The Distinguished Service Award was established by the Board of Trustees in 1952 to recognize individuals who have rendered exceptional service to the university. Awards are not made on the basis of long, faithful, or loyal service alone, but rather for service that is truly distinguished. Recipients of this award have provided a broad spectrum of services to the university in both official and unofficial capacities.
Past Award Recipients
Caroline C. Whitacre
A distinguished educator, scientist, community leader and volunteer, Dr. Caroline C. Whitacre has demonstrated selfless commitment to helping advance science through research. She is a consummate example of the university’s core mission to create, discover and share knowledge that improves the well-being of local, state, regional, national and global communities.
Considered one of the world’s most acknowledged authorities on autoimmune diseases, Dr. Whitacre’s research has made significant contributions toward understanding and treating multiple sclerosis. She has received research support from the National Institutes of Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
As senior vice president for research at Ohio State, Dr. Whitacre oversaw a more than $900 million annual research program. Prior to assuming that role, she served as vice president for research, associate vice president for health sciences research, vice dean for research in the College of Medicine, and director of the School of Biomedical Science.
Additionally, she is an emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics. She joined the Ohio State faculty in 1981.
During her tenure at Ohio State, Dr. Whitacre received a Faculty Award for Distinguished University Service and recognition as a University Distinguished Scholar. A Buckeye herself, Whitacre received her BA and PhD degrees at Ohio State and completed her postdoctoral training in immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Among her numerous accolades, Dr. Whitacre is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of the National Academy of Inventors. In 2009, she was inducted into the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Volunteer Hall of Fame for Researchers and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National MS Society in 2019. She has chaired various task forces for the society and currently chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee, working toward the society’s mission of curing MS and empowering people with MS to live their best lives.
Since her retirement from Ohio State, Dr. Whitacre — a wife and mother of one grown son — has continued to serve her community. She is currently the village administrator in her hometown of Morrow, Ohio. In this role, she addresses infrastructure needs and leads the effort to submit grants and carry out projects for the advancement of Morrow.
Robert L. Wright, Jr.
Dr. Robert L. Wright Jr.’s broad portfolio of personal and professional successes — realized despite significant societal challenges — defies easy characterization.
He began his journey at Ohio State, where in 1960 he became just the second African American to graduate as a Doctor of Optometry. Today, Dr. Wright is widely regarded as one of the most highly respected business leaders of his generation. He has spent more than 60 years working in government, business and finance to accelerate the health and happiness of and economic justice for Black and minority populations.
Recognizing a significant lack of services and representation in local politics for people of color and regarding issues of concern to them, Dr. Wright launched a consulting firm devoted to race relations, research, minority affairs and public policy in 1974. He put cutting-edge technology to use, developing computerized fundraising programs and a polling system.
In 1985, Dr. Wright founded Dimensions International, Inc. (DI), a provider of technology solutions to both the public and private sectors. Starting with only three employees, he built the company into a world-class organization with more than 100 offices in 10 countries and staff of more than 1,500 individuals. DI was purchased by Honeywell in 2007.
A dedicated public servant and community leader, Dr. Wright also served three consecutive terms on the city council of Columbus, Georgia — developing and supporting legislation related to housing, recreation, employment, industrial development, and street and highway improvements. In 1982, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the position of associate administrator for minority small business at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Over the course of many years, Dr. Wright has stayed close to his alma mater. He has provided generous support for scholarships, as well as shared both his time and remarkable life experiences with Ohio State students.
A recipient of the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Award, Dr. Wright is a former chairman of the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a member of the Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors. He has served as a member of The Ohio State University Alumni Advisory Council, the Board of Directors of Aflac, the Board of Trustees for Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Executive Leadership Cabinet for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.