SMU’s Avery Acker ’15 Nominated For NCAA Woman Of The Year


SMU Alumna Elizabeth Holzhall Richard ’81, ’84, New U.S. Ambassador To Lebanon

Elizabeth Holzhall Richard credits one of her Dedman School of Law professors with urging her to take the Foreign Service exam, the first step in her long and lauded career in the United States diplomatic corps. In her 30 years of service, she has held posts in some of the world’s hot spots, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. She grew up in Hammond, Indiana, and was interviewed by the Northwest Indiana Times for a story published on June 21. Richard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences before graduating from law school.

Elizabeth Holzhall Richard, a former Hammond resident, is scheduled to be sworn in today as the new U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
Richard served most recently as deputy assistant secretary and the coordinator for foreign assistance to the Near East in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. In that role, Richard oversaw a foreign assistance budget of more than $7 billion.
Richard, 56, said she was thrilled when she was told she would be named to the post in Lebanon. She called it both a huge honor and a huge responsibility.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, so I’m absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to serve with the folks that I’ll be working with and try to be able to make a little bit of a positive contribution,” Richard said.

When attending law school, Richard said she took some international law classes and one of her teachers suggested she take the foreign service officer test. Richard said she wasn’t really exposed to the fact that there was this line of work out there prior to that time and now urges young people to consider such a career. The government is seeking people from a wide variety of backgrounds and parts of the country to serve.


2016 Alumni Spring 2016

SMU Alumna Michelle Merrill ’06, ’12 Receives Solti Foundation Award

Michelle Merrill ’06, ’12, assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is among 11 recipients of 2016 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards for young conductors with promising careers.

Michelle Merrill ’06, ’12, assistant conductor, Detroit Symphony
Michelle Merrill ’06, ’12, assistant conductor, Detroit Symphony

“The mission of the Solti Foundation U.S. is to identify, support and promote emerging young American conductors as they launch their classical careers,” says Penny Van Horn, U.S. board chair. “We nurture relationships with all our recipients, tracking their progress and offering support when it is merited. We also provide continuing support not only in the form of grants but in valuable access to mentors, door opening introductions and opera residencies.”
Merrill is in her second season as assistant conductor and Phillip and Lauren Fisher Community Ambassador of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She was recently named one of Hour Detroit Magazine’s “3 Cultural Organization Leaders to Watch” and made her classical subscription debut with the Detroit Symphony in April 2016.
Recent and upcoming engagements include the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Toledo Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Symphoria (Syracuse), Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera, Boise Philharmonic, Orlando Philharmonic, New Music Detroit, St. Augustine Music Festival and Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, where she formerly served as assistant conductor.
In March 2014, Merrill stepped in on short notice with the Meadows Symphony Orchestra for its performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4, named a Top 10 Classical Performances of 2014 by The Dallas Morning News. In 2013, she was awarded the prestigious Ansbacher Conducting Fellowship by members of the Vienna Philharmonic and the American Austrian Foundation. A strong advocate of new music, she recently collaborated with composer Gabriela Lena Frank and soprano Jessica Rivera on Frank’s La Centinela y la Paloma (The Keeper and the Dove), as a part of numerous community programs related to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
A Dallas native, Merrill studied conducting at SMU with Paul C. Phillips, professor of music, Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and director of orchestral activities in Meadows School of the Arts. She earned bachelor’s degrees in music education and saxophone performance in 2006 and master’s degrees in orchestral conducting and music education in 2012.
The Solti Foundation U.S. was established in honor of Sir Georg Solti, internationally renowned orchestral and operatic conductor, by his family following his death in 1997. Over the past 12 years, the foundation has granted 46 career assistance awards to “young, exceptionally talented American musicians at the start of their professional careers,” according to Valerie Solti, honorary board chair.


Jennifer Burr Altabef ’78, ’81: ‘Scholarships changed my life’

By Kevin Richardson
Growing up in Kansas, Jennifer Burr Altabef dreamed of going away to college as her older siblings had. She had met several SMU graduates, and had set her heart on attending the University.

Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU's centennial commemoration on November 17.
Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon on November 17 honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU’s centennial commemoration.

