Fifteen accomplished alumni were honored in the following categories: Distinguished Alumnus, Visionary and Rising Star. These distinctions recognize alumni who display leadership and innovation in their career fields as well as a personal dedication to philanthropic endeavors. Congratulations!
PETER A. FOYO, B.A.’88, International Business and Economics
Peter is the founding CEO of Principal Standard Group, has held numerous board leadership positions over the course of his career. He is a current board member with the Marquette Companies (Naperville), a prominent real estate company with over 11,000 apartment units and $1.9 billion in property investments in the U.S. Along with serving on the advisory board of the freight rail company Kansas City Southern, Foyo helped lead the Business Global Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In addition, he is recognized as an accomplished telecommunications executive with a proven ability to translate strategy into profitable results. In his current role with Principal Standard Group, he oversees a broad range of global initiatives in communications, real estate, energy and health care. His projects at Principal Standard Group include the first solar facility in Mexico, a $700 million medical plaza in Cancun and a €1.5 billion communications contract with Serbia Telecom.
Foyo spent much of his career as chief executive officer and chairman of Nextel de Mexico, growing the company’s revenues to $3 billion in 15 years with the company. He also increased the company’s customer base from 35,000 analog subscribers to 4 million digital subscribers, securing 30% of the Mexican postpaid market in the process. At the end of his tenure in 2013, Nextel de Mexico led all mobile network operators in terms of average revenue per subscriber and EBITDA margins. He helped the company garner several major industry awards and recognitions, including “Socially Responsible Company” for eight consecutive years and “One of the Best Places to Work” since 2007.
He gives his time to support worthy organizations. He is on the Board of the Georgetown University School of Business, is a member of the World Fund (Educational Charity organization whose main vision is that every child in Latin America learns the skills necessary for dignified work and life), and serves on the Queen Sofía Spanish American Institute board. (The Institute is a not-for-profit organization that was founded as The Spanish Institute in 1954 to promote greater awareness and understanding of the culture of the Spanish-speaking world in the U.S.).
LIST OF OUTSTANDING RECOGNITION OR ACHIEVEMENTS:
200 Most Influential Mexican Leaders No. 99, 40 Mexican Technology Leaders
Stevie Award for the best CEO in Latin-American
Superior CEO by Mundo Executive
Universal Excellence Award, Young Leader Argentina
One of the 30 promises in their 30’s by Expansion
Featured On the book Hero by Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret
JULIAN BROWN is retired from Nicor Gas. He had several roles at Nicor during his 37-year career, including Manager of Corporate Contributions, Director Community Relations and Director Corporate Social Responsibility. In these roles, Brown was responsible for corporate contributions, memberships, volunteerism, minority internships, scholarships, matching gifts, community programs, the company’s United Way Campaign and local government relations.
During his career at Nicor Gas, he served on numerous boards, committees and commissions including C.E.D.A., Donors Forum of Chicago, DuPage Habitat for Humanity, Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, Chicago United and the Illinois State Commission on Volunteerism. He received the Frances Wisebart Jacobs Award from the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago for outstanding campaign coordination, Chicago Defender’s Men of Excellence Award, West Suburban Philanthropic Network’s Grant Maker of the Year and recognized as “Someone You Should Know in Philanthropy” by the Business Ledger. Julian also received the Audley Award of Leadership Excellence from the DuPage N.A.A.C.P. for his community involvement and his work in the field of diversity and inclusion. He was one of the founding members and past chairman of the Nicor African American employee resource group, “En Rapport.” Julian and his wife, Carla (also a Benedictine graduate), established the Minority Scholarship Book Award at Benedictine.
Brown currently serves on the iHeart Media Chicago Community Advisory Board and the Joliet Catholic Diocese Laudato Si’ Ministry. He also has been certified by the Global Catholic Climate Movement as a Laudato Si’ Animator.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Bradley University in Peoria and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Benedictine University.
"I am honored and excited to accept the Alumni Achievement Award from Benedictine University. The success I have accomplished in my career is attributed to the M.B.A. program at Benedictine University. The M.B.A. helped me achieve my career dream of helping corporate America support the communities they serve. Not only was I able to do that, I was also able to help Benedictine University reach some of their goals of supporting the communities they serve. This was accomplished through working with the University in developing a world class speakers series, supporting capital campaigns and sponsoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Breakfast. Benedictine was gracious enough to work with my wife and I in establishing a Textbook Scholarship Award for minority students. As stated before, I am excited about the Alumni Achievement Award and thank you so much!”
SETA RUIZ earned her Masters’ of Science in Nursing with a Nurse Executive Leadership Concentration from Benedictine University in 2016. She is an accomplished nurse leader with over 25 years of nursing experience. Seta has excelled within AdventHealth for more than 20 years and has successfully led the organization to top quartile metrics in the domains of “Patient Experience” and “Hospital Throughout”.
Ruiz is passionate about making a difference and nursing advocacy. After becoming a nurse in 1996, she joined the AdventHealth (Florida Hospital) team. Though engaged in continuous growth and development as a leader, Ruiz is most proud of leading Emergency Departments to excellence utilizing “LEAN” Principles and reducing waste. She attributes much of her success to experiences at Benedictine University which helped her in understanding systems-level thinking. While in the role of Director of Emergency & Observation Departments for seven years, she was recognized for her ability to improve safety and quality of care, bring best practices to the forefront, the development “LEAN” structures, and transforming her units to improve clinical outcomes for the patients served. She was promoted to Administrative Director of Inpatient Services early in 2018 while working on her C.N.O. Fellowship. She also facilitated inter-departmental relationships which improved hospital throughput as well as the patient experience.
In 2019, Seta was promoted to Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer, her ultimate goal, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. She and her nursing team partnered with physicians to implement multi-disciplinary rounding, build consistency, execute strategies, implement process improvements for personal protective equipment distribution, and ensure safety of the hospital staff. Among her many accomplishments, she has been awarded “Best Practice Award – 2014 & 2015”, “Most Improved Award – Press Ganey”, and “Director of the Year – 2015”, and now the “Benedictine University Alumni Achievement Award”. She is a member of the American Organization of Nurse Leaders, and the American Nurses Association where she continues to share her professional experiences with other nurse leaders as well as to learn. Ruiz is currently working on achieving her Board Certification as an Executive (N.E.A.-B.C.).
Ruiz enjoys spending time with her family, volunteering, and loves to help others. Some of those volunteering entities include Give Kids the World in Kissimmee, FL, Ushers at St Mark the Evangelist Church, and also spends time supporting Feeding Tampa Bay. Her happiest moments are those spent with her husband of 32 years, her family and granddaughter. She also has a love for salsa dancing, kayaking, traveling, and self-development as she continues her journey in becoming a better version of herself. This drive motivates and helps her to continue serving future communities and sharing her life-long learning experiences with those she encounters.
"I must say that this is truly a humbling experience. One in which I would like to give thanks to God, our Father and Creator for only through him are all things possible! I also extend my gratitude to the many University Deans, Faculty, panel of participants, and all involved in selecting me as the Visionary Leader at Benedictine University which leaves me astounded! I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow at Benedictine University who instilled the foundational education of a nurse executive as well as the mentors I’ve been privileged to have throughout my journey. I also would like to thank my talented and supportive husband, son and parents who continued to encourage and cheer for me on -especially during challenging times. I am truly grateful for them and am blessed to have them as role models and family! Their encouragement and supportive ways inspired me during the many adversities and episodes of life. They have kept me focused on fulfilling my goal of doing meaningful and purposeful work while making a difference in the lives of those I encounter. I have spent a significant amount of time understanding people, patients and the experiences of others. Understanding what it means to treat others better than how they expect to be treated and aiding them in any way possible.
