Meet the newest class of Alumni Difference Makers

September 26, 2022

The recipients were honored for their contributions to their professional fields, communities and UM-Dearborn.

Photo of Chancellor Domenico Grasso, far left, with the 2022 Alumni Difference Maker Award winners.
Chancellor Domenico Grasso, far right, presented awards to, top from left, Michael Surmanian, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Jackie Hart from Altair Engineering, and Nicole Corso; bottom row from left, David Yesh, Monika Minarcin and Robin Wilson.

For more than 60 years, thousands of students have arrived at University of Michigan-Dearborn and left as victors. They earned that title by transforming lives and powering the future. 

The Alumni Difference Maker Awards honor the best among these victors.

On Friday, the campus community, the awardees and their families gathered in the Engineering Lab Building to celebrate the accomplishments of these outstanding Wolverines and their continued connection to campus.

Get to know the winners:

Distinguished Alumnus of the Year
Abdullah Hammoud, '10 BS

Abdullah Hammoud is the city of Dearborn’s seventh mayor. Before becoming mayor, he represented Dearborn’ in the Michigan House of Representatives for three terms, and shaped policy to create a more resilient city. Hammoud’s deep roots in environmental advocacy date back to his election as the youngest member of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters in 2014. He also has served as a state and national health expert advising major health care systems. A three-time graduate of the University of Michigan, Hammoud believes in the transformative power of education and delivered the keynote address at UM-Dearborn’s Spring 2022 commencement.

Alumni Business of the Year
Altair Engineering, Jim Scapa, '83 MBA
Established in 1985, Altair Engineering is a leading provider of software and cloud solutions that enables innovation, reduced development times and lower costs through the entire product lifecycle, from concept design to in-service operation. Their comprehensive, open-architecture solutions for data analytics & AI, computer-aided engineering, and high-performance computing, enable design and optimization for high performance, innovative, and sustainable products and processes in an increasingly connected world. Headquartered in Troy, Altair operates 86 offices throughout 25 countries and employs more than 3,000 people and serves more than 5,000 customers. An award-winning workplace, Altair’s accolades include the Top Workplaces USA 2022, the Inc. 2021 Best-led Companies, and the 2021 Investors Business Daily Best Environmental, Social & Governance Companies.

Alumni Service Award
David Yesh, ‘83 BA

A past UM-Dearborn Student Government president, Yesh earned his law degree from the Detroit College of Law, graduating with honors in 1986. He began his career as a member of the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. He worked as both a prosecutor and defense counsel participating in two highprofile espionage cases. For the past 31 years, Yesh has worked for Marsh, an internationally known insurance broker, as a senior vice president and senior claims advocate. On UM-Dearborn’s campus, Yesh has served as a CASL Alumni Affiliate member, chair of the Alumni Leaders Summit, trusted adviser and member of the Alumni Society Board, mentor for Talent Gateway and a personal finance seminar leader.

Graduate of the Last Decade
Nicole Corso, ‘16 BA, ‘18 MS

Corso is a rising star in the psychology field with a deep passion for community service and learning. Currently a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, she is focused on neurodegenerative disease, Amyloid and Tau pathology, and clinical neuroscience. Corso continues to support the university by volunteering virtually and serving on the UM-Dearborn CASL Scholarship Selection Committee. She is a writer for the “Stanford Daily,” where she translates research in an easy-to-understand way. Corso works in the Stanford Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Department.

College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Alumnus of the Year
Dr. Hamada Altalib, ‘96 BA

Dr. Altalib is an associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. He has published more than 60 academic articles and book chapters on neuropsychiatric illness, mental health policy in the Middle East, and the role of culture in mental illness across a diverse spectrum of Muslim populations. Altalib is the founding and current chief editor of the Journal of Muslim Mental Health and co-founder and current president of the Institute for Muslim Mental Health. He provides clinical care for people with complex neuropsychiatric conditions such as traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, and somatization disorders, and has developed and scaled a national tele-mental health service for people with complex neuropsychiatric disorders.

College of Education, Health, and Human Services Alumnae of the Year
Robin Wilson, ‘18 BA

Wilson is the founder and director of Robin Wilson Educational Consulting LLC. She combines her lived experiences and research knowledge to guide organizations in developing effective strategies for serving youth. Wilson teaches kindergarten French at a foreign language immersion school in Detroit. She also serves as a citizen diplomat for Global Ties Detroit and is a United States Fulbright Hays GPA Brazil Fellow. Wilson was recognized as a Spirit of Detroit awardee for her commitment to literacy efforts in the city of Detroit. She was featured in the UM-Dearborn Alumni Engagement Speaker Series highlighting her published children’s book, and has established the Robin M. Wilson Scholarship for students with a documented learning difference who study business or education.

College of Engineering and Computer Sciences Alumnae of the Year
Monika Minarcin, '09 MSE

Minarcin is an accomplished thought leader in the areas of automotive and semiconductor industries, mobility, AI, UX/UI and digital disruption. She is the Security Ecosystem Industry Solutions Development director responsible for defining and implementing Accenture’s industry partnership portfolio strategy. Prior to joining the Accenture team, Minarcin worked as the automotive market manager of the Americas at Omron. In FY21 she was named an Accenture Inventor Award Program nominee. Minarcin holds more than 50 U.S. patents and has authored technical papers in the areas of connected, electrified and autonomous systems. At UM-Dearborn, Minarcin served on the Industry Advisory Board for the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and was recently appointed to the CECS Visiting Committee.

College of Business Alumnus of the Year
Michael Surmanian, '76 MM

Surmanian spent 20 years working in engineering and senior management roles in the automotive and precision connectors fields. In the early 1990s, he founded Microtech Engineering, Inc., and co-founded Cartesian Technologies and BioDot, Inc. Surmanian served as president of BioDot, a leading manufacturer of automation equipment for producers of rapid diagnostic tests until 2002. Upon leaving BioDot and Cartesian Technologies, he co-founded DCN, a custom developer of rapid diagnostic tests, where he recently retired as executive vice president and chief financial officer. Surmanian serves on UM-Dearborn’s National Advisory Council. He and his wife established the Michael and Vana Surmanian Family Scholarship, which provides need-based support to students who participate in the study abroad program to Italy.