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Each year, Benedictine University's Office of Alumni Relations honors the best and brightest of the Benedictine University alumni family with the Alumni Achievement Awards. These awards are broken down into three categories: Distinguished Alumnus, Visionaries and Rising Stars. These distinctions recognize alumni who display leadership and innovation in their career fields as well as a personal dedication to philanthropic endeavors.
The Rising Star award is given to alumni who graduated with their undergraduate degrees less than 25 years ago, have made considerable strides in their careers in a relatively short period of time and have shown dedication to philanthropic endeavors. The Visionary award recognizes alumni who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have made significant impacts on the world around them through leadership and philanthropy. The Distinguished Alumnus award is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an alumnus of the University and is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in a career field or personal endeavor.
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.”
2018 Rising Star
Michael M. Alebich, D.O. graduated from Benedictine in 2007 with a B.S. in Health Science. He attended medical school at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, Illinois and joined the Primary Care Internal Medicine residency program at Stroger Hospital and Rush University Medical Center in 2011. After completing his residency in 2014, Alebich served as Chief Medical Resident at Stroger Hospital.
Alebich started his current role at Stroger as an Attending Physician in the Division of Hospital Medicine in 2015. His clinical roles include caring for acutely ill hospitalized adults, educating post-graduate physicians, mentoring and teaching medical students and performing non-surgical bedside procedures. His administrative duties include Associate Designated Institution Official, core faculty for the Internal Medicine Residency Program and Director of Medical Student Programs. He holds current academic appointments as Assistant Professor of Medicine at Rush Medical College and the Chicago Medical School and has published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.
Alebich’s honors include Resident Teacher of the Year at Rush in 2014, Medical Student Teaching Award in 2015 and 2016, the Osler Award for Inpatient Medicine Teaching in 2016 and Keynote Speaker at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine Bridging Ceremony in 2017.
Alebich hopes to continue teaching throughout his career and looks forward to serving the underserved as a public hospital physician for the foreseeable future. He currently lives in Chicago and spends his free time cooking, learning photography, reading historical non-fiction and biographies and enjoying time with his family and friends. He played football for the Eagles and counts his three years with the team among the fondest times of his life.
Aimee J. Allbritton, Ph.D.
Ph.D. ’11, Organization Development, M.S. ’08, Management & Organizational Behavior
Aimee J. Allbritton, Ph.D. is Vice President of Organization Development and Chief Learning Officer at Memorial Health System in Springfield, Illinois. Allbritton began her career as an educator in Educational Resources at Memorial Medical Center in 2000. She went on to hold roles as Director of Educational Resources and System Director of Organization Learning and Development from 2002-2009 and System Administrator of Organization Development from 2009-2012, until expanding into her current role.
Allbritton is responsible for strategic leadership of a comprehensive infrastructure that ensures the workforce has the needed knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve the organization’s desired outcomes. She is responsible for identifying, diagnosing and leading change among the health system’s structures, behaviors and processes.
She is active in community affairs as a member of Illinois Women in Leadership and has served on the Strategic Planning Committee for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois. She also volunteers at Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Health Fair, Memorial Medical Center Foundation’s Festival of Trees and is active in the education of pet therapy animals.
Allbritton is also active in healthcare and organizational associations including the American College of Healthcare Executives, the Association of Talent Development, the Organization Development Network, Benedictine University’s Strategic Planning Advisory Council and the Steering Committee for the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. She is a Registered Organization Development Consultant, as well as having earned her Senior Professional in Human Resources accreditation.
Allbritton earned her Master’s of Science degree in Management and Organizational Behavior as well as her Ph.D. in Organization Development from Benedictine University in Springfield. She has presented nationally and internationally as an expert on executive leadership transitions and has had her work published as well. She is currently working on a book for healthcare leaders to assist in executive leadership transitions.
Aimee and her husband, Chris, live in Springfield. She has two children, Micalister, a senior at University of Central Florida in Orlando; Caidin, a soldier in the United States Army; and two stepchildren, Andrew, a junior at the University of Illinois; and Carolyn, a junior in high school. They share their home with their two dogs, Sparkle and Sadie.
Richard C. Anderson, M.D. graduated magna cum laude from Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) with a B.S. in Biochemistry in 1988. He went on to earn his medical degree from the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine. He completed his residency at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, Illinois and fellowship at Washington University’s Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
Anderson is board-certified in both surgery and thoracic surgery and practices with the Peoria Surgical Group. He serves on the medical staffs at Methodist Medical Center of Illinois and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. He also
Anderson has received numerous accolades and honors over his career, but he is most proud of his three Golden Apple awards for excellence in teaching. He has also been named the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria Department of Surgery’s Teacher of the Year 15 times.
He was re-elected as trustee of the Illinois State Medical Society in 2016. He serves as a Board advisor to the Medical Legal Council and to the Committee on CME Activities. Locally, Anderson belongs to the Peoria Medical Society, where he has served in numerous positions including two terms as president. He is a Fellow and Governor of the American College of Surgeons, former Vice President of the Illinois Surgical Society and a member of the American Cancer Society. Anderson has many publications to his credit, including articles, book chapters, papers and presentations, along with two clinical trials.
Anderson lives in Morton, Illinois with his wife, Becky. They have six children: Elle, Jake, Jack, Clayton, Josh and Jillian.
2015 Rising Star
Kerry (Rerucha) Andrews grew up in Illinois, where she earned her bachelor's degree in International Business and Economics from Benedictine University in 1996 before moving to California. She later went on to earn her M.B.A. from Benedictine University in 2014.
She currently resides with her husband and their two children. Prior to having children, Andrews managed the finances for feature films and television. She has worked for many major entertainment companies, including Sony, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, CBS and Disney.
After she had her children, Andrews took time off work to focus on family and helping the community. During this period, she served as the treasurer of MOMS Club and worked countless volunteer hours.
When the time came to reenter the workforce, she found a company that shared her philanthropic spirit in the Disney Company. She now works as a senior manager of production finance overseeing the financial aspects of the company's television production and where she continues to volunteer many hours.
John Atkinson transferred to Illinois Benedictine College, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1984. Currently, Atkinson serves as a Managing Partner for Willis Group Holdings (NYSE: WSH) in Chicago headquartered in the iconic Willis Tower.
Willis Group Holdings is a leading global risk advisor, insurance and reinsurance broker. With roots dating to 1828, Willis operates on every continent with more than 17,000 employees in over 400 offices. Atkinson works closely with the firm's key clients to design and implement global risk management, insurance and human capital programs, improve operations, reduce worker injuries and minimize exposure to loss.
Atkinson has served as a visiting faculty member of the University of Maryland Erickson School of Aging Services. He recently joined the board of Organizing for Action, serves on the board of the American Seniors Housing Association, as a director of One Million Degrees (a Chicago based nonprofit that empowers low income community college students to succeed) and the board advisors of Catholic Charities of Chicago. Atkinson is also a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Economic Club of Chicago.
Atkinson and his wife, Bonnie, have four children, Emily, Caitlin, Hope and Patrick.
2015 Rising Star
Maggie (Bruzik) Augustyn graduated cum laude as a Molecular Biology major and University Scholar in 1999. She earned her D.D.S. and Bachelor of Science in 2004 from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received several awards highlighting her compassion and commitment to dentistry, outstanding academic achievement and also received honors from the American Academy of Periodontics.
Eighteen months after graduation, Augustyn opened a dental practice, which she calls her greatest challenge and greatest reward. Her practice is very philanthropically involved, having dispensed free dentistry for a day on random occasions, driven around Chicago giving out lunches and warm clothing to the homeless and collected 151 pounds of stuffed animals to send to Honduras. She spent time practicing abroad to help those with little or no access to care. She has served a population in a Mexican prison, Buddhist children in Nepal and others in the rural town of Guatemala, all of which have been life changing and eye opening for Augustyn. She has also become a mentor to pre-dental students from Benedictine and Boston University.
To Augustyn, life is about relationships and lending a helping hand to those who need it, whether it be in small ways or bigger ones. She wants her four year old daughter to grow up knowing that it will be part of her responsibility as a citizen of our planet.
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!”
2014 Rising Star
Joseph Baldino, D.C. earned his B.S. in Biology from Benedictine University in 1999. He is the founder of Integrative Neurology and Athletic Performance Clinic in Elgin, Illinois. He also works as the Functional Neurological Rehabilitation Specialist at his practice and specializes in functional and rehabilitative neurology, fibromyalgia and functional blood nutrition.
In addition to his practice, Baldino is an advisory board member of the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation. He is also a military specification medical consultant and an independent contractor for the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Baldino credits Benedictine University for developing his passion for learning, teaching and seeking knowledge. Baldino resides in Hampshire, Illinois with his wife, Dana (Witczak) Baldino, C99, and their children.
2018 Rising Star
Cindy Baranoski, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N. is one of the leading pediatric special needs dietitians in the field, creating and working with the nutrition program and interdisciplinary feeding clinic at the regarded Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Pediatric Medical Rehabilitation Center since 1999. She has helped children with special needs and their families receive nutrition support, which might not otherwise be realized, through her work with doctors, therapists, insurance companies and funding organizations.
Baranoski previously held positions at Benedictine University, Alexian Brothers Medical Center and The Quaker Oats Company. She is a preceptor with dietetic interns for numerous universities and routinely lectures at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her list of publications and citations is vast and includes professional journals, medical textbook chapters and numerous national and international speaking engagements.
Baranoski graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Benedictine University in 1995 and a Master of Science in Nutrition from Northern Illinois University in 1999. She holds a Pediatric Weight Management certificate from the Commission on Dietetics Registration and is credentialed by the Early Intervention System in Illinois. She is also a nationally registered and licensed dietitian in the states of Illinois and Connecticut. Baranoski was most recently the recipient of the distinguished Spotlight Award from Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, whose nutrition program was awarded “Excellence in Service Innovation” from Easter Seals National. She received the 1995 Community Service Award from Benedictine University; Outstanding Graduate Thesis at NIU; and the Emerging Leader Award from the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Baranoski is certified in Ayurveda, Meditation and Yoga as a Vedic Educator through the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California and has been a hairstylist in Oak Brook for 36 years. She lives with her newly retired husband and her bird and enjoys practicing yoga, meditation, hiking, seeing movies and traveling.
2019 Rising Star
Stacy Jo Barber graduated from Benedictine University in 2006 with a B.A. in Studio Art and went on to earn her Master’s in Art Therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. Upon graduating, Barber continued her clinical work as a counselor and art therapist at the Youth Campus in Park Ridge,IL; the Counseling Center of Lakeview; and New Horizon Center School for children with severe developmental disabilities and autism in Chicago. While at New Horizon Center, Barber developed a partnership with the Ed Paschke Art Center, which allowed her clients to create a large mural (a recreation of Ed Paschke’s Americani), which is now on permanent display at the center.
From 2013 to 2017, Barber worked as an adjunct professor at Benedictine University, where she taught both Introduction to Art Therapy and Drawing courses for the undergraduate departments of Fine Art and Psychology, as well as an Art Therapy course for the Master’s program in Clinical Psychology. In 2015, she co-coordinated an exhibition for her art therapy students at Lisle Savings Bank, giving students an opportunity to share their work with both the Benedictine and local communities. In 2014 and 2016, Barber exhibited her own artwork at the Benedictine University Art and Design Faculty Biennial shows.
Barber currently lives near her hometown area in Dixon, Ill. with her husband of 10 years, Scooter, and their three young children. She provides clinical counseling and art therapy services at her private practice, Roots & Wings, in downtown Dixon. Barber continues to create and exhibit her own personal artwork, which ranges from photorealistic oil painting portraits to more exploratory and expressive abstract pieces. Her passion is utilizing art and creativity to weave together the intricacies of the human experience, expressing the unique story and emotionality that accompanies each of us along our life’s path.
Manuel Barbosa earned his B.A. in English Literature from St. Procopius College in 1969. He attended John Marshall Law School and worked as an assistant state’s attorney before going into private practice.
In 1980, with the creation of the Illinois Human Rights Commission; after being recommended by a blue ribbon committee, Governor James Thompson named Barbosa the chairman of the commission and was confirmed by the state senate. He was subsequently reappointed several times after also being selected by Governor Jim Edgar, serving in that post a total of eighteen years.
In 1998, Barbosa was appointed to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois by the Seventh Circuit Judicial Council. After fifteen years, he retired and was recently named to the Board of Directors for METRA. During this time, Barbosa has remained active in numerous community affairs. Over the years, he has traveled to Mexico where he has lectured at various universities and has been recognized by the Mexican government and institutions for his efforts. He was named a distinguished member and counselor to the National Bar Association of Mexico. He has volunteered for the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative and has traveled to Panama, El Salvador and Ecuador as an instructor consultant for judicial reform.
Barbosa plans to release a published book which chronicles his family’s history in the Mexican Revolution and their migration to the United States.
Maurice Bell earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science with a Pre-Law concentration from Illinois Benedictine College in 1987. He later attended Keller Graduate School of Management and earned his M.B.A. in 1993.