It truly is an honor to be presented with this award, the “Benedictine University Alumni Achievement Award - Visionary Leader”. The surprise I continue to feel is surreal! I would have never envisioned being recognized for doing what I love on a daily basis. Being engaged and connecting with our future staff, helping to educate and find our personal “why” motivates me to be the best version of me every single day. Inspiring and being involved with our team members, physicians, patients and people plays an essential role in building a solid foundation and defining who we are through our mission - it is who I am. Through perseverance, dedication, and passion we can make a difference and make our dreams come true! This award is truly an unexpected dream...I humbly accept this honor and will continue inspiring and transforming the future of healthcare in search for a better tomorrow. Thank you!”
CARL VARNADO earned his B.A. in English Language and Literature. He is an author, educator, and content creator who is deeply committed to the development and growth of young people around the world. He is currently CEO of Knarrative. com, a web portal that focuses on helping descendants of the African diaspora grow and learn about their history. He has served as a writer and cultural consultant to EA Games. He is the creator and producer of the Black in Gaming Awards. He has assisted Epic Games in Curriculum Design for their innovative Unreal Engine. He is a contributor to the book “Narrative Tactics for Mobile and Social Games.” He also serves as the Minister of Media Arts at Rancho Solano Preparatory School in Scottsdale, AZ where he teaches Film and Production, Screenwriting, Game Design and WorldBuilding.
In his outreach work, he is the Executive Director of Black in Gaming, an organization dedicated to increasing African American participation and influence in the interactive media industries. He is an advisor to the Black Collegiate Game Association, and a contributor to the Black Heroes Matter movement. He is a frequent speaker at the Game Developers Conference and San Diego Comic Con. In his spare time, Varnado spends his time writing screenplays and designing video games. His upcoming projects “Black Dragon” and “The Last MC” will be released exclusively on Knarrative next year.
"I would first like to say thank you to the committee for this wonderful surprise. I was floored when I was told I received it. It took me several days to even conceive how to respond to such a grand honor.
My first thought was to reference my favorite quote from Alice in Wonderland. The passage comes deep into the book where Alice runs into the Cheshire Cat.
Alice: ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
The Cheshire Cat: ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’
Alice: ‘I don’t much care where.’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.’
When I arrived at Benedictine, I was very much like Alice. I was walking along the path, feeling lost, and looking for direction. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do. I was, in fact, looking for guidance. The faculty at Benedictine were very much like the Cheshire Cat, which to me has made all the difference in my life.
You see, what is forgotten about being young, is that the adults around you are both trying to get you to enjoy the moment, and plan for a future. They think and worry about your destination all of the time. What are you going to do? How will you make money? I wanted an answer to these questions like everyone else. This is the question about the path. You want to choose the right path without an idea of where the destination might be. At another university, I might have found these answers. In fact, at other universities, I did find those answers. I became a writer, a game designer, a teacher, and those are great things. They helped acquire the skills to understand the what, but the what wouldn’t have been enough.
Knowing what you want to do, doesn’t sustain you. It doesn’t stretch you. It doesn’t develop you. What Benedictine did was ask, who was I? What kind of person did I want to become? This kind of development comes from relationships. It comes from mentorship. It comes from friendship. Benedictine has the type of staff and faculty who developed this in me. Today, I thank them. To the late Dr. Charlotte Ross who saw a spark of teacher in me, when I didn’t see it in myself. To Linda Owens who developed me as the leader I sought to be. To Marco, who nourished my ideas, and helped them grow. To Dr. Carroll who showed me how to lead in difficult times. To President Gregory who helped me understand strategy and tactics. But most of all to Dr. Vincent Gaddis who has always been my North Star keeping me on the right path. Benedictine was always my Jedi temple, and to a filmmaker, there is no higher compliment that can be given. BenU set me upon the path, everything else was just what happened on the journey.”
BARBARA (KOWALSKI) ZEDLER, M.D., earned her B.S. in biochemistry. She grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Benedictine University in 1976 (B.S., Biochemistry). After earning her medical degree from Northwestern University in 1980, Zedler completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at the Medical College of Virginia (Richmond, VA) in 1984.
Board-certified in internal medicine, Zedler practiced clinical medicine in Richmond for 11 years followed by 21 years in research. As medical director of an independent clinical research center, she served as Principal or Co-Investigator on more than 150 FDAregulated clinical trials. Zedler helped establish the clinical research division at Philip Morris USA/Altria to conduct trials of alternative products developed to reduce the health risks of cigarette smoking, such as the first e-cigarette. In 2008 Zedler co-founded and served as Chief Medical Officer for a life sciences research consulting company, Venebio Group, LLC. Venebio provides a broad range of scientific research support to pharmaceutical, medical device, analytics and other companies, with a focus on personalized healthcare and translational medicine (expediting biomedical research discoveries to the bedside).
Since 2018 Barb is happily enjoying retired life in the Richmond area with her husband, Peter Zedler, M.D., a retired obstetriciangynecologist. They have three grown children and three grandchildren. Barb feels enormously blessed and grateful for a fulfilling career and life built on the bedrock foundation provided by family, her education at IBC/BenU, and faith in God.
"I am honored and humbled by Benedictine University’s recognition. I credit the rigor of my pre-med coursework and professors at IBC for honing a striver’s mentality that has served me well through all aspects of my life: self-discipline, perseverance, and rising to expectations. I hope the BenU quality education tradition continues for generations to come.”
2021 Rising Star
NICOLE CALEY eaned her B.B.A. in Accounting in 2010 and her M.B.A. in 2014. She stands at the forefront of the Operational Accounting world, bringing over 20 years of diverse and extensive experience, using her resultsoriented, entrepreneurial mindset and leadership ability to drive change. As current Senior Accounts Payable (AP) Director with AAR Corporation and Founder & President of Payables Solutions Partners, L.LC., she not only leads a 21-person team that ensures the accuracy over $1 billion in payments annually, she consults AP teams across the country creating world class AP departments and processes. In her roles, Caley concentrates intensively on Organizational Leadership, staff development, training and using technology to advance the world of operational accounting. During her career, she has developed a strong work ethic coupled with a strong record of success and she is passionate about serving, motivating and inspiring people.
In addition to the launch of Payables Solutions Partners, L.L.C., she also founded Living Virtuously, L.L.C. where she is the CEO (Chief Executive Optimist) helping teach the importance of living a life of courage, purpose and devotion. In this role, she provides, through various speaking engagements and private sessions, motivation and inspiration to help others overcome the obstacles that are preventing them from reaching their potential. Caley firmly believes that your past or current situation never has to define your future progress and success. Caley has partnered with True Mentors, where she also served on the board for two years, The Ark of Saint Sabina’s young women’s programs, the G.E.M.S. Mentoring program and various women’s leadership summits to promote living a life of excellence. In being recognized for her impact, Nicole was one of fifty women to be published in America’s Leading Ladies – Who Positively Impact our World by Pat Sampson.
