The Alumni Association of Northern Illinois University recognizes the achievements of exemplary alumni by awarding the following each year: the Distinguished Alumni Award, the F. R. Geigle Service Award, the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, and Outstanding Alumni Awards for each of NIU’s academic colleges.
Recipients are selected based on professional and personal achievements as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.
“NIU alumni have gone on to distinguish themselves and their alma mater in countless ways,” said Joseph Matty, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association. “This program seeks to recognize those individuals who have achieved great success in their personal and professional lives.”
A private reception to recognize these exceptional alumni was held tonight at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.
The prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award is given to an NIU alumnus or alumna who has achieved outstanding success and recognition in his or her field. This year’s recipient is Ralph M. Strozza (B.S. Marketing, 1981; B.S. French, 1981), founder and CEO, Interpro Translation Solutions.
Succès, successo, éxito. However you say it, it means success…and Ralph Strozza can translate it. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in marketing and French (with a minor in Spanish) from NIU in 1981, Strozza began a journey that would lead him to where he is today – owning and managing one of the leading and most reputable corporations in the foreign language translation industry.
Strozza began his career in 1982 as a translator with Worldwide Communications Corporation. In 1983, he moved to Europe to assist in setting up WCC’s European distribution channels. He returned to Chicago in 1985, having earned the title of vice president of marketing and sales with the same company. Subsequently, he held positions with Intergraph Corporation and System Software Associates, where he set up, staffed, and managed the in-house localization teams of both companies, as well as the external localization teams at SSA. In 1995, he co-founded Interpro Translation Solutions, an industry leader in foreign language translation and software localization services.
A dedicated alumnus, Strozza gives of his time, talent, and resources to students both inside and outside the classroom. Through the donation of translation software, he created an unparalleled opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to receive valuable classroom training in Trados, a state-of-the art translation system used worldwide by professional translation companies and large multinational corporations, and is considered the standard for the translation industry.
Strozza also generously supports many programs at NIU, including funding the Interpro Translation Solutions Foreign Language M.A. Support Scholarship, the Interpro Translation Solutions Foreign Language Residence Study Abroad Fund, and the Interpro Translation Global Marketing Scholarship. Through his company, he offers paid internships to foreign language undergraduate French, German, Spanish and marketing majors, as well as graduate students studying French and Spanish. He has served on the Dean’s Advisory Council of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the board of directors of the NIU chapter of AIESEC, the board of directors of the NIU Executive Club (now the NIU Executive Leadership Forum), and is an Executive in Residence for the Department of Marketing in the College of Business.
His determination and ingenuity have spelled success for Strozza. In turn, he has translated that into success for generations of NIU students – including his own children. He is a proud alumnus of NIU’s Foreign Language Residence Program (FLRP) and shares that pride with his son, Nicholas (B.S. marketing, French minor, 2008), and daughter, Anna (B.A. French; Italian and Spanish minors, 2012), who are believed to be the first children of an FLRP alumnus to participate in the program.
The F. R. Geigle Service Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding service and commitment to the best interests of Northern Illinois University. The 2013 recipients of this important award are Clark and Arlene Neher, NIU professors emeriti.
Clark and Arlene Neher make quite a team. For over four decades, the Nehers have made an impact on NIU and their community. Whether in Thailand via the Peace Corps, or as professors and administrators at NIU, the Nehers have multiplied their impact by working together.
After serving in the Peace Corps for two years, Clark and Arlene became part of the NIU family when Clark took a position as professor in 1969. He chaired the Department of Political Science from 1982 to 1988, and 1993 to 1996. He was named director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in 1996. As center director, he wrote the grant that brought NIU its first National Resource Center award, which provided NIU with millions of dollars for strengthening its Southeast Asia program.
Arlene earned her M.A. (1974) and Ph.D. (1980) in history from NIU, and became an instrumental member of NIU’s external programming in liberal arts and sciences. In 1993, she was named the director of Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming. During her tenure, she developed educational programs which extended college faculty and resources to the public, and launched the Lifelong Learning Institute in 2000.
After their retirements in the early 2000s, Clark and Arlene felt they still had more to give. Clark has served as the president of the DeKalb Public Library Board of Directors, as co-chair of the True North faculty and staff campaign, and as a member of the Department of Political Science Advisory Committee. The Nehers remain actively involved in the Lifelong Learning Institute; Clark teaching a variety of courses and Arlene serving on the notables, curriculum, and steering committees. They also funded the Clark and Arlene Neher Graduate Fellowship for the Study of Southeast Asia, which provides support to one graduate student who specializes in Southeast Asia each year.