Bell has risen through the management ranks of such well-known companies as Allstate Insurance Company, Metropolitan Life and Keebler. He is currently working for PepsiCo having held numerous roles of increasing responsibility since 1998 and holds the current position of Senior Director, Sales Strategy for Gatorade where he leads the strategic direction for the Convenience, Drug, Dollar and Food-service Channels of business.
During his career, Bell has been known to put others first by serving on numerous Diversity Task Forces, mentoring many employees of all backgrounds, participating in Junior Achievement events, supporting Big Brother/Big Sister of Chicago and attending many mission trips to Uganda.
With Benedictine University, Bell has served on the Benedictine Alumni Association Board, volunteered for numerous events, such as Red Carpet Day and New Student Orientation, actively participates and supports the President's Invitational Golf Outing and hosted a table as well as served as Honorary co-chair of the 2006 Educare Ball. He also established the African American Alumni Endowed Scholarship for first year Benedictine University students.
Bell resides in Wheaton, Illinois with his wife, Sarah, and their two children, Benjamin and Olivia.
2018 Distinguished Alumni
Christopher E. Birck is the current Managing General Partner of Oak Street Investments, L.P., a Delaware-based venture firm, a position he has held since 1999. He has also served as Chairman of Arrowsight, Inc., a remote video auditing company, since 2001.
Birck graduated from Illinois Benedictine College (now known as Benedictine University) with a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Economics in 1988. He also earned his M.B.A. from DePaul University in 1993.
Birck worked at Tellabs, Inc., an electronic communications hardware company, from 1988 to 1999 in the finance department. He was the Director of Treasury upon his departure. A member of the founding family of Tellabs, Birck has been a member of the Tellabs Foundation Board of Directors since 2011. Established in 1997, the Tellabs Foundation has given millions over the last two decades to support strategic initiatives in education, health and the environment.
He is very active in the local community, serving as a member of the Naperville Heritage Society Board of Directors, including acting as Chair from 2008-2012. He is also a prior member of the Naper Settlement Museum Board. A proud IBC alumnus, Birck has been a member of Benedictine University’s Board of Trustees since 2014.
Birck has been married to Christine (Sterkowitz) Birck since 1991. They have three children, all in various levels of college. His interests include golf, music, reading and various Chicago professional sports teams.
2019 Rising Star
Emily Bleeker graduated summa cum laude from Benedictine University in 2002 with a B.A. in Elementary Education. While teaching kindergarten and coordinating the gifted and talented program for Lisle District 202, she discovered her passion for writing after introducing a writer’s workshop to her students. She soon found a whole world of characters and stories living inside of her own mind. It took a battle with a rare form of cancer to give her the courage to share that amazing world with others.
Bleeker is now the best-selling author of four novels including Wreckage, When I’m Gone, Working Fire and The Waiting Room. Her books have reached over a million readers. She is a two-time Whitney Award finalist, a Wall Street Journal bestseller, and was recently listed as one of the top 100 Kindle authors of all time. She also attends conferences and literary festivals and enjoys extending her love of teaching to those with a passion for writing. She is currently writing her fifth novel, which will launch in early 2020.
Bleeker lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her four kids and a growing menagerie of animals. Between writing and being a mom, she attempts to learn guitar, sings along to the radio (loudly), performs with a local improv troupe and embraces her newfound addiction to running. But more than anything, Bleeker loves stories. She loves to read them, watch them, listen to them and most of all—write them down and share them with anyone who will listen.
2015 Rising Star
Joshua Blomgren, D.O. is a 2001 graduate from Benedictine University with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. While at Benedictine, he was a member of the men's soccer team. After graduating, he worked in a breast cancer research lab at the University of Chicago while applying to medical school. He then attended Midwestern University's Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine where he earned a D.O. in 2006. He then completed a family medicine residency at Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago followed by a primary care sports medicine fellowship at Rush University Medical Center.
Since completing his training in 2010, Blomgren has been practicing sports medicine with Midwest Orthopedics at Rush in Chicago and the western suburbs. His practice includes comprehensive, non-surgical care of athletes and orthopedic injuries, as well as concussion. He is currently serving as the head team physician for Willowbrook High School and is a co-team physician for the Chicago White Sox. He serves as an aid station medical captain at the Chicago Marathon and is a team physician with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
His wife, Alexandra (Fay) Blomgren, is a 2002 graduate of Benedictine. Together they have three children and reside in Oak Park. In his spare time, Blomgren is a volunteer soccer coach and enjoys grilling and playing with his children.
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!”
2017 Rising Star
Joseph S. Brunzelle, Ph.D., graduated from Illinois Benedictine College in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. In 1999, he earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry with distinction from Loyola University Chicago under the guidance of Kenneth W. Olsen, Ph.D. While working toward a doctorate, Brunzelle was awarded a GAANN Fellowship (1995-1997), a Teaching Scholars Fellowship (1997-1998) for a newly designed Biochemistry Laboratory course, and the Henry J. Dumbach, S.J. Award for Excellence in Chemistry (1998). In 1998, Brunzelle was also awarded the Arthur J. Schmitt Dissertation Fellowship in Leadership and Service. After graduating from Loyola University Chicago, he joined the laboratory of Wayne F. Anderson, Ph.D., at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine as a post-doctorate fellow. In 2000, he was awarded an American Cancer Society Fellowship for the structural studies of DNA Polymerase III.
Brunzelle is currently a research assistant professor at Northwestern University, and works at the Advance Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratories where he is involved with the three-dimension determination of macromolecular structures and methods development. He has authored more than 90 peer-reviewed articles that have been published in journals such as Nature and Science, given more than 20 invited talks and published abstracts at international science meeting proceedings. In 2004, Brunzelle founded Nastrx Inc., a contract research organization that provides macromolecular X-ray crystallography services to drug discovery and development companies.
Brunzelle and his wife, MaryAnhthu Do, D.O., also an Illinois Benedictine alumna, live in Oak Brook with their three daughters.
2014 Rising Star
Bridget Cale earned her B.A. in Accounting and Finance from Benedictine University in 1998. She is a certified public accountant with more than 15 years of professional experience in both public accounting and private industry.
Cale has also worked for Arthur Andersen LLP, specializing in financial statement audits and reviews of clients in the financial services industry and employee benefit plans. Currently, she is a vice president at JPMorgan Securities LLC, specializing in legal entity and regulatory accounting. She is also a member of the Illinois Certified Public Accountants Society.
Cale currently resides in Plainfield, Illinois with her husband, Dave, and their three children, Alaina, Jake and Josephine.
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!”
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.”
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.”
2019 Rising Star
Aaron D. Clevenger, Ed.D. serves as the dean of international programs for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is charged with articulating and implementing the university’s vision for comprehensive internationalization, including increasing international student recruitment, improving international student success and promoting global citizenship to all students, faculty and staff. Clevenger supervises International Admissions, Study Abroad, International Student & Scholar Services, The Embry-Riddle Language Institute, International Student Experience and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. In addition, he serves as the university’s Fulbright Scholar liaison.
Clevenger is an adjunct professor teaching organizational behavior, social justice and ethics & social responsibility. He has led study abroad programs to Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Romania, Hungary and Brazil. Clevenger has twice co-led the Global Service Initiative in Negril, Jamaica, guiding 20 students each year in helping to build or upgrade elementary schools. He is scheduled to lead the third of these mission-style trips in June 2019.
A sampling of Clevenger’s campus service includes co-chairing the Embry-Riddle Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) Quality Enhancement Program, serving as a member of the NCAA Intercollegiate Athletic Advisory Committee, chairing the campus Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee and volunteering on numerous hiring committees.
Clevenger volunteers as the 2019 local arrangements coordinator for NAFSA Region VII, is a member of the 2019 NAFSA Academy for International Education and serves on the International Board of Directors for Delta Upsilon International Fraternity. Clevenger has published and conducted research in areas of character education, leadership education, experiential learning, motivational theory and reflective pedagogy.
Clevenger graduated with a B.A. in Interpersonal Communication and an M.A. in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida. He earned his Doctorate of Education in Higher Education and Organizational Change from Benedictine University in 2014.
Tanjia M. Coleman, Ph.D. has more than 18 years of experience working as a senior-level human resources and organization development professional in non-profit and Fortune 100 companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, Tribune Company, Whirlpool, Sears and Motorola.
Currently, she is the chief human resources officer at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the oldest and largest women’s organization in the region. As the CHRO, Coleman introduced cultural transformation and talent management initiatives as an instrument of business transformation that is advancing strategy and operational outcomes at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
Prior to this role, Coleman was the senior director, human resources at KinderCare Education where she was responsible for 20,000 employees and 1,100 locations. During her tenure, KinderCare Education went from one of the most disengaged companies to being on Gallup’s list of 37 Great Workplace Award winners.
Coleman earned her Ph.D. in Organization Development in 2016 from Benedictine University. In 2014,she received the Best Student Paper Award from the Academy of Management. She went on to receive the Best Paper Collaboration Award from the Academy of Management in August 2016. Coleman also holds a Master of Science degree from Loyola University and a Bachelor of Science degree from DePaul University along with various leadership and organization development certifications.
Coleman’s titled chapter “Role Modeling as an Alternative to Mentoring for Career Development Outcomes in Organizations” is included in the 2018 volume of Leadership and Role Modeling: Understanding Workplace Dynamics.
Coleman is active in several HR and OD organizations including the Academy of Management, Human Resources Management Association of Chicago, Society of Human Resources Management and the Organization Development Network.
Coleman deeply believes in the importance of philanthropic work and is affiliated with a number of local and national organizations. She has earned several awards throughout her career and is often asked to speak nationally and globally highlighting her expertise in organizational and leadership development.
2014 Rising Star
Born and raised in Highland, Indiana, Mark Connelly graduated from Bishop Noll Institute in 1996. With a music scholarship, he attended Benedictine in the fall of 1996. During Connelly’s four years at Benedictine, he was a starting pitcher for the Eagle’s baseball team. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as an undergraduate admissions counselor.
Later in his career, he was promoted to Associate Director of Admissions, and three years later he went on to pursue other professional challenges. Connelly held other positions in many facets of human resources, and for the past eight years, he has been the Corporate Recruitment Manager for First Midwest Bank, an 8.2 billion dollar financial institution with its corporate headquarters located in Itasca, Illinois.
He currently resides in Schaumburg, Illinois with his wife of 10 years, Sabrina (Foley) Connelly, C01, and their children: Noah, Avery, Nate and Logan.
2016 Rising Star
Sanem (Tezcan) D’Angelo credits Benedictine University with paving a path for her life plan. Not just from a personal journey but a professional one, too.
D’Angelo earned her degree in Communication Arts in 2001 and started her career in the advertising industry, selling radio air time and voicing over commercials for Chicago's Sports Radio - 670AM. Craving a change, she went on to become an entrepreneur. With the tools and knowledge that Benedictine University provided her, she turned her vision into a reality.
D’Angelo started her own wardrobe consulting business in 2010. A few months after, she opened her brick and mortar store, Sanem's - A Women's Clothing Boutique. She is active within the Chicago fashion blogging community and holds charity events throughout the year at her boutique. She also devotes her time to volunteering and fundraising at her son’s grade school.
D’Angelo shares a deep love and commitment not only to her successful business but also to her growing family. She met Mike D'Angelo the first day of Pete Seely's video production class at Benedictine, and Seely had the honor of marrying them in 2007. They have a bright and enthusiastic son, Luke, and a new bundle of joy on the way.
2015 Rising Star
A reverend, a camera, and a wife.
It seems like an unlikely combination, but for Mike D'Angelo it's the three most important things BenU has brought to his life.
As one of D'Angelo's communication arts professors, Pete Seely immediately recognized and cultivated his creativity. Through the years they kept a close relationship. So much so, that in 2007 Pete studied to become a reverend so he could officiate D'Angelo's wedding.
D'Angelo is a multiple Emmy award winning photojournalist/editor for WGN-TV News. He shoots, edits and produces log-form stories, documentaries and daily news events. D'Angelo's covered an array of stories over the years, most notably the election of Pope Francis in Rome, the effects of war on Chicago-area veterans, and the struggles of a hospital in rural Kenya built by a Chicagoan. It all began at Benedictine with Eye of the Eagle TV and The Candor newspaper.
The greatest influence Benedictine has had on D'Angelo's life was the first day he walked into Seely's video production class. It is where he met his future wife, Sanem, for the first time. Now, their son, Luke, will have an interesting story to tell when someone asks, "So, how'd your parents meet?"
Born and raised on the southside of Chicago, Edward Dickson attended St. Anselm’s grammar school and Mendel Catholic High school prior to his enrollment at Illinois Benedictine College in 1975. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from IBC (now Benedictine University) in 1979. In 1999, he was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame as a two-sport athlete for basketball and track. In 2015, Dickson was also inducted into Mendel Catholic’s Hall of Fame for basketball.
Following graduation, Dickson began a brief three-year career with the Campbell Sales Company. In 1983, he began a 25-year career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, retiring in 2008. During his tenure, Dickson worked significant administrative and criminal investigations in several field offices, including a Safe Streets Homicide Task Force in Washington, D.C., which had the highest homicide rate in the United States at the time. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, he was transferred to the Counterterrorism Division where he supervised and provided executive oversight for numerous international terrorism, intelligence and counterintelligence investigations. Dickson ended his career as an Inspector and a member of the FBI’s Senior Executive Service.