As a valued speaker and partner of The Institute of Finance and Management (I.O.F.M.), she focuses her workshops on Leadership with sessions focusing on Emotional Intelligence, building and motivating high performing teams, how to make leadership a habit, and the essential soft skills of leadership. In additional to being a respected speaker in the industry, Caley also teaches certification courses with I.O.F.M. for accounts payable specialist and managers, as well as accounts receivable specialists and managers.
Caley earned her B.A. in Accounting, with a Certificate in Forensic Accounting, and then her M.B.A. with a concentration in Organization Development, from Benedictine University. She has served for the last four years as the President of the Board of the Illinois Chapter of I.O.F.M. In 2016 she was awarded AP Director of the Year for companies over $1 billion by the Institute of Finance & Management. In 2018 Caley was awarded Top Professional of the Year in Finance & Management by The International Association of Top Professionals (I.A.O.T.P.), and in 2019 was awarded Empowered Woman of the Year by I.A.O.T.P. where she was featured in Top Industry Professional Magazine.
"I am extremely honored to be receiving a Benedictine University Alumni Achievement Rising Star Award. I am solemnly grateful for the recognition I have received for my accomplishments, because I am confident that every nominee was just as deserving.
Like many, I have faced several trials on my journey, but each one of them has strengthened my resilience to make me the person I am today; a dynamic professional who knows exactly what she wants, who does not lose sight of the goal in the face of adversity, but perseveres against all odds. Winning this award would not have been possible without my faith in His plan, even when it was difficult to understand.
I once heard ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ My learnings at Benedictine as well as the numerous mentors I have had have been my accelerant, and I’d like to think at this point I’ve just begun to get the kindling going. With the perfect balance of oxygen (life) and continued heat (passion) I hope to continue to set fire to all things I can influence and do my part in making this world a better place.
I am sincerely grateful for everyone in my journey. Thank you!”
2021 Rising Star
VICTOR CIAPAS earned his B.A. in social science from Benedictine University in 2001. He was active in the Model United Nations program, student government, and the student newspaper during his time at Benedictine University.
Ciapas is a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) assigned to the F.B.I. Cincinnati Division; he spent a significant portion of his time in the Cincinnati Division conducting international terrorism investigations. Ciapas currently works public corruption and civil rights investigations. He also serves as an F.B.I. Crisis Negotiator.
Ciapas enjoys instructing and mentoring newer F.B.I. employees and those trying to pursue a career in criminal justice; much of this stems from the mentorship and guidance he received from Benedictine University professors.
"I am grateful to call myself a Benedictine Alum and am thankful for mentors like Dr. Gaddis, Dr. Mikula, Dr. Ostrow, Fr. David, and many others, who broadened my perspective and led me to pursue a career in government and public service. I am also thankful for the support and friendship of fellow Benedictine University students and all the fond memories; whether it was a study session at Krasa Center or late-night laughs during a burrito run down the street. Looking back, my Benedictine University experience taught me the importance of empathy, inclusiveness, and collaboration and how to put the aforementioned values into practice in my personal and professional life after university. I am truly in awe of the accomplishments of past award recipients and am thankful for even being considered for this award and for being part of this great community.”
2021 Rising Star
MEGHAN DOHERTY graduated from Benedictine University with a Bachelor’s in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. She has a strong clinical nutrition and fitness background. She is skilled in nutrition education, assessment, promotion and meal planning. In addition to focusing on sports nutrition, Doherty is proficient in diabetes, infertility, hypertension, food intolerances, urological disorders, metabolic syndrome and hormonal imbalances.
Her expertise comes from working in a variety of settings, including healthcare, medical weight loss, fitness clubs, food management and as a brand ambassador for numerous nutrition companies. Her array of experience working with a diverse clientele has allowed her to adapt programs for different needs while helping her relate to all ages, genders and ailments.
Doherty’s future endeavors include achieving her Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as becoming a licensed registered dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her philosophy is that every body [and everybody] have specific needs, making it her goal to customize plans that instill healthy habits with her patients. She strives to create balance in other’s lives through nutrition education.
"Thank you to Benedictine University’s staff and professors, who gave me the assets and skill to become the best professional. I appreciate the outstanding support and resources that they have given me for my future endeavors.”
2021 Rising Star
DAWNIELLE GRACE Grace is the Founder and Owner of en•lign counsel+compliance. Her primary areas of practice are corporate and employment law, as well as regulatory healthcare compliance. She advises clients on FMLA, ADA, HR and corporate governance related issues and conducts workplace investigation trainings. Grace takes pride in her purposeful disruption of the legal status quo by offering Virtual General Counsel services to small and midsized companies (with an emphasis on non-profit and religious organizations) and Virtual Compliance Officer services with flat rates and sliding fee scales.
Prior to starting en•lign, she was an Associate at Spilman, Thomas & Battle, P.L.L.C.; and before joining the firm she served as Vice President, Corporate Secretary, General Counsel and Compliance Officer for Computer Credit, Inc., a North Carolina medical collections agency and hospital extended business office (now known as Encore Exchange).
She is a Board Member of the Winston-Salem Symphony, an Advisory Board Member of the Benedictine University Leadership, Empowerment, Action, Development and Service (L.E.A.D.S.) initiative and proudly serves as a Guardian Ad Litum with the Children’s Law Center of Central North Carolina.
Grace has both an M.B.A. and a law degree, is proficient in Japanese, loves to travel and read; and has an adoring and supportive husband, Brock Grace, M.S., L.C.M.H.C. and two beautiful, brilliant little girls, Zoë and Skylãr.
"Greetings from North Carolina,
I must begin with a most humble thank you, to my BenU family, for recognizing me as a Rising Star. My M.B.A. from BenU has served me well, showing past perspective employers as well as current and potential clients, that outside of my knowledge of the law, I also have an acute business acumen. Though my business, en•lign counsel+compliance, is still young, I am eager to continue assisting small and midsized companies with their inhouse legal and compliance related needs. I am also grateful to have the autonomy to help individuals as time and opportunity present, since justice so often is not as blind as we would hope.
Most importantly though, I would like to thank you, for this platform. Please know that I look forward to continuing to make a difference in my community as a thought leader and contributor to the conversations and quandaries that would keep us from being our best selves as a community of individuals. I would also like to thank my God, my loving and supportive husband, Brock Grace, and my parents, who have always encouraged me.
I leave you with a couple quotes which offer a window into my heart:
‘Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ - James Baldwin
‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ - Yoda
‘Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death. Live! Live! Live!’ - Auntie Mame. “
2021 Rising Star
SISTER DOCTOR BEATRICE KAYOMBO came to Benedictine University in 2003 to study under an arrangement with the University and their home convent, the African Benedictine Sisters of St. Gertrude, Imiliwaha. Before coming to Benedictine, Sr. Beatrice was a registered Nurse, trained in Tanzania, and the only medical professional in her village. During her time as a registered nurse and midwife, she saw many women die in childbirth. She decided that she could do more to assist with the lack a readily available healthcare.
