Since 1986, the UCR Alumni Association has given out the Alumni Awards of Distinction to honor graduates who personify the university’s tradition of excellence and service. Through their personal and professional achievements, these individuals bring distinction to UCR, contribute to the betterment of society, and enhance their communities. On Nov. 18, UCR celebrated the 30th annual alumni awards by honoring three alumni. Shola Lynch, Ofelia Valdez-Yeager, and David Gutierrez tell their stories.
Distinguished Alumnus Award: Shola Lynch, M.A. ’95
This year, award-winning filmmaker Shola Lynch received the most prestigious honor bestowed by the UCR Alumni Association. The award is based on national and international distinction in one’s field and significant contribution to humankind.
Born and raised in New York City, Lynch’s grand life plan was “to travel the world!” she says, laughing. She was intrigued by UC Riverside after her father, a professor, sent her a brochure for a Public History Resource Management Masters including American History. “This light bulb went off in my head, to bring history alive through the artifacts of history. I packed up all my stuff in my VW bug and drove to California.”
Since then, she has written and directed for CNN, ESPN, HBO Sports, and PBS. Her first independent documentary, “Chisholm ’72 — Unbought & Unbossed,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, won a Peabody Award and is now a classic. “I tell the stories that I want to see. And they involve people who look like me and who are like me.”
Lynch’s second feature, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” recounts the politically charged events that thrust academic and activist Angela Davis onto the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and sold internationally in Brazil, France, South Africa, and Sweden. “Free Angela” has been honored with numerous awards including a NAACP Image Award for Best Documentary.
“I’m a documentary filmmaker,” she says. “History is very important to me, so the stories that I tell are primarily historical.” She credits UCR with guiding her toward documentary work; a friend who worked at the California Museum of Photography showed her its stereograph collection. “I just was blown away. It ended up being my thesis and I did an exhibition there, and that completely took me into the work that I do today.”
In 2013, Sundance selected Lynch for the prestigious Women’s Filmmaker Initiative. Her current project, “The
Outlaw,” her first narrative feature, was honored in 2015 with a highly competitive grant from Creative Capital.
“The point of my work is to tell those stories so that we reclaim and acknowledge the diversity that’s part of this great country. I think the important thing with whatever you do with your life is that you do it to the best of your ability. Like Angela Davis said, ‘It’s the way you live your life.’ You’re just working hard at what you hopefully love to do. The rest follows.”
Alumni Service Award: Ofelia Valdez-Yeager ’69, T.C. ’71
Ofelia Valdez-Yeager is the recipient of the award that honors alumni who have created a sustained pattern of volunteer service in the community, arts, or for the benefit of UCR that has positively represented the university and fellow citizens.
Born in Mexico, Valdez-Yeager was one of eight children. “My father could not afford to send me to this big university,” she said. “When UCR called that I had received the scholarship, they knew that this was a real opportunity. I came and it was a pretty big deal.” She graduated with a bachelor’s in Spanish in 1969 and earned her elementary teaching credential in 1971.
It was at UCR that Valdez-Yeager says she learned to make her voice heard. “It doesn’t help a group or community if you’re always quiet. Whatever it is that you’re thinking, you may say, well, I don’t really have anything to offer. But you might, and the only way to know is if you speak up.”
Valdez-Yeager’s volunteer commitments took her to leadership positions in Little League and PTA as well as several community organizations through their committees and boards. She was elected to the Riverside Unified School District Board of Trustees in 1992; this was her first publicly elected position, and she was the first Latina ever elected to the local school board.
Valdez-Yeager retired as the chief administrative liaison to the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools in 2010. She is the past president of the Riverside Latino Network and most recently spearheaded the effort to successfully erect the Cesar E. Chávez Memorial on the Downtown Mall. “I was involved trying to bring other Latinos into office because it was pretty obvious that we were not represented. We decided that we would start a Latino Network.” She continues to serve on numerous boards and committees of local agencies and human service consortia.
“I was going to give back to the community in some way because I had received a scholarship. I would pay that back somehow. And to me, working in the community and working with students is a way to pay that back, and I will continue to do that as long as I can.”
Outstanding Young Alumnus Award: David Gutierrez ’04
It makes perfect sense that David Gutierrez is the recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, which is presented to alumni 35 years and younger with a significant record of career or civic achievement.
Gutierrez has more than a decade of experience working with Fortune 500 companies as a trusted finance and accounting leader. He is the corporate controller for Radiology Partners, the largest hospital-based radiology physician practice in the country. He also manages GA Investment Holdings and actively invests in entrepreneurial businesses, including Convoy Technologies, an international technology company based in Orange County that was recently recognized by the Inc 5000 and the Orange County Business Journal as one of the fastest-growing companies. David is also Partner at Gutierrez & Anderson, a boutique business advisory and accounting firm providing services to clients throughout Southern California.
“It was a natural fit to come to UCR and pursue business. But I really felt like I needed to do something beyond that to continue to grow,” he said.
His first venture began at UCR. “I realized how expensive student books were. Friends and I came up with the idea to create our own textbook exchange. We launched at UCR, and after college ended up scaling that business and expanding it to over 50 other college institutions across the country.”
He credits the professionals that he met through the UCR Alumni Association with helping guide his career. “[It has allowed] me to pursue the opportunities that I wanted to.”
Today, Gutierrez’s commitment to the community is as strong as ever. He serves on the board of directors of the Bresee Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that helps low-income youth, adults, and families, as well as the Youth Business Alliance, an organization focused on connecting high school students with real experiences of local business leaders.
He remains active on campus at UC Riverside as a mentor to students, guest lecturer, and member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the A. Gary Anderson School of Management.
“My commitment at UCR is going to be lifelong and I look forward to continuing my moment.”