couldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for UIC. It’s my home.”

Mi Ja Kim,’75 Ph.D.

Mi Ja Kim

Mi Ja Kim

Mi Ja Kim sees herself as the matriarch of a global family of nursing-science researchers.

“They’re all over the world, working to achieve what we all want to achieve, and it gives me this wonderful pride,” she said.

Indeed, Kim’s academic progeny are many and far-flung: in Rwanda, where she spent 2014 leading a UIC team that trained nursing leaders; in her native South Korea, which has sent 50 post-doctoral fellows to study with Kim at UIC’s College of Nursing; and across the U.S., thanks to her 11 years training minority Ph.D. candidates through a National Institutes of Health-funded program.

Still, Kim’s legacy isn’t only as a mentor to budding researchers. She is a titan of nursing scholarship — almost by accident, considering she didn’t set out to pursue a career in the laboratory.

Kim’s career as a researcher and academic coincided with the rise of nursing science as a doctoral-level field of study in the early 1970s. She spent the previous decade in clinical practice — first in Seoul, Korea, then in the Chicago suburbs, when a cardiologist working at Highland Park Hospital suggested she attend graduate school. Kim took his advice, earning a Ph.D. in physiology as part of a then-developing nurse scientist program at UIC. Upon graduation, she was recruited to the College of Nursing faculty.

It was a smart hire. Perhaps the school’s administrators had noticed Kim spending 12 hours a day on campus during her four years of graduate study or had taken note when a leading Harvard researcher visited campus to meet with Kim about her dissertation on the characteristics of the diaphragm as a primary respiratory muscle.

Regardless, it soon became clear that the University had landed a rising star. Within a year of her graduation, Kim received funding from the National Institutes of Health and was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology — a foretaste of a career in which she would secure nearly $12 million in extramural grant funding, publish 160 scholarly articles and even write a handbook, Pocket Guide to Nursing Diagnoses, which was named Book of the Year by the American Journal of Nursing. The American Academy of Nursing named her a “Living Legend,” and she is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in London.

Kim became dean of the College of Nursing in 1989 and left that post in 1995 to become UIC vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate College. She returned to the College of Nursing in 2000.

“Can you imagine?” marveled Kim, looking back on her career. “For someone who never even thought of getting a Ph.D., this has been so fortuitous.”

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