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College of Law 2019 award honorees share dedication to service

October 14, 2019

2019 Award Recipients: Seated (from left): Dr. Mary Milano (’78), Christine Janis (’16), Desiree Matel-Anderson (’09), and Rick Guzman (’09). Standing (from left): Alumni Council President Larry Stein (’93), Jeffrey Lenkov (’91), Jerrod Williams (’02), Prof. Jeffrey Parness, Matthew Jannusch (’01), AC Awards Chair Melinda Rosales Byerly (’03), and Interim Dean Laurel Rigertas.

NIU College of Law Interim Dean Laurel Rigertas and the NIU Law Alumni Council celebrated alumni and friends who embody what is best about the College of Law during our 2019 Awards Reception on Sept. 24 at the Union League Club of Chicago. The eight honorees were recognized for their career accomplishments, devotion to the public good, continued service to the law school and professional integrity in their work in the public and private sectors.

Jerrod Williams, Class of 2002
Alumnus of the Year

Jerrod is a judicial law clerk for Justice Nathaniel R. Howse, Jr., First District of the Illinois Appellate Court. He began his legal career in 2002 as a Staff Attorney in the Research Department of the Fourth District, Appellate Court. During his career he has clerked for Justice Mary W. McDade, Third District and Justice Mathias W. Delort, First District. He also served as an Assistant Attorney General in the General Law Bureau in Springfield. In June 2019, Jerrod was installed as President of the Cook County Bar Association. Since joining the CCBA in 2013, he has served in numerous capacities including Chair of the CCBA Foundation Legal Clinic, Chair of the Judicial Evaluations Committee, Chair of the CCBA Rapid Response Committee, and member of the Board of Directors. Jerrod is also a member of the South Austin Neighborhood Association in Chicago. He has led many initiatives including the development for a “Farm-to-Table Summer” program teaching youth ages 8 to 13 the fundamentals of gardening and principles of healthy eating. He was selected Co-Chair of the Economic Development Task Force for the Austin Quality of Life Plan, to help improve the quality of life of Austin residents. Jerrod is also a member of the Illinois Judicial College Committee on Judicial Branch Staff Education, a mentor to high school students, and supporter of the NIU Law community. In April 2019, he received the Heritage Award from the Black Law Students Association.

Desiree Matel-Anderson, Class of 2009
Young Alumna of the Year

Desiree deploys into disasters as the “Chief Wrangler” for the Field Innovation Team (FIT), an organization that focuses on bringing smart technology and design into resilience initiatives and disaster response. As the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA, she led the first innovation team down to Hurricane Sandy to provide real-time problem-solving in disaster response and recovery. During her tenure she ran think tanks nation-wide to cultivate innovation in communities. The event trended globally on social media during the broadcasts. She has deployed teams into several disasters including the Boston Marathon Bombings; Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes; Oso, Washington Mudslides; the Nepal earthquakes; the Middle East to support the Syrian Refugee Crisis; the McMurray Wildfires in Canada; the Miami-Dade Public School System to educate on the outbreak of the Zika virus; and Rockport, Texas during Hurricane Harvey. Recently, the team responded to the wildfires in Paradise, California and in 2019, the team focused on solving challenges for the multi-state flooding in Nebraska. Desi lectures on innovation at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley and various other universities. She serves as a consultant on innovation for agencies and governments, nationally and internationally, including her advisor role to the European emergency management consortium in UNESCO’s I-REACT team.

Rick Guzman, Class of 2009
Young Alumnus of the Year

Rick is the Executive Director of The Neighbor Project, a grass-roots housing and community development organization formed through the merger of Joseph Corporation and Emmanuel House, two long-time housing and home-ownership non-profits based in Aurora, Illinois. Prior to that, Rick served as the City of Aurora’s Manager of the Community Development Division and as the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff working on housing, economic development and neighborhood planning. Rick and his wife, Desiree, co-founded “Emmanuel House” in Aurora in 2002 to help lower-income families break the cycle of working-class poverty through a unique and dignified pathway to homeownership. In 2016, Emmanuel House’s “Networked Savings Program” was recognized as one of the “100 most innovative non-profit or social enterprise programs in the world,” as a Classy Award finalist. The “Networked Savings” program – now a core program of The Neighbor Project – continues to partner closely with churches, local government, civic organizations and other non-profits in the greater Aurora area. Previously, Rick worked at the State of Illinois as a Policy Advisor to the Governor on Criminal Justice issues. In 2004, he was appointed by the Governor to direct Illinois’ prisoner reentry reform efforts. In April of 2019, Rick was elected to a six-year term to serve as a Trustee of Waubonsee Community College. He continues to serve on numerous Boards and Commissions working on public policy issues in state and local government and the non-profit world.

