First responders credit Benedictine program for giving them the tools to be effective leaders

March 2, 2012


First Responder Lisle, Illinois ~ First responders hone their mental and physical abilities to promptly and properly attend to any number of critical, emergent situations. However, to be an effective leader requires more than just having training in core job competencies – it requires an understanding of how best to manage human behavior within an organization.

Enter Benedictine University's First Responder Program.

"The First Responder Program further enhanced my ability to lead a multimillion dollar organization and manage the human resources contained therein successfully," said Rick Tanksley, chief of police for the Oak Park Police Department.

In March, Tanksley, who is among the more than 800 participants in Benedictine's First Responder Program to receive free or significant tuition discounts from the University, will be joining his former classmates during a reunion celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the program initiated in 2001 by Benedictine President William J. Carroll, Ph.D., to honor and aid police, paramedics and firefighters following 9/11. The reunion event is part of the University's efforts to keep alumni connected for relationships, support and networking.

First Responder Program graduates say they would not have earned their degrees or furthered their careers without Benedictine's help.

Tanksley earned a Master of Science (M.S.) in Management and Organizational Behavior, and said that earning the degree has helped him to understand how to interact and lead others in a way that creates a better workplace.

"I used what I learned about conflict management to create a better working relationship with union leadership within the department," Tanksley said.

Jim French, bureau chief for the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District, had a truly unique experience with Benedictine. Not only did he earn a Bachelor of Arts in Management and a M.S. in Management and Organizational Behavior, he did so with his daughters as study partners.

"In my personal life, it brought a closeness with my daughters as we would study together and we could better identify having common goals and objectives," French said. "In my career, I have learned that there are more than emergent decision processes and multiple ways to resolve issues."

Since graduating from Benedictine University in 2007, Tanksley has been named a Certified Police Chief by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Additionally, this month he will be one of two recipients of the Outstanding
Community Leadership Award given by Concordia University Chicago.

Life since earning his degree has been equally rewarding and career-changing for Terrence Vavra, fire chief of the Village of Buffalo Grove.

"I was actually planning on teaching rather than staying in the fire service, but because of this degree I was able to pursue and achieve the position of fire chief," said Vavra, who earned a M.S. in Management and Organizational Behavior and lauded the fact that most of the authors of the books he studied were written by visiting or Benedictine professors.

"The most impressive part was the number of people who went back (to school) not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren to show them that education should never stop no matter what stage of life you are in," he added.

The University received a federal grant in 2005 that was supported by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-13th-Ill.), U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) and then Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama to help extend the program. Although that grant expired years ago, first responders attending Benedictine continued to receive a sizeable discount.

As part of its mission and Benedictine values to serve others, the University seeks out ways to help the community for the greater good. The First Responder Program was later expanded to provide free tuition to U.S. war veterans. In 2011 BenU established the "Illinois Back to Work" program to help the Illinois long-term unemployed get free tuition toward a first-time bachelor's degree.


Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission ( For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, or visit

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