In his post FBI career, he served as Director of Investigations at the Depository Trust and Clearance Corporation. There, he successfully implemented several administrative policies and operational protocols that effectively impacted security. He also successfully mentored several subordinates, resulting in higher roles within the Internal Security Department.
In 2012, Dickson was asked by the Governor of New Jersey to serve as the Director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Among other duties, he was responsible for ensuring the state’s preparedness for adverse man-made incidents and natural disasters. During Superstorm Sandy, he led an effort which provided shelter to hundreds of at-risk New Jersey residents impacted by the worst natural disaster in the history of the state.
Dickson went on to serve as President of Investigations for New York-based MSA Security in 2014. He is now Vice President, Global Security for Johnson and Johnson, located in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
2016 Rising Star
MaryAnhthu T. Do, D.O., graduated Cum Laude from Illinois Benedictine College in 1994 with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Spanish. She went on to earn her D.O. from Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her neurology residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2003, she joined Neurologic Associates Ltd. in Palos Heights and is currently an active partner in the practice.
Do is a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. She is also a lecturer of internal medicine at Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University.
She has been involved in several clinical research experiences, including PRoFESS: Prevention Regimen for Effectively avoiding Second Strokes. She is currently a member of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Heart Association.
MaryAnhthu and her husband, Joseph Brunzelle, Ph.D., also an Illinois Benedictine alumnus, live in Oak Brook with their three children.
2014 Rising Star
David Do earned his B.S. in Health Science from Benedictine University in 1998 and earned his J.D. at Northern Illinois University College of Law in 2001. During his time in law school, he studied abroad at the University of Bordeaux IV-Montesque in Agen, France, earning a certificate in transitional law. In 2004, Do earned his M.B.A. from Northern Illinois University College of Business.
Do is a financial advisor based out of the Deerfield wealth management office of Morgan Stanley. Through meaningful partnerships that he builds with individuals, families and business owners, he takes a proactive, holistic approach in developing a plan to ensure that the appropriate solutions are coordinated with client-specific strategies for investment planning, estate planning and tax planning. He also works in conjunction with estate planning attorneys, accountants and other professionals to provide clients with a comprehensive perspective on their long-term plans.
Do joined Morgan Stanley in 2013, after spending three years as an estate planning and business attorney in his own practice. Prior to establishing his own law firm, Do’s professional experience included private law firms and stints with two financial institutions, JPMorgan Chase and Ayco Company LP, a Goldman Sachs company.
Do resides in Buffalo Grove, Illinois with his wife, Jonelle, and their three children.
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.”
2019 Distinguished Alumnus
Mark Doyle is the managing member of Prairie Avenue Advisors, a Chicago-based strategic consulting firm with deep political roots in Washington and Chicago, who has spent the last 16 years cultivating and nurturing business and political relationships across the country. Doyle earned his B.A. in Literature and Communication from Illinois Benedictine College in 1979.
Doyle was the director of advance for President William Jefferson Clinton’s first successful bid for the White House in 1992 and went on to serve as a deputy director of presidential personnel in the White House. Additionally, during his tenure in the administration, he served as the director of special projects working on the administration’s health care initiative.
Doyle always maintained a political presence in Washington and, in 2006, was approached by U.S. Senator Joseph Biden to help him prepare for his 2008 presidential bid. For two years, Doyle travelled full time with Senator Biden as his travelling political director and as part of his national finance team. During the 2008 General Election and through the Presidential Transition, Doyle travelled with the Vice President-elect and maintains a close relationship with him.
In 2010, Doyle was engaged by the United States Army as a subject matter expert and deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months as part of Task Force 2010, the anti-corruption task force stood up by Admiral Mullen. He has written about the Afghanistan operations for the Chicago Tribune and is a frequent guest in Chicago on their flagship radio station, WGN.
After returning from Afghanistan, Doyle founded Rags of Honor, the only custom silkscreen operation in the country devoted to hiring homeless and chronically unemployed veterans. Rags of Honor and their sister company, Veteran Roasters Cup O’ Joe, have combined to hire 78 at-risk and homeless veterans since opening their doors. He is a former director at Prairie Community Bank in Marengo, Ill., a member of the Board of Trustees at St. Patrick High School in Chicago, a board member of the Illinois Brain Injury Association and a high school football coach.
2016 Rising Star
Jim Fedinec graduated Cum Laude from Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) with a major in biology and minor in Spanish in 1992. He was also a campus scholar for all four years. Fedinec went on to attend Rush Medical College in Chicago and graduated in 1996. He was able to go to his first choice in Emergency Medicine Residency at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and graduated in 1999.
Fedinec is a fellow of both the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine.
He started the first emergency ultrasound programs at Northwest Community Hospital, followed by Valley West and Kishwaukee Community Hospitals. He is currently the director of the Emergency Department at Valley West Hospital and the emergency ultrasound director at both Valley West and Kishwaukee Hospitals.
Fedinec is board certified in emergency medicine and is a registered diagnostic medical and cardiac sonographer, having passed the Boards on both. He also holds two U.S. Patents, one involving an ultrasound guided central line kit and the other involving sutures.
Fedinec was a student athlete at IBC, running track and playing football. He is now an avid marathoner, running and finishing 14 consecutive Chicago Marathons from 2002 to present.
2017 Rising Star
Jason Ferguson is an interdisciplinary emergency management professional with more than 15 years of experience across the higher education, public health, emergency management and veteran service sectors. Throughout his career, he has fostered safe, healthy and vibrant communities on university campuses; increased access to affordable medications and housing for individuals living with HIV/AIDS; conducted prostate cancer research and promoted prostate health among at-risk men; and assisted communities in the cycle of preparing for, responding to, recovering from and mitigating against disasters of all types.
Since August 2013, Ferguson has been busy helping expand the mission, reach and impact of Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a disaster response nonprofit organization that unites the skills of military veterans and first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. The organization was founded by two Marines in the wake of the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, and has since helped thousands of our nation’s veterans regain purpose and reintegrate into civilian life through continued service in disaster response.
As deputy director of Training and Exercise, Ferguson leads Team Rubicon’s national training department. His team establishes standards for safe and effective disaster response operations, designs curricula for in-person and web-based courses, and trains and empowers new instructors to deliver national-standard courses to the organization’s members across the country.
Ferguson is also a husband, a father of five, a songwriter and a proud Chicagoan. He currently lives outside Dallas, Texas, with his family, where he is helping launch Team Rubicon’s newly opened National Operations Center.
Ferguson earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Science in 2000 and a Master of Public Health in 2003 at Benedictine University.
2021 Distinguished Alumnus
PETER A. FOYO earned a B.A. in International Business and Economics in 1988. He 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
What a great honor and privilege it is to have my dear Benedictine University grant me the venerated Distinguished Alumni Award. I must say that without question the foundation, Benedictine University, gave me both spiritually and academically was a fundamental reason for the success in my career and the light that led my leadership candle over the last 33 years of my life since I graduated.
The accolades and recognition that I have received in other venues both in business and my personal life have all carried the DNA of the Benedictine way. I encourage those that hear my words today, whether you’re just beginning or you’re on the road to completing your life mission: be Grateful, Thankful and Rejoice the moments that God gives us with the humble beginnings we all as students embrace…for the learning never ends.
Very special thanks to my family; the faculty that taught me, especially Dr. Margaret Roth; and all of the Clergy members of St. Procopius Abbey.”
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.”
2015 Rising Star
After graduating from Benedictine University in 2002, Jessica Gedraitis, M.D., attended the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. During medical school, she was actively involved in the student-run free clinic at Community Health, a clinic devoted to providing health care to the medically underserved. She was a member of the steering committee and served as the fundraising chairman. Upon finishing medical school, Gedraitis completed residency training in emergency medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. During her residency, she was a flight physician for Flight for Life.
In 2009, Gedraitis moved to Peoria, Illinois where she works as an attending physician at OSF St. Francis Medical Center. She is also a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Gedraitis is actively involved in educating medical students and resident physicians, and is the director of the swine lab in which residents learn critical procedures. She is also the medical director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, where she works closely with community outreach programs to provide resources to victims of sexual assault.
In her free time, Gedraitis spends time with her family and participates in long distance running. This year, she plans to run the Chicago Marathon for charity.
Maryellen Lissak Giger, Ph.D., majored in Mathematics, Physics and Health Sciences at Illinois Benedictine College. Giger went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Physics in 1979 from the University of Exeter, UK, and then a Ph.D. in Medical Physics from the University of Chicago in 1985. She is currently the A.N. Pritzker Professor of Radiology/Medical Physics, serves as Vice-Chair of Radiology for Basic Science Research, and is the past director of the Graduate Program in Medical Physics at the University of Chicago.
Giger is considered one of the pioneers in the development of Computer-Aided Diagnosis. She has authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific manuscripts (including 180 peer-reviewed journal articles), is inventor/co-inventor on approximately 25 patents, and serves as a reviewer for various national and international granting agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army.
She is a former president of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM). Giger is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biology Engineering, AAPM, and International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). She is currently editor-in-chief of the SPIE Journal of Medical Imaging.
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.”
2015 Rising Star
After graduating from Benedictine University with a degree in biochemistry, Geoffrey Goodfellow, O.D., pursued his doctorate in optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO). Upon completion of a residency in pediatrics/binocular vision, he joined the full-time faculty at ICO where he is an attending optometrist at the Illinois Eye Institute. Goodfellow has served as the site coordinator for the pediatric eye disease investigators group and as the chief of the pediatrics/binocular vision service. He is currently ICO's assistant dean for curriculum and assessment.
Goodfellow is a past president of the Illinois Optometric Association and currently serves as president of North Central States Optometric Council. He volunteers regularly at eye and vision care events sponsored by the Special Olympics, the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, and philanthropic groups in Beecher, Illinois where he lives with his wife, Beth, and their four children.
2014 Rising Star
Nina Goyal, M.D. earned her B.S. in Biology at Benedictine University, where she competed on the tennis team. She then went on to earn her M.D. at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She returned to Chicago to complete her residency in ophthalmology at Rush University Medical Center, where she served as Chief Resident. During this time, she earned a research grant from the Illinois Society for the Prevention of Blindness.
In 2003, Goyal became a member of the Rush ophthalmology team and joined the University Ophthalmology Associates after completing her glaucoma fellowship with University Eye Specialists in 2007. She performs complex cataract surgeries and specializes in the medical, laser and surgical management of glaucoma. Goyal is a member of numerous professional and community organizations, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Glaucoma Society and Chicago Ophthalmologic Society. She actively raises money for lymphoma research and participates in a myriad of free health fairs for the under-privileged. Goyal is the Director of Illinois Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and is currently investigating new surgical procedures for the treatment of glaucoma.
She has served as a course instructor at several national academy meetings and is an assistant professor in the Rush Ophthalmology department, where she lectures and provides surgical education.
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. “
Karl Grobl is one of the world’s most respected and experienced humanitarian photographers. Specializing in the photographic documentation of relief efforts and development work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, Grobl has shot for more than 80 different NGOs in more than 50 countries. He has photographed post-conflict peace building efforts in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and East Timor; HIV/AIDS issues in Africa and Asia; community development programs in Cuba and Latin America; as well as sensitive social issues including human trafficking in Cambodia and the Philippines. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Grobl spent more than a month embedded with five different NGOs, documenting tsunami relief efforts in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Grobl’s images have appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Newsweek, CNN, Geo, Town and Country magazine and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, though the majority of his photos appear in the annual reports, newsletters and communications materials of his humanitarian organization clients. Zuma Press, which represents Grobl’s work, is the world’s largest independent press agency and wire service. Grobl’s 2005 Haiti photostory, “City of God,” was nominated for a World Press Photo Award. Revealing the human side of issues faced by people across the globe, Grobl’s photographs offer viewers intimate glimpses into the lives of ordinary people in places few will ever visit.
As a member of the Advisory Counsel of Focus for Humanity, Grobl assists the organization in providing financial support, resources and training for professional and amateur photographers wanting to work with NGOs.
A 1983 graduate of Illinois Benedictine College, Grobl moved to California to study Kinesiology and Biomechanics at San Diego State University and spent the next 15 years in medical sales and sales management before switching to a career in photojournalism. In 2013, he relocated from San Diego, Calif., to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he now lives full time.
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.”
2014 Rising Star
Tim Hayden graduated magna cum laude from Benedictine University in 2006 with a B.A. in Political Science. In 2009, he graduated from Marquette University Law School where he was the co-founder and vice president of the Legal Writing Society. After law school, Hayden was admitted to the Wisconsin and Illinois Bar in 2009. Additionally, Hayden’s article, “Can Summer Training Camp Practices Land NFL Head Coaches in Hot Water,” was published in the 2010 Marquette Sports Law Review.
Hayden is the founder and CEO of the software technology company 14PT, LLC. 14PT, LLC’s flagship product is 14IE, a software solution designed for high school guidance counselors, administrators and students. 14IE ensures that every high school student is eligible for NCAA competition and athletic financial aid. 14IE is the first and only software program to fully automate the entire initial-eligibility process and require no data entry.