Sr. Beatrice earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Science from Benedictine University in 2009 and completed the final requirements for a Master of Public Health in 2014 while earning a Doctor of Medicine from Poznan University of Medical Science in Poznan, Poland, the same year. To further her educational journey, Sr. Beatrice then travelled to Dar Es Salaam for advanced medical training and to complete her oncology residency. As of December 2020, Sr. Beatrice completed her medical training and is now an oncologist at Muhimbili National Hospital, a journey that was 17 years in the making.
Sister Doctor Beatrice grew up in a small village without running water or electricity. School was a 1.5 hour walk in both directions and their classrooms lacked many commonplace materials like textbooks and lab equipment. However, through her hard work, dedication and desire to make life better for those in her country, she has proven the power of education and exemplifies the hallmarks of Benedictine Values.
2021 Rising Star
PAUL KELLY became a high school social studies teacher in 1998 at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, completing his Benedictine University M.Ed. during his second and third years as an educator. It was at BenU’s College of Education that Paul learned the principles of instructional design and constructivist teaching that remain the foundation of his educational philosophy to this day. After receiving the Milken National Educator Award in 2005, Paul earned his administrative licensure and became a departmental chairperson in Township High School District 214.
Since 2013, Paul has proudly served as the principal of Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, where he has received numerous honors as a school leader. A 2020 Golden Apple Leader of Distinction, Paul was the 2018 Illinois High School Principal of the Year and one of three Finalists for the 2019 National Association of Secondary Schools Principal of the Year.
Paul is grateful to BenU for giving him perspective, rigor, and a path to leadership in education.
"I am honored to receive this recognition from Benedictine University. I was already a teacher when I entered the BenU graduate program in Education, but the lessons I learned from my instructors and peers transformed my professional life and opened up doors for me to grow immensely as a teacher and leader.
Some of my strongest professional relationships were formed at BU, and I carry fond memories of my time as an Eagle.
Thank you, Benedictine University, for making a huge difference in my life!”
2021 Rising Star
SHARON LAZICH graduated from Benedictine University in 2004 with degrees in Political Science and Spanish Literature. Upon graduating, she moved to San Jose, Costa Rica, to teach English as a second language. From 2007- 2009, Lazich lived and worked in Smila, Ukraine, as a Peace Corps Volunteer where she taught English and leadership development classes to high school students.
In 2010, she was accepted into Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service Master’s program where she focused on Latin American politics and government. After graduating in 2012, she applied for and was accepted into the highly-competitive Presidential Management Fellowship program, an intensive twoyear training and leadership development program for federal civil servants. Lazich worked as a Fellow at the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) in Washington, D.C. and Jakarta, Indonesia, and at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a policy analyst.
Currently, she is a foreign service officer with U.S.A.I.D. serving as the deputy director for the F.A.T.A./K.P. Office in Islamabad, Pakistan. With U.S.A.I.D., she has worked in Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Pakistan, where she’ll serve until she’s assigned to a new post in April 2022.
"I am both thrilled and honored to be recognized by Benedictine University, and humbly accept the Rising Star award. As a space enthusiast this is particularly apropos. William Deresiewicz wrote in Excellent Sheep, ‘Education isn’t something you consume; it’s an experience you give yourself over to.’ This is how I remember my experience at Benedictine University. The curriculum was purposefully designed around the importance of the liberal arts, imbued with the value of the humanities, led by a strong contingent of dedicated professors, and enriched by small classrooms filled with students from all walks of life. It was in this setting that I practiced reasoned debate and principled dissent, and respectfully engaged with students whose opinions, political or otherwise, varied from my own. Now, as a diplomat and international development specialist, I apply these skills in my day-to-day interactions with colleagues from all over the globe.
Thank you to those who nominated me and supported my nomination. I would especially like to recognize my former Spanish professor and mentor, Dr. Beth Vinkler, whose passion for languages, literature, and excellence challenged me to constantly achieve more than I ever thought I could. I would also like to recognize my former political science professor, Dr. Joel Ostrow, in whose classroom I learned, sometimes painstakingly so, the value of drafting one pagers, and where I learned how to think, ask questions, and debate. Finally, I’m grateful to the entire Benedictine Community for creating a space where I could bond with others who were as driven by their commitment to service as I was, and whose friendships I have carried with me since I walked across the stage at graduation. Thank you, again. Per aspera, ad astra!”
2021 Rising Star
GUADALUPE MARTINEZ began her career in healthcare at Banner Health in 2018 as a Human Resources Program Coordinator, where she was exposed to the varying functions of a large healthcare system. Here, she helped in researching and creating a new project management process for HR leaders to effectively manage their teams and HR leaders to communicate systemwide projects to one another. Not long after, she transitioned into the Diversity and Inclusion department after demonstrating her passion for equity and serving the communities she grew up in. Guadalupe’s role as a Diversity and Inclusion Analyst has allowed her to facilitate courses across Banner to clinical and non-clinical team members on Unconscious Bias, LGBTQ+ Health 101 and cultural competency. In addition, she assists in leading Banner’s Team Member Resource Groups, where she helped establish, develop and sustain these team members-led groups focused on personal and career development, strategic alignment to the business goals, and community volunteer. Some of the groups she assisted establish were Veterans, Hispanic/Latinx and Women’s. One of her most proud contributions has been to develop strategic partners such as the AZ Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Chicanos Por La Causa. Because of these partnerships, Banner has participated in healthcare fairs that have provided free resources for underserved communities, such as diabetes testing and blood pressure checks.
Currently, Guadalupe lives in Mesa, Arizona, with her husband and continues investing in her education by attending the University of Arizona Global Campus, where she is pursuing her master’s in healthcare administration. With this, she hopes to continue being a champion of belonging and equity within her work community and in communities across Arizona.
"I remember my first day at Benedictine University at Mesa. Kevin Broeckling gave an introductory speech to all the incoming students and he clearly stated ‘I promise you, four years from now you will not be the same person you are today.’ I was taken back because I had no idea how I could possibly change. However, he could not have been more right. When a student joins BenU they are not only getting an education, but they are gaining mentors, lifelong friends, resources and most importantly the Benedictine values that each student takes with them for the rest of their life. As a first-generation college student and DACA recipient, Benedictine University opened their doors and allowed us all, whether DACA, citizen, first generation or not, to dream big by working diligently. Today, I, along with many other students are following our dreams and making a difference in our communities because BenU believed in us. I want to thank Kevin, the amazing professors and staff for letting me dream big and achieve the purpose that God has for me which is simply to help others in any way I can. From the bottom of my heart thank you for this honor, it is a privilege to receive such an award.”
2021 Rising Star
MICHAEL ROBINSON, M.P.H., M.B.A., J.D., L.L.M. is an attorney licensed by Illinois, and multiple federal jurisdictions including: the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the Northern District of Illinois; and he currently runs a small health law practice, The Law Firm of Michael D. Robinson & Associates, L.L.C., located in Chicago, where the firm focuses on food and drug law, regulatory compliance, toxic torts and civil rights. Robinson is also a member of Phi Delta Phi and Sigma Beta Delta.
Robinson currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law, overseeing a required first year law course, Expert Learning, with the faculty director of the program over several semesters at The John Marshall Law School, Chicago. He has experience doing trial work in both the state and federal courts and has successfully written briefs for, and orally argued in front of, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Robinson is a frequent guest lecturer at other law and graduate schools including National University in Lombard; DePaul College of Law, Chicago; Loyola School of Law Chicago; and The John Marshall Law School of Chicago.
