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Ira and Debra Cohen Receive William E. Winter Award

7/21/2016 8:52:00 AM By Tom Moone, CS @ ILLINOIS

It is difficult to imagine an alumni event in the state of Illinois that does not involve Ira Cohen (BS CS ‘80) and his wife Debra. They are regular sponsors of alumni events in the Chicago area. For many years they have both volunteered their time to serve as judges during Engineering Open House. If there is a fundraising initiative to support the CS Department or the campus, the Cohens are there to provide their time in advocating the efforts among fellow alumni and to provide financial resources to support the effort.

Ira and Debra Cohen
Ira and Debra Cohen
Ira and Debra Cohen

In recognition of their efforts, the Cohens were named the 2014 recipients of the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This award recognizes individuals outside the university structure who play an active role in securing private support for the University of Illinois.

“We were honored to receive this award,” said Ira Cohen. “It is up to us as alumni to pick up the gap to prevent any erosion in student population and facilities as well as to allow students who are qualified to be able to attend regardless of their family financial situations. We both look forward to maintaining and further developing our relationship with the University and see it as being an instrumental part to the future of the students and of the state.”

With the launch of the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative, the Cohens served on the Advisory Board and provided leadership and insight for this ambitious, $100 million fundraising initiative.

“When we heard about this initiative, we had to get involved,” said Ira. “Enabling capable students to receive the quality education available at Illinois while reducing the financial burden that accompanies that is a noble goal, and is an excellent match with our charitable plan.”

After he graduated from Illinois, Ira Cohen went on to co-found Advanced Systems Concepts in Schaumburg, Illinois, in November of 1982. There he helped develop software involving database systems and programmer productivity aids. The company was sold in 2006. The Cohens have remained active in various charitable pursuits, including the American Cancer Society and the Jesse Owens Foundation.

Ira Cohen received the Department of Computer Science Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2011. In 2013, Debra Cohen received the St. George Medal from the American Cancer Society; this is the society’s highest distinction for volunteer service.

In the Department of Computer Science, the Cohen's graciously endowed the Debra and Ira Cohen Graduate Fellowship, the Sara and Louis Cohen Undergraduate Scholarship in honor of Ira's grandparents, and the William and Ruth Witt Scholarship in honor of Debra's parents. They have also been supporters of the CS Annual Fund and the Geneva Belford Memorial Fund.

The William E. Winter Award is named in honor of Bill Winter, a former CEO of the 7-Up Company and a University of Illinois Foundation Board member.