2015 Award Recipients
William Howard Taft Medal for Notable Achievement
This award is given to an alumnus of the University of Cincinnati solely on the basis of notable achievement in his or her field. The Taft Medal differs from the Distinguished Service Award in that it is not restricted to service to the university. The award is in honor and memory of William Howard Taft, Law 1880 Hon ’25, twenty-seventh president of the United States.
John B. Berding
The essence of the William Howard Taft Medal (and the nature of the UC education behind it) is professional success achieved with great integrity. In other words, it’s what you do and also how you do it. In each respect, John Berding meets the rigorous standard of UC’s highest alumni honor.
The ninth of nine children, the Cincinnati native developed his value system and work ethic from the strong foundation laid by his family. He maximized the opportunities provided by his UC experience, turning his co-op assignments at American Financial Group (AFG) into an extraordinary career that has thus far spanned more than three decades. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Cincinnati with a major in both Accounting and Finance, he attended the University of Chicago, obtaining an MBA with a specialization in Finance. Upon graduation, he was given the responsibility to manage and trade AFG’s mortgage backed securities portfolio. In recognition of his unusual drive and analytical prowess, Berding was promoted to chief investment officer of AFG’s largest investment portfolio at the age of 30.
So outstanding was his work over the next decade that Berding became part of the leadership team of American Money Management Corp. (AMM), the subsidiary which invests AFG’s entire investment portfolio. At age 48, he was named president of AMM, and now manages a portfolio in excess of $35 billion. He has been instrumental in the success of AFG’s investment results, which have been among the very best in the insurance industry during his tenure. Reflecting his significant contribution to American Financial Group, he was elected to AFG’s Board of Directors in 2012. As a member of the AFG Board, Berding works closely with AFG Co-CEOs Carl and Craig Lindner, and his influence touches the entire organization.
Yet as quickly as his colleagues praise his business acumen and uncanny decision-making abilities, they also cite Berding’s character, values and ethics, and how they become part of his bottom-line results and their real-life impact. His humble brand of leadership enables him to connect with people on a very personal level. He exhibits unbounded intellectual curiosity and a passion for understanding and learning, which inspires and motivates those around him.
Not surprisingly, Berding is moved to consciously contribute to the betterment of those around him, to provide assistance to those who show academic discipline and self-motivation, and to lift the institutions that have helped him and his family. Berding endowed a scholarship fund in the Honors-PLUS program within UC’s Lindner College of Business, thus paying tribute to both his alma mater and Carl H. Lindner, Jr., who saw such potential in the young John Berding. He has also endowed a scholarship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He serves on the Lindner College of Business Advisory Council, the UC Foundation Board, the Board of Trustees of St. Ursula Academy and the Board of Advisors of the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum of Art at Michigan State University. John and Susan, his wife of 22 years, are proud parents of four daughters, Katie, Claire, Mary and Margaret.
By exemplifying professional excellence, a humanistic style of leadership, remarkable integrity, a talent for tutelage, and a gift for inspiring with passion, John Berding is a compelling recipient of the William Howard Taft Medal for Notable Achievement.
Distinguished Service Award
The Distinguished Service Award recognizes alumni who have rendered outstanding, faithful and selfless service to their alma mater.
Akila J. “Ike” Misali
Bus ’55, ’63
“Part of the fabric of the university” and “campus legend” are clichés too often tossed about, but they clearly apply to Ike Misali, whose love affair with the University of Cincinnati has lasted six and a half decades — and counting.
A Cincinnatian to his core, Misali grew up downtown roughly where Third and Broadway streets intersect today. After graduating from Withrow High School, he went to college just down the street after receiving a freshman scholarship on the recommendation of his principal. At UC, there was little Misali didn’t do or wasn’t involved in. His activities ranged from leadership roles in his college, fraternal and honorary organizations, on- and off-campus service opportunities, and UC athletics, including captaining the Bearcats baseball team in 1954.
Following three years on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Misali added to his earlier bachelor’s degree by earning his master’s. His UC education created the opportunity to start a lengthy career with the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co., where ultimately he led the regional group sales office based in Cincinnati. This business success, coupled with his undying devotion to UC, enabled Misali to support a range of diverse causes at the university and encourage others to do the same.
Never forgetting his personal life lesson about the value of a scholarship, Misali has established three different scholarship funds at UC: The A.O. Mathias Scholarship Fund that covers freshman tuition to UC for a Withrow graduate (named for the principal who started Misali on his UC journey), the Sigma Chi Scholarship Fund, and the Ed Jucker Endowment for UC Baseball.
The baseball fund honors Misali’s coach, who was better known for later leading the basketball Bearcats to consecutive national titles. In 2000, Misali called upon his fellow baseball alumni who played for Jucker, including teammate and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, to help him underwrite the effort to lift Bearcats Baseball to a more sustainably competitive level. Misali was inducted in UC Athletics’ Order of the Black Blazer in 2005 to honor his many contributions over the years.