Through the legacy of their hard work, the time and talent they donate as volunteers, and the fellowship they have endowed, the magnitude of the Nehers’ collective contributions to NIU is both astounding and ongoing.
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award is presented to an individual who has exhibited outstanding accomplishments within 10 years of earning an undergraduate degree from NIU. This year’s recipient is Larry E. English Jr. (B.G.S. Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2008), outside linebacker, San Diego Chargers; co-founder and chairman of the board, The Larry English L.E.A.D. Foundation.
It is quite fitting that Larry English, at only 27 years of age, is the founding chairman of the board of an organization named L.E.A.D. After all, leading is what he does best.
Following a storied career at NIU, where he set school, conference, and national records, English was drafted 16th by the San Diego Chargers – the highest NFL draft pick in NIU history. Starting twice in his rookie season with the Chargers, he recorded 36 tackles, 26 of which were solo, and two sacks. Despite an injury in 2011, he has played 43 games in just four seasons as a linebacker. He boasts 50 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a charger, and is a vital piece of their defense.
However, English wanted to lead off the field as well. In 2010, together with his mother, Susan English, he founded the Larry English L.E.A.D. (Leading Education to Athletes for their Dreams) Foundation. The foundation creates opportunities to broaden the mindsets of young athletes through advanced programming in educational, professional, and personal development. Through tutoring, workshops, mentoring, and health programs, the foundation seeks to empower young student-athletes by helping shape their educational and professional dreams. The foundation also supports numerous community efforts such as the “Community Corner,” which provides underprivileged student-athletes the opportunity to attend Chargers home games.
Since one of the most fulfilling things English enjoys about being a professional athlete is making a difference in his community, he also leverages his celebrity to benefit the American Lung Association (ALA), in particular, to raise awareness of and treatment for asthma. In 2011, he hosted “An Evening of Champions” as well as served as the honorary chairman of the inaugural “Fight for Air Climb,” both benefitting the ALA.
English led the Huskies to berths in the Poinsettia Bowl and the Independence Bowl, is playing at the top of his field, and is empowering generations of young athletes through his foundation. As a role model for many of his young fans, he defines what it means to truly lead.
Outstanding College Alumni Awards are presented to graduates from each of the university’s seven colleges who exemplify the diverse disciplines of a comprehensive university.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Business is Anthony E. Speiser (B.S. Finance, 1972), principal and co-owner, Exron Capital, Inc.
After his graduation from NIU in 1972, Anthony Speiser immediately began his career in public accounting at Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. (now KPMG). Speiser earned his CPA certification in 1973, and, after six years as an auditor and advancing to audit manager, moved to the petroleum industry in 1978, becoming CFO and later executive vice president and COO of Chicago-based petroleum firm, Torco Oil Company.
After a decade of success there, he acquired 50 percent of Texor Petroleum Company, which ultimately became the largest independent gasoline distributor in the state of Illinois and one of the largest in the country. He served as president and co-owner of Texor for approximately 20 years before it was acquired by an NYSE-listed company in 2008. After staying on with the acquiring company for three years after the acquisition as Texor president, he became a principal and co-owner of Exron Capital, Inc., a private equity firm with interests in real estate and other investments.
Through the years, Speiser has demonstrated strong support for his community. In 1996, the Speiser Family Foundation was established to support educational initiatives and child welfare programs. The foundation has supported several projects, including community mental health programs and child abuse prevention initiatives that established physician and social work fellowships at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Speiser has also been a dedicated supporter of his alma mater, having served on the NIU College of Business Advisory Council from 2005 to the present. Together with his wife, Chris, ’73, M.S.Ed. ’83, he supports many fundraising initiatives on the NIU campus. They were among the first to name a space in Barsema Hall, the Chris and Tony Speiser Suite, also known as the Business Outreach Suite. They have also established numerous scholarships to support students at every level, including the Anthony E. and Christine Speiser Entrepreneurship Fund, which has assisted 60 students in their entrepreneurial endeavors, and the Michael Morris Expendable Scholarship Fund, which encourages students to further their passion for education by traveling abroad.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Education is Linda M. Nelson (B.S.Ed. English Education, 1969; M.S.Ed. English and Secondary Education, 1973; C.A.S. Administration and Policy Studies, 1974), a teacher, mentor, professional tennis instructor and child advocate.
Linda Nelson entered the teaching profession to serve others. Whether to her family, her students, her community, or her alma mater, Nelson has always devoted her time and resources to those in need.
