College of Arts and Sciences Hosts Yearly Award Banquet to Celebrate Outstanding Alumni – Introduces Volunteer of the Year Award

By: John(na) Jackson

Each year, the College of Arts and Sciences recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves in their outstanding careers. The careers of these alumni demonstrate the rich variety of professional options a liberal arts degree can offer – and each career trajectory showcases the skills and talents these alumni developed during their time in UC A&S. This year, to mark UC’s Bicentennial, a new Volunteer of the Year award will be presented.

To learn more about the exceptional alumni being honored, read their profiles below. To join the college in a celebration honoring these esteemed alumni and their achievements, please RSVP no later than September 24 by visiting the registration page.

Volunteer of the Year: Doug van der Zee, Political Science '84

Doug Van Der Zee

By attending the University of Cincinnati College of Arts and Sciences, Doug van der Zee found himself entering into a familial legacy of liberal arts. Hoping to one day work as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he earned a political science degree and a journalism writer’s certificate. Instead, van der Zee’s education took him to New York, accompanied by a communications graduate from UC A&S who would later become his wife. After years of successful careers, van der Zee and his wife passed down their love for UC A&S to two sons – who carried on the family tradition, each earning degrees from UC and marrying other UC graduates.

Now working as the National Sales Manager for Brodart Books and Library Services, van der Zee has worked in management since 2007. He credits his skills in the world of sales and information aggregation to his time studying at UC.

“My experience at UC further enhanced my writing and overall communication skills which I use every day in my job,” says van der Zee. “I also learned how to research at a higher level while at UC. I spent many hours working on research for papers at Langsam library.”

As an A&S graduate, van der Zee most appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of his education. He recalls dialogue-led political science classes featuring small class sizes that led to in-depth learning – specifically noting his constitutional law course as being particularly engaging. He remains passionate about the UC liberal arts program, saying it stands out for focusing “exposure and discovery.”

“I was able to explore a variety of interests and topics and meet a wide array of individuals from students to faculty,” says van der Zee. “This helped me blossom in terms of thinking outside of the box. I truly received a well-rounded education.”

When he isn’t busy working in the world of publishing, van der Zee also holds leadership roles with several genealogy heraldic societies, including: The Holland Society of New York, The General Society for Colonial Wars and The Mayflower Society.

“I have held leadership positions in these iconic organizations, in large part, because of the development of my love of history through my classwork at UC, and the leadership skills I learned in the department of political science,” according to van der Zee.

Now van der Zee has started his own lineage of UC A&S graduates, who he says are all happily employed in great careers that utilize their degrees. He is proud of his alma mater and proud to pass it down to his children and their future families.

“Liberal arts is ideal for the thinker and the explorer,” says van der Zee. “You never know where life will take you, so get the education and the degree to see where you will go.”

Outstanding Young Alumna – Sarah Curry Rathel, Communication '05

Sarah Curry Rathel

During her junior year in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences, Sarah Curry Rathel was enrolled in an internship class that she now credits with jumpstarting her career. According to Rathel, her experiences working on her BA in Communications were fated.

Rathel is now the cofounder of and author at Smile Books Project. Since 2013, she has been publishing “books for children with critical illnesses to turn them into the heroes of their own stories.” She has also been with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati for seven years, working now as their communications and engagement specialist.

During her internship class at UC, Rathel was introduced to representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “It was that moment that I realized working with sick children was what I wanted to do,” says Rathel. “I would have never guessed that I would end up interning for a year for Make-A-Wish and then working there granting wishes, transitioning to Ronald McDonald House and writing children's books through my own nonprofit. Yet, here I am. I believe that things happen for a reason, and however I ended up in that chair at that time was fate.”

Rathel credits her successful career to the flexible nature of her degree path in A&S, saying it granted her the “skills and freedom to find my own path.”

Not every student knows what they are looking to accomplish when they enter college, but Rathel believes that UC A&S is the perfect place to figure that out.

“UC A&S has so much to offer and—if you don't know exactly what you want to do—chances are that your classes, professors or even fellow students will lead you to creating your own path, too,” says Rathel.

Finding her role in the non-profit sector is not the only brush with fate that Rathel has experienced – she knows a fellow UC A&S graduate when she meets one.

“Throughout my career, I've met people and feel connected to them. Later, I find out that they graduated from UC A&S and I'm not surprised,” says Rathel. “There is a connection, a skill set that is unlike anything I've seen. It may be a big school, but it has a tight-knit feel and consistency that helps graduates be equally prepared for the working world. The University is respected, the College of A&S is admired, the professors are genuine and passionate and fellow students aren't just faces in the crowd—they become your support.”

Distinguished Alumna – Janet Gilligan Abaray, English '79

Janet Abaray

Janet Abaray earned her ultimate degree, a JD from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law in 1982. Awarded Order of the Coif for graduating in the top 10 percent of her class, Abaray has worked since 2006 as managing shareholder of the Ohio office for the national law firm Burg Simpson. Abaray began practicing law in Cincinnati directly after graduating from UC’s College of Law.

But before she went on to excel as a legal scholar, Abaray collected the skills she needed to become a successful lawyer while earning her undergraduate BA in English Literature in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Abaray is proud to say that she uses the skills she gained while working towards her English degree in her everyday work in her law practice.

“The skills I learned in studying English literature made law school much easier for me,” says Abaray. “My undergraduate training to analyze themes in literature applies directly to interpreting case law. In addition, in my daily practice, we have to review broad fact patterns to discern the central issues, and then develop a cohesive story to present these facts persuasively to the court and jury.  The storytelling, writing and persuasion skills that I learned in my undergraduate English literature studies are all essential to my legal practice.”

Abaray has traveled the world working on investigations – searching for documents, interviewing expert witnesses, and appearing in courtrooms. She has also guest lectured for classes on epidemiology (the study of the distribution and causes of disease) at both UC and San Jose University. Jet-setting legal work and medical lectures are, according to Abaray, “pretty surprising for someone with a degree in English literature.”

Yet Abaray insists it is her background in liberal arts that has led her into her surprising and exciting career.

“To me, the most important aspect of a liberal arts degree is that you learn to think,” she says. “I believe that the ability to analyze information and form your own opinion—while also respecting the opinions of others—is essential for success in your career and in life.” 

Abaray also believes that the things that make UC unique are the qualities that students should find most useful and special. She left her undergraduate studies having grown and matured in ways that have made her effective at working in a variety of environments.

“I found that the small class size and close relationship between students and faculty made UC special for me as an English major, and really fostered our ability as students to share ideas and learn from each other,” says Abaray.