Northern Illinois University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences selected 11 recipients for the 2015 Distinguished Alumni, Faculty and Staff Awards, which celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of outstanding individuals in each category.
Following the college’s 50th anniversary in 2009, these awards were established as an annual event.
Dean Christopher McCord presented the 2015 awards on Friday, Oct. 23, during a dinner program in Altgeld Hall.
Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
Rita Hoey Dragonette
B.A. English, 1972
She established Dragonette Career Strategies in 2003, where she serves as an executive career consultant, coach and organizational change expert, advising hundreds of clients such as Kraft, Allstate Insurance, PNC Bank and Cisco Systems on leadership, management development and organizational change. Dragonette began her career as an account executive at the global public relations agency Daniel J. Edelman, Inc. (now Edelman Worldwide).
She rapidly rose through the firm’s ranks, and helped bring in the agency’s first million-dollar client. She was recognized for her efforts by being named its youngest senior vice president.
She left Edelman in the early 1980s and co-founded Dragonette, Inc. Taking advantage of changing market cycles, the agency quickly became one of the top 15 independents nationally. She sold the firm to Grey Global Group (now part of WPP) in 1999.
B.S., Geology and Environmental Geosciences, 2006
B.A., German Language and Literature, 2010
M.S., Geology and Environmental Geosciences, 2008
Ph.D., Geology and Environmental Geosciences, 2011
An environmental geoscientist with experience in climate change research, Konfirst has applied his love of languages, cultures, environmental awareness, science and education to another calling – as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Together with his wife, Kathrina, he taught English and intercultural communication in Western Ukraine before being evacuated due to the increasing volatility in the region. The Konfirsts embarked on a new Peace Corps assignment in May 2014, serving in Guyana to raise awareness and educate citizens on environmental health.
During his graduate studies, he served on the sediment coring staff for the ANDRILL Project in Antarctica for three months and later received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue research at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. The Fulbright experience served as a springboard for his participation in a two-month Polarstern Expedition around Antarctica with the German National Research Program.
Following his doctoral studies, Konfirst served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Byrd Polar Research Center, where he pursued climate change research.
John C. Landgraf
B.S., Biology, 1974
M.S, Microbiology, 1975
Landgraf enjoyed a long career as an executive at Abbott Laboratories before retiring in 2015.
Over the course of his 38-year career, he served in 14 different roles, spanning two divisions – Abbott Diagnostics and Abbott Nutrition.
Throughout his successful business career, he consistently made time to meet with students and present to classes at NIU. He was instrumental in developing a relationship between NIU and Abbott, which employs about 500 NIU alumni.
Together with his wife, he established an endowed fund to support students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences pursuing a range of engagement activities ranging from undergraduate research, study abroad, service learning, internships, teaching or clinical experiences. This endowment is the cornerstone of the newly developed Student Engagement Fund, a collaborative project between CLAS and the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which debuted in the spring of 2015.
B.A. English, 1973
McCann has made major contributions to the field of English education since earning his degree from Northern in 1973.
With humor, humility and a twinkle in his eye, he has spent his career in Illinois’ secondary schools and higher education institutions, teaching students how to read and write.
For the past six years, McCann has taught a mix of classes to students at Northern, ranging from undergraduates, honors students, students pursuing teacher licensure and graduate students. As a result of his expertise in teaching language arts at the elementary and secondary levels, he has provided in-service professional development presentations and workshops to a number of schools districts in the Chicago area, as well as nationally.
Throughout his career, he has made important contributions to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE), including regularly presenting sessions at their annual conventions. Since 1989, he has made a national impact through his writing, with 13 books to his credit.
James H. Norris
M.P.A., Urban Management Specialization, 1983
Norris has devoted the past 34 years to public service, serving as a city/village manager of Hoffman Estates, Ill., and Gladstone, Mo., as well as assistant village manager in Palatine and Schaumburg, Ill.
He has served as village manager for Hoffman Estates for the past 17½ years. He and his team developed a public building initiative in order to renovate Village Hall and to construct LEED gold fire and police stations. He led strategic initiatives to streamline village departments and reduce expenses in non-core functions of government.
Norris is an adjunct professor for the MPA program and NIU’s Bachelor of Science in Applied Management, and works to make the MPA degree more attractive to midcareer professionals. As village manager, he has assisted more than a dozen NIU students in launching their careers by serving as an internship site during their graduate studies, enabling them to gain valuable experience.
