CLC grad, Pulitizer Prize winner receives statewide distinguished alum award
Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Nelson, a former Daily Herald reporter, has received a statewide community college distinguished alumnus award.
Nelson, 59, a graduate from College of Lake County in Grayslake, is a senior lecturer and a director with University of Maryland's journalism program. She received the distinguished alum honor from the Illinois Community College Trustees Association during a convention in downstate Normal.
CLC officials said Nelson was the school's first graduate to get the statewide award. She received an associate degree from CLC in 1973, followed by a bachelor's in journalism at Northern Illinois University in 1975 and a law degree from DePaul University in 1988.
Nelson, who grew up in Grayslake, topped a field of finalists that included country music singer and songwriter David Lee Murphy and former Southern Illinois University associate head men's basketball coach Ron Smith.
"I was honored to be selected, given the accomplishments of this year's and past finalists," Nelson said in an email Monday. "Coincidentally, the next day I drove north to Grayslake for a barbecue celebrating the birthday of another alum from CLC's early farm field days — who today is a lawyer and top insurance executive and who shares my affection for our alma mater."
CLC board Chairman Richard Anderson, who attended high school with Nelson in Grayslake, said he was excited about her selection is distinguished alumnus. He said he asked to assist in presenting her the award at the ceremony in Normal.
"It's incredible what Deborah has accomplished," he said. "She is a model for all community college students about what you can accomplish with a good education."
Nelson was a Daily Herald reporter from 1977 to 1985, and worked on several noteworthy investigations while at the newspaper.
Among the achievements Nelson cites on her curriculum vitae is "Hot Cargo: The Cab Connection," a special report she cowrote with Ted Gregory in February 1985. The probe found one of the suburbs' leading taxi companies illegally transported low-level radioactive material from hospitals in the back seats of passenger vehicles.
"Hot Cargo" resulted in cab inspections that uncovered a host of problems and a state investigation. Criminal charges were leveled against a company official who was convicted.
In 1996, Nelson won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a Seattle Times series with Alex Tizon and Eric Nalder. The trio exposed widespread problems in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Indian Housing Program.
Nelson went on to co-edit Pulitzer-winning stories at the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post in 2002 and 2001, respectively.
She's been a senior lecturer and director of the Carnegie Seminar at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism since 2006.
Along with the Pulitzers, Nelson received acclaim for her 2008 book "The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth About U.S. War Crimes."
Nelson said community college was an important rung in her career ladder. She said it was an affordable start to her college education.
"Just as important, it gave me the advantages of terrific teachers in smaller classes than in a large university," Nelson said. "The student body immersed me in a transformative diversity of thought and culture. My advice to high school graduates today is to continue your education. And I'm a big fan of public education. So I would encourage them to look there first."
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