UW Retirement Association

June 23, 2015

2015 Distinguished Retiree Excellence in Community Service: Alvin Kwiram

Meany Auditorium

Kwiram receives the award from Interim President Cauce on June 11 at UW’s Meany Auditorium.

By Bob Roseth

As a tenured faculty member and top administrator, Alvin Kwiram, emeritus professor and emeritus vice provost for research, had many opportunities to make an impact on the university. But he has continued to devote himself to pursuing these opportunities at a time in life when many individuals would seek other diversions.

For his achievements and for his continued dedication to service, Kwiram was recognized with the 2015 UW-UWRA Distinguished Retiree Excellence in Community Service Award.

Kwiram retired officially in 2007. But he felt there were important challenges remaining.

In particular, he saw major opportunities for the UW to help stimulate the creation of the “next big thing” in economic development for the region in the form of clean energy research that capitalized on UW expertise in photonics and nanotechnology.

A convergence of factors – the UW’s success with a National Science Foundation science and technology center for photonics, the emergence of opportunities at the federal level for research on emerging sources for renewable energy, and Kwiram’s desire to ensure that the UW made significant contributions to address the profound problem of climate change – led him to create a steering committee of leaders from the business community, the academy and the civic community.

Given his contacts and persuasiveness, he attracted a top-flight group, with the understanding that they were being asked not to be figureheads but to roll up their sleeves and make things happen.

The committee met monthly over the next five years, creating a series of breakfast lectures for business leaders, major participation in the Seattle of Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Conference in 2009 on renewable energy, and a public lecture on campus featuring the dean of the College of Engineering and the provost that attracted an audience of 600.

Meanwhile, Kwiram organized an international scientific conference on photonics and renewable energy. All of this was part of a strategy for raising the UW’s profile in the area of clean energy research and stimulating interest in both the public and private sectors.

A meeting was also scheduled with then-Representative Jay Inslee because of his longstanding interest in renewable energy. This meeting proved to be fortuitous in an unexpected way when federal funding for the initiative became increasingly unlikely and Inslee decided to run for governor. After Inslee became governor, his first state budget contained funding for a “UW Clean Energy Institute,” which was approved by the legislature last year.

Kwiram’s service did not end there. He has served on major UW committees, including one that mapped future directions for the Center for Process Analytical Chemistry, and chaired the ten-year review committee for the Department of Physics. He also has served on a number of committees and advisory boards at other colleges and universities, including the advisory board for the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Academic Advisory Board of the Worldwide University Network, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of La Sierra University in Riverside, CA.

Kwiram served as co-chair for campaign development for the UW Graduate School during the UW’s last major fundraising drive. He came up with an innovative way to raise funds for graduate student fellowships. This became the Faculty-Staff-Retiree Campaign for Students, which included a university pledge to match 100 percent of donations that would create endowments of between $5,000 and $10,000. In just 18 months, the campaign netted approximately $13 million for graduate student scholarships and fellowships.

When asked about the time and energy he has devoted to service, both before and after retirement, Kwiram responds in a typically self-deprecating way: “It may be partly pathological. I grew up in a context in which service to the broader community was valued and encouraged. A second factor is that I saw this as part of my responsibility as a senior UW officer.” Throughout his singular involvement in issues nationally, internationally and locally, one theme is consistent. He devoted his considerable skill and energy to ventures that would promote UW interests and enhance the university’s reputation. The university has been fortunate that Alvin Kwiram has chosen to deploy his talents on behalf of the institution.