Q&A with the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) once observed, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” In this spirit, MET’s Distinguished Alumni Awards honor outstanding alumni who inspire us by example of their service.

Select one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients to find out more about his or her unique and inspiring story.

  1. MET Distinguished Alumni Judge Albert Diaz

    Service to Profession Judge Albert Diaz (MET’93)

    The Honorable Albert Diaz serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Diaz also reflected on the importance of service in this year’s Commencement address.

  2. MET Distinguished Alumni Clariza Abreu

    Service to Community Claritza Abreu (MET’03)

    In 2011, Assistant Chief Information Officer Abreu was named a “Woman to Watch” by Mass High Tech, and received the Massachusetts Excellence in Technology Award.

  3. MET Distinguished Alumni Andrew Morgenstern, OD

    Service to Profession Andrew Morgenstern, OD (MET’94)

    A leader in refractive surgery, Dr. Morgenstern earned a BS in Psychology from MET before following in the footsteps of his father and his uncle, both optometrists.

Judge Albert Diaz

Service to Profession

“All of us will, in the end, be judged not by our good intentions, but by our acts,” advised Diaz, who received the College’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to Profession during the Commencement ceremonies.

Born to Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, New York, and raised for most of his childhood by his mother alone, Diaz enlisted in the U.S. Marines after completing high school. In 1983, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1988, he received his JD from New York University School of Law and embarked upon a prestigious career in law.

Diaz’ first appointment as a judge was as reserve military judge, assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from 2000 to 2005. While stationed there, Diaz earned his master’s in Business Administration through MET’s Military Program on the base. He was appointed to the North Carolina Business Court in 2005, serving four years before being nominated by President Obama to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. Recognized by the President as an exceptional public servant for the people of North Carolina, Diaz was confirmed by the Senate on December 18, 2010, and received his commission on December 22.

He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions about his distinguished career, his judicial philosophy, and his time at MET.

Metropolitan: You were born in Brooklyn, and raised by your mother. Are there specific aspects of your upbringing that inform who you are today?

Diaz: What I remember most is my mother insisting that we better ourselves through education. Until she remarried later in life, she was, for a time, a single mom trying to corral three very rambunctious boys. She was stern when she needed to be, but I never doubted her love and desire that we aspire to great things.

It is frequently noted that you are the first Hispanic judge to serve on the Fourth Circuit. Do you see yourself as a role model?

If I can be a role model for a young person trying to better himself, then count me in. As for being the first Hispanic to serve on the Fourth Circuit, I believe that our justice system is served best by having judges of the highest competence, who bring with them a diverse set of experiences and remain faithful to the unbiased application of the law.

You enlisted in the Marines after high school, and retired in 1995, as a Lt. Colonel, USMCR. What compelled you to enter the Marines?

A close friend joined the Marine Corps while I was a junior in high school. He returned from boot camp a completely different person—disciplined, mature, confident—not to mention with a very sharp uniform! I decided that it would be best for me to take some time between high school and college and take on the challenge of becoming a Marine. It was the best decision I ever made.

The Marine Corps paid for my formal education, but gave me so much more. Among other things, it offered an opportunity to serve my country, provided a rock-solid moral foundation, and instilled the confidence and self-discipline to take on any challenge.

Why did you choose to earn a degree in business administration at MET?

MET’s place within a nationally renowned university made it an obvious choice for me. I also appreciated the flexibility and breadth of the course offerings. I chose the degree in business administration with two goals in mind: one, to build on my undergraduate business school foundation; and two, to bolster my skill set for an eventual transition from the military.

The education I received from MET was certainly helpful during my tenure on the North Carolina Business Court. I regularly handled complex business cases that required an understanding of accounting, finance, marketing, and other business concepts. Having a solid academic grounding in these subjects shortened the learning curve considerably.

What types of cases does the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit hear? Does your experience in the military courts and business court come into play?

The Fourth Circuit hears a range of appeals (both civil and criminal), primarily involving the Constitution and federal statutes, as well as claims that state laws violate the federal constitution. Given its geographic location in Richmond, Virginia, the Court often presides over cases involving national security or military issues, and so my military experience is helpful there. On the civil side, my prior service as a trial judge in a wide range of business disputes gives me a good practical sense of the issues that tend to arise in those cases.

What is your judicial philosophy?

My judicial philosophy is simple—to abide strictly by the federal judicial oath I took to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

What are your thoughts about judicial activism? Are there gray areas in law?