Previously, Robinson worked for the United States Food and Drug Administration as Deputy Director of the Chicago District Investigations Branch. He also served in various compliance and leadership positions over a seven-year FDA career. Prior, as a trained federal investigator, Robinson developed multiple cases for judicial and administrative actions including seizures, injunctions and criminal prosecutions. He was trained and specialized in biologics and pharmaceutical products. Additionally, Robinson was the Chapter President for the N.T.E.U. (National Treasury Employees Union) and previously served as Chapter Vice-President of the same; he successfully negotiated multiple claims of employee grievances against management for fellow federal employees. Prior to joining the FDA, Robinson worked for over five years in a health care setting.
Robinson received his Master of Laws in Health Law and his L.L.M. Certificate in Compliance from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Robinson received his Master of Laws in Trial Advocacy and Dispute Resolution, with honors; Juris Doctor; and J.D. Certificate in Health Law from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. While a law student, he served as Executive Justice in the Moot Court Honors Program and was a Morrissey Scholar. Robinson received his Master of Public Health, Master of Business Administration, and Bachelor of Science degrees from Benedictine University in Lisle, and is a member of Sigma Beta Delta.
"I am incredibly honored to even be considered for this Alumni Achievement Award. I would not have been able to achieve my academic, nor my career goals, without the support of Benedictine University’s undergraduate and graduate programs. I am particularly thankful for the liberal arts humanities curriculum core that grounded my studies even within scientific programs. Specifically, I would like to thank Dr. Allison Wilson for her sage advice and exceptional mentoring and support over nearly two decades.”
2021 Rising Star
TOBY SMITHSON, a diabetes lifestyle expert, is a certified diabetes care and education specialist (C.D.C.E.S.) and registered dietitian nutritionist (R.D.N.) who has successfully managed her own type 1 diabetes for more than five decades.
She has dynamically combined her professional knowledge with her life experiences managing diabetes by producing scores of videos under the banner DiabetesEveryDay, guiding people with diabetes to better understand and practice diabetes self-management at her website DiabetesEveryDay. com, on YouTube at Diabetes EveryDay and on other social media platforms.
Smithson was recently awarded the 2020 Diabetes Educator of the Year honor by the Diabetes Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and previously both “Young Dietitian of the Year 2004” and “Outstanding Dietitian of the Year 2009” by the Illinois Dietetic Association. She is a former media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and media spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists. Toby is a frequent resource for nutrition writers and bloggers and writes regularly for U.S. News and type2diabetes.com. She is the principal author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies. When Diabetic Living Magazine was in publication (prior to November 2020), Toby was the Ask Toby columnist for this magazine.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Science from Northern Illinois University’s Coordinated Undergraduate Program (1982) and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness with an entrepreneurship track from Benedictine University (2014). Smithson is a Fellow of the Academy TOBY J. SMITHSON of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND).
"What an honor it is to receive this Alumni Achievement Award. Simply having had the opportunity to complete this advanced Master’s in Nutrition and Wellness program remotely has been a constant source of gratitude, and this recognition is beyond amazing.
Having received my undergraduate degree in Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Science from Northern Illinois University in 1982 life and career circumstances had consistently nudged aside my ambitions to complete advanced studies in nutrition. But In 2012, 30 years later, Dr. Catherine Arnold informed me that Benedictine University was offering an online Master’s in Nutrition and Wellness Degree Program, and everything about this program suited me perfectly, including the option to focus on nutrition-related entrepreneurship. I was able to complete the program remotely and still maintain my position as a community dietitian at a local health department. Most importantly, I was inspired to focus my career on diabetes, a personal priority for me since my diagnosis at age 8.
Even during my studies, I launched my DiabetesEveryDay website and wrote Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies. Both my business and book continue to thrive, and I love where my career has taken me. It was fantastic to start my journey as an entrepreneur while learning and growing in my classwork at Benedictine. I loved all my classes, my professors, and my classmates. It was a fabulous experience and I always recommend the program to any of my colleagues looking to pursue their master’s degree in Nutrition and Wellness.
I must offer a huge thank you to my husband Anthony Smithson for allowing me to focus on my coursework, which brought me such joy (and a bit of misery). My gratitude especially to Dr. Arnold, Dr. Karen Plawecki and to my amazing classmates, most of whom I didn’t meet in person until our graduation ceremony. #friendsforever. And a final thanks to Benedictine University for this innovative master’s program, and for this this prestigious award.”
Thirteen accomplished alumni were honored in the following categories: Distinguished Alumnus, Visionary and Rising Star. These distinctions recognize alumni who display leadership and innovation in their career fields as well as a personal dedication to philanthropic endeavors. Congratulations!
Nazneen Razi, Ph.D. ’99 - Organizational Development, MBA '84 - Human Resources and Operations Management
Nazneen Razi is a two-time graduate of Benedictine University. She received her MBA in Human Resources and Operations Management in 1984 from Illinois Benedictine College. She later returned in 1999 to receive her Ph.D. in Organization Development.
Nazneen worked as a Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is a federation of 36 separate United States health insurance companies that provide health insurance in the United States to more than 106 million people.
After years of amazing contributions to the executive leadership team at Blue Cross Blue Shield, she became President and Principle for NRHR Talent Consulting. NRHR Talent Consulting is a leadership, culture, and human resource consulting service. Through her leadership, NRHR Talent Consulting is positioned to help their clientele, consisting of companies the likes of Blue Cross Blue Shield, JLL, CNA and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, just to name a few, deliver value through innovative and high impact HR strategies and talent solutions that drive exceptional business performance and create positive employee experience and engagement.
Through Nazneen’s Leadership, NRHR Talent Consulting has worked with start-ups, not-for-profits, and small to mid-size companies, as well as fortune 500 organizations. With her more than twenty years as a CHRO at large, Nazneen has utilized her experience in various industries such as healthcare, technology, real-estate, and insurance in both public and private sectors to provide unmatched leadership in the field of Human Resources and talent acquisition. She has also pursued her passion of sharing her wealth of experience teaching both graduate and undergraduate Human Resources courses.
MICHAEL J. ABERNATHY, J.D. earned his B.A. in Philosophy and History, magna cum laude, from Illinois Benedictine College (Benedictine University) in 1979 and his Juris Doctorate, with honors, from DePaul University College of Law in 1982. At IBC, he met the love of life, Pam (Zitnik) Abernathy, B.A.’78, to whom he has been married for 40 years. Abernathy is a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, a 2,200-lawyer law firm with 31 offices worldwide. Abernathy is a member of the firm’s Advisory Committee, coleader of the firm’s global Life Sciences Industry Practice and the firm’s global Intellectual Property Disputes Practice, as well as a member of the firm’s Chicago management team. He focuses his practice on pharmaceutical, biotech and chemical patent litigation, representing clients such as Takeda, Nestle-Purina, and Merck KGaA. He also is on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and served for 14 years as an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Trial Advocacy at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Abernathy has received a number of professional recognitions, including IAM Patent 1000: The World’s Leading Patent Professionals (2016–2019); Life Sciences Star, Intellectual Property, LMG Life Sciences (2016–2019); The Best Lawyers in America: Intellectual Property (2014–2019); and Illinois Super Lawyers: Intellectual Property Litigation (2010–2019). Abernathy is passionate about Catholic primary and secondary education. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at St. Michael Parish School, and formerly served on the Board of Trustees at All Saints Catholic School and as the Board Chair of St. Francis High School. He also has been the head girls’ track and field coach at St. Michael Parish School since 1994 and an assistant cross-country coach at St. Francis High School since 2003. In addition, in 2018 he became a member of President’s Planning Advisory Council of Benedictine University.