After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at NIU, Nelson devoted the next 25 years of her career to teaching English at the secondary and community college levels, as well as to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. She also dedicated herself to coaching tennis. As a United States Professional Tennis Association Pro-1 and Professional Tennis Registry P-1 professional level instructor, she coached high school varsity tennis; organized and taught summer tennis camps for children and adults; and provided free instruction to several individuals.
It was Nelson’s passion for teaching and tennis that brought her in touch with the Bradley Center, a home for abused and neglected children near her home in Pittsburgh. While meeting with the director, she inquired whether any of the children or staff would be interested in learning tennis. She was greeted with an overwhelming response that necessitated more court space than her home court could provide. Nelson and her husband, David, saw this as an opportunity, and donated a tennis facility and equipment to the center. She received the President’s Award from the U.S. Professional Tennis Registry for her efforts with the Bradley Center.
Today, Nelson continues work on a Ph.D. in language and literacy at the University of Pittsburgh and is tireless in her support of the importance of teaching and teachers, including NIU students entering the profession. Together with her husband, she supports many scholarships and projects on campus. They have provided a number of endowed scholarships, including the David and Linda Nelson Endowed Scholarships in Business and English, and a fund in support of the school-based liaisons. They have also been major donors to a number of buildings on campus, including the Convocation Center, the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center (as Circle of the Seal members), the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center and the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is Stephen Doonan (B.S. Industrial Technology, 1983), president, DeKalb Mechanical, Inc.
Stephen Doonan began his career at DeKalb’s Hiatt Bros. E. B. Inc., where he was responsible for estimating and coordinating residential and commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) projects. In 1984, Doonan joined the Miller Engineering Company in Rockford, where he rose to the rank of vice president and general manager. Just seven years later, he founded DeKalb Mechanical, Inc., now one of the area’s largest residential heating and air conditioning contractors.
As president and general manager of DeKalb Mechanical, Doonan is responsible for all aspects of the company’s operation, from service work, maintenance contracts, outside sheet metal and roofing work, and HVAC projects; to corporate meetings, equipment purchases, income statements, and advertising. In 2008, he became a certified LEED AP, which designates his advanced knowledge of green building practices.
An active member of the HVAC industry, Doonan was elected secretary/treasurer of the Northern Illinois Chapter of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) in 2001. He was elected vice president in 2003 and president in 2005 and 2010, and has served on numerous SMACNA committees and tasks forces. He is also active in his community, having served in his church, on government boards, and with local organizations such as the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Doonan, whose wife Cathy is also an NIU graduate, is an avid NIU football fan. He has shown his support of his alma mater in several ways, including as a fan and financial supporter of the equestrian team and the Motorsports Formula Team. He has also served on the NIU Engineering and Technology Alumni Society since 2010, and was elected vice president in 2012. However, perhaps his greatest gift to NIU is also his most personal – his four daughters are also proud NIU alumni, and his son-in-law is a current student.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Health and Human Sciences is Kristen Tribe (B.S. Speech-Language Pathology/Audiology, 1999; M.A. Rehabilitation Counseling, 2001), executive director, Parents Alliance Employment Project.
Through her involvement with the Parents Alliance Employment Project (PAEP), Kristen Tribe has helped provide employment services for hundreds of individuals with developmental, learning, and physical disabilities.
Tribe joined PAEP in 2001 as an employment specialist, providing career counseling and job preparation assistance to disabled individuals. Months later, she became a workforce investment liaison, working primarily with the business community to secure employment for those individuals. In 2002, she was promoted to project coordinator, and was named executive director in 2003.
In her current role, Tribe manages all of PAEP’s functions as related to the public, administers policies adopted by the board of directors, and oversees staff, as well as the organization’s $380,000 budget. She also secures funding from government agencies and other sources. Under her leadership, PAEP was accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities – an onerous process, the successful completion of which is considered an honor.
Tribe also participates in a variety of professional activities. She serves on the College of DuPage Developmental Disabilities Program and is a member of the National Rehabilitation Association, the West Suburban Philanthropic Network, the DuPage County Transitional Planning Committee, and the AbilityLinks Consortium Executive Committee. She also serves as an operator liaison with the DuPage workNet Career Center and a board member of the DuPage Workforce Board.
NIU students have benefitted from the extent of Tribe’s knowledge and involvement in the field. From 2009 to 2012, she returned to her alma mater to teach an introduction to vocational rehabilitation course to emerging rehabilitation professionals, and currently serves as a practicum and internship supervisor to students in the rehabilitation program. NIU is fortunate to have access to such a valuable resource.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Law is Ryan J. Dowd (M.P.A. Human Services Administration, 2003; J.D. Law, 2003), executive director, Hesed House, Inc.
