Notable University alumni find success after college

By Stephanie Kim

In need of inspiration? Take note of Illinois alumni who have found success after graduation. The featured individuals’ successes do not entirely conclude the many of Illinois alumni; however, their accomplishments serve to picture the diversity and level of influence alumni have made. From Pulitzer Prize winners to notable business entrepreneurs, these alumni have a defining characteristic: the ability to make an impact through their innovation and achievements. 

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Carl Van Doren

Bachelor’s degree in College of LAS (1907), deceased

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Mark Van Doren

Bachelor’s degree in College of LAS (1914), Master of Arts in College of LAS (1915), deceased

Born in Hope, Ill., the Doren brothers found similar success throughout their lives. While they attended the University, they actively served in different clubs and class committees and held staff positions at the Illio Yearbook and Illinois Magazine. In 1915, Mark Van Doren was voted “The Most Respected Man” in an Illio contest. 

After graduating, they both earned a doctorate degree from Columbia University in New York City, where they worked as professors for more than 20 years. In 1939, Carl Van Doren received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for “Benjamin Franklin.” One year later, Mark Van Doren received the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Collected Poems 1922–1938.”


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Max Abramovitz

Bachelor’s degree in College of FAA (1929), deceased

Max Abramovitz was part of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity, the Pierrots drama club and the Architectural Society while he studied at the University. Years later, he eventually designed the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and the State Farm Center, which was one of the first edge-supported domes in the world. He is best known for his work on the Avery Fisher Hall (formerly known as the Philharmonic Hall) and the United Nations complex in New York City, as well the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va.


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Roger Ebert

Bachelor’s degree in College of Communications (now called College of Media) (1964), deceased

Remembered as one of the country’s greatest film critics, Roger Ebert revolutionized the art of film review. When attending the University, he was the editor-in-chief of The Daily Illini, belonged to various honors societies, and participated in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and Illini Forensic Association. He became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and created the iconic thumbs-up, thumbs-down rating system. In 1999, he founded the Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival in Champaign-Urbana to honor filmmakers, films and actors who didn’t receive “deserved” recognition the first time around.

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Francine Patterson

Bachelor’s degree in College of LAS (1970)

For 30 years, Francine Patterson has been teaching Koko the gorilla how to communicate through sign language, using 1,000 gestural words. This is the longest interspecies communication study, and it has yielded the greatest results with a nonhuman. She also established the Gorilla Foundation to help and raise awareness about gorillas living in captivity and those living in the African rainforest.



Ang Lee

Bachelor’s degree in College of FAA (1980)

Filmmaker Ang Lee has received awards from the Oscars, Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for directing films such as “Crouching Tiger,” “Hidden Dragon,” “BrokeBack Mountain” and “Life of Pi.” He also won the Directors Guild of America Award multiple times.


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Nick Offerman

Bachelor’s degree in College of FAA (1993)

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Betsy Brandt

Bachelor’s degree in College of FAA (1996)

These alumni have offered their talents to popular TV shows. Nick Offerman plays the role of Ron Swanson in the comedy television series, “Parks and Recreation,” which NBC recently renewed for a seventh season. He also appeared in films such as “We’re the Millers” and “21 Jump Street.” Betsy Brandt is best known for her role as Marie Schrader in the American crime series “Breaking Bad” and currently appears on “The Michael J. Fox Show” as Annie Henry, the wife of Mike Henry, who is played by Michael J. Fox.



Jeremy Stoppelman

Bachelor’s degree in College of Engineering (1999)

In 2004, Jeremy Stoppelman founded the popular reviewing website “Yelp” with Russel Simmons, creating a company that serves to help users find reliable businesses. Earlier in his life, Stoppelman was the vice president of engineering at PayPal and attended Harvard Business School for one year.



Steven Chen

Attended through 1999 in College of Engineering


Jawed Karim

Bachelor’s degree in College of Engineering (2004)

After leaving PayPal, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim created a successful video-sharing website with former colleague Chad Hurley: YouTube. One year later, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. Apart from YouTube, Chen and Karim have continued to gain success. Karim became the University’s 136th commencement speaker in 2007, and Chen co-founded AVOS Systems with Hurley and recently donated $1 million to the Illinois Math and Science Academy in November 2013.


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Dave Eggers

Bachelor’s degree in College of Communications (now called College of Media) (2002) 

From the late 1980s to the early 90s, Dave Eggers attended the University but did not receive his bachelor’s degree in journalism until 2002. During his attendance, he was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and worked for the Daily Illini as an editor for various sections. Since then, he has become a best-selling author, Pulitzer Prize-finalist, and impacting philanthropist. 

His most acclaimed works include “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and “Zeitoun.” Additionally, Eggers founded the publishing company McSweeney’s and launched the nonprofit organization 826 National, which provides educational opportunities for students. He was inducted in the Illini Media Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the TED Prize in 2008, which is awarded to those who have potential to change the world.



Your Name, Your Degree

Where will you be after you graduate? It’s your turn to find success.

Stephanie can be reached at [email protected].