"I’m very grateful to the administration, faculty and staff at Benedictine for their life-enduring lessons on community, hospitality, stability and stewardship. I’m particularly grateful to Dr. Phil Bean for instilling in me a love of American history, to Dr. Bernard Toussaint for teaching me the virtues of logic and metaphysics, to Fr. David Turner for his tutorials on Benedictine virtues, and to Coach John Ostrowski for teaching me that empathy and laughter are essential leadership traits.”
KEVIN L. LORENZ, J.D. received an M.B.A. from Benedictine University in 1992, holds a J.D. from George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, and a B.S. in economics from Illinois State University. Kevin L. Lorenz, Chief Investment Officer, Senior Vice President, Treasury & Private Investments at the Katz Group, is an accomplished executive with over 25 years of experience guiding and implementing investment strategy across public and private companies. Lorenz also works directly with the principal to oversee the design, implementation and monitoring of the overall investment strategy for public and private passive investments. Prior to joining the Katz Group, Lorenz was Director, Ultra High Net Worth (UHNW) Private Client Business at Credit Suisse Securities, L.L.C., where he was selected to expand Credit Suisse’s UHNW private client business into Canada. From 2004 to 2009, Lorenz was the Director, UHNW Management Group at UBS Financial Services, Inc., where he was a key contributor to the formation and build out of the company’s first dedicated UBS UHNW office. Earlier in his career, he held positions of increasing responsibility at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, Inc. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an independent bureau within the U.S. Department of the Treasury that charters, regulates and supervises all national banks and thrift institutions.
"I am deeply honored to accept this Alumni Achievement Award from Benedictine University. I can directly trace the turning point in my professional career to the day that Benedictine University accepted me to the M.B.A. program. The education I received and the legitimacy of the degree I earned lead to my acceptance to law school, which opened doors to a career on Wall Street and ultimately to my current position as CIO for one of the wealthiest families in the world. It is I that owes a huge debt of gratitude to Benedictine University for taking a chance on me back in 1989 and changing the trajectory of my life in ways that I could not imagine that first day I stepped on campus.”
Sister Afra Mgwama, O.S.B.
M.Ed. '11, Leadership and Administration, M.S. '11 Curriculum and Instruction, B.A. '09, Liberal Arts in Elementary Education
SR. AFRA MGWAMA O.S.B., is a member of the African Benedictine Sisters of St. Gertrude Imiliwaha in the Diocese of Njombe, Tanzania. Since 2013, she has overseen the creation of a now-thriving Catholic elementary school in the bustling city of Sumbawanga, in western Tanzania. Sr. Afra’s educational path began with her family of eight siblings in a remote Tanzanian village. Traditionally village girls did not go to school. With her mother’s help, she convinced her father to let her get an education. She excelled at her schoolwork, entering the convent in Imiliwaha at 16 where she completed her secondary education. In 2003, her Sisters selected her to study for advanced education degrees to better serve orphans and village children. This opportunity was possible because of the generosity of the Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery and Benedictine University, both in Lisle. International travel provided unimaginable experiences, from flying to escalators, elevators and hotels. Walking through the International Terminal at O’Hare Airport, she entered a world far from her simple world in Tanzania. Besides needing to quickly become fluent in English, Afra had to learn the culture and customs of this affluent country. In 2005, she began her studies at Benedictine University. In 2009, she earned her first degree in Liberal Arts in Elementary Education. In 2011, Sr. Afra earned her M.Ed. degree in Leadership and Administration, followed by a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She fostered many relationships through student teaching, her connection with parishioners and her classmates. She returned to her homeland in February 2012. In 2013, she was charged with the formidable task of starting a school in Sumbawanga, in western Tanzania not far from the famous Lake Tanganyika. With generous support from Lisle-based Friends of Imiliwaha, a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting educational and health initiatives of the Imiliwaha Sisters, Afra’s seemingly impossible challenge is now a thriving school with over 300 preschool to seventh grade students including poor neighborhood children who attend the tuition-free, ranked in the region’s top 10 schools. This bustling campus, developed “brick by brick,” Afra’s motto, also features a modern computer lab. Dozens of orphans attend the school and live in a wing of the modest convent. Sr. Afra continues to develop this mission to better serve those in need of education, especially girls. Because of her childhood experience of fighting for the opportunity to go to school, she strives to ensure girls have the tools they need to lead productive lives. Her next project: building a modest convent so they can expand current facilities for orphans and boarding students.
"I am grateful to Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart for having me as part of the community and the Benedictine University community for providing a great education “Informing Today Transforming Tomorrow”. I appreciate, and cannot thank you enough Friends of Imiliwaha and all who have supported me. I do carry a light with me wherever I go. It was given to me the first day I was welcomed to Benedictine University. Thank you again.”
MICHAEL O’LEARY received his B.S. in Mathematics at Illinois Benedictine College (Benedictine University) in 1989. He later obtained his M.S. and Ph.D. in Mathematics from Northwestern University. He is currently professor and Department Chair at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Prior to taking this role, he was the founding Director of the School of Emerging Technology. Michael’s areas of expertise include analysis, applied mathematics, cybersecurity, differential equations, and fluid dynamics. He wrote the book “Cyber Operations - Building, Defending, and Attacking Modern Computer Networks”. This book walks the reader through the processes involved in setting up, defending, and attacking computer networks. His work provides a practical, hands-on approach to cyber security and focuses on real-life examples of networks and attacks, offers extensive coverage of offensive and defensive techniques. This text is supported by a rich collection of exercises and resources. Michael has coached Towson University’s cyber defense team since 2006, and the team has made it to the finals of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition three times. He also does research in the development of improved mathematical algorithms for the geographic profiling problem, which is the problem of estimating the location of a serial criminal’s home-base from the known locations of the crimes. This work has been sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.
"Let me thank the great faculty from what was then Illinois Benedictine College- especially Rose Carney, Phyllis Kittel, Lisa Townsley, Ralph Meeker, John Spokas, and Paul Tsi who helped me learn about mathematics, physics, and life.”
MICHAEL SUGLICH grew up in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood. From an early age, he learned that work ethic, confidence, strong values and respect for others would make great tools for life. After graduating from Quigley South High School, he continued to pursue his education and baseball dreams at IBC, graduating in 1982 with an Accounting degree. Mike enjoyed a successful All-American baseball career and was recently honored by his induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1984, Suglich married his IBC sweetheart, Colleen Collins, B.S.’82, Biology, a physical therapist. With a few years’ experience under his belt and Colleen’s support, he launched a start-up, MAS Consulting, an accounting software business in Chicago. Signature clients included the University Club of Chicago, Harpo Studios (Oprah Winfrey Show), WTTW, Ravinia Festival and Arthur Andersen. As CEO at MAS Consulting, he grew the vision, sales and delivery of consulting services to hundreds of businesses in the Chicago area. After leading MAS Consulting for 20 years, in 2010, Suglich merged his business upstream with Sikich L.L.P., a regional C.P.A., Technology and Advisory Firm. Mike joined the firm as a Senior Partner and participated on the firm’s Executive Board, during which time Sikich doubled in size and transitioned into a national Firm. Today, several Benedictine alumni continue to serve as partners, directors and key employees of the firm. He retired from Sikich in 2018 and now continues to keep his entrepreneurial spirit alive by running a new start-up: Greenlight Advisors, a Benchmark portal service designed to help business leaders make confident, informed decisions to improve their business performance. Mike and Colleen have been blessed with three children, Cara (Tommy), Matthew (Erin) and Kelsey and three grandchildren, Emilia, Martin, and William. Mike and Colleen continue many strong IBC friendships to this day. Mike will meet you for a round of golf or a baseball game any time. Go White Sox.
