Alice McGee and Richard Helldobler pose at the Golden Gala Alumni Awards

Friday, September 22, 2017

Alice McGee may have the greatest internship story in Northeastern Illinois University history.

As a Speech major, McGee landed an internship with a new show called “A.M. Chicago” in the mid-1980s. The show’s host: Oprah Winfrey.

While the show’s name didn’t last, McGee did. She was hired as Winfrey’s first employee, rising from chief publicist to the role of senior supervising producer of “The Oprah Show.”

Eventually, McGee and Winfrey launched Oprah’s Book Club, which is responsible for the sales of millions of books. (Watch the video below to see how it all started.)


For all of her accomplishments and her contributions to the history of television and media, Northeastern honored McGee with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor the University bestows upon alumni, during the Golden Gala Alumni Awards on Sept. 16. As is tradition for winners of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, McGee will deliver remarks to the graduates during Commencement in December.

“I am so honored and humbled by this award,” McGee said in her acceptance speech. “This means more to me than the Emmys that I won.”

For the record, McGee won nine individual Emmy Awards for outstanding production of “The Oprah Show.” McGee had creative oversight of five production teams. This Northeastern graduate has made an important contribution to the history of television and media.

“Oprah said luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and part of that preparation came here on these hallowed grounds at Northeastern,” she said. “Northeastern was the right college for me.”

Northeastern honored four more individuals during the gala:

Alumni Service Award

A. Michael Drachler

(B.A. ’68 Elementary Education: Biology)

Drachler earned his medical degree from Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, completing his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Cook County Hospital. Drachler has won numerous teaching awards, serves as the Senior Clinical Educator at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and serves on various boards including as vice president of the NEIU Alumni Advisory Board.

Community Leadership Award

Jerry Watson

(B.A. ’93 Board of Governors)

Watson is an associate professor of Social Work at Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss. After graduating from Northeastern, Watson earned an M.S.W. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work; an M.B.A. from Dominican University in River Forest; and a Ph.D. from Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. His research ranges from offender re-entry and African American men’s health to cultural and linguistic competency. Watson has taught at DePaul University, Aurora University in Chicago, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University. He is a co-founder of Men Healing Men and Communities in Memphis, Tenn.

Outstanding GOLD Alumni Award

Carlos Jiménez Flores

(B.S. ’06 Human Resources Development)

Jiménez Flores is a writer, producer and film director. In 2015, he was featured in the NEIU Alumni: All Access series in which he delivered a talk and screened one of his movies. Jiménez Flores has been featured by the Chicago Reader, Michigan Avenue Magazine and ABC7’s “Ñ-Beat.” A former high school and college dropout, Jiménez Flores earned his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern in Human Resource Development in 2006 after transferring from Wilbur Wright College. Jiménez Flores is the first Puerto Rican director to have two films theatrically released in the same year.

Future Alumni Leader Award

Nicholas Martinez

(Current Student, Biology)

Martinez twice served as president of the Student Government Association and has been active with University’s advocacy issues in Springfield. He has also served on the Executive Board of the University Advisory Council and as the Illinois Board of Higher Education Student Representative.