Prior to 14PT, LLC, Hayden was engaged in private practice and worked as a campaign researcher for Jim Ryan’s gubernatorial campaign. He also served as a compliance administrator in the athletic departments of Northern Illinois University and Northwestern University.
Hayden resides in Addison, Illinois.
2017 Rising Star
Joseph A. Hodal is an assistant state’s attorney working in the Felony Trial Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, in Chicago, Ill. He practices criminal law, criminal prosecutions and related litigation. He has extensive litigation experience with exceptional talent for trial advocacy, oral advocacy and negotiations. He has litigated more than 65 jury trials to verdict, and argued hundreds of bench trials, motions and hearings on a variety of legal and criminal law issues.
Hodal has previously taught undergraduate courses in topics relating primarily to criminal justice, law, evidence, domestic violence, and fraud examination and investigations. His “Leveling the Playing Field of High School Athletics, Communities for Equity v. Michigan High School Athletic Association” was published in the DePaul Journal of Sports Law. He is a member of the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association and the West Suburban Bar Association.
He earned a Juris Doctor degree in 2004 at DePaul University College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2001 at Benedictine University. He was admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association in 2004.
Debra Hornell earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Indiana University. She went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University in 2011.
Ms. Hornell’s expertise in facilitation, leadership development and strategic planning makes her the “go-to” consultant for critical organizational development initiatives in many Fortune 1000 companies. She designs practical solutions to complex business challenges while engaging people in the process - challenging individuals and organizations to think big and execute effectively. Described as “a straight shooter with real energy and commitment to your personal growth,” she "tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.”
Ms. Hornell’s personal brand of "Cultivating Environments for Growth" extends into her consulting practice, her family, her garden and her book, "Good Things for a Full Life," 40 life lessons to create a full, satisfying life and live with intention.
She is passionate about supporting the nonprofit community, having served on several nonprofit boards over the past 20 years. Currently, she serves on the board for Reading in Motion, a nonprofit that aims to get every at-risk student reading at or above grade level within the first years of school through the power and discipline of the arts.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Donna Hrozencik, M.D. graduated cum laude in 1982 with a B.S. in Biochemistry from Illinois Benedictine College. She attended Rush Medical College, earned her M.D. in 1986 and went on to complete a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical Center in 1990. She has been on staff at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital and a partner at Canton Obstetrics and Gynecology since 1990.
Hrozencik has been actively involved in teaching both medical students and residents. She has also conducted research through Clinsite, an independent research arm of her physician's association. She has served on many committees in her hospital and has been involved in fundraising on a yearly basis. Hrozencik is a certified fitness specialist and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Saint Louis Center in Chelsea, Michigan, a residential center for children and adults with intellectual developmental disabilities and remains active at Benedictine University, where she received the Outstanding Alumni Award in 2005.
Hrozencik currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, Mark Ouimet.
Thomas R. Huberty, M.D. is a native of Aurora, Ill. and completed high school at Marmion Military Academy. He continued his education at St. Procopius College, graduating in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. He subsequently attended the University of Illinois Abraham Lincoln College of Medicine in Chicago.
After completing his internship in general surgery at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, Huberty returned to the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago where he completed his residency in orthopaedic surgery in 1979. He then returned to Aurora and began private practice, founding Castle Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Huberty was the senior and managing partner there until his retirement in 2010.
For nearly thirty years, Huberty has been involved in healthcare governance locally, regionally and across the state of Illinois. He is currently chair of the governing board for Amita Health’s Chicago hospitals.
Tom and his wife, Trudy, married three months after college graduation and will celebrate their 50th anniversary later this summer. They have two children, Nicole and Matthew, who have blessed them with three granddaughters, with a fourth grandchild due in April.
Their lives have been enriched by their travels to many corners of the world, including every continent except Antarctica. Besides travel, their hobbies are golf and the world of fine wines.
As Tom reflects, “It all began with the foundations laid by my family and with my education at Marmion and SPC. I will be forever grateful.”
2017 Rising Star
Michael Isaacson is a two-time graduate of Benedictine University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition in 1999 and a Master of Public Health in 2000. He currently serves as the assistant director of Community Health at the Kane County Health Department. He started at the health department immediately after graduating from Benedictine University and has been there for 16 years. During that time, he has had the opportunity to manage multiple health programs that address a variety of topics including behavioral health, chronic disease prevention, early childhood issues and emergency preparedness. He has served on the executive leadership team of the health department for the past 10 years, playing a key role in conducting community assessments, establishing annual budgets, participating in strategic planning and implementing new programs.
Isaacson has served on the executive council of the Illinois Public Health Association, and currently co-chairs the Nutrition in Community and Institutional Settings work group for the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity and the Chronic Disease and Health Committee of the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium. He has been appointed to serve on both the Illinois Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Task Force and the Illinois Enhanced Physical Education Task Force. He has been a grant reviewer for the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, and helped to direct health department activities in the Chicago area that lead to the region becoming among the first to be recognized as Project Public Health Ready by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. In 2015, his team was recognized with a National Model Practice Award for its work to implement quality improvement projects with medical providers that would increase smoking cessation among low-income patients.
Isaacson stays engaged with Benedictine University through participation in the Nutrition Program Advisory Board and the Master of Public Health Professional Advisory Panel. He likes to spend his time away from work with his wife, Margaret; his three children, Graham, Emily and Ethan; his daughter-in-law, Jessica; and his granddaughter, Kate.
2016 Rising Star
Khizar Jafri graduated from Benedictine University in 2010 with a degree in International Business and Economics. He has gone on to work for various Fortune 500 companies including Caterpillar, RR Donnelley and Dabur. Currently, he works as a consultant for a finance and accounting firm.
He has participated in feed the homeless programs and volunteered for World Relief Group as well as the Anixter Center, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area serving people of all ages with disabilities and related challenges by providing residential, educational, employment, socialization and health services. He is also in the process of earning his M.B.A. in finance from DePaul University and, with his remaining free time, running for office in the upcoming November election for the County Board seat in DuPage County.
2015 Rising Star
Aimee Jaremowicz graduated from Benedictine University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Ingalls. She brings with her much experience as a renal educator and promotional speaker. She also has experience as an outpatient dietitian, providing community nutrition lectures. Jaremowicz is currently working as a sales dietitian with Shield HealthCare specializing in enteral nutrition. Further, she has served on the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Council on Renal Nutrition (CRN) Planning Committee since 2006. She was chair of the NKF Program Planning Committee and on the CRN Executive Committee. Jaremowicz is a professional speaker volunteering for several medical foundations and organizations as well as doing healthy nutrition community lectures. She has published, as well as edited, clinical research in peer-reviewed journals. Jaremowicz was a reviewer on the NKF M.D. reviewer panel for M.D. abstracts. Those abstracts were published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases. Jaremowicz was also an author in a study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition.
2016 Rising Star
Carrie Johnson is an award-winning justice correspondent for NPR. She’s chronicled struggles between police and minority communities; challenges to the landmark voting rights law; and the Obama administration's deadly drone program for suspected terrorists overseas.
Johnson previously worked at the Washington Post, where she closely observed the FBI, the Justice Department and criminal trials of the former leaders of Enron, HealthSouth and Tyco. Earlier in her career, she wrote about courts for the weekly publication Legal Times.
Her work has been honored with awards from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. She has been a finalist for the Loeb award for financial journalism and for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for team coverage of the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. Johnson regularly moderates or appears on legal panels, and she’s talked about her work on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, PBS and other outlets.
Johnson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Benedictine University in Illinois.
2016 Rising Star
Alex Johnson was born in India and raised in Chicago, IL. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from Benedictine University in 2001. He further supplemented his academic career with a Master’s degree in telecommunications management and a certification in supply chain management.
Johnson successfully started Level Construction Inc., a construction management firm which focuses on private and public sector commercial construction with offices in Chicago, Houston and India. Level Construction has been profiled in several publications and more recently received prestigious awards including:
- 2014 & 2015: Crain’s Chicago Business “Fast 50” Companies
- 2014 & 2015: Houston Business Journal’s “Fast 100” Private Sector Companies
- 2015: Inc. Magazine “Inc. 5000” for the fastest growing private companies
As a subsidiary to Level Construction, Johnson’s Level Enterprises has gained notoriety and achieved great success in two of the top four commercial markets in the U.S. in a short period of time.
Johnson is also involved in a technology and service based startup company that focuses on bringing value back to the consumer within the used car market. This venture has a targeted soft launch in Q2 2016.
Outside of his professional career, Johnson routinely serves his local community and supports several charities. He is a very keen believer on incorporating “giving back” within his personal life by sharing his success with others.
He lives in downtown Chicago with his wife, Lisa.
2016 Rising Star
Erik Johnson is a native of Chicago. He attended Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights prior to his time at Illinois Benedictine College. He completed his thesis in the Fine Acids Division at the Amoco Research Facility under the supervision of his advisor, Dr. David Rausch. Johnson graduated Cum Laude in 1991 with a degree in Biochemistry.
After graduation, Johnson began his medical career at Loyola University-Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine. His plans of being a surgeon quickly changed, and he completed his residency in Pediatrics at The University of California-Irvine. He received numerous accolades during his residency including Resident of the Year and the P. Colin Kelly award for the “Pediatrician Who Teaches.”
Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, decided to remain in Long Beach, California where he practiced and taught residents and medical students.
In 2000, they returned to Chicago and Johnson began practicing at Alexian Brothers Medical Center and St. Alexius Medical Center with The Medical Care Group. He continued teaching at Midwestern University in the Physician Assistant Program.
In 2014, his focus shifted to administration with his appointment as medical director-pediatric services for Alexian Brothers Health System and the Alexian Brothers Women’s and Children’s Hospital. He has been influential in advancing centers of excellence in Neurology and Endocrinology.
Johnson is on the Board of Directors of the AMITA Health Medical Group and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation. He has served on the Executive Leadership Team for the March of Dimes Walk for Babies for the last two years.
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.
2019 Rising Star
Tim Keeley graduated from Benedictine University with a B.B.A. in Marketing in 1999. He also earned his M.S.Ed. from Northern Illinois University in 2014. While at Benedictine, he was a member of the swim team and achieved All-American status. Keeley represented the Eagles in three NCAA Division III national competitions. He is also a proud member of the Benedictine Athletics Hall of Fame and holds several school records that will likely never be broken.
Keeley is currently the chief school business official at Addison School District 4 in Addison, Ill. In this capacity, he is responsible for all financial and operational aspects of a 4,000 student, Pre-K to eighth grade school district. Being able to utilize the business and leadership skills learned at Benedictine to provide support to teachers and students makes his profession especially rewarding.
He has been in school business for over a decade, working with several area school districts. He has also served in various roles within the Illinois Association of School Business Officials during this time. Prior to discovering this unique profession, Keeley’s post-graduate employment included a wide variety of positions, including head coach of the Benedictine University Swim Team and industrial sales representative.
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!”
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.”
Raymond Konopka earned a B.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics from Benedictine University in 1989. He later attended Northwestern University and earned his M.S. in Computer Science in 1990.
After graduation, he began his career at AT&T Bell Labs in Naperville where he began writing articles for a computer programming magazine called PC Techniques. While working with the magazine, he followed a pre-released version of a revolutionary new software development tool called Delphi. He published the first technical articles on Delphi six months before the product had shipped, and decided to take a chance on this new tool. On Feb 7, 1995, Konopka started Raize Software to provide Delphi consulting services. Shortly thereafter, Delphi 1.0 was released, and he published his first book, "Developing Custom Delphi Components". The success of that book led to the creation of Raize Components, a commercial software product designed to help other developers create better software.
In 2002, he began consulting for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and has worked on several software projects; most notably, the FASTPASS System. FASTPASS is used in all of the Disney Parks worldwide. In October of 2011, he transitioned from consultant to part-time Disney employee.
Using his passion to help other software developers, he avidly speaks at software developer conferences in North America, Europe and Australia. During his career, he has authored two books, co-authored two more and has written several magazine articles on software development.
Konopka also established the Raize Software Scholarship in Computer Science for Benedictine University students. In February of 2012, he received the Alumni Achievement Award in Mathematical and Computational Sciences from Benedictine University’s College of Science.
Konopka resides in Naperville, Illinois with his wife, Elizabeth (Marquardt) Konopka, C89, and their two sons, Christopher and Jack.
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!”
Christos M. Linardakis earned his B.A. in International Business & Economics in 1988 and has a minor in English Literature from a local community college. He then went on to earn his J.D. and LL.M at John Marshall Law School in International Corporate Law and International Trade Law. He has served as Molex’s, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, Global Trade Compliance & ITAR Empowered Official and Trade Regulatory attorney, as well as in global compliance and regulatory legal positions for a Fortune 25 computer technology company and a Fortune 500 telecommunications company. He is an adjunct professor at John Marshall Law School LLM Program, Corporate International Trade Compliance, for attorneys looking to pursue their master’s degree.
The highlight of his career was when he had the honor of working as co-counsel with former U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson on a Sudanese humanitarian case, personally petitioning before the Dept. of State for deployment of humanitarian equipment and services to Sudan.
Linardakis is fluent in Greek and proficient in French, and has traveled extensively for international companies throughout the world. He has studied abroad in Turkey and Greece via Lake Forest College, and worked in Greece establishing distributors for Kawasaki products.