"I am humbled and honored by the recognition of the Benedictine Alumni Achievement Award. Benedictine laid the groundwork for my entrepreneurial spirit and human respect that helped me drive business success. Personally, Benedictine established friendships that continue to last a lifetime and more so, my beautiful wife, children and grandchildren that have come into my life. For that, I am most grateful. Benedictine is forever in my heart.”
2020 Rising Star
AYAYI AYITE holds a dual M.P.H./M.B.A. from Benedictine University which he received in 2017. He received a B.S. in Management and Economics from University of Poitier in France and is a Certified Medical Laboratory Scientist. He is currently focusing on strengthening his competencies and practical skills in epidemiology and surveillance, data analysis, monitoring and evaluation, with the professional goal of becoming a global health expert in these areas. Ayayi Ayite is a current Epidemiology and Surveillance Fellow with the Public Health Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Center for Global Health, Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis at C.D.C. Headquarters. As a native French speaker, he supports Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (P.H.I.A.) projects in various Francophone countries including Haiti, Burundi, DRC, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire and Botswana. In this role, he develops study protocols, survey materials, and standard operation procedures. He also provides data analysis support and in-country technical assistance to implementing partners, including training to field workers, and monitoring of project progress. Ayayi’s interest in Epidemiology began with a yearlong volunteering experience with the Office of Epidemiology and Statistics of the Dekalb County Board of Health, where he acquired basic practical knowledge in epidemiology, surveillance, and infectious disease case management and control. At the Dekalb County Board of Health, he investigated Hepatitis C cases from the Refugees’ Health program which played a key role in deciding to pursue a career in global health epidemiology. For the past five years, he has worked as a medical technologist in hospital laboratory settings, including Grady Memorial Hospital and WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. His outstanding work and love of the laboratory has led to his role as PRN Laboratory Supervisor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta while in the Fellowship.
"I am truly grateful, and I want to express my sincerest gratitude to Benedictine University and the M.P.H. faculty for providing me with the competencies, required academic knowledge and the tools that help me build my professional self-confidence enabling me to be highly competitive on the public health job market. I will not make it to the C.D.C. without my M.P.H. degree. I feel so honored and happy to be a Rising Star Award winner at Benedictine University! My special thoughts to Dr. Susan Cheng who has been a real mentor and an inspiration! Thanks! Thanks! and thanks Benedictine University!”
2020 Rising Star
DR. THOMAS J. CARTOLANO graduated from Benedictine University in 2004 earning his B.S. in Biology. He later attended the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, completing his medical degree in 2008. With more than 12 years of diverse experience, Dr. Cartolano is currently a Trauma Surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL. Prior to this position, he worked as a physician for Jackson Memorial Hospital located in Miami, Florida where he began as a Surgical Critical Care Fellow, then progressed to Trauma/Acute Care Surgery Fellow. He is affiliated with multiple hospitals, including Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and University of Illinois Hospital. Fueling his dedication to education, Dr. Cartolano is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Illinois Chicago and Midwestern University. He is also President of the Chicago Metropolitan Trauma Society.
"I am humbled and honored to have been selected as a recipient of the Alumni Achievement Rising Star Award for 2020. Benedictine University laid the foundation for the success I have achieved in my field of work. Without the unparalleled education I received at Benedictine University, and the constant guidance and support from Ms. Alice Sima, I would not be where I am today. Benedictine University holds a special place in my heart, as I also met my wife, Melissa, there. Together, we have welcomed two beautiful girls into the world. I cannot express my gratitude enough for this award. Benedictine University put me on the path to success, and for that I am eternally grateful.”
2020 Rising Star
DR. PETER GALLOS is a longtime resident of Plainfield, IL with his wife of almost 20 years, and their three wonderful children, Andrew, George, and Chrissa. Dr. Gallos attended Benedictine University where he earned his B.S. in Health Science with high honors in 1996. He furthered his training in dentistry by attending the University of Illinois College of Dentistry where he earned both a Bachelor’s degree in Dentistry and later his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. Dr. Gallos earned his D.D.S. degree with highest honors and finished as the Valedictorian of his class. Upon completion of his program, Dr. Gallos entered the University of Illinois at Chicago Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery’s residency program. Dr. Gallos credits this program with teaching him the skills necessary in performing complicated extractions and dental surgery. As a result of this program Dr. Gallos earned his State of Illinois Sedation licensure. Throughout his years of practice, Dr. Gallos has sharpened his skills in all areas of dentistry including orthodontics, implants, sedation, TMJ disorders, gum disease, and cosmetic dentistry. In addition to his 20 years of extensive expertise, Dr. Gallos has been inducted into the Pierre Fauchard Academy, Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Society, Alpha Omega Valedictorian Award, Omicron Kappa Upsilon Award for Clinical Excellence, The American Association of Oral And Maxillofacial Surgeons Award, the University of Illinois at Chicago Howard Kubacki Award for superior clinical performance, the University of Illinois at Chicago Donald McElroy Endodontic Award, the University of Illinois at Chicago Ted Rosen Award for occlusal problem solving, the University of Illinois at Chicago John Spence Award for excellence in dentistry, the American Equilibration Society’s Award for outstanding performance in the TMJ joint, past president in the Chicago Component of the Academy of General Dentistry, and is a Fellow in the American Dental Implant Association. Dr. Gallos is also currently on staff at Rush Copley Hospital in Aurora; teaches in the dental practicum at Benedictine University; and runs an internship for high school students interested in dentistry.
"As I approach 25 years since graduating Benedictine University, all I can say is how humble and grateful I am to all the faculty and staff who played a pivotal role in guiding my undergraduate education. They not only motivated me to be a lifelong learner, but also provided the encouragement and education which got me to where I am today - dentist, business owner, and educator.”
