Athas and Gayles join NIU Board of Trustees

A pair of accomplished alumni, Rita Athas and Montel Gayles, have joined the NIU Board of Trustees.

The two were sworn in by fellow alumnus, The Honorable James E. Snyder, of the Circuit Court of Cook County, prior to board committee meetings on Thursday, May 9. The duo was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last month.

Rita Athas gets sworn in by fellow alumnus, The Honorable James E. Snyder, of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Athas, who earned a master’s degree in public administration from NIU in 1978, has a resume filled with service to the region. She served as president of World Business Chicago for six years, was vice president of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and served as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs for 10 years. She currently serves as a senior adviser to World Business Chicago and sits on the NIU Alumni Association board of directors. Athas’ term as an NIU trustee expires in January 2023.

“I am pleased and honored to have this opportunity to serve the university that I love. I would not have had the long and successful career that I have had the privilege of enjoying if not for my education at NIU,” Athas said after taking her oath.

Montel Gayles gets sworn in as a member of NIU’s Board of Trustees.

Gayles (’83, communication studies) also has a long history of public service, including in the roles of chief procurement officer for the City of Chicago, executive director of the Public Building Commission of Chicago and chief of staff at the Chicago Housing Authority. An attorney, Gayles also spent time as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney and ran his own law firm. He currently is the vice president of business development and construction management at Electrical Resource Management Inc., and also sits on the NIU Foundation’s board of directors. Gayles’ term as an NIU trustee expires in 2025.

“I credit NIU for many of the benefits that I have enjoyed as a professional,” said Gayles. “I am a Huskie through and through, and in this role, I will stand up for students and work to ensure that they receive a quality education,” he added.

The two will replace Wheeler Coleman, who stepped down from the board in December 2018, and Tim Struthers. 

Struthers, who joined the board in 2015, brought an important local perspective to the university as well as a strong financial background. Both served the university well, said NIU Board Chair Dennis Barsema, praising Struthers’ work to strengthen and modernize the university’s financial reporting processes. 

Coleman served on the board for seven years, including two years as board chair. He was a strong advocate for students throughout his tenure and was a steady leader through the university’s recent transition in leadership, Barsema said.

“Both Tim and Wheeler provided tremendous business insight and strong leadership throughout their time on the board,” Barsema said. “I’d like to thank them for their dedication and service to NIU and the state of Illinois.”

Pritzker also extended the appointment of Trustee Bob Pritchard through January 2023 and reappointed Trustees Veronica Herrero and John Butler to terms that will extend through January 2025. Board Chair Barsema and Vice Chair Eric Wasowicz will continue serving their terms which will expire in January 2023.

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