He currently is pursuing his Masters in Theology in Canon Law through the St. John of Damascus School of Theology. He has self-published a book entitled Sacred Art: A Visual Journey through the Eastern Orthodox Church, depicting rare manuscripts as well as icons with their respective historical meaning.
Linardakis is currently a board member of The Education Center, a not-for-profit located in Naperville, IL, which helps young adolescents in life coaching skills, as well as on the Board of Directors of the Anixter Center in Chicago, one of the largest non-profits in the city encompassing Lekotek and the Chicago Hearing Society.
2016 Rising Star
Nick LoGalbo has worked at his alma mater (Lane Tech High School) as an English teacher, assistant athletic director and the head boys’ basketball coach since graduating from Benedictine. In working as the head basketball coach for the past eight years, other unique opportunities have presented themselves, including working the Duke University Basketball Camp, the Snow Valley Basketball School and now working as a lead instructor for USA Basketball.
After his cousin was shot and severely wounded, he decided he was going to turn a negative into a positive and use his cousin’s strength and determination as inspiration. He reached out to Joakim Noah’s organization (The Noah’s Arc Foundation) to put together a #chicagostandup rally to end gun violence. The rally is now an annual event, and it has enabled LoGalbo to work closely with other peace agents in Chicago.
LoGalbo is also involved in the #rockyourdrop movement through NAF. The campaign was featured on billboards across Chicago and the PSA included the likes of Joakim Noah, Spike Lee, Matt Forte and others standing for peace. This also led to LoGalbo being invited on the Steve Harvey show this past January for their town hall episode on gun violence in Chicago.
LoGalbo is also a member of the Coaches United Against Violence committee that consists of several coaches from around the Chicago Public League working to use basketball as a tool to empower athletes to be leaders.
LoGalbo was named WGN Teacher of the Month in January 2014 and was featured on WGN news for the honor.
LoGalbo resides in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood with his beautiful wife, Deneane LoGalbo, their daughter, Francesca. They are expecting their second child in August 2016.
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.”
2014 Rising Star
Kate Loritz earned her B.A. in Communications from Benedictine University in 1996, and in 2000, she earned her M.S. in Management and Organizational Behavior. After graduation, Loritz took on the role of sales account manager at Praxair, a large international industrial gases company. During her time with Praxair, she excelled as a Six Sigma Black Belt and sales excellence manager.
Loritz left Praxair to work at Molex as their Manager of Sales Systems. Using her Six Sigma Black Belt skills, she transitioned into her current position of Lean Specialist and Site Deployment Lead.
In 2004, Loritz started a cycling team to fight multiple sclerosis. The purpose of the team is to raise money for the Illinois chapter of the National MS Society. Her team has consistently been in the Top 10 fundraising teams with over $500,000 raised in the last 10 years.
Loritz also mentors a small group of project leaders on a day to day basis. These project leaders are accountable for both people leadership and implementing process improvements.
Loritz currently resides in Naperville, Illinois.
2014 Rising Star
Daniel Martinez earned his undergraduate degree in Management and Organizational Behavior with a Minor in Communication Arts from Benedictine in 2006. In 2010, he earned his M.B.A in Health Administration.
Martinez is a regional compliance manager for Centene Corporation, a Fortune 500 company based out of Saint Louis, Missouri, specializing in managed health care. He is a Fellow of the Life Office Management Association, in addition to being a certified compliance professional within the Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals.
Martinez joined the Benedictine University Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2010 and was voted in as President of the Board in 2012. He has supported many initiatives during his time on the Board and has helped develop a strong foundation for the Alumni Association to grow.
He is an active parishioner with SS Peter and Paul Parish in Naperville where he has been serving as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist since 2011. Dan also competes on a men’s softball team in Elmhurst and has played with the team for seven years.
Martinez currently resides in Oswego, Illinois with his wife, Kate (McDonough) Martinez, C03, and his two-year-old daughter, Lucy Michelle.
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.”
2015 Rising Star
Rita Mayfield is a lifelong resident of the Waukegan/North Chicago area and is a graduate of Waukegan West High School.
Mayfield earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia College in Computer Information Systems and earned a Master of Science degree from Benedictine University in Management and Organization Behavior with an emphasis in Organization Development.
She has more than 30 years experience in public service dating back to high school where she first volunteered as a reader at the VA Medical Center in North Chicago.
Mayfield previously served as vice president of the Waukegan Board of Education and is currently serving the community as the first African American female elected to the position of 60th District State Representative. She is also the chair of the Legislative House Black Caucus.
Mayfield is dedicated to giving back to the community and making a positive difference in the lives others.
Dr. Suzet McKinney currently serves as executive director of the Illinois Medical District Commission. The Illinois Medical District (IMD), which includes 560 acres of medical research facilities, labs, a biotech business incubator, universities, raw land development areas and more than 40 healthcare related facilities, is one of the largest urban medical districts in the U.S. McKinney is the former deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response at the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), where she oversaw the emergency preparedness efforts for the Department and coordinated those efforts within the larger spectrum of the City of Chicago’s Public Safety activities, in addition to overseeing the Department’s Division of Women and Children’s Health.
McKinney is an experienced, knowledgeable public health official with exceptional communication skills. She has served as an on-camera media expert on emergency issues including biological and chemical threats, natural disasters, pandemic influenza and severe weather. She also provides subject matter expertise to the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, in biological terrorism preparedness to the country of Poland.
In academia, McKinney serves as an instructor in the Division of Translational Policy and Leadership Development at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and as adjunct assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. She also serves as a mentor for the Biomedical Sciences Careers Project, also at Harvard University.
McKinney holds her Doctorate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Brandeis University, where she was also a Howard Hughes Fellow. She earned her Master of Public Health degree (Health Care Administration) and certificates in Managed Care and Health Care Administration at Benedictine University.
2017 Rising Star
Yvonne McNair is a highly creative, certified and Emmy-nominated event producer and entertainment marketing professional. She is the president of Events and Entertainment and partner of Captivate Marketing Group. McNair has a proven track record of conceptualizing and orchestrating small and large production events, marketing campaigns and programs to effectively create business development opportunities that increase revenue and growth.
McNair has a wealth of brand management expertise with entertainment, corporate and nonprofit clients. Her career includes creating innovative marketing campaigns and event management for top brands and numerous media and entertainment companies including BET, ESSENCE, VH1, NBC and MTV.
McNair spent several years working with Prince and his protégé, Liv Warfield. She was responsible for the Prince residency secret shows at City Winery in New York. In 2013, the shows were named as the 39th reason to love New York in New York magazine. She was also responsible for Prince’s record-breaking performance at the ESSENCE Festival in 2014, along with turning the Super Dome purple to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain. Most recently, McNair produced a star-studded tribute to Prince at the ESSENCE Music Festival.
In 2010, Black Enterprise/WVON recognized her as one of the elite “40 Game Changers.” McNair was also recognized by BizBash as a 2011 finalist for Social Event Planner of the Year and in 2012 as Event Producer of the Year. In 2013, McNair was nominated for an Emmy as a producer for a historical documentary she created.
McNair currently resides in New York City and is a member of International Special Events Society, Women in Music and The Recording Academy. A certified special events producer, she earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management and a Master of Business Administration at Benedictine University.
Greg J. Meluch earned an associate’s degree in Business Management at the College of DuPage in 1979 before enrolling at Illinois Benedictine College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Economics in December 1981.
After graduation and nearly six years of working at McDonald’s while attending school, Meluch accepted a sales position with the IBM Corporation in February 1982. Over the better part of the next two decades, his career at IBM would provide countless high-profile opportunities for growth and advancement including being a part of the initial IBM PC sales revolution, serving as sales manager of IBM Direct’s new telesales operations, and leading IBM’s Aptiva Home PC sales and marketing venture. In 1996, Meluch received an Outstanding Innovation Leadership Award from IBM chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner.
Other career opportunities followed. He served as chief marketing officer for a North Carolina-based new media start-up, worked on Lenovo’s worldwide desktop marketing team, and was hired as AMD’s Business Development Executive for the IBM and Lenovo account teams.
Throughout his life, Meluch has been blessed to be able to share his time, talent and treasure with many deserving causes including the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox River Valley Region, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County, St. Mary Magdalene Catholic School and Church, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School, Johnny Oates’ Palliative Care Unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, and the Carolina Hurricanes Youth and Amateur Hockey Association.
Meluch and his wife, Karen, have been married for 34 years and have two grown children. They have lived in Cary, N.C., since 1992.
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.”
2014 Rising Star
Keeli Mickus earned her B.A. in Literature from Benedictine University in 1997. She started her career at DraftFCB, an international advertising agency in Chicago. She was a senior art director working with clients ranging from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to Microsoft. Her proudest moment at the agency was her contribution to an award-winning international campaign for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The campaign appeared on a London Tube billboard.
Currently, Mickus is a creative director who collaborates with clients to produce strong and creative strategies to increase their brand awareness. Recently, she worked with the Joffrey Ballet, The Great Books Foundation and Network Health.
In 2013, she won the highest brand award at the 33rd Annual Telly Awards for her work with Network Health. Mickus resides in Chicago, Illinois with her husband, Christopher, C96, and their two children.
2018 Rising Star
Grace M. Mirsky, Ph.D. earned her B.S. in Computer Science from Benedictine University in 2004 as well as her B.S. in Computer Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology the same year. She went on to earn her M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2006 and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2008, both from Northwestern University, where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Upon graduation, Mirsky worked at Northrop Grumman Corporation until 2014, when she became an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Benedictine University. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she conducts research with undergraduate students in the areas of machine learning, computer vision and robotics. She has co-authored 19 conference and journal papers as well as two book chapters.
Inspired by her father’s strong support of achieving her goals, Mirsky has sought to encourage young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) throughout her career. In 2003, she participated in the Benedictine University mentoring program, which helped teach eighth grade girls about math and science. While interning at Argonne National Lab in 2003 and 2004, Mirsky volunteered for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a program designed to encourage girls to develop an interest in STEM. In 2008, she served as an instructor in Northwestern University’s Summer Technology and Engineering Program, which introduced junior high girls to engineering through a variety of hands-on projects. During her time at Northrop Grumman from 2009-2014, she informally mentored a number of junior female engineers and interns. In 2017, Mirsky received an unrestricted gift from Google to create a summer robotics camp for junior high girls to introduce them to computer science. This camp, held at Benedictine University in June 2017, involved 27 sixth to eighth grade girls from seven different area schools.
2019 Rising Star
Lisette C. Mojica, J.D. is a 1994 graduate of Illinois Benedictine College, where she majored in Political Science with a Pre-Law concentration and minored in Literature and Communications. She is also a 1997 graduate of the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Mojica worked as a prosecutor and assistant state’s attorney at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for 19 years, where she handled felony cases including crimes ranging from narcotics offenses to sexual assaults and murders. In 2016, she joined the Law Department at the City of Chicago, where she worked as the deputy supervisor and the city prosecutor. At the Law Department, she supervised over 30 attorneys in the Legal Information & Prosecutions Division, including traffic prosecutions at the Daley Center; City ordinance violations at five municipal branch courts; administrative notices of violation prosecutions at the Department of Administrative Hearings; and Freedom of Information Act litigation in Chancery Court.
In July 2018, Mojica was sworn in as an associate judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County. She currently sits in the Sixth Municipal District in Markham, Ill., where she has a floating assignment, including cases regarding traffic matters, parentage matters, domestic violence matters and misdemeanor cases.
She is active in the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois. She also regularly participates in Women Everywhere, an annual volunteer project that provides direct services to women and children in need, through the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.
2014 Rising Star
Cleamon Moorer, D.B.A., earned a B.S. in Management from Kettering University. In 2001, he went on to earn a M.B.A. and a M.S. in Management & Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University. Moorer also earned a Doctorate of Business Administration from Argosy University in 2004.
Moorer is currently an assistant professor of management in the business department at Kettering University. He teaches international business, management and strategic management. He has also held faculty positions at Dominican University, Saint Xavier University and Roosevelt University. His corporate experience stems from serving as a consultant, service executive, project manager and telecommunications engineer at two Fortune 100 corporations.
Moorer is active in the civic community as founder and executive director of Dr. C Moorer & Associates, Inc. His foundation offers annual scholarship awards to high school seniors, college students and stipends to K-12 educators.
He is the author of a best-selling memoir, From Failure to Promise: An Uncommon Path to Professoriate. His memoir has held the #1 top-rated spot on Amazon in the U.S. and Canada on several occasions in the genre of memoirs/biographies of educators. He is also a published author of several peer-reviewed articles.
Moorer sits on the board of the Strategic Decision Education Foundation and is an academic advisor to the Better Man Than Me Foundation. He is a member of the Midwest Academy of Management, the Organizational Development Institute and the Genocide Intervention Network. Moorer is also a motivational speaker with the Young Black Minds, Speaker’s Bureau, LLC.
Rachael L. Narel, Ph.D.
Ph.D., '17, Organizational Development, M.S., '09, Management & Organizational Behavior
2019 Rising Star
Rachael L. Narel, Ph.D., CISA has spent over 19 years in the IT and software fields, having experience in virtually every functional area of an organization through both team and leadership roles. Her diverse background includes organization development; change management; strategic planning and process improvement; product management and marketing; new product development; and customer service, sales and support.