I was asked to define this phrase during my Senate confirmation hearings. I said then that, as commonly used, “judicial activism” describes a process by which a court extends judicial power beyond its proper limits and engages in results-oriented decision making at the expense of applicable law and precedent. A judge who engages in that conduct has, in my view, violated the judicial oath. Sometimes, however, one man’s judicial activist may well be another’s judicial hero. By way of example, the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown vs Board of Education (in which the Court struck down state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students) was viewed by many, at least initially, as the decision of an activist court.

Most cases lend themselves to a straightforward application of the law. But there are a small subset of cases where the answers are not clear, and where reasonable judicial minds can and do differ. These cases tend to address hot-button issues, which results in judges being labeled by the opposing camps (often unfairly) as activists, depending on their votes.

As a judge, you have a unique perspective on humanity. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with our readers?

Rather than words of wisdom, I would make a request. My time on the bench, particularly as a trial judge, has shown me what happens when our society loses interest in young people. By the time a young person appears before the court as a defendant, it is often too late for the criminal justice system to make much of a rehabilitative impact. If you want to positively influence the future of our country, become a mentor to a child. 

Claritza Abreu (MET’03)

Service to Community

Claritza Abreu received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to Community

Abreu earned her bachelor’s in Computer Systems Engineering from the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology, in the Dominican Republic. She attended MET through the City of Boston Scholars Program, earning her MS in Computer Information Systems while raising two young sons. In 2011, Abreu was named a “Woman to Watch” by Mass High Tech, and was a recipient of the Massachusetts Excellence in Technology Award. As assistant chief information officer, Abreu oversees the Information Technology Group for the state’s Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, under the secretariat of Health and Human Services. She is also adjunct professor and program coordinator of the Cambridge College School of Management Healthcare Informatics program.

Abreu’s passion for public service involves leadership and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs, and her work advising recent immigrants. She is a board member of the Latino STEM Alliance and chair of the Democratic Town Committee for Randolph, Mass., where she lives. Abreu also has established a non-profit organization devoted to bringing mobility equipment to the disabled and elderly in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Metropolitan: Can you describe some ways in which you have been able to serve?

Abreu: I’ve had the opportunity to serve many organizations that support issues I am passionate about. For many years, I have supported and advised new immigrants concerning immigration processes and policies. That has evolved to helping them integrate with American culture and succeed through learning the language and through education. I became a public notary in order to volunteer in completing paperwork for the newly arrived immigrant community, which might ordinarily cost more than a thousand dollars per person.

Once you start learning of the many needs of your community, there is nothing more you want to do than continue to help. One thing I deeply believe in is the power of government to make social changes and improve the life of the most vulnerable. So I am involved in political leadership for women, Latinos, and minorities. By making sure our community is included in decision-making processes and public policy, we attain a better future for ourselves and generations to come. For five years I have chaired the board of ¿Oíste? The Latino Political Organization. I was a board member for Emerge Massachusetts (a political training program for women in Massachusetts), a board member of the Latino Professional Network, and now serve on the national board of the Dominican American National Round Table.

Education is also one of my big passions. I support different STEM programs across the Commonwealth, and I’m often a guest speaker at middle and high schools, where I try to motivate students to attend college and then to get into any of the STEM careers. In addition, I am member of the Latino STEM Alliance and support Girls Inc. of Lynn, among other organizations.

Being in the U.S. for 24 years has not made me forget from where I come from. With my family, I founded the Dominicans United Foundation, a humanitarian organization that brings medical and educational resources to the Dominican Republic. One of the programs is “Lives on Wheels.” Through that program, we collect donations and recycle wheelchairs for the elderly, as well as for disabled children and adults in need in the Dominican Republic.

Was there an “aha!” moment when you realized the importance of being involved in your community?

Great question. I had my “aha!” moment when I was going through the complex, lengthy, and extremely expensive immigration process myself. At that point, I realized that someone with no English literacy, without a job or underemployed, and without a comprehensive understanding of the process, was going to find it very difficult to reunify their families, or to become “documented” soon enough to be a productive individual in this country.

What is your proudest moment, when it comes to community service?

I cannot explain to you the immense satisfaction I receive when I see someone I’ve helped, either with immigration paperwork or advice on how to get themselves on the right track—a person who arrived in this country with absolutely nothing—work his or her way up the ladder through education and hard work, to become a successful citizen. Those are my proudest moments, and I truly enjoy them.

Where do you see the greatest need for involvement in the community?

I see a lot of need in the community for leadership development, and involvement of under-represented groups in the debates of important issues that affect us all—issues like high school dropout rates, in particular of black and Latino boys across the U.S. We need more mentors and more role models to show our future generations that they can make it too, and that staying in school is the path to get there.

We also need more representation of women, at all levels and in all aspects of life. We need more women in public policy. Just 17 percent of the seats in Congress are held by women.

You have two degrees in computer science, but you have also been involved in health care throughout your career. What inspired your interest in the health industry?

