Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards 2024

The College of Liberal Arts Honors Three Outstanding Alumni with Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award

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Jessica Karr

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Barbara Smith

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Jason Wiersema PhD

Ms. Karr is currently a general partner at Coyote Ventures. Jessica graduated from Texas State University with a double major in Biochemistry and Philosophy with a minor in Spanish through Study Abroad in 2009. Karr joined the Biochemistry PhD program at UC San Diego as a researcher. She left the PhD program after completing an M.S.  After graduating Karr joined Impossible Foods where she worked in Research and Development and product development. She was instrumental in the development and launch of the Impossible Burger. After her time at Impossible Foods, she went on to pursue an MBA from Presidio Graduate School with a focus on sustainability and impact. Karr founded Coyote Ventures in 2021, an early-stage venture capital fund investing in women's health and wellness. Coyote Ventures funds the launch of impactful products and technologies that improve all areas of women's lives.

Ms. Smith is currently the vice president of peace programs at The Carter Center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter to advance peace and health worldwide. Smith oversees the center’s democracy, human rights, conflict resolution, and rule of law programs that are active in Syria, Mali, Sudan, Israel-Palestine, Liberia, Guatemala, and Bangladesh. The staff at the center has observed more than 113 elections in 39 countries and helped develop international election standards. They also work on conflict resolution and human rights and democracy programs.

Smith has over 20 years of experience in international development and is a subject matter expert in democracy, human rights, and governance with significant experience designing and implementing programs in conflict-prone countries. She has had direct and substantial involvement in policy development and strategic planning within the U.S. government, the nongovernmental community, and international organizations. Barbara Smith has served as a diplomat representing the U.S. Agency for International Development on policy matters in Brussels, Paris, and Nairobi. She has also served on the National Security Council in the White House as a director for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs. Smith lived in both countries, and her work in Afghanistan focused on the constitutional process and elections, including the first post-Taliban election.  Ms. Smith received an M.A. in political science from Texas State University in 2001.

Dr. Wiersema is the Director of Forensic Anthropology and Emergency Management at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS) in Houston, Texas. Dr. Wiersema and his team of anthropologists conduct over 400 forensic anthropological cases per year in that role. He is also responsible for the emergency management program for the HCIFS which involves the development, maintenance and exercising of emergency management plans, as well as the acquisition of grant funds to support those efforts. He is a founding developer of the Texas Mass Fatality Operations Response Team (TMORT), which is a state-wide mass fatality response framework that operates out of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force (TXEMTF). Dr. Wiersema is a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). He has participated in numerous local state and federal policy and planning committees including his roles as past chairs of the Disaster Victim Identification Subcommittee of the OSAC and of the Scientific Working Group on Disaster Victim Identification. Dr. Wiersema’s anthropological research interests focus on skeletal manifestations of child abuse and disaster and mass fatality response policy. He has acquired more than $6 million in disaster preparedness and anthropological research grant funding in support of this research. His experience in mass fatality incident response includes the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 tsunami in Thailand, the excavation of mass graves in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and numerous multiple fatality incidents in his role at the HCIFS. Dr. Wiersema has numerous peer-reviewed publications in multiple journals as well as book chapters and co-authored books. He was appointed to the Forensic Sciences Standards Board in 2019 and served as the Chair of the Medicine Scientific Area Committee of the Organization of Scientific Area Committees.  He is a current member of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology Board of Directors.