Narel is a two-time graduate of Benedictine, earning her M.S. in Management & Organizational Behavior in 2009 and Ph.D. in Organization Development in 2017. She is currently an assistant professor in the M.S. in Management and Organizational Behavior program at Benedictine. In addition to teaching both in the classroom and online, she continues to pursue research in the areas of organizational agility and thriving. She has presented papers at the Academy of Management, Midwest Academy of Management, Southwest Academy of Management and Irish Academy of Management. She has contributed articles in the Organizational Development Journal and OD Practitioner as well as chapters in books related to the field. She is the membership chair for the International Society for Organization Development and Change and serves on the ODC committee for the ODN.
In practice, Narel is a solution strategist at Peters & Associates, where she partners with clients and prospects to understand business vision, goals and challenges. She then works with them to uncover business solutions and technology that will help immediately and in the future with a focus on user adoption and change management practices. She is a regular presenter at industry events and conferences.
Narel is the co-director of the Chicago West Suburban chapter of ChickTech, a not-for-profit organization committed to providing networking opportunities for women in technology as well as free STEM programs for high school girls. She is also committed to supporting the efforts of PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter for animals, through fundraising and running as a member of TEAM PAWS.
2018 Rising Star
Concentrating on consumer finance and protection laws, Brett J. Natarelli, J.D. handles a range of litigation matters and provides compliance advice relating to mortgage servicing issues. His clients include banks, mortgage servicers and other businesses with operations regulated by federal consumer finance laws.
Natarelli has defended clients in the context of consumer class actions and complex contested mortgage foreclosures relating to the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Mortgage Servicing Rule. He has also defended clients in cases involving the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), among other state and federal consumer protection statutes and regulations. He also led efforts to assist banks with all aspects of the OCC Consent Orders and National Mortgage Settlement implementation.
In addition to advising clients on complying with the various mortgage consent orders and federal and state foreclosure laws, Natarelli writes for legal publications on foreclosures, evictions and mortgage servicing. He has also represented corporate defendants in other types of individual and class action litigation, including asbestos-related product and premises liability lawsuits, breach of contract litigation and cases involving financial theft.
Natarelli is currently focused on assisting clients in repurchase and indemnification demands and related litigation arising from the sale or securitization of mortgages in the secondary market.
Since 2010, Natarelli has been a board member of the Illinois Mortgage Bankers’ Association, the oldest state trade association supporting mortgage bankers in the nation. In 2016, he was honored with a Best in the Business Award for his representation of mortgage bankers.
Natarelli is a 2005 alumnus of Benedictine University, earning a B.A. in Political Science. Since graduating law school, he has assisted Tammy Sarver, J.D., Ph.D. with the Benedictine University Mock Trial and Moot Court programs in various capacities. He was named Outstanding Coach in 2016 for his efforts.
2018 Rising Star
Hallie B. Nester is the Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, FMCG & Retail, North America at Nielsen. She leads the team responsible for driving the reputation of the Nielsen brand in the United States. She and her team build demand and close sales with clients, write and develop the Nielsen voice on thought-provoking industry topics, provide media with a useful measure of the market by way of Nielsen data and keep associates informed and engaged in Nielsen’s success.
Prior to her nine years with Nielsen, Nester did B2B and B2C marketing communications at a variety of companies, including YMCA of the USA, McDonald’s Corporation and Arthur Andersen. She is passionate about solving complicated business problems by using clear communication. Her favorite parts of her work are creating the story and tailoring the delivery mechanism and message by audience and call-to-action. She enjoys exploring new technologies that can make it easier to drive the message home in a fast-paced marketing communications industry that is always changing and evolving.
Nester holds a bachelor’s degree in writing and publishing from Benedictine University. A few years after graduating, she decided to go back to school and earned a master’s degree in managerial communications from Northwestern University.
She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband; daughters, Hazel, Olive and Ruby; and dog, Fiona.
2015 Rising Star
For the past two years, Mary (Thomas) Nicholas, Ph.D., has served as a program officer, Gates fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she worked on the Grand Challenges family of grant programs and on a number of cross-cutting initiatives in global health and development.
Prior to joining the foundation, Nicholas was at the National Institute of Health where she provided programmatic support and contributed to evidence-based policies and strategies at the National Cancer Institute and at the National Institute of Mental Health. Nicolas earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Benedictine University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois. She was a Howard Hughes Postdoctoral Fellow at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where she investigated the molecular basis of disease. Over the years, Nicholas was competitively selected for a number of science and technology policy/global health fellowships by several prestigious organizations including the Gates Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. National Academies.
2019 Rising Star
When she is not advocating for her patients in Washington, D.C., you will find Lisa Nijm. M.D., J.D. serving as a board-certified corneal, cataract and LASIK surgeon at the practice she founded, Warrenville EyeCare & LASIK. After graduating from Benedictine University summa cum laude with a B.S. in Health Science, Nijm completed a post-graduate education that combined her interests in patient care and health care policy advocacy. She pursued a highly competitive six-year M.D., J.D. dual degree program at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and School of Law, which only admits two students per year.
After completing ophthalmology residency at UIC and a top-ranked corneal & LASIK fellowship at UC Davis, Nijm worked in underserved regions of central Illinois. She established a much-needed cornea clinic in Lincoln, Ill. and became the first surgeon in central Illinois to perform all-laser LASIK surgery.
Nijm was the first resident representative on Illinois Eye Physicians and Surgeons and the youngest member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) OphthPAC committee. She is the current (and youngest) president of Women in Ophthalmology (WIO), an international organization dedicated to the education and advancement of women ophthalmologists.
She is also a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at UIC Eye and Ear Infirmary and a director of the Osler Ophthalmology National Board Review course, having taught over 2500 ophthalmologists to date. She is a recognized expert and published author in advanced technology cataract surgery, dry eyes and LASIK and has been invited to speak at many national and international meetings. She serves on the editorial boards of three ophthalmology publications and is a highly requested ophthalmic consultant. Nijm has received numerous awards and honors for her work, most recently the AMA WPS Inspirational Physician Award, AAO Achievement Award and Northwestern Medicine-CDH 50th Anniversary Heroes in Medicine. Her goal is to serve her patients and those around her as a compassionate, Catholic physician, just as her devout parents inspired her to do so.
2015 Rising Star
David Norman was raised in Schaumburg, Illinois where he attended Schaumburg High School, graduating in 2003. He attended Benedictine University, where he was a member of the football team (2003-2006) and a member of the Student Council for Exceptional Children and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Special Education. Norman originally chose to pursue a career in education and mathematics but changed his major to special education during his sophomore year.
Upon graduating from Benedictine, Norman worked as a special education teacher in Crystal Lake High School District 155 and West Aurora School District 129. During that time, he earned two Master of Arts degrees in Education: in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University Chicago (2011) and in Educational Administration from North Central College (2014). Norman is currently an assistant principal in Geneva CUSD 304 at Geneva Middle School North. He is married to Laura (Boyer) Norman, C08, and they recently welcomed a baby girl to their Benedictine family.
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.”
Hon. Richard M. Pajtas attended St. Procopius College from 1961 to 1963, when he transferred to Michigan State University. He earned his Juris Doctor from Detroit College of Law (now the Michigan State University College of Law) in 1970. He practiced law in the mid- Michigan area until 1976 when he started a new trial practice in Charlevoix, Michigan.
In 1984, Pajtas was elected to the 33rd Circuit Court for Emmet and Charlevoix counties. Pajtas presided over the Charlevoix County Circuit from January 1, 1995 until his retirement on January 1, 2015. In Michigan, the Circuit Court is a court of general jurisdiction, handling the most serious criminal cases, civil disputes, domestic relations and other matters.
During his career on the bench, Pajtas was selected by the Michigan Supreme Court to serve in various capacities including the Michigan Justice Project Committee, the Jury Management Workshop, the Family Law Division Implementation Task Force and the Judicial Information Systems Advisory Commission.
The Michigan Justice Project was a yearlong endeavor designed to study the existing judicial system and make recommendations to the Michigan Supreme Court for reform and reorganization. Pajtas has been a lecturer on case flow management for the Michigan Judicial Institute, assisting both new and experienced trial judges to operate courts fairly and efficiently.
Pajtas served, by assignment, 12 one-month terms on the Michigan Court of Appeals to help with the backlog of cases. He continues to accept occasional assignments to trial courts in need of assistance. He has served on the boards of directors of the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce and Northern Michigan Mediation and is a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus.
The retired judge and his wife, Dana, of 53 years reside on their farm near Charlevoix. They raise grass-fed beef cattle and enjoy riding horses. Both serve as lectors at St. Mary of Assumption in Charlevoix. They are blessed with two sons and four grandchildren.
2015 Rising Star
John Parker earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Benedictine University in 2001. While an undergraduate, Parker was a business club member and also a captain on the men’s baseball team. He is still an active member of the Benedictine community, serving as president of the Alumni Board from 2008–2011.
Parker currently works at Northwestern Medicine as the manager of the Project Management Office. He leads the tracking and reporting of project savings to executive management, capturing several million dollars each year. Currently, Parker is leading the implementation of strategic initiatives at the Delnor Hospital Campus, as well as managing a team of eight project managers.
Prior to Northwestern Medicine, Parker worked in retail lending/investment banking. During his 10 years of experience, he served as the lead in many process improvement projects as well as assuming the role of market sales manager. Parker also achieved his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in 2012 and earned an M.B.A. in 2014.
In his spare time, Parker enjoys boating, playing softball and traveling with family. He lives in Fox River Grove with his lovely wife, Maura (Gulling) Parker, M.P.H.’10, and daughter, Gwen. They are looking forward to welcoming baby number two in July 2015.
2014 Rising Star
Mario Parker graduated from Benedictine University in 2005 with a B.A. in Communication Arts. He also completed a fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning a M.S. in Journalism in 2006.
Parker is a Chicago-based correspondent for Bloomberg News, writing about global energy markets and major news stories across the U.S. Midwest. His assignments have ranged from investigating Chicago's deadly connection to drug cartels, the dashed hopes of a scrapped biofuel plant in Ford Heights, Illinois, economic decline in Appalachia and how a billionaire amassed his fortune in coal to covering NFL Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Parker started his journalism career in Bloomberg's Washington D.C. bureau as an intern and then a general assignment reporter, where he participated in White House press pool duty and also covered stories on Capitol Hill. He is a three-time recipient of the Chicago Headline Club's Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism and a 2011 winner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers' features award for Magazine writing. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, International Herald Tribune and publications around the globe. He is also a contributing writer to ``Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood.''
Parker speaks to schools across Chicago and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the News Literacy Project.
2014 Rising Star
Betsy Petrovic earned a B.B.A. in Business Administration at Benedictine University in 2001. In 2003, she earned her M.B.A. in Marketing at Keller Graduate School of Business. She has been a guest speaker at the LinkShare Symposium, Channel Advisor’s Catalyst Conference and DeVry University.
Petrovic is the Vice President of Strategic Services at e-commerce service firm Grand River Interactive. While managing the Chicago office of marketing and IT staff, she oversees client relationship management, project management and customer engagements, while building long-term strategic support and marketing programs for clients through consulting and new service offerings. Due to her outstanding performance in driving new revenue, Petrovic was made a partner of the successful e-commerce startup.
Petrovic spent five years in the industry building and managing large, profitable e-commerce solutions. Prior to joining Grand River, she served as the e-Commerce Manager for Collections Etc., Inc. She also worked in e-commerce marketing management for several years at the Professional Education Institute and Lucent Technologies.
She volunteers at St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Plainfield as a cantor and Eucharistic minister; St. Peregrine Liturgies; Imerman Angels; fundraising for Cystic Fibrosis, the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma society; and as a partial caregiver to her brother David, a six-year cancer survivor.
She currently resides in Plainfield, Illinois with her husband, Adam, and their two children, Andrew and Lucy.
2014 Rising Star
Christopher Pohlman earned a B.B.A. in Finance in 1999. In 2004, he joined Mesirow Financial as a managing director where he works with public and private corporations, public sector entities, high net worth individuals and not-for-profit organizations. He is also responsible for proposing strategies and plan design, vendor searches and monitoring investments.
In addition to the role of managing director, Pohlman is a member of the firm’s Managed Money Advisory Board. He is also a chartered retirement plan specialist and an accredited investment fiduciary designee.
In 2012, he received the firm’s Norman Award for Collaboration. The award recognizes outstanding employees for their achievements and contributions in categories the firm has identified as critical to their client relationships and culture.
Pohlman is also a board representative at Choose DuPage and is on the Board of Directors at The DuPage County Children’s Museum.
Donald B. Pope-Davis is the dean of the College of Education at New Mexico State University. A longtime educator with a background in psychology and diversity, Pope-Davis has been a faculty member and served in high-level leadership positions both at DePaul University and the University of Notre Dame. He has also been a faculty member at the University of Iowa and the University of Maryland. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and theology from Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, his master’s degree from Indiana University and his doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University.