In Massachusetts, my first job was in a research program at the Dimock Community Health Center, providing early intervention and support to children with AIDS/HIV and children exposed to substance abuse during their mothers’ pregnancies. It was a life-changing experience for me. I saw how the program was able to improve the lives of some of these children and their mothers. I fell in love with health care, and have continued to work in that industry ever since.

To an audience of alumni, faculty, and students, what might you say about “giving back”?

We all have something to give. It is a matter of making the decision to take the time out of our busy lives and dedicate it to others. As one of my dear friends always says, we have three things that we can give: money, time, and talent. You can give one or two of those, or all three. I know for sure that each of us has something to give. By giving back you enrich yourself—you teach and you learn at the same time.

Start by sharing your story; I am sure it is a great one and an inspiring one that will motivate a young student to want to be like you. Ask around about what you can do to help in the issues you are passionate about. I’m sure you will find many venues to give back. 

Andrew Morgenstern, OD (MET’94)

Service to Profession

Dr. Andrew Morgenstern received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to Profession

A leader in refractive surgery, Dr. Morgenstern attended Boston University as a full-time student before transferring to MET, working days and earning his BS in psychology at night. Following in the footsteps of his father and his uncle, both optometrists, Morgenstern received his OD from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry, Florida, and completed his training at the world-renowned Bascom Palmer Eye Institute/Jackson Memorial Hospital. Today, he is an optometrist at Washington Eye Physicians and Surgeons, and serves on the ophthalmology faculties of the Washington Hospital Center/Georgetown University School of Medicine and the Southern California College of Optometry.

Morgenstern has dedicated his time to numerous volunteer positions in the field, including as president of the Central Maryland Optometric Society, vice president of the Maryland Optometric Association, and executive board member of the Optometric Council on Refractive Technology. He is a founding member and examiner with the New Technology Workgroup of the American Optometric Association. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Rockville, Md.

Metropolitan: You received an award for service to profession. What are some of the organizations you serve?

Morgenstern: I volunteer for a number of organizations within the profession of optometry, including the Maryland Optometric Association (vice president), the Central Maryland Optometric Society (past president), the New Technology Workgroup of the American Optometric Association (founding member and examiner), the Optometric Council on Refractive Technology (executive board member), and the Optometric Cross Linking Society (president). I am also involved in the Prevention of Blindness Society of Washington, D.C., the Sjogrens Syndrome Foundation, the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry, and the Council on Optometric Practitioner Education.

Was there an “aha!” moment when you realized the importance of being involved?

My “aha!” moment, I realized, was a result of my upbringing. I am a second-generation optometrist. I am the proud son and nephew of two great optometrists (my father, Stephen, and his brother, Sheldon). Optometry made possible a great upbringing. My father was always home for the big family events and always available to his patients. Optometry afforded him the ability to provide me with my education at Boston University. It offered him the satisfaction that he could manage a great work-life balance. As a child and as an adult, I cherished what this great and highly respectable profession gave to him. That is mainly the reason I chose to become an optometrist. After my children were born, I realized that I needed to give back to the profession that not only provided me my childhood, but my children’s as well.

In your opinion, why is it important to contribute to one’s profession?

In my opinion, to give back and contribute to one’s profession is not a choice—it is a responsibility. The gift of sight is more valuable than any other of the senses. Our profession is tasked with providing eyesight and healing to those who cannot see. Our next generation of young eye doctors is counting on us to provide them with the tools so they can do the same. The adage See One, Do One, Teach One is very evident in any of the medical professions, but especially optometry.

You come from a family of optometrists, and you went to optometry school. What made you decide to pursue a degree in psychology at BU?

Since there is no “pre-optometry,” I began to take some of the basic required courses for a BS degree. I decided to take a course in psychology and film with a professor named Michael Fleming. The course got great reviews, as did the professor. Everyone has one teacher in his or her life that creates the light-bulb moment. Dr. Fleming was the teacher who taught me to think. As a result of his courses, I knew that psychology was the degree for me.

Little did I know that an understanding of how people think would have such an impact on what I do today in the exam room. Optometry is about eyes and the people attached to them. Making the person feel better is just as important as caring for the eyes. Psychology was the right choice for me, and it made me a better optometrist.

To an audience of alumni, faculty, and students, what might you say about “giving back”?

I would encourage everyone to take a step back and realize who, and what, really got you to where you are today. Most likely, when you pull back the curtain of your own success, you will find people (family or true friends) who helped out of the goodness of their own heart. They have given back. If you belong to an organization that provides you with tools for your own success, you will find that there are people doing it for free. I encourage you to carry the torch and give back, so that others may benefit from your gift.