Distinguished Alumni Award


Angela Janssen

2014 Friend Award

Mike and Nicole Gerdin, 93BA, 94MA, Julie and Eric Durr, and Angela and Brian Janssen are sustaining a Gerdin family tradition of visionary philanthropy that helps change lives.

This tradition began more than three decades ago when, in 1980, Russ and Ann Gerdin—founders of Heartland Express, a nationwide company specializing in logistics and transportation—made their first gift to the UI. Since then, the Gerdin family has been a force for good in both the university and the community.

Russ and Ann Gerdin instilled the importance of philanthropy in their three children—Mike, Julie, and Angela—from an early age, and the power of this lesson is evident throughout the UI campus today.

The Gerdins established the Russell A. and Ann Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, which provides academic resources to 650 student-athletes each year, and the Russ and Ann Gerdin Family Athletic Scholarship Fund, which helps Hawkeye student-athletes who demonstrate excellence in academics, athletics, and community service. The family also recently contributed toward the construction of the UI Football Operations Center, set to open this fall. In addition, the Gerdins have supported the UI Athletics Hall of Fame and Visitors Center, which enriches the experiences of many loyal Hawkeyes who visit campus.

The family's passion for giving also extends to UI health care. In memory of Russ Gerdin, who died in 2011, the family helps advance the work of the J. Hayden Fry Center for Prostate Cancer Research. They also provide a home-like atmosphere for cancer patients and their families at the Russell and Ann Gerdin American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.

Most recently, the family made a $12 million donation—the largest gift received to date—for the UI Children's Hospital building campaign to help create a healthier future for the children of Iowa and beyond.

Like their parents—who received the UI Alumni Association's Distinguished Friend of the University award in 2006—the Gerdin children and their spouses all are active members of the community, volunteering their time and talents for numerous civic and charitable organizations.

Mike Gerdin is the chairman, president, and CEO of Heartland Express, and he provides valuable leadership on the Henry B. Tippie College of Business board of visitors. His sister Julie Durr, an events coordinator at Heartland, has enriched the community by donating her time to the Iowa Children's Museum board of directors, the Iowa Arts Festival, and the Solon Education Foundation board of directors. Angela is an enthusiastic and dedicated volunteer for the various Gerdin-supported projects on the UI campus.

"Mike, Julie, Angie, and their respective families (they have 12 children among them) are all remarkable in their work ethic, their dedication to family, and their resolve to make the University of Iowa one of this nation's best medical research and clinical care programs," say friends E.J. and Joanne Buresh. "The family continues to have a profound impact upon the quality of life for Iowans."

Through their loyalty and strong-rooted belief in giving back, Mike and Nicole Gerdin, Julie and Eric Durr, and Angela and Brian Janssen are helping Iowa shine.

The Gerdins are members of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.


About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.