Dowd began volunteering at his local faith-based homeless shelter, Hesed House in Aurora, Illinois, when he was 13 years old. He joined the staff there his senior year at North Central College, where he majored in religious studies. Today, he is the executive director of Hesed House. The organization serves more than 1,000 homeless individuals per year, with a “one-stop-shop” approach to services, incorporating job training, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, medical services, legal services, children’s services, veterans’ services, and more.
After earning his law degree (graduating second in his class) and Master of Public Administration (with a 4.0 GPA) from NIU, Dowd declined a job offer at a large law firm, choosing instead to lead Hesed House. Under his leadership, the organization developed its “Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center” approach, substantially increasing its outcome metrics – sobriety went up by 389 percent and employment by 241 percent.
Dowd also has a passion for human rights. In addition to monitoring four national elections in the United States, he served as an election observer in Ghana and as a volunteer human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe. He had the opportunity to combine his passions in 2010 when he testified on the topic of “Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue” in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review hearings.
In his free time, Dowd teaches undergraduate and graduate classes for several institutions, including Wheaton College and Aurora University, and provides guidance to doctoral dissertation students in the NIU Department of Education. He is happily married to Krissie. They have two children, Cameron and Hailey.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is Rita Reagen Athas (M.P.A. Urban Management and Development, 1978), president, World Business Chicago.
As president of World Business Chicago (WBC), Rita Reagen Athas is dedicated to raising the city’s position as a premier global business destination. Athas holds a bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College and has a long history with local government. After her graduation from NIU, she held various positions with a number of suburban municipalities. From 1989 to 1997, she served as executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, a consortium of 40 northwest Illinois municipalities.
Athas was then appointed deputy chief of staff for external affairs in the Office of the Mayor of Chicago, a position she held for 10 years. In that capacity, she served as the mayor’s liaison to regional mayors, the U.S Conference of Mayors, the business community, and foundations; and was central to the formation of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, the development of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and the modernization of O’Hare Airport.
Since 2007, Athas has served as president of WBC, which seeks to foster private sector growth through the advancement of a business friendly environment. She oversees the day-to-day operations of the organization, and, with the input of an advisory board of top business leaders, develops its strategic direction. Under her leadership, WBC has been ranked as one of the top economic development organizations in the country, and Chicago has welcomed a number of new businesses, including Miller Coors, Ventas, Veolia Environmental Services, and United.
A 1988-89 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, Athas serves as the co-chair of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, and on the boards of Metropolis Strategies, CEOs for Cities, and the Metropolitan Planning Council. She is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Executives’ Club of Chicago, as well as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for the College of Visual and Performing Arts is Janet Pucino (B.M. Voice, 1976), award-winning author; CEO and founder, Deep Canyon Media.
Janet Pucino is an experienced information technology executive, having held senior-level positions throughout her career. In addition to her NIU degree, Pucino holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and is also a member of the Chicago Booth Advisory Council.
Pucino began her technology career at Health Care Services Corporation in Chicago as a systems analyst where she developed skills in programming and systems design. She entered the management ranks as a network manager for Discover Card, and then assumed the role of continuous improvement manager for a wireless subsidiary within the International Networks Division of Motorola.
In 1996, Pucino founded JP Business Solutions, Inc., a privately held technology management consulting company. In 2000, Pucino relocated to California and served as director of technology architecture and planning for Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., until 2002. She then became senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) for the Art Center College of Design until 2004.
Pucino returned to Warner Bros. from 2004 to 2010. She became the highest ranking female executive in the IT division and held the positions of IT governance officer and VP Office of the CIO. She was also appointed executive sponsor of Women of Warner, which focused on career development for women. It was this experience that formalized her interest in mentorship and professional development for women.
In 2010, Pucino founded Deep Canyon Media, a consulting and publishing company, and currently serves as its CEO. She is a featured speaker on leadership and technology trends. She recently published Not in the Club: An Executive Woman’s Journey Though the Biased World of Business, which received the 2012–13 Los Angeles Book Festival Award in the business category.
In 2012, Pucino returned to DeKalb to share her wisdom and experience with NIU students.
This event is part of Celebrating Excellence at NIU, scheduled from Sunday, April 14, through Sunday, April 28. Celebrating Excellence highlights the accomplishments and contributions of NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to the university’s mission of promoting excellence and engagement in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, creativity and artistry, and outreach and service during the academic year.