Applauding Alumni Stars


Annual award winners announced

Meet this year’s alumni award winners, chosen by the Willamette University Alumni Association’s board of directors.


Teresa Hudkins ’69

Teresa Hudkins ’69

My Work: Senior admission counselor, Willamette University

My Honor: Lestle J. Sparks Medallion – Presented to graduates whose lifetime loyalty and service to Willamette reflect the ideals of one of the university’s most devoted alumni, Lestle J. Sparks ’19

My Backstory:

  • Served the university for 43 of 45 years since graduating
  • Roles included positions in the Office of Admission and Office of Alumni Relations
  • Service included class reunion committees and the Tokyo International University (TIU)/Willamette University/TIU of America Committee
  • Supporter of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, music and athletic programs and the Annual Fund

My Willamette: “An experience I will always treasure was taking Principles of Biology with Grant Thorsett. Professor Thorsett instilled in me a fascination with biology in general, and especially genetics. I’ve heard from hundreds of students whose professors inspired and motivated them to go way beyond what they thought they could do. Every day, I use those stories when talking with prospective students and parents.”


Dawn Albert ’08

Photo courtesy of Jenny McKenzie

Dawn Albert ’08

My Work: Residency in Social Enterprise fellow, through New Sector Alliance

My Honor: Young Leadership Award – Presented to graduates from the past 10 years for outstanding leadership in their vocations, community service and service to the university

My Backstory:

  • High school instructor with Teach for America in post- Katrina New Orleans; helped raise the school’s graduate exit exam pass rate for science by 18 percent in 2008, and initiated the school’s first speech and debate team, which competed at debate nationals in 2010
  • Provided mental health services for Bay Area foster youth
  • Recently completed an internship with Women’s Initiative for Self Employment in Oakland, Calif.

My Willamette: “Richard Ellis became my academic and thesis advisor, and helped me align my interests and strengths with a major that positioned me well for my future goals. His choice to take time out of his busy schedule to help a first-year student speaks to the heart of Willamette professors. They are smart, driven, caring and motivated to help students succeed.”


Distinguished Alumni Award Winners


Curtis Acosta ’94

Curtis Acosta ’94

My Work: Educator and consultant

My Backstory:

  • Pursuing a doctorate in teaching, learning and sociocultural studies at the University of Arizona
  • Leader in fight to save the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program in Arizona
  • Founder of Acosta Latino Learning Partnership
  • 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Classic Dream Award winner, 2010 Tucson High Magnet School Teacher of the Year and 2011 University of Arizona Goodman Award winner

My Willamette:

“Willamette never leaves me. It was in every lesson I taught as a high school educator, in my passion to create a just and exceptional educational experience for Chicano/ Latino youth, and in my desire to seek further knowledge through my graduate work in education. Willamette taught me to demand calidad, a high level of quality, in all of my academic efforts.”


Astrid Dabbeni ’01

Astrid Dabbeni ’01

My Work: Founder and executive director, Adoption Mosaic

My Backstory:

  • Driven to pursue a career in adoption services based on my experience as an adoptee and a desire to offer services to the adoption community through innovative education and support resources
  • Worked for more than 20 years in adoption agencies and programs while serving on national and local nonprofit boards
  • Leader of youth groups and workshops on adoption and transracial parenting

My Willamette: “I had a specific focus on what I wanted to get from my education at Willamette, and I felt supported from the moment I walked in the door. The professors I met during the interview process made it clear I would have the flexibility to study and pursue internships and opportunities connected to adoption organizations. I was able to find a job in the field of adoption even before I graduated.”


Jeff Heatherington ’65

Jeff Heatherington ’65

My Work: President and chief executive officer, FamilyCare Health Plans, Inc.

My Backstory:

  • Former executive director, Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon
  • International president of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, 1994-96
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Western University of Health Sciences
  • One of only 15 laypersons honored with a Distinguished Service Certificate by the American Osteopathic Association

My Willamette: “At Willamette, our professors taught us to relate what we were learning to the bigger world. Dr. Stiles’ comment that it is our similarities, not our differences, that allow us to function and move forward inspires me to look for the whole, the connectedness in whatever I am engaged.”


Jennifer Sasser ’89

Jennifer Sasser ’89

My Work: Chairwoman, Department of Human Sciences, and director, Gerontology Program, Marylhurst University

My Backstory:

  • Nationally recognized expert in the study of aging
  • Recipient of awards from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, AARP/Andrus Foundation and the Oregon Gerontological Association
  • Recognized by Marylhurst University with the Trustees’ Excellence Award in 2010 and a Distinguished Faculty Award in 2012

My Willamette: “My work as an educational and public gerontologist is informed less by my training in the human sciences and more by music, dance and the humanities.

“As a student, I focused on psychology and music. I was a member of the Willamette Dancers troupe and the Symphonic Band, and I participated in theater. Courses in Liberation Theology, Imaginative Literature, The Age of Beethoven and Modern Art History had a greater impact on my heart and mind than the courses in my major, as they opened up the world to me in an entirely new way.”