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The Krause Essay Prize and its $10,000 award is presented annually by a unique panel of judges: UI graduate students. Photo: Tim Schoon/UI Office of Strategic Communication Students in the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program's graduate seminar dug into their weekly reading assignments with particular enthusiasm this past spring?and for good reason. By the end of the semester, they were tasked with selecting the best of the bunch for a prestigious award on behalf of a university known for its literary tradition. This marks the 12th year that nonfiction graduate students served as judges for the newly renamed Krause Essay Prize, a national award presented to an essayist who pushes the boundaries of the genre through experimentation, exploration, and discovery. Thought to be the only national literary honor selected by students, the prize is accompanied by a $10,000 award for the first time this year thanks to a new partnership between the UI Nonfiction Writing Program and the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation. Shawn Wen, winner of the 2018 Krause Essay Prize, is the author of A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Seneca Review, Iowa Review, White Review, and the anthology City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis. This year's Krause Essay Prize recipient is Shawn Wen, a San Francisco-based multimedia artist and the author of A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause (Sarabande Books, 2017), a book-length essay on the life of French mime Marcel Marceau. Wen, whom students selected from a pool of 14 nominees, accepted her award at a ceremony in September in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. Nicol?s Medina Mora Perez, a third-year MFA student from Mexico City, was among the prize judges in the spring seminar taught by author and Nonfiction Writing Program director John D'Agata (98MFA). Perez said that beyond discussing the merits of the nominated essays each week, class conversations revolved around how they define essay writing and the type of nonfiction they wanted to champion as representatives of the UI. By serving as judges, Perez says, students had the opportunity to read a broad selection of contemporary nonfiction that they may not have otherwise sought out. "By the end of the semester I had a clearer idea of the sort of work that people are publishing today, which includes stuff that I'd like to imitate and stuff that I'd rather not," Perez says. "I guess it's a bit like watching the World Cup with your soccer teammates: You see moves that you think are cool and want to steal for your own gameplay, but you also notice pitfalls that you should learn to avoid." Wen says she's been "over the moon" since learning she was selected as this year's Krause Essay Prize winner. A producer for Youth Radio in Oakland, California, Wen says discovering essay writing "was very much like falling in love" and has long admired the UI's approach to the genre. "When I started writing essays, I felt like all these dusty windows in my brain were opened, letting in light and fresh air," she says. "It's incredibly meaningful to me that my writing has been recognized by this program and its students." D'Agata dreamed up the prize in 2007 as a way to introduce his students to high-caliber essay writing and the many forms it can take. The professor asked colleagues from around the country to recommend their favorite essays from the past year, which he then compiled into a reading list for his seminar. As an added twist, D'Agata noted that submissions could be from any medium?including radio and film?as long as they were "essayistic." To give class discussions a sense of consequence, D'Agata had students evaluate each piece at the end of the semester and select a single award winner. Author Aaron Kunin received the inaugural Essay Prize, as the award was previously known, and it soon became an annual tradition. D'Agata's seminar students spend the semester dissecting the pieces, giving presentations, and writing critiques for the The Essay Review, the Nonfiction Writing Program's national magazine. Over the years, the class has crowned winners as varied as poet?Claudia Rankine, science writer Oliver Sacks, performance artist Sophie Calle, and the producers of Radio Lab. A current group of 14 writers and artists from around the nation serve as the nominating committee, includes luminaries like Roxane Gay, Leslie Jamison (06MFA), and Kiese Laymon. "In the U.S. we do a great job teaching students about the powers and pleasures of reading and writing?poetry and fiction, but not so much with essays," says D'Agata, who in 2016 published an anthology titled The Making of the American Essay. "Essays are often an afterthought in literature classes in America." In 2017, the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation made a $500,000 donation to bolster the endowment of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program?the largest gift in the distinguished program's history. Founded in 1976, the Nonfiction Writing Program, a graduate program within the Department of English, is regularly ranked among the best in the nation and has launched the careers of alumni who have gone on to write for magazines like the New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Harper's. "The Krause Foundation is about giving back and giving forward," says Elliott Krause (14MFA), a Nonfiction Writing Program alumnus who now works at the Wall Street Journal. "Helping fund the Essay Prize is a rare chance to do both. Eleven Krauses and counting have graduated from the University of Iowa; the Krause Essay Prize is a way to both express our gratitude for all Iowa has given us and be a champion for the arts." The support from the Krause family has not only allowed the program to award a cash prize for the first time, but also to invite winners to campus to present their essays and spend time with students and faculty. When Wen visited in late September, she taught a series of master classes for nonfiction students. D'Agata says that the foundation's support further legitimizes the idea of a student-driven award and its importance to the literary world. "It's also helping to bring attention to the entire genre," D'Agata says. "There are a lot of awards out there for works of fiction and poetry, but very few awards for essays. This award is saying, 'essays are awesome.' If you're an essayist, you don't hear that very?often. The Krause Foundation is helping to fix that." Krause Essay Prize Winners The UI Nonfiction Writing Program has awarded a national essay-writing prize annually since 2007. With support from the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation, the award was renamed the Krause Essay Prize this year. For more on the prize, visit krauseessayprize.org. 2018: Shawn Wen, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause 2017: Peter Middleton and James Spinney, Notes on Blindness 2016: Oliver Sacks, Gratitude 2015: Claudia Rankine, Citizen 2014: Sophie Calle, The Address Book 2013: David Rakoff, Waiting 2012: Lauren Redniss, Radioactive 2011: Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands 2010: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, New Normal? 2009: Mary Ruefle, The Most of It 2008: Joshua Raskin, I Met the Walrus 2007: Aaron Kunin, Secret Architecture

The Graduates of the Last Decade ("GOLD") Leadership Group advocates for the interests of recent graduates of the University of Iowa (alumni who earned a UI degree within the past 10 years).

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