The UMass Dartmouth Alumni Association hosted the 49th annual Alumni Awards, honoring alumni and community members for their outstanding career achievements and dedication to the UMassD community on April 7, joined by guests of the honorees, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of the Student Alumni Association. Receiving awards were: Brian Helgeland ’83, Lifetime Achievement Award; Lisa Tedeschi Vergara ’83, Alumni Volunteer Service Award; Christiaan Rees ’12, Rising Star Alumni Award; Carol Spencer-Monteiro, LMHC ’92, MA ’96, Faculty/Staff Achievement Award; and Jeanne Leduc, Blue and Gold Legacy Award.
Brian Kelly’88, treasurer of the UMassD Alumni Association served as master of ceremonies. Members of the Student Alumni Association Capri McLucas ‘23, Kianna Wilson ‘23, Madison Cabral ‘23, Jillian Beaupre ‘23, Joshua Bernadin ‘24 presented the awards.
Chancellor Mark A. Fuller welcomed guests, noting the significant role alumni can play in the lives of current students. “Alumni support, whether it’s mentorship, engagement or giving, are important because you are creating pathways for students to succeed at UMassD,” Chancellor Fuller said. “You are examples for all of us of what you can achieve with a UMassD education.”
In their acceptance speeches, several of the honorees acknowledged the role that UMass Dartmouth played in their lives, providing both personal and professional guidance that remains with them still today.
Brian Helgeland ’83 received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his career as an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director. In 1997, he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “L.A. Confidential,” along with numerous other industry awards for the film. In 2004, he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay for his screenplay of the movie “Mystic River.” His other notable films include “42 (The Jackie Robinson Story),” “A Knight’s Tale,” “The Order,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “Conspiracy Theory,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.”
Helgeland recounted memories of visiting the UMass Dartmouth campus as a child with his sister while his father completed his studies at then-Southeastern Massachusetts Technical Institute. He also credits a science professor who helped redirect his educational path to one better suited to his interests. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Arts & Sciences and an honorary degree in 2005.
Lisa Tedeschi Vergara ’83 received the Alumni Volunteer Service Award, given to a graduate in recognition of service to the UMass Dartmouth and the community. Vergara founded Storytime Crafts Inc., a nonprofit in her hometown on Needham, Mass., with the goal of uniting communities to promote inclusive childhood literacy opportunities. The grassroots literacy initiative amplifies the voices and stories of diverse children’s book authors and directs literacy resources throughout communities. In her remarks, Vergara paid tribute to the former Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts Dietmar Winkler for inspiring her career.
In honor of her investment in and care for the academic, professional, and personal well-being of UMassD students and alumni for over 30 years, Carol Spencer-Monteiro ’92, MA ’96, assistant vice chancellor for student success, received the Faculty/Staff Recognition Award. A first-generation college student and first-born American in her family, Spencer-Monteiro embarked on her journey at UMass Dartmouth as a 30-year-old mother of two, working full-time while pursuing a psychology degree. This provided a perspective that helped her understand the needs of students later in her professional role here.
“What I gained through this experience was obtaining a voice, a voice to speak up not only for my needs, but for the needs of our students,” she said.
Christiaan Rees ’12 was selected for the Rising Star Alumni Award, which celebrates the accomplishments of a UMassD graduate of the last 10-15 years whose exceptional achievements in career, public service, or volunteer activities. Dr. Rees is a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he is participating in the Science in Residency pathway of the hospital’s Internal Medicine Residency Program.
At UMassD, Rees discovered research interests at the intersection of microbiology and organic chemistry, working with UMassD faculty Dr. Mark Silby and Dr. Siva Rasapalli on a project related to the antimicrobial activity of natural product-derived small molecules. Outside of class and research, he served as a tutor for biology, chemistry, and physics, and volunteered in the emergency department of Cape Cod Hospital for nearly three years. Rees continued his education at Dartmouth College, earning a Ph.D. in quantitative biomedical sciences in 2018 followed by a Doctor of Medicine in 2020.
The Blue and Gold Legacy Award was given to Jeanne Leduc, for her lifelong dedication to helping individuals overcome health, education, and food insecurity challenges. This award is given to an individual who is not a graduate of UMass Dartmouth, but demonstrates a steadfast dedication to the university and the community.
Trained as a nurse, Leduc dedicated her professional career to caring for others, and continued that mission throughout her life. Leduc is one of the founding members of the Africa Teacher Foundation ATF, an organization that trains African teachers in best educational practices to improve curricular and instructional standards. Leduc has made a commitment to volunteering and supporting many local community organizations, including the Hartford After School Program, Hartford Home for the Aged, MS Foundation of Central CT, and various soup kitchens and churches.
“I’m truly humbled by this recognition. I thank my parents who taught us and inspired us to share what we had,” said Leduc.
Leduc and her family have been long-standing philanthropic supporters of community engagement activities, establishing the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement at UMass Dartmouth in 2008 with her husband Robert, a 1979 alumnus. “Bob and I have been honored to support the extraordinary work of the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, and UMass Dartmouth students.”
In honor of her dedication to supporting individuals with food insecurities, the on-campus food pantry was renamed “Jeanne’s Cupboard.” Formerly known as “Arnie’s Cupboard,” the pantry’s mission is to alleviate food insecurity among the UMass Dartmouth community by providing emergency food and educational resources to students, faculty, and staff in need.