B.A., Southeast Asian Studies, 1999
M.A., Anthropology, 2005
Weidman has used her interest in Southeast Asia and her command of the Thai language to make a difference in this world as a humanitarian.
Those interests, together with a strong NIU education, have taken her to Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, where she has served as deputy director since 2009. She manages and facilitates all aspects of a three-month professional development certificate training program in peace and conflict studies.
The program is offered twice annually, with participants from around the world focusing on solving conflict and building peace at local, national, and global levels.
She has trained and continues to mentor peacebuilders working in 70 countries around the world at all levels of engagement, from grassroots initiatives and major NGOs to government and security sector roles.
Distinguished Faculty Award Recipients
Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus
Department of Political Science, 1983-2012
Arnhart has been instrumental in shaping the relatively new area of social science inquiry – politics and the life sciences.
In addition to biopolitical theory, he is one of only a few scholars who have bridged the sub-fields of political theory and American politics, earning him international standing as a scholar in both specialties.
For years, he and his wife Mary opened their home to host “Second Saturday Dinners” where graduate students and faculty would present their research, followed by a lively discussion. Occasionally, a renowned scholar would participate, providing students to network and learn from some of the best minds in the business.
His commitment to his students extended beyond seeing them through the Ph.D. program – from using his professional networks to help students secure positions in a competitive workplace to assisting students in getting their dissertations published.
Presidential Research Professor and Board of Trustees Professor
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, 1998-present
Hosmane collaborates with top scientists across the world. But it is in his laboratories here at NIU is where he makes his own discoveries while cultivating young, talented scientists.
Much of his research centers on the development of boron neutron capture cancer therapeutic agents. Compounds he has synthesized in laboratories have been utilized in clinical trials.
Hosmane collaborates with Argonne and Fermilab in addition to working with Kishwaukee Hospital and DeKalb Clinic on prostate and bladder cancer research. Since 1984, he has received $5.7 million from external funding sources such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and NASA.
In addition to teaching NIU students, he has served as a visiting professor or distinguished professor at higher education institutions around the world and has received numerous international honors and fellowships for his research.
Former acting associate dean and Associate Professor Emerita
Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, 1978-2008
Montgomery had a long career at Northern in the classroom as well as in administration – serving as Acting Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Associate Dean of the Graduate School. She taught a variety of geology courses to thousands of students, from the freshman to the graduate level.
Montgomery was often recognized for her teaching, receiving awards at the department, college, and university levels, including the NIU Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2007.
Even after she had moved over to administration, Dr. Montgomery continued to teach and publish.
Her dedication to her students is also illustrated by her authorship of several textbooks to better meet their needs. One textbook, Environmental Geology, has been in print for more than 20 years. Now in its 10th edition, it’s used in general education geology courses.
Professor Emerita, Department of English, 1970-2001
First and foremost a teacher and a scholar, Waldeland earned a reputation as a demanding, caring and extremely popular educator.
She was an innovator in the teaching of film and literature as well as a leader in the introduction of feminist literary theory. Before her retirement, she endowed a scholarship for the English Department to use for student recruitment.
For 15 years, Waldeland served in central administration, first as assistant provost for Academic Planning and Development before taking over on an interim basis as executive vice president and provost in 1999 and serving until her retirement in 2001. During that time, she provided leadership in academic affairs during volatile times of changing university leadership and declining budgets.
In 2008, she was selected to lead the university through another difficult time – this time as co-chair of the Committee for the February 14 Memorial.
Distinguished Staff Award Recipient
Information Technology Coordinator, 1996-present
For nearly 20 years, Nancy Finn has been providing CLAS faculty, staff and students with the highest standard of technical support and service available anywhere. She is not only a consummate professional in performing the regular duties of her position, but she also has done much to advance the mission of the university and to help achieve some of its strategic goals.
She has played a prominent role in sustaining and improving the operations of NIU’s Writing Center, where all students can go to improve their writing skills; the Mathematics Emporium Laboratory, where students can get extra help in algebra and other courses; and the CLAS Collaboratory, where students in advanced classes can communicate simultaneously with their fellow students as well as their professors.
She also supports some discipline-specific laboratories where students in economics, geology and physics can use state-of-the-art software to become technologically proficient in their chosen fields.