Jeffrey Lenkov, Class of 1991
Distinguished Service Award

Jeffrey is nationally recognized by many as the lawyer to hire when faced with high stakes litigation. He is an equity partner in the Los Angeles office of Manning & Kass where he leads the firm’s Entertainment Law; Professional Sports Law; and Retail, Restaurant, and Hospitality Teams. Jeffrey has spent more than two decades litigating on behalf of prominent domestic and international companies including major airlines, business owners, professional sports franchises, world class athletes, celebrities, and international sports agencies. Jeffrey is also a certified players’ agent with the National Hockey League Players’ Association. He is sought by various news media as their go-to on-air legal analyst. In addition to his work as a practicing attorney, Jeffrey serves as a volunteer arbitrator/mediator in the Los Angeles Superior Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. Jeffrey is also committed to a variety of civil and charitable endeavors. He founded a landmark program with the Southern California Big Brothers and Big Sisters, called “Littles in Law,” which introduces disadvantaged teenagers to the practice of law. In 2016, Jeffrey co-created “Hustle & Hurt,” a Fox television show starring baseball legends Frank Thomas and Pete Rose, which earned an Emmy for Fox. He also helped create “Pigskin Preview” on Fox, starring Pro football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater and the first Rams quarterback ever to lead the team into the Super Bowl, Vince Ferragamo. Jeffrey is an avid supporter of the College of Law. He is often a guest lecturer in the Sports & Entertainment Law course and gives presentations to the entire student body.

Matthew Jannusch, Class of 2001
Outstanding Service Award

Matthew has been an Assistant State’s Attorney for 18 years with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He is currently assigned to the Community Justice Unit where he is tasked with reducing violence in Chicago Neighborhoods as well as reaching out to marginalized populations disproportionately affected by violence. Matthew has previously held assignments in the Felony Trial Division, Domestic Violence, Mortgage Fraud, Public Corruption, Financial Crimes, and was a supervisor in the Child Support Enforcement Division. Matthew is President of the CCSA’s Office LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group. He is on the Board of Directors of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC) where he Chairs both the Diversity and Nominations Committees, is involved in the mentoring program, and recently stepped down from the Judicial Evaluation Committee after 12 years of service. Matthew is an active member of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois LGBTQ+ Civil Rights Committee, the North Suburban Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Filipino American Lawyers Association of Chicago, and the Decalogue Society of Lawyers. He has been a member of the National LGBT Bar Association and a founding member of that organization’s Prosecutor Caucus. Matthew is active in many other community organizations including the Junior Board for the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and member of his local neighborhood Park Advisory Council. As an active alum, he regularly participates in the On-Campus Interviewing process for his employer, has spoken on Careers in Public Service panels, and mentors students in the 1L mentoring program.

Mary Milano, Class of 1978
Public Service Award

Dr. Milano has been the Executive Director of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission (IGAC) since 2005. Created in 1979, the IGAC is an executive state agency created to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities, giving voice to those who have previously gone unheard. Her career has included experience across sectors – in the private area with the international firm of Baker & McKenzie, the higher education arena serving as a Professor of Theology and program chair for 22 years at Saint Mary of the Woods College, and the non-profit sector as the Director of Hunger Education for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She then moved to public service first to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority before her current position. Dr. Milano is also a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and rector of Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church. She has been extremely active with the Illinois State Bar Association and is a current member of the Diversity Council and a Pillar of the Foundation Fellow in the Illinois Bar Foundation. Her current community engagement includes service on the Boards of Habilitative Systems, Inc. and The Joel Hall Dancers and Center. She is a member of the public policy committee of the Illinois Council of Churches. She recently completed several terms as a member of the Board of Visitors of the John Marshall Law School, moving to the NIU Law Board of Visitors in 2018. She is a member of NIU’s President’s Circle, a former alumni board member and recipient of the Law School’s Distinguished Service Award.

Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Parness
Honorary Alumnus Award

Professor Emeritus Parness teaches a variety of civil procedure courses as well as administrative law. He taught for six years at the University of Akron School of Law prior to arriving at Northern Illinois University in 1982. He has been appointed a visiting professor at Marquette Law School, University of Kansas School of Law, Washington and Lee University School of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law, Case Western University School of Law, The John Marshall Law School (Chicago), and Loyola University Chicago School of Law. His primary areas of scholarship include federal and state civil procedure laws, maternity and paternity laws, the legal status of the unborn, state constitutional equality laws, crime victim restitution, witness abuse in civil litigation, and judicial rulemaking. In January 2006 Professor Parness was named by The Chicago Lawyer as among the 10 Best Law Professors in Illinois.

Christine Janis, Class of 2016
Mentor of the Year

Christine specializes in family and criminal law at Castlebrook Law, P.C. Christine first worked as a copywriter for a retail advertising firm before going back to NIU and getting her Master’s degree in sociology and criminology. She then taught undergraduate courses in Sociology, Criminal Justice Systems, and Criminology at NIU. Christine attended law school while still continuing to teach full time in the Sociology Department. She remains active with NIU Law as a mentor for first-year law students and is a member of several bar associations.