Pope-Davis has been an educator for more than 25 years and has co-authored three books and written several research articles about multicultural counseling, education and psychology. The Journal of Counseling Psychology recently ranked him third in the country as one of the top research contributors in his area of specialization. The American Psychological Association acknowledged his scholarly contributions by awarding him the distinction of fellow in the Society for Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, and in the Society of Counseling Psychology.
He has also served on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Committee on Academic Certification and is currently on the Advanced Placement Higher Education Advisory Council.
2017 Rising Star
Brian R. Poustinchian, D.O., is a native of Carol Stream and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Benedictine University in 2006. He earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree at Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he currently serves as course director and clinical assistant professor of Internal Medicine. Poustinchian completed a residency program at Rush University Medical Center and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County’s Primary Care Internal Medicine Program. He currently practices in the western suburbs as the medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospitalist Program.
Poustinchian was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Physician Award for outstanding service to Delnor Hospital. He has been published in The Journal of Heart Valve Disease and The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, and has provided continuing medical education presentations in several states.
Poustinchian and his wife have given back as benefactors of the Northwestern Memorial Foundation, Midwestern University and the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. He has also supported the Tri City Health Partnership and Fox Valley Marine Corps through charity golf outings. Poustinchian has volunteered at Benedictine University by speaking to the American Medical Student Association, and hopes to do more at the University in the future to inspire pre-medical students. Poustinchian currently resides in Geneva, Ill., with his wife and two daughters.
J. Michael Pressimone, Ed.D. is the 14th President of Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned his Ed.D. in Higher Education and Organizational Change from Benedictine University in 2013.
Pressimone’s higher education career spans more than three decades. He served as Vice President of Advancement at Alvernia University in Reading, Pennsylvania; Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina; and Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
He serves on the boards of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Chaminade College Prep, Incarnate Word Academy Academic Affairs Committee and St. Joseph’s Academy. He has been an active voice in issues of diversity and racial justice. Pressimone has written in support of greater diversity and inclusion in both the news media and for his campus constituency. Each summer, he hosts a five week long series of conversations between white and black Catholics in St. Louis. He is active in the interfaith community working to promote harmony among all people of faith. In the wake of community unrest following the death of Michael Brown in 2014 and the Stockley verdict in 2017, Pressimone hosted gatherings of community leaders who were committed to exploring non-violent responses.
At Fontbonne, Pressimone is leading a transformation driven by Fontbonne Forward – a strategic plan for growth, excellence and inspiration. He is spearheading an effort to purchase a now closed Catholic high school property west of St. Louis which would more than double the University’s real estate holdings and expand its capacity for athletic programs and graduate and adult education. Other new initiatives at the University include: Fontbonne Promise, which provides free education to academically able students who lack the ability to pay, and an anti-sex trafficking certificate program for social workers, caregivers and first responders who deal with victims and survivors of trafficking.
Michael and his wife Cathy are active members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. They have been married for 36 years and are blessed with 12 children and five grandchildren.
2015 Rising Star
Tiffany (Tiff) Pua earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts from Benedictine University in 2000 and her Master of Arts in Broadcast and Electronic Communication from Marquette University in 2007.
Pua is an Emmy-nominated television producer and director at Milwaukee Public Television (WMVS/WMVT) for two programs: "The Arts Page," a weekly arts program, and "Healthful Indian Flavors with Alamelu," a cooking show focused on healthy dishes with Indian flavors.
Pua develops program content, coordinates video shoots, conducts interviews, edits and promotes her programs on social media. She fills in as voice talent for local promos and directs for the annual Great TV Auction, pledge breaks, station programming and events.
Prior to Milwaukee Public Television, Pua worked as a newscast director at WREX-TV in Rockford, Illinois, and KOLR-TV in Springfield, Missouri; an award-winning interactive media project manager; and an adjunct professor at Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Pua is an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Milwaukee, ministering as a cantor and on the Digital Communications Committee managing the parish website. She also plays the handbells at St. Alphonsus parish in Greendale, Wisconsin.
Pua resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Anthony G. Rainey graduated with a B.A. in Physical Education from Illinois Benedictine College in 1976. He also completed his Master’s in School Administration at Chicago State University and earned a Theology endorsement from Concordia University Chicago.
Rainey has been involved in education for 43 years, teaching and coaching grades PK-12 and serving in multiple administrative roles. He was the principal of Luther High School South from 1999-2009 and is now an emeritus Lutheran Church Missouri Synod administrator. For 10 years, he has served as athletic director, dean of students and physical education and health instructor at Benjamin E. Mays Academy in Chicago Public Schools.
Rainey has earned many accolades throughout his career including the Chicagoland Lutheran Educators Foundation Teacher of the Year Award for Excellence in teaching, the Wendell Phillips High School Hall of Fame Alumni Award and Concordia University Nebraska’s Honorary Alumni Award. He is published in the Educational Resources Information Center and the Abraham Lincoln Library oral history section for Illinois Track and Field.
Rainey has been featured in the sports columns of the Chicago Tribune, Southtown and the Sun-Times. He was named Illinois Cross Country and Track & Field Coach of the Year, Illinois Football Coach of the Year, Illinois Basketball Coach of the Year and the district Athletic Director of the Year for Illinois. He has led high school track teams to three state championships with numerous runner-up finishes. He is also a certified official in football, basketball, track & field and cross country and served on the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors.
Anthony and his wife, Vivian, live in Chicago and have been married for 37 years. They are blessed with three daughters, Dionne, Anna and Kaya, along with two active grandchildren, Gabriel and Caleb. They are members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chicago where Rainey serves as church elder.
Nazneen Razi, Ph.D.
Ph.D. ’99, Organization Development, M.B.A. '84, Human Resources and Operations Management
2020 Distinguished Alumna
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.
The second of six children born and raised in the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, David Reynolds attended St. Ignatius College Prep before entering Illinois Benedictine College. After graduating with a degree in history in 1982, Reynolds made the obvious choice (to him at least) to study improvisation at Second City. There he met and performed with many of today’s leading comedic actors including Robert Smigel and Naperville’s favorite son, Bob Odenkirk. In 1988, Reynolds performed in a sketch show in Chicago with Smigel, Odenkirk and Conan O’Brien called, “Happy, Happy Good Show.” That show introduced the world to “The Superfans” and the catchphrase, “Da Bears.”
In 1993, Reynolds was hired as one of the original writers on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” After more than 400 shows, he and his wife moved to Los Angeles where he was hired by Walt Disney Feature Animation to work on the movie “Tarzan.” It was during this time that Disney also asked him to work with a little-known animation studio called Pixar (which later that year would release its first movie, “Toy Story”). Pixar hired him to work on its second feature, “A Bug’s Life.” For the next six years, Reynolds worked on almost every animated movie in production for both Disney and Pixar. During this run, he wrote the screenplay for “The Emperor’s New Groove” and co-wrote “Finding Nemo.” He was nominated for an Oscar and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Original Screenplay for “Finding Nemo” as well as a BAFTA award for “The Emperor’s New Groove.”
Reynolds lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two teenage daughters. He is currently working on both film and television projects, some he can talk about and others he’d rather forget.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Ricciardi, Ph.D., earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, an M.B.A. from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from Benedictine University in Values-Driven Leadership.
Ricciardi is the Vice President of Operations at SEFA, a nationwide network of leading restaurant supply and equipment dealers and manufacturers. He has extensive experience in supply chain management, marketing analytics and sales management and is also a decorated Army veteran who has served 25 years both in the reserves and on active duty. He has deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq, most recently leading an 1100-soldier task force responsible for finding and neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices in southern Afghanistan.
Ricciardi commands the 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Ft. Shafter, Hawaii. He resides in Valparaiso, Indiana where he is married to his best friend, Kelly, and has two children, Giuseppe (15) and Giavanna (12). In his free time he serves on the executive board of directors for The College of Science Interdisciplinary Center (CSIRC) at Purdue University North Central.
2018 Rising Star
Over the past 20 years, Torian Richardson has served as an international thought leader whose expertise rests in analytics; culture and people development; strategy; and stewardship. He is a lifelong learner who greatly values the experiences he has had working on four continents and journeying to over 70 countries. Richardson’s “inclusive why” is to inspire the genius in others to live valiantly so that potential is turned into impact.
Born at South Chicago Hospital to a family rooted deeply in Chicago's Southside, he is the product of a working-class, broken home. He lived all over the Chicago area, from west on 87th Street to Southside’s Gresham, Justice and the Aurora/Naperville area. What really shaped Richardson was not only life in these diverse neighborhoods but growing up in a well-intended yet abusive family during his formative years.
Richardson transformed a lackadaisical attitude into earning an NCAA athletic scholarship but ultimately lost it. Once he buckled down, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Benedictine University in 1999, fighting his way to becoming a first-generation college graduate. He also earned a Master of Public Administration in International Development from Tsinghua University in Beijing and graduated from leadership programs at Harvard Business School.
In the United States, he has held a variety of corporate leadership roles in finance, education and transportation with general management responsibilities of over $80 million. He has served as Chairman of the Board of GlobalMindED as well as a consultant with HBS Club of New York. In Africa, as Pearson’s Business Solutions Director, he was responsible for successfully building educational technology and service businesses throughout the African continent. Living in China for four years as an entrepreneur, Richardson founded Guanxi Universal and lectured at the University of International Business and Economics (Beijing) and Changchun Finance College.
He is currently leading the conversation on navigating uncertainty; access and inclusion; and stewardship through his podcast “Inclusive Why” and writing a book focused on breaking cycles of abuse called West on 87th.
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.”
2019 Rising Star
Tom Ruginis grew up in Lisle, Ill. He attended school (preschool through college) in Lisle but currently lives near San Francisco, California.
Ruginis graduated from Benedictine University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology. After Benedictine, he followed an indirect path to become an entrepreneur. He worked as a research associate in a colon cancer lab and, in his first year, generated a first-author paper identifying a potential protein marker for colon cancer. He started a Ph.D. program in Pharmacology at the University of Illinois-Chicago with a focus on blood vessel growth in tumors, but he left after two years. Ruginis then became a lead salesperson for Midwest Scientific, a lab supplier in the Midwest.
He quit that job when he was diagnosed with a painful chronic disease, Psoriatic Arthritis, which has few-to-no treatments to manage pain and inflammation in the joints. The phrase “be your own boss” started to resonate with him.
Having held a variety of jobs in the sciences, Ruginis recognized a major problem for scientists—there is a gross lack of transparency in pricing for lab supplies and equipment. Scientists waste a lot of time shopping and often overspend on supplies. Driven by his commitment to improve the happiness of scientists and the quality of their research, he created HappiLabs in 2012. His goal: to help them focus less on supplies and more on science.
He created a “software as a service”-type product, the Virtual Lab Manager, which offers scientists remote support for a variety of tasks with an emphasis on shopping for and purchasing lab supplies. HappiLabs has since grown to 14 employees, manages $32 million in lab spending and serves labs all over the country.
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!”
2018 Rising Star
Nirav Shah is following his passion for public health working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) in Washington, D.C. As a Public Affairs Specialist, Shah educates consumers about safe food handling behaviors to prevent foodborne illnesses. Apart from fulfilling his primary duties at the USDA, he represents FSIS at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Last year, Shah assisted numerous communities as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria barreled through Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, he triaged emails, provided updates to senior leadership and coordinated resources for supporting local, state and tribal areas.
Shah earned a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University, Long Beach in international business and marketing. He also completed his M.B.A at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and earned his Master of Public Health from Benedictine University in 2010.
He brings to the table an array of experiences, on both global and domestic levels. He was the Patient Services Representative for the American Cancer Society, North Shore Region, in Illinois. While fulfilling capstone requirements for his graduate studies, Shah travelled in the rural villages of Kenya to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and participated in a 2010 mission trip to Tanzania working at a convent in Njombe to give health check-ups to nuns residing in the community.
Shah is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, having worked in Zambia from 2013-2015 on their Community Health Improvement Project. He was a second-generation volunteer based out of Nsadzu village focused on bettering the lives of people in his catchment area and as well as those in Zambia as a whole. Shah then started his career with the federal government with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In his spare time, Shah enjoys expanding his knowledge regarding public health as well as jet setting to various continents. His inspiration comes from both of his parents, Ashok and Smita Shah; his wife, Amee Mehta; and all his professors.
Mahnaz Shahidi, Ph.D., earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics at Illinois Benedictine College in 1981 and a Ph.D. in Atomic and Molecular Physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1988. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in retinal imaging, joined the faculty of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UIC and became the director of the Applied Physics Laboratory. She was promoted to the rank of professor of Physics in Ophthalmology with tenure and joint appointments in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Bioengineering. Shahidi was named Morton F. Goldberg, M.D., FACS Professor of Ophthalmology and served as the vice chair and research director.
In 2016, Shahidi joined the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Southern California, where she is a professor of Ophthalmology, Riffenburgh professor in Glaucoma and vice chair for Translational Research. Her research program is focused on the development of optical imaging technologies for quantitative assessment of eye diseases. The novel imaging techniques developed in her research laboratory have provided valuable tools to study pathophysiology and improve diagnostic evaluation of ocular and systemic diseases. Shahidi has received funding support for her research program from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shahidi has published more than 100 original articles in peer-reviewed journals and has given more than 150 presentations of her work at scientific conferences. She has received research awards from a number of private foundations, including the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Whitaker Foundation and the OneSight Foundation. Shahidi was the recipient of the prestigious Senior Scientific Investigator Award from Research to Prevent Blindness Inc., the nation’s largest private sponsor of vision research. She was also named 2012 Inventor of the Year and 2013 Faculty of the Year in the College of Medicine at UIC.