But when she was 15, Altabef’s father called her into his office to impart some difficult news that might have shattered that dream permanently. He told her he had lost his job and would be unable to pay for her education after she graduated from high school.
Determined to earn enough money to pay for college, Altabef worked minimum-wage jobs throughout most of her high school career. She ultimately applied and earned acceptance to SMU, but with a little more than $3,000 saved, the Hilltop seemed out of reach.
Then, she received a letter from SMU informing her that she would receive scholarship support that would make her education possible.
Altabef was overwhelmed.
“I almost couldn’t believe that people who didn’t even know me had made it possible for me to attend SMU,” she says about the donors who created her scholarships. “It was life-changing. I was determined to do well because I didn’t want to let them down.”
Fascinated by the Watergate scandal and the role played by reporters, Altabef studied journalism and earned her bachelor’s degree from Meadows School of the Arts in 1978. She eventually decided to pursue a legal career and credits her Meadows professors with teaching her to write, a skill she has relied on throughout her professional life.
“The ability to write well is one of the most important and useful skills a person can have,” she says. “I am so lucky for the rigorous training that I received from my journalism professors. It’s helped me in everything I have ever done.”
When Altabef applied to law schools, she badly wanted to stay in Dallas and knew the SMU Dedman School of Law would offer the best path into the Dallas legal community. The University of Kansas offered a full scholarship that might have taken her back to Kansas. But once again, SMU scholarship support — combined with loans — helped her achieve her dream.
After Altabef graduated from Dedman School of Law in 1981, she began what became a distinguished career in labor and employment law and litigation. She never forgot what had helped enable her achieve so much success.


“Every morning that I went to the office, I was aware that someone whom I did not know had made it possible for me to stay in Dallas, made it possible for me to practice law, and made it possible for me to have the life I chose,” Altabef says.
Altabef became involved with SMU as a volunteer after a former dean of the Meadows School asked her to lunch. He told her about the exciting educational experiences students were having at Meadows and throughout SMU. Memories of her own experiences on the Hilltop and what she heard about today’s SMU inspired her to serve her alma mater.
Altabef has served as a member of the SMU Libraries Executive Board and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board, on which she is slated to serve as the next chair. “I feel grateful to SMU for essentially giving me my life,” she says. “So I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.”
In her work on behalf of the Meadows School, Altabef has developed a strong connection with the Meadows Scholars Program, which raises annual and endowed resources to bring top-caliber students in the arts and communications to SMU.
“The simple truth is that scholarships change lives,” Altabef says. “I know that because scholarships changed my life. For that reason, it is also true that people who receive scholarships are the people who most want to give them.”


SMU Alumna’s Dazzling Designs Win Spot In Belk Showcase

Jewelry designer Ali Howell '86 was among 13 winners of the Belk Southern Designers Showcase.
Jewelry designer Ali Howell ’86 is among 13 winners of the Belk Southern Designer Showcase.

Jewelry maker Ali Howell ’86 is among 13 winners of the second annual Belk Southern Designer Showcase. Howell, the founder and designer of ali & bird jewelry, was selected from nearly 300 entrants. Her pieces will be sold in Belk department stores throughout the country and online in spring 2014.
Howell, an Atlanta resident, started ali & bird in 2009. She describes her original pieces as “affordable statement jewelry that reflect current fashion and color trends, bringing modern flair to classic looks.” The jewelry is handcrafted with semi-precious stones in the United States and is sold by more than 75 retailers.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Howell dived into the design realm as an SMU student when she landed a summer job in the Dallas Market Center showroom of a friend’s mother. “That led to an internship and a job offer after graduation,” she says.
After earning degrees in advertising and psychology from SMU, she moved to New York City where she launched a career in visual merchandising. Howell’s talent for mixing bold colors and classic designs served her well as the creative force behind the marketing, showroom displays and advertising campaigns for Herend USA, a fine china company, for 10 years.
At first, jewelry making was strictly a hobby. “I’ve always been a creative person, and when a friend started making jewelry, I watched her and asked her to show me a few things. I got hooked,” says Howell. “I made a several pieces, and every time I would wear one, people would ask where I got it.”
Shark Tank panelist Barbara Corcoran wears an ali & bird necklace.
Shark Tank panelist Barbara Corcoran wearing ali & bird jewelry.

Bucking conventional wisdom, Howell took a chance on her own business just as a recession gripped the global economy. As it turns out, her timing was perfect. She found that while women weren’t investing in new clothes, they were buying distinctive, well-priced jewelry to freshen last year’s looks.
Celebrity fans of her line include Barbara Corcoran, real estate expert and Shark Tank panelist, and Maria Cardona, political strategist and CNN contributor.
Howell’s company is truly a family business. She designs and creates the pieces in her home studio with the help of several assistants and off-site “stringers.” Her 12-year-old daughter, Lindsey, also known as “Bird,” not only lends her nickname to the enterprise but also a hand in making the jewelry. In addition to his job in the corporate world, husband Ward handles marketing for ali & bird. The Howells also have a nine-year-old son.
As a winner of the Belk designer competition, Howell looks forward to introducing her jewelry to new Dallas customers when the retailer debuts its 170,000-square-foot flagship store in the Galleria mall. When she’s here for the opening next spring, a trip to the Hilltop will be on her to-do list.
“Whenever I’m in Dallas, I try to make it back to campus,” Howell says. “SMU was a great place for me. I feel I got a good education and started on a path that has led me to where I am today.”
– Patricia Ward