Honoring outstanding alumni

Each year, the Wayne State University Alumni Association honors the accomplishments of outstanding alumni who exemplify the Wayne State spirit of achievement, excellence and service through two awards. 

Alumni Award recipients are announced in February and honored in a variety of ways throughout the year, culminating in the Presidential Reception and Alumni Awards event in the fall. 

Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally, recognizing individuals who have made a distinct impact in their field and serve as role models to enhance the visibility of Wayne State and the university community.

Homer D. Strong Award

The Homer D. Strong Award is presented for distinguished service to the alumni association and university as a whole, recognizing individuals who encourage alumni participation and benefit the university through volunteer leadership. 


2020 Distinguished Alumni Award: Denise Rizzo '00, M.S. '01

Denise RizzoDenise Rizzo, Ph.D., is a senior research mechanical engineer at the U.S. Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Warren, Michigan, where she has worked since 2008. Prior to that, she was a powertrain controls engineer for Chrysler. 

Throughout her career, Dr. Rizzo has consistently made outstanding technical contributions to her field. In fact, while working for Chrysler, she was awarded two patents.

Since transitioning to the U.S. Army GVSC, Dr. Rizzo has led projects of increasing scope and complexity, driven by her expertise in power and energy systems. She has been published in numerous journals, has been invited to appear on a range of panels and committees, and is frequently invited to speak at conferences and industry events.

For the past three years, Dr. Rizzo has participated in the WSU Industry Mentor program and is actively involved with several professional societies, including Wayne State's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.


2020 Homer D. Strong Alumni Award: Ron Wood '75, M.A. '80

Ron WoodRon Wood is focused on helping today's students prepare for their careers by collaborating with the WSU mathematics department, serving as a mentor and encouraging participation in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan internship programs.

He has devoted his career to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where he has worked for 41 years and currently serves as vice president of business performance. 

After earning his bachelor's in mathematics from Wayne State in 1975, Wood took a role in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan underwriting department. As his career advanced, he returned to the WSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to earn his master's in applied mathematics in 1980. 

In an effort to stay connected to Wayne State — and help fellow alumni stay connected as well — Wood co-founded the Organization of Black Alumni and is a past president. Today the group continues in its mission to celebrate the stories of Wayne State's African American and Black alumni, fostering lifelong connections with the university through programs, events, volunteer activities, resources and communications.