College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honors alumni, faculty and staff

Northern Illinois University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences selected 11 recipients for the 2016 Distinguished Alumni, Faculty and Staff Awards. To date, the college has honored 126 alumni, faculty and staff. Dean Christopher McCord presented the 2016 awards on Friday, Oct. 21, during a dinner program in Altgeld Hall.

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Peter Gross
B.S., Journalism, 1971

Gross’ journalism degree has taken him around the world — lecturing at universities in 24 countries and teaching or presenting research in 18 countries. Specializing on issues related to media in Eastern Europe, his body of research earned him an appointment to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Harvard University research award. He worked for the U.S. Department of State and was an invited member of the International Observer Delegation to monitor the Romanian parliamentary and presidential elections. He currently serves as director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Robert (Bob) Kornecki
B.S., Journalism, 1972

Kornecki graduated with a degree in journalism and a concentration in public relations in 1972, and began a 35-year career in the public relations business. His second act took him into the nonprofit world, raising funds to provide low-income students the educational opportunities he had as a child. He served on the board of the NIU Executive Club and NIU Executive Leadership Forum. Together with fellow graduates from the Department of Communication, he established the Albert Walker Fund, which brings leading industry professionals to campus for an annual lecture. He is the past chair of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council; his contributions to the Council include the creation of the Dean’s Advisory Council Fund, which provides one-time funding to juniors and seniors encountering last-minute financial obstacles so they can graduate on time.

Marilyn Frank-Stromborg
B.S., Biology, 1964; Ed.D., Educational Psychology, 1974; J.D., 1994

Frank-Stromborg pioneered cancer prevention and early detection with minority populations. During her 26-year tenure with the NIU School of Nursing, she served on three national cancer committees and chaired the research committees of four others. Her national service earned her three awards from the Oncology Nursing Society. At the age of 50, Frank-Stromborg pursued a law degree while still teaching future nurses. Retiring in 2004 as chair of NIU’s School of Nursing, she started a second full-time career, spending two years as a Dekalb County assistant state’s attorney and eight years as coordinator of the DeKalb County Drug/DUI Court. In 2015, she authored a grant to facilitate a free law clinic for the indigent at DeKalb’s Hope Haven homeless shelter.

Harlan Teller
B.A., English, 1973

Teller has become a distinguished industry leader and currently serves as NIU’s interim vice president of Marketing and Communications. His distinguished 30-year career in corporate communications include stints at global public relations giants Burson-Marsteller and Hill and Knowlton. He served one term as president of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, served on the NIU Alumni Association Board for six years and was a member of the CLAS Dean’s Advisory Council. His leadership extended to not-for-profit boards, including WTTW, the Center for Economic Progress,and The Gateway for Cancer Research. For more than two decades, he served on the board for Heartland Alliance.

Andrew L. Traver
B.A., Sociology, 1985

After earning his degree from NIU and joining the Navy, Traver was commissioned as a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As special agent in charge of the Chicago Field Division of ATF, the Chicago office successfully disrupted and dismantled some of the most violent street gang factions and illicit firearms trafficking networks in the division’s history. After a 26-year career with the ATF, Traver became the fifth civilian director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in October 2013. Traver has also found time to give back to NIU and the Department of Sociology, speaking regularly to the Introduction to Criminology and the Criminal Justice System courses and promoting internship opportunities to students in the College. He is a survivor and mentor to those battling prostate cancer and served as a volunteer Veterans Outreach Coordinator for The Mission Continues, a non-profit organization created to support and assist wounded and disabled veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Michael L. Vazquez
B.S., Chemistry, 1980

Vazquez has worked diligently to make safe and effective medicines over his career of nearly 30 years. He has mentored scientists and provided valuable leadership within Searle and Pharmacia, which were acquired by Fortune 100 Company Pfizer, where he currently serves as an associate research fellow. His research contributions have resulted in three marketed drugs to treat HIV, one drug to treat cancer and 250 U.S. and divisional patents. He led a team of chemists in the development of molecules relating to the treatment of hypertension. He recently led the project team and medicinal chemistry efforts on Janus Kinase 1, resulting in the identification of a clinical candidate now in phase two clinical studies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Distinguished Faculty Award Recipients

Judy Ledgerwood
Presidential Engagement Professor, Department of Anthropology
Director, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1996-present

Ledgerwood has helped raise the international profile of NIU for two decades.

As a professor, a former chair of the Department of Anthropology, and now as director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, she has forged partnerships with other universities, museums, cultural institutions and individuals, in Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

She was one of the very first Americans who arrived in Cambodia after the country reopened to Westerners in 1989, helping libraries and archives preserve documents. As director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Ledgerwood partners with U.S. Department of State, international entities and other organizations on academic and youth leadership training programs. Her unit is one of only seven federally designated National Resource Centers for Southeast Asian Studies.

Albert Walker
Professor Emeritus, Department of Journalism, 1968-1990

Walker was the father of public relations education at NIU. During his 23-year career at NIU, he built the public relations sequence from the ground up. His reputation in the field translated into a world of access for his students – face to face contact with industry leaders in the field; a real-life learning lab called ‘Contact Communications;’ and introduction to companies needing public relations support. He founded the NIU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America with Betsy Plank, the “godmother” of the organization.

Distinguished Staff Award Recipients

Julie Crouch
Director, Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault, 1998-present

Crouch oversees research efforts by faculty and staff in prevention, intervention, and treatment related to family violence and sexual assault. Her own research focuses on why some parents use physical aggression against their children and what types of interventions reduce those occurrences. The Center provides training opportunities for NIU undergraduate and graduate students – many who are mentored by Crouch. In addition to listing students as co-authors on a majority of her publications, she has served as a research mentor to undergraduate students through independent studies as well as the Research Rookies program. She created the Family Violence Fellowship program, which provides valuable research training opportunities to graduate students interested in pursuing careers in family violence research.

Eric Hoffman
Coordinator of Networked Writing and Research, Department of English, 1993–present

Hoffman has done much to help the university achieve some of its strategic goals. Active in the implementation of the Peer Advocate Program, he played a role in orientating and mentoring both the 17 peer advocates and the 14 graduate teaching assistants in selected sections of English 104. In addition to teaching several sections of UNIV 101, he made significant contributions to the program by developing an e-Portfolio component. He has been instrumental in sending into the profession a generation of young educators adept in the advanced use of technology.

Kendra Johnson Plesa
Office Support Specialist, Department of Communication, 1998-2015

For 27 years, Plesa handled more than just administrative duties for the Department of Communication. From calming a jittery new student or teaching assistant, planning events, managing the department’s media library to working alongside the most seasoned faculty member, she was a woman of many talents and a personality that made people feel at ease.

She provided support to the COMS 100 program and NIU’s award-winning Forensics team. Her influence lives on as the COMS 100 Public Speaking competition is being re-named in her honor. NIU’s vibrant Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society thrived during her time on campus, thanks to her focus on planning and close attention to detail.

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