Ten Cal Poly Pomona graduates with exceptional accomplishments have been honored as the recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2016.
The award is the highest honor given by the Alumni Association and recognizes individuals who demonstrate distinguished professional achievement, community involvement and service to the university.
The Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award also was presented during the festive ceremony on April 29 at the Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Fairplex.
Videos of the Distinguished Alumni Award honorees can be seen by clicking on their name.
Raymond K. Cheng (’74, architecture): He is a licensed architect and founded Hannon Development Inc. in 1983, and has been involved with more than 200 projects around the Southland. He is now associate director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he is overseeing $1.7 billion in development and construction of facilities. He served on the California Architects Board from 1993 to 2002 and on the California State Economic Development Commission Advisory Council on Asia.
Roy Conli (’83, drama): He won a coveted Academy Award in 2015 as the producer of the animated adventure “Big Hero 6.” The film also was the highest-grossing animated release for 2014. For the past 23 years, he has been a producer for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which included a three-year stint running the company’s Paris studio. He also was co-producer of the animated version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996) and was the producer of the Academy-Award nominated “Treasure Planet” (2002) and “Tangled” (2010).
Tony (’69, agronomy) and Sue (’70, foods and nutrition) Godfrey: A friendship that began at Cal Poly Pomona nearly 50 years ago blossomed into a marriage and professional partnership for Tony and Sue Godfrey. The couple owns Olive Hill Greenhouses in Fallbrook, California, which grows a variety of indoor exotic houseplants such as bromeliads and ferns. The company employs 80 workers and sells primarily to interiorscapers, wholesalers, and a few retail nurseries and florists. Olive Hill Greenhouses has been recognized as one of the 100 largest-grossing nurseries in the country.
Elisheva Axelrad Goldstein (’74, master’s in chemistry): Not only did Elisheva “Chevy” Goldstein spend time on campus as a student, but for nearly 30 years she was a beloved professor in the Cal Poly Pomona chemistry department. After earning her master’s, she returned to Cal Poly Pomona in 1978 to start a long and distinguished teaching career. Goldstein was honored posthumously. She passed away from a protracted illness in 2007 at age 59. Her legacy continues on campus. The state-of-the-art Chevy Goldstein Physical Chemistry and Computational Chemistry laboratories were made possible by generous donations from her sister, Dina Perry, and Damon Goldstein.
Kirk Jones (’92, hotel and restaurant management): He went from a small town in Nebraska to chief executive officer of a global leader in the luxury hospitality industry. As senior vice president of finance for Benchmark Hospitality International Inc., based in The Woodlands, Texas, he is responsible for the financial health of the $600-million organization and the property portfolio it manages. Prior to joining the Benchmark family, Jones held several financial positions with hotel companies such as Capella, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, DoubleTree and Embassy Suites.
Violet Palmer (’88, recreation administration): She made history nearly two decades ago when she walked onto the floor of a National Basketball Association game. It was 1997 when she became the first woman to officiate in the NBA and in any major professional sport in the United States. As a Bronco, she helped lead the women’s basketball team to the NCAA Division II National Championships in 1985 and 1986. She joined the NBA in 1995 in the organization’s referee training program and has worked more than 900 regular-season games. In 2014, she officiated the NBA All-Star Game.
Bailee Rad (’04, gender, ethnic and multicultural studies): As a former top-ranked tennis player as a teenager, Bailee Rad spent the early part of her career in a different type of court – as a high-level workers’ compensation lawyer. She spent years fighting cases in court before realizing that she could make a bigger impact outside of the judicial system. She owns and operates Lavanderia Clasica, a 4,000-square-foot laundromat in Van Nuys that doubles as a community room that provides free educational and CPR classes, seminars, college application and resume-writing help, and other community programs.
Leanne Swanson (’01, electrical engineering): Without Leanne Swanson’s watchful eye, homes might go dark. She is the principal manager of distribution engineering at Southern California Edison (SCE), overseeing and managing the teams responsible for the planning of electric distribution and substation infrastructure throughout the SCE system. Swanson started at SCE in 2000 and has held a variety of engineering, supervisory and management positions. At SCE, Swanson also leads the Women in Engineering Steering team and is the liaison to the Edison International Women in Engineering Program.
Lance Williams (’91, finance, real estate and law): Williams knew he wanted to be a real estate developer. After graduation, he worked at Watt Housing Corp. and Beazer Homes before establishing his own company, Williams Homes, in 1996. The Santa Clarita-based firm has built more than 1,000 homes, valued in excess of $400 million. Williams is the president and CEO of Williams Homes and a licensed real estate broker and licensed general contractor. Williams Homes was recognized as Builder of the Year by the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of the Building Industry Association in 2013.
Sepehr Eskandari (’93, bachelor’s in chemistry; ’95, master’s in biological sciences): He is the recipient of the Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award. He returned to Cal Poly Pomona in 2000 to teach in the biological sciences department. In 2010, he became associate chair of the department and served as interim chair in 2011. From 2012-2015, he chaired the department. He currently chairs the Academic Senate and is a professor in the biological sciences department. His research has been published in three dozen publications and he has been invited to speak at numerous scientific conferences.