By Alan Hieber ’16
The Wright State Alumni Association annually selects a series of winners in five award categories celebrating accomplished individuals with connections to the school who are selected from a pool of over 111,000.
The 2020 honorees have brought pride to the university with their achievements, longevity of success in their fields, and dedication to service. They also remain involved with their alma mater or professional home of Wright State and its spirit of innovation.
Alumnus of the Year
Steven Bognar ’86
Well before Steven Bognar became an Oscar-winning documentarian, he called Wright State home.
In 1986, Bognar earned his B.F.A. in motion pictures. Through a partnership with Julia Reichert, founding faculty member of the university’s motion pictures department, Bognar began to earn mainstream praise for his films.
One of those was the 2006 PBS documentary “A Lion in the House,” which chronicled experiences of children battling cancer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He received an Emmy for the film. Another success was HBO’s “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” in 2009 about the local impact of the Moraine plant’s closure.
Moraine would once again give Bognar inspiration with the production and release of Netflix’s “American Factory” in 2019 about the employees of the Chinese company Fuyao Glass, which opened a plant at the old site of the GM plant.
This led to Bognar reaching the pinnacle of documentary filmmaking when he and Reichert took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2020.
He credits former instructors Charles Derry and William Lafferty for molding and shaping his career path.
“They were merciless critics of sloppy writing. They graded tough and expected much,” he said. “Yet within this challenging environment, these two professors also conveyed a deep love for the sweeping power of cinema as an art form.”
Honorary Alumni Award
Being the recipient of the Honorary Alumni Award is a “pleasant surprise,” said 54-year Beavercreek resident Carol Graff.
In 1974 Graff was the first woman appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals in Beavercreek and the first female trustee of Beavercreek Township, participating in the incorporation effort of the City of Beavercreek. Graff sat on the city council for over a decade and was elected Beavercreek’s first female mayor in 1986.
Graff has also left an indelible mark on Wright State. Beginning in the 1980s, Graff had a 17-year run as an adjunct instructor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“I liked being able to see the lights go on in the students’ eyes when they figured something out,” Graff said. “It’s important for me to be a participant in a solution rather than part of a problem, and that was true in my teaching also.”
Graduate of the Last Decade
Joey Monda ’12
The winner of the Graduate of the Last Decade, 2012 B.F.A. musical theatre grad Joey Monda, has heard the words “and the award goes to” on a regular basis lately.
Shortly after earning his diploma, Monda interned with theater producer and Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky.
That connection would be a stepping stone to working on the production of plays off and on Broadway. This was proceeded by him launching his own production company, Sing Out Louise! Productions, which was the impetus to his being a producer on several Broadway shows, including “Allegiance,” “The Inheritance,” “Slave Play,” “The New One,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” which debuted in 2019.
Monda’s crowning venture thus far is the hit 2019 production “Hadestown.” The play won eight Tony Awards, including the coveted Best Musical.
“The theatre program is really spectacular in the relationship that the faculty builds with each individual student,” Monda said. “It’s an incredibly collaborative and supportive environment.”
Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
Steven Adams, Ph.D. ’87, ’89
He has been offered several senior-level positions throughout his career at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but Steven Adams, Ph.D., says he would rather keep doing the hands-on work for which he has always had a relentless passion.
The 1987 bachelor’s and 1989 master’s of engineering physics grad also has a doctorate in chemical engineering from Ohio State. Adams began his career as a physicist and electrical engineer in the Aerospace Systems Directorate at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Research Lab.
Adams now serves as a senior research physicist, managing cutting-edge plasma diagnostics research for the Air Force.
His ties to Wright State still run deep, as Adams has remained a mentor for students and an adjunct instructor for more than 30 years. He is also a proud Wright State parent as his five children have pursued, or will pursue, an education at the university.
“You talk about giving back to the community. There’s a turnover of students constantly there who I get to teach, and I really feel great about that,” he said.
Volunteer Service Award
James Helton ’04
The Volunteer Service Award goes to James Helton, who earned his bachelor’s in computer engineering in 2004.
Professionally, Helton is an engineer for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Life Cycle Management Center, which is tasked with management of weapons systems.
In his spare time, Helton is an avid supporter of Wright State athletics and students. He has volunteered at Operation Move-In for several years, welcoming students who will make campus home.
Since 2012, Helton has been a familiar face and volunteer at nearly all home men’s basketball games in the Nutter Center, helping organize the Alumni Zone fan section as its official captain. In this role, he sets up the zone, greets fellow alumni, and serves snacks.
“Just giving back makes you feel good,” Helton said. “I don’t think I could be where I am today without Wright State.”
This article was originally published in the fall 2020 issue of the Wright State Magazine. Read more at wright.edu/alumnimag.