Overall, his generosity has touched many aspects of the UC community, including the Lindner College of Business, the College of Medicine, the College-Conservatory of Music, and the UC Alumni Association. Misali remains a fixture at virtually all Bearcats football, basketball and baseball games, as well as a host of other university functions — all befitting a true “UC legend.”
The Mosaic Award is presented to an alumnus/alumna whose leadership enhances our shared community through cultivating collaboration, fostering inclusiveness, championing the cause of the underrepresented, and promoting equity and opportunity for all.
A&S ’96; CECH ’05
Ever since her extremely involved undergraduate years at UC, Dr. Stacy Downing has been responsible for expanding minds and opening doors for countless young people on three different college campuses, and paving the way for them to realize fulfilling lives as alumni.
Dr. Downing earned her bachelor’s degree from UC in 1996, a master’s from Xavier in 1998, and a doctorate from UC in 2005, with each new experience elevating her preparedness and ability to serve the needs of her vital constituencies. Her career has been devoted to the broad field of student affairs — engaging and empowering students, providing growth and leadership opportunities, and creating the strategic partnerships on and off campus to make it all happen effectively.
Early in her UC administrative career, Dr. Downing managed the Darwin T. Turner Scholars Program for underrepresented students, the African American Cultural & Research Center, and the Office of Ethnic Programs and Services. It was here that she established her reputation for diligence in creating pathways of opportunity for students, particularly those who brought greater ethnic and experiential diversity to the university, often accompanied by unique cultural and socioeconomic challenges.
Upon becoming director of Student Activities and Leadership Development, she was able to impact the full range of UC students through her passion and expertise. She oversaw campus events and programming, club sports, Greek life, diversity education, leadership development, student government, and more than 300 student organizations.
Her successful UC track record resulted in Dr. Downing being recruited to lead the Student Affairs division at Philander Smith College in Arkansas for two years. Subsequently she moved to Delaware State University where she again led a multitude of student activities as associate vice president of student affairs. As was the case at her previous institutions, her accomplishments soon led to greater responsibility, and she was named vice president for student affairs in 2014.
The common thread throughout Dr. Downing’s career has been an unwavering commitment to better the lives of the students around her, to be a forward-thinking advocate for opportunity and diversity, to challenge and mentor students to see the world more broadly, to enhance performance in such areas as student matriculation and retention, and to be a champion for change where it’s needed and equality for everyone, regardless of whatever has come before.
Jeffrey Hurwitz Young Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award
This award is given to a UC graduate, within 10 years of graduation, on the basis of significant professional achievement in his or her field of endeavor, and continued service and involvement with the university and community. This award is in honor and memory of Jeffrey Hurwitz, BBA ’72, MBA ’73, former president of the UC Alumni Association’s Board of Governors.
Jennifer S. Schuster
Bus ’08, ’09
Jen Schuster’s brief time as an alumna has resulted in a remarkable record of accomplishment as a rising star at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and a volunteer leader within the Cincinnati and UC communities.
Her young legacy of deep involvement and impressive achievements began as a student in the Lindner Honors-PLUS program in the Lindner College of Business. While earning bachelor’s degrees in both finance and accounting, Schuster became the first Lindner Honors-PLUS co-op to work at CCHMC, and she subsequently helped shape its co-op program to better serve the needs of the hospital and future co-op students. Meanwhile, she assumed leadership positions in her business fraternity, leadership honorary, CWEST and Student Alumni Council, among other organizations on campus.
CCHMC never let Schuster get away. After graduation, she quickly established herself in the internal audit department, gaining a reputation for identifying process improvements and cost-saving measures while simultaneously earning her master’s degree in accounting. Her strong analytical and project-management skills led to her selection to help manage an organization-wide initiative focused on reducing costs and increasing value for CCHMC patients and families. Just four years removed from graduation at UC, she coordinated the collaborative efforts of external consultants and more than 10 divisional leads and was instrumental in exceeding the goals of this initiative, as outlined in the organizational strategic plan. In her current role as Business Director, Patient Services Finance, Schuster continues her work to streamline, standardize and improve the business and positively affect its varied stakeholders.
Schuster’s dedication to CCHMC is matched by her generosity toward her alma mater. In 2010, she made a planned-giving gift to support the Lindner Honors-PLUS program and worked with the UC Foundation to market the life insurance option to her fellow young alumni. More recently, she and her brother, fellow alumnus Scott, created the Schuster Family Endowment to enhance and expand the international co-op and leadership development experiences of future Lindner Honors-PLUS students.
Schuster has been a member of the UC Alumni Association Board of Governors Executive Committee since 2010, chairing the Programs & Services and Board Development committees to heighten alumni engagement efforts. She has also served on the Lindner Honors-PLUS Advisory Board, and her community volunteer leadership work has benefited numerous organizations, including the Junior League of Cincinnati and Junior Achievement.
Recently, Schuster was recognized by the YWCA as a 2014 inductee in their Rising Star program, honoring women in pursuit of excellence in their careers who exemplify leadership in their community.