2020 Rising Star
ANTHONY GONZALEZ earned a B.S. in Social Science in 2008 at Benedictine University. In 2017 he completed his Master’s Degree in Educational Technology and Leadership as well as earned a Technology Specialist license. Anthony has spent his 11-year career teaching at Nazareth Academy, a college prep high school in La Grange Park, IL. At Nazareth Academy, Anthony teaches Contemporary World Issues and Economics, both senior-level courses. In addition to teaching, he has spent his career as the Assistant Coach on the Girls Cross Country team and leading Nazareth’s summer service trip to Solsberry Hill in southern. Indiana. During his tenure, Anthony has also served as the moderator of the Young Entrepreneur’s Club, led Kairos retreats, organized and led the FISH Prom for Teens with Disabilities, and was the Assistant Varsity Softball Coach. Anthony has been active in helping teachers innovate the classroom through the usage of technology and innovative pedagogy. He has helped the school achieve its technological goals by leading/ assisting the transitioning to Google Apps for Education in 2013, planning and unrolling the 1-1 iPad initiative in the 2014-2015 school year, and developing the 2017-2018 initiative to have 100% Google Certified Educators at Nazareth. As a Google Certified Trainer, Anthony was invited to speak at the Google Education Summit at Wisconsin Lutheran College in 2013 and 2014, presented a technology in-service at Immaculate Conception High School, and has run numerous in-services at Nazareth Academy regarding classroom implementation. In the Fall of 2011 and 2013, Anthony earned the “Most Inspiring Teacher” award by Western Illinois University and was named “Educator of the Year” at Nazareth Academy by students and administration in both 2012 and 2018. In addition, Anthony earned a nomination for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching & Leadership in 2019.
"I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be a Benedictine alum, but during this pandemic, I am even more thankful. As a teacher who has been thrust into situations that I never would have expected, I am appreciative of my time in my education classes where hard work and innovation was always expected. As Benedictine provided a great environment to learn, it also provided me with a great community of friends and professors that still offer guidance and support today. Whether it was hosting a steak dinner in Founders Woods with Fr. David and the roommates, grabbing coffee and conversation with Dr. Gaddis every year to catch up, or continuing to see Benedictine graduates connect and succeed, I am happy to continue to be part of the Eagle community. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the community and connections that Benedictine has provided me with, so I am forever grateful. Thank you for the award, but most of all, thank you for continuing to instill great values in the future while appreciating past graduates.”
2020 Rising Star
KIMBERLY GROLL was a stay home mom raising her three children for 15 years before entering into college in 2003. In 2009, Groll completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology degree at Benedictine University. She has the distinction of completing her Associates, Bachelor, and Master’s degrees in six and one-half years. She continued in her field of clinical psychology and became a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Alcohol and Drug/Addictions Counselor, and Certified in Anger Management and Crisis Counseling. Working with court mandated anger management clients she gets them through the process. The Crisis Counseling allows her to get out of the office and go directly to the scene of a crisis and deal with the issues. In May 2020 she added one more certification as a divorce mediator. Groll was a columnist for the Sun Times Media Newspaper for two years where she wrote a monthly column titled “Dear Counselor”. Later using the same title, she published a book to help others in the community who are struggling with sensitive issues along with addressing ways to cope with the surrounding issues. She is a member of the DuPage Child Abuse Prevention Coalition and is actively involved in the community with speaking publicly on a variety of topics. As the owner and president of Achieving Solutions Counseling, Inc., located in Naperville, she is committed to providing individualized and professional services for substance abuse, anger management and a variety of mental and behavioral health issues.
"I am honored to receive the Rising Star award and must admit I was surprised when I was contacted. I graduated in 2009, and would like to thank Benedictine University for providing me with a wonderful education along with proper guidance to be able to accomplish my goals. I would also like to give special thanks to Margie Salyer who was a terrific educator, advisor and exceptional mentor.”
2020 Rising Star
NICOLE KONKEL holds a B.A. in Communication from Western Illinois University, a M.A. in Communication and Training from Governors State University and earned her Ph.D. in Organization Development from Benedictine University in 2013. Konkel is Vice President of Property Management, for Home Partners of America, a company that is committed to making home ownership a reality for more people. She began her career in real estate management over 20 years ago as an administrative assistant. She quickly progressed into leadership roles within various organizations including CEO of a management company in the greater Seattle area. She has worked in the multifamily, single family, luxury high-rise, condominium and homeowner association industries. In addition to her real estate experience, she has an extensive training and development background and has utilized those skills in property management firms to build learning platforms. In addition to her formal education, Konkel holds the highestranking designation in community association management, the Professional Community Association Manager (P.C.A.M.) from Community Associations Institute, the industry leader in the governance of HOAs and condominium associations. In her spare time, she enjoys training for triathlons, including having completed an Ironman distance race and traveling with her husband, Erick.
"Thank you very much for the distinguished honor of receiving the Alumni Achievement Award. I am honored and humbled to have been selected. One of the great things about our dear university is that there are so many individuals that have excelled both personally and professionally, so it makes it even more special to have been chosen to receive this award. My education and experience at BenU has been instrumental and rewarding. I look forward to being active in this community for years to come.”
2020 Rising Star
MARGARET ‘PEGGY’ YOUNG has been a registered nurse for over 22 years, including a background in medical-surgical and maternity nursing along with several years in quality improvement. Young began her nursing career after completing her Associate in Applied Science, Nursing degree at Triton College. After several years in the nursing field, Young elected to return to school to achieve her personal goal of completing her Bachelor of Science (B.S.N.) degree. This decision was sparked by her involvement in a research project that landed her at Mayo Clinic’s Quest for Quality conference. There she presented research that she and her colleagues conducted with mothers post-delivery. In 2008, Young completed her B.S.N. with honors at Benedictine University and was accepted into the Lambda Upsilon-at-large chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, Honor Society of Nursing. With such a positive learning experience during her B.S.N. program and with the encouragement of her professors, Young continued to advance her education. In 2009, she joined the inaugural cohort of Benedictine University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) program. Young received her second degree from Benedictine University with an M.S.N. in 2010. That same year, Young received a Nursing Excellence Award from Westlake Hospital in 2010 for her work in quality improvement. Young then began her teaching career as an adjunct instructor. After several years as both clinical and didactic adjunct instructor for Triton College and Benedictine University, Young “re-joined” Benedictine University as a full-time professional instructor in 2015. Prior to joining Benedictine full-time, Young was faculty and Clinical Coordinator for Triton College. Since 2017, Young has served as program director for Benedictine University’s R.N. to B.S.N. program. During this time, she oversaw the addition and launch of the 100% online modality of the R.N. to B.S.N. program alongside the ongoing hybrid delivery model. As an active member of Sigma Theta Tau, she has held past service as vice-president, president and leadership succession chair. She maintains certification as a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (C.P.H.Q.) and Certified Professional In-Patient Safety (C.P.P.S.). She is honored to guide students as they seek to advance their education and professional development through B.S.N. completion and beyond. Young is quite proud to be a two-time graduate and now full-time faculty of Benedictine University.
"I would like to express a huge thank you for being recognized with a 2020 Alumni Achievement Award as a Rising Star – it is truly humbling! This recognition reminds me of the value I place on being a lifelong member of the Benedictine family. My educational experience in both the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) and Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) programs sparked my spirit of inquiry. In nursing practice, this equates to using evidence-based practice to deliver equitable and quality care to all patients. As a current Benedictine faculty member, student advisor, and former R.N. to B.S.N. program director in the Department of Nursing and Health, I am inspired to guide and support nurses in their quest to advance their education and thus enhance their nursing practice – the same as my BenU nursing instructors did for me! On a day to day basis, I strive to embrace the Benedictine Hallmarks in my personal and professional relationships by listening, keeping an open mind, and encouraging collaboration. I am honored to receive this distinction and happy to accept this meaningful award. Thank you again for this recognition and thank you to Benedictine University for the ongoing impact in both my personal and professional lives!”