2014 Rising Star
Jeff Shields is a graduate of the class of 2000. He earned his B.A. in History from Benedictine University and went on to earn his M.S. in Social Science from the University of Chicago. Shields is currently the business unit CFO for multiple corporate teams at JPMorgan Chase Bank, where he supports the Global Security, Aviation, Dining, Conference Centers and Veterans Affairs teams in a joint finance and business manager role.
Shields enjoys taking new employees under his wing to give them the same mentor experience that he was fortunate enough to receive when he joined the bank in 2001. Outside of his work life, Shields gives back to the community through one-off volunteer opportunities through the Sisters of Saint Joseph and chaperoning field trips and other events at Evergreen Park High School, where his wife, Maria, teaches Spanish.
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.”
2015 Rising Star
James Sostak, M.D. graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Health Science in 2001. At Benedictine, he was a member of the baseball team, was voted team MVP his junior and senior years and set the current NCAA record for most consecutive hits with 15. As a senior, he was a member of the NCAA Verizon Academic All-America Team.
Sostak earned his M.D. at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine and was inducted into the AOA Medical Honor Society. While in medical school, he played one season of professional baseball for the Rockford Riverhawks. He completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin and specialized his training with a fellowship in sports medicine from the Southern California Orthopedic Institute.
In 2011, he joined Fox Valley Orthopedics in Geneva, Illinois and has been in practice for four years, specializing in arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, hip and knee. He enjoys providing team coverage for local high schools and is a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and the Arthroscopy Association of North America.
He resides in St. Charles, Illinois with his wife, Amy, and their children: Addison and William.
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.”
2014 Rising Star
Omer Sultan earned a B.S. in Biology from Benedictine University in 1997 and went on to earn a Master of Health Administration from Cornell University in 2000. He established the Muslim Alumni Endowed Scholarship at Benedictine and has also served as a mentor for students who are interested in healthcare administration.
Sultan currently serves as Finance Director for Northwestern Memorial HealthCare (NMHC), the parent corporation of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and Northwestern Medical Group. In this role, he is leading strategic financial initiatives that are designed to advance Northwestern’s vision of being a global health care leader.
Prior to his current role, Sultan served as Senior Staff to the Executive Vice President and CFO of NMHC. In this position, he managed a variety of initiatives including financial reporting, planning and budgeting for Northwestern Medicine strategic priorities. He also served as a project director in Business Development and Planning, in which he facilitated the completion of the Northwestern Medicine Strategic Plan.
Before joining Northwestern, Sultan spent seven years in management consulting, advising multi-state health systems, academic medical centers and community hospitals across the country on healthcare strategy and financial operations.
Jeffrey K. Swallow, Ph.D. is the President and CEO of Magnetrol International, Inc. in Aurora, Illinois. Magnetrol is an 80-year-old; family owned and operated business that manufactures industrial liquid level and flow control instrumentation for process industries. The company currently operates in 11 countries and has grown to eight manufacturing facilities and nine direct sales offices worldwide.
Swallow earned his Associate of Arts degree from Lincoln College; a B.A. in Organization Communication from North Central College; a C.B.A. from the University of Illinois, Chicago and the Center for Enterprise Development; an M.B.A. from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University; and a Ph.D. in Organizational Development from Benedictine University.
Swallow is currently a trustee at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois and on the Board of Trustees at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. He is a founding member of the Center for Values Driven Leadership at Benedictine University. He is also a past board member of the East West Corporate Corridor Association and the Naperville Heritage Society, and he is currently a board member of Choose DuPage Regional Alliance.
Swallow is also a lifelong resident of Naperville, where he lives with his wife of nearly 28 years. They have three children: Emily, Heston and Connor.
2014 Rising Star
Michael Ulleweit earned a B.B.A. in Accounting from Benedictine University in 1992. While a student, he was captain of the baseball team and on the Dean’s List. In 2002, Ulleweit went on to earn his J.D. with the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Currently, he is a partner in Deloitte Tax’s Chicago Business Tax Services Group, with approximately 19 years of experience in the industry. Ulleweit functions as the lead tax partner for clients representing multiple industries, including consumer products, manufacturing and distribution, pharmaceutical, retail and personal services.
Ulleweit has substantial experience in reviewing the tax posture of large multi-national public companies and delivering valuable tax projects. He also serves as the lead tax partner on several public and private company attest clients with regard to ASC 740 matters. Ulleweit specializes in developing and implementing Federal income tax accounting method strategies as well as with certain areas that are relevant to manufacturers. Representative engagements include Strategic Tax Reviews and Assessments, Federal Tax Accounting Reviews, ASC 740, and Corporate Compliance Management. He has also served as Tax Director of a publicly-held company for two years while concurrently attending law school at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Lastly, Ulleweit is an adjunct professor in DePaul University’s MST Program.
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.”
Born in Chicago, Richard Vondrak entered St. Procopius College as a member of the class of 1965 and studied at the College from 1961-63. After studies in Europe he earned an A.B. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1966 and a Ph.D. in space physics and astronomy from Rice University in 1970. His doctoral research was a rocket-borne measurement of electrical currents in the aurora, followed by postdoctoral research in Stockholm, Sweden. He returned to Rice University for lunar research, working in the Apollo Science Operations Center during the last three Apollo missions. He then joined the Stanford Research Institute for studies of the arctic upper atmosphere and the aurora. Later he became the director of space physics at the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory.
In 1995 he became the chief of the laboratory for extraterrestrial physics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In 2005 he organized the Solar System Exploration Division at Goddard, with responsibility for planetary research and instrument development, and was its first director. He also served as the project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is mapping the Moon and searching for resources. In 2013 he retired and became a part-time NASA employee.
Vondrak is the recipient of the prestigious Presidential Award for Meritorious Senior Executives, as well the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and many other awards. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a Fellow of The Explorers Club, a member of other professional societies, and has served on many advisory committees. He has published 135 papers in scientific journals, edited two books and presented more than 300 papers at scientific conferences. He frequently interacts with students, teachers and the public to inform and inspire them regarding the Moon and the planets.
2014 Rising Star
Kimberly Waichulis attended the University of Iowa with a focus in English and then went on to earn her M.S. in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University.
Waichulis is the Vice President of Central Region Sales at Tapad and is leading the company’s aggressive expansion throughout the region. She joined Tapad with more than 13 years of experience in pivotal sales roles for emerging technology companies and has already established new Tapad offices and robust teams in Detroit and Chicago. She recently served as Regional Vice President at MediaMind (DGIT). Prior to that, she held senior roles at TradingPartners and VisaNow.
2018 Rising Star
Brad Weyer graduated from Benedictine University with a B.B.A. in Finance in 2006. He is now the Senior Director of Business Insights & Analytics for McDonald’s USA. He currently oversees all business case development, forecasting, advanced analytics, strategic business consulting and revenue management for McDonald’s USA, a $37 billion business unit. He started as an intern for McDonald’s Latin America just over 12 years ago while he was going into his senior year at Benedictine. Over the years, Weyer’s career has allowed him to hold positions in International Business, Customer Analytics, Regional Insights, Consumer Insights, Menu Management, Business Strategy, Innovation and Revenue Management. Some highlights and accomplishments include turning around a low performing region to become a top five performer, launching more than five new products to achieve category growth goals, co-creating a new restaurant concept, developing pricing strategy and revenue management initiatives, building an advanced analytics department and being the co-architect of the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu that was just launched this year.
Although Weyer is a native Chicagoan, it wasn’t until he moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the Washington/Baltimore Region of McDonald’s USA that he would meet his wife, Cassie. Brad and Cassie currently live in the western suburbs of Chicago with their three daughters, Madelyn, Catherine and Rosalynn, along with their beloved wheaten terrier, Chandler Bing.
In his spare time, Weyer enjoys serving at his local church where he is involved with biblical education for youth ministries, attending men’s bible studies and community groups. Growing up with three sisters and now having three daughters, Weyer is also proficient at painting nails, making pig tails and may or may not know the words of every Disney princess song.
2015 Rising Star
Tramayne Whitney is Vice President, HR, for The Hershey Company. He leads the strategic business partner support for the Global Supply Chain, Finance, Law, HR, and the Chief Strategic &Administrative officer organizations, as well as their labor and employee relations function.
Prior to his current role, Whitney was Senior Director of Human Resources for Hershey's Delivery Optimization Organization, where he was responsible for providing strategic HR direction and enabling strong business partnering, process improvement, change management and talent attraction and development.
Prior to joining Hershey, Whitney served as Director of Human Resources at both Chiquita and Sara Lee in Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois respectively, and held several positions of increasing responsibility at Kellogg Company, where his last role was an organizational effectiveness consultant.
Whitney holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Central Michigan University and a master's degree in management and organizational behavior from Benedictine University. He serves on the board of Central Pennsylvania's American Diabetes Association &Cultural Enrichment Fund. Whitney is a past board member of the Health Care Connection and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Allen County (Ohio);is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity;and has been featured twice in the Who's Who in Black Cincinnati publication. He is currently in the process of establishing a scholarship endowment to be awarded to underprivileged youth from his hometown.
2015 Rising Star
Douglas Wildes graduated from Benedictine University in 2002 majoring in social science with a minor in secondary education. He earned both his Master of Science in Educational Administration (2007) and Education Specialist (2013) degrees from Northern Illinois University. He is currently pursuing his Educational Doctorate at NIU. Wildes began his teaching career at Addison Trail High School teaching U.S. and world history. In 2008, he was hired as the social studies department chair at Addison Trail and was then hired as the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Addison Trail in 2012. Starting this year, he has served in the same role as assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Willowbrook High School.
2016 Rising Star
Greg Wolcott graduated with a B.A. in elementary education from Benedictine University in 1993. He currently serves as the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at Woodridge School District 68 in Woodridge, Illinois. As an educator in the Chicagoland area for over 20 years, Wolcott is passionate about developing opportunities for all students to succeed as well as finding ways for teachers and staff members to utilize their strengths to maximize the learning of each and every child whom they interact with on a daily basis.
Wolcott consults throughout the United States and in Canada on a variety of topics including adult learning, developing innovative practices in the classroom, formative assessment to drive instruction, response to intervention and data usage for school improvement.
He has presented at the National School Board Association National Conference, the National Conference on Bullying, the ASCD Annual Conference, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Annual Conference, Illinois ASCD’s Curriculum Leadership Development Network, Illinois ASCD’s Conference on Learning, the Annual No Child Left Behind Conference and the Association of Teachers of Exceptional Children Conference in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Wolcott is also an adjunct professor at Concordia University Chicago where he instructs graduate and doctoral students on the utilization of research-based informed decision making to strengthen classroom instructional practice.
2016 Rising Star
Lisa Eaton Wright is a registered dietitian nutritionist and wellness coordinator for the second largest community college in Illinois. Her focus is employee health and wellness. Lisa has been an adjunct instructor of Community Health and Nutrition at Benedictine University and serves on their Nutrition Advisory Committee. She does private consulting for individuals and groups, providing healthy lifestyle assessments and interventions.
As much as she enjoys her chosen field of food and nutrition, Eaton Wright has long enjoyed politics and public policy – with her first undergraduate degree being in political science. In May 2013, she finished her eighth and final year as a twice-elected school board member. She is a currently the policy & advocacy leader for the Women's Health Dietetic Practice Group; past president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and past chair of the Legislative and Public Policy Committee for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her passions revolve around food and nutrition, women's health and public policy impacting women's health.
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!”
Kelly J. Zachary
M.B.A. '04, Management of Innovation and Technology, B.A. '02, International Business & Economics
2017 Rising Star
Kelly J. Zachary earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Business and Economics in 2002 and a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management of Innovation and Technology in 2004 at Benedictine University. She was honored with the Benedictine Valedictorian Award Scholarship due to her top class rank at Marquette High School in Ottawa, Ill. During her time at Benedictine, Zachary took the field for the softball team and was a member of the Distinguished Delegation award-winning Model United Nations team. An active alumna, she mentors a BenU student through Benedictine’s Mentorship Program.
Zachary works for BP on their world-class trading floor in the Global Oil Americas-Integrated Supply and Trading Business Unit in downtown Chicago. She has been with BP for 12 years fulfilling roles in accounting, sales, fuel supply, trading operations and commercial development. She is an active member of BP Toastmasters and the Chicago chapter of Women in Listed Derivatives (WILD), and is the leader of the BP Front Office Trading Women’s Network.
A country girl at heart, Zachary grew up on a farm outside of Ottawa, Ill., near Starved Rock State Park. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, playing sports and helping with the family farm and business. She is an active volunteer with “Girls in the Game,” supporting the leadership development of Chicago’s youth, in addition to her fundraising efforts for the local volunteer fire department. She and her family boast one of the most unique CASE tractor collections in the state, including a one of a kind 1945 CASE VAC painted pink especially for Zachary.
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.”