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PROFILES IN SUCCESS Thirteen JWU graduates who are redefining achievement

Commencement 2015 SUMMER







07 30

According to Winston S. Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.� We profile 13 alumni about lessons learned from risky business and how Johnson & Wales shaped their mission statements.

DEPARTMENTS 02 03 04 07 08 10 12 28 31 32

From the Chancellor Stay Connected Providence Campus Graduate Studies North Miami Campus Denver Campus Charlotte Campus Student Events in Review Calendar/Save the Dates Alumni Welcome





Vice President of Communications DOUG WHITING

Director of Design & Editorial Services BRIAN MURPHY



Art Director




AR MEMBERS OF E THE CLASS OF 2015: This special edition of JWU Magazine is dedicated to you — the newest alumni of Johnson & Wales University. You reached a milestone in your life as you successfully completed your course of study. On behalf of the more than 100,000 JWU alumni and as a fellow alumnus, I welcome you to our powerful network that spans the globe. The entire JWU community offers congratulations on this major personal accomplishment. Your relationship with Johnson & Wales continues long beyond your graduation; it is a lifelong bond. In this issue, you’ll meet some of your fellow alumni as we celebrate their success. We look forward to including your stories in the magazine and on our website,, in the future. Although you have earned your JWU degree, your work is not over. Armed with your education, you are now ambassadors of the university, and that role brings new responsibilities. Be involved. We recognize that alumni interests are varied and therefore offer many ways for you to connect, learn, inspire and give back. Be examples of the power of a JWU education: • Attend local, regional and national alumni and campus events.


• Return to campus to lecture in our classrooms and reminisce with faculty and fellow alumni. • Meet prospective students and families at Admissions Information Meetings and JWU Previews held across the country. • Participate in on-campus recruiting. • Fund scholarships and student support. Together we can strengthen our university, make it an even more vibrant educational institution and maintain its position as a national leader of experiential education. Read JWU Magazine when it arrives in your mailbox. It will keep you up-to-date on the latest university developments, campus happenings and achievements of your fellow alumni. Pass it along to others to make them more aware of our university community. Regularly visit the website,, and make sure you provide Alumni Relations with your new contact information. Only you can carry the flag of JWU one street farther than it reaches today. We look forward to the next chapter of your relationship with JWU. Write to us at We’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Chancellor John J. Bowen ’77


Summer 2015


JWU Magazine is published four times a year including a special supplement for recent graduates. Photos (black and white or color prints), high-resolution digital images and news can be sent to JWU Magazine, 8 Abbott Park Place, Providence, RI, 02903 or emailed to Selection and publication of entries are at the editor’s discretion. JWU Magazine is produced by University Communications in cooperation with Resource Development and Alumni Relations. Chancellor JOHN J. BOWEN ’77

Providence Campus President and Chief Operating Officer MIM L. RUNEY, LP.D.


Network with JWU and stay connected. Why Connect? Network with alumni leaders in your field | Gain access to alumni-only offerings | JWU Magazine delivered to your door Find us on LinkedIn or other social media




Summer 2015

Total Degrees Awarded


John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences


School of Business


School of Hospitality


College of Culinary Arts


School of Engineering & Design


B.S. Degrees


A.S. Degrees


When Generations Converge


MORNING CEREMONY e aren’t like students at other universities,” Daniel Davila ’15 declared. As the student selected to address the graduates attending the Providence Campus morning ceremony, the culinary nutrition graduate was joined by classmates from the College of Culinary Arts, the John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Engineering & Design. They seemed to nod collectively in agreement.

Davila continued, “It’s our passion that separates us from the competition. Our immense passion has enabled us all to excel, grow and be appreciative of how far we have come.” And, yet, how far they will go. Angela Leigh Raynor, recipient of an honorary Doctor of Business Administration in Food Service Entrepreneurship, spoke to that. Thirty years into her career, the proprietor of Boarding House and The Pearl on the island of Nantucket admitted being intimidated by the large audience she was about to address. Davila was bold. It was evident that he had committed time to preparing his speech. He paused for emphasis. He raised his volume for drama. In contrast, Raynor revealed that she wrote several speeches, all within the past 48 hours. She was overcome with emotion, choking up at the mention of her 27-year marriage and two children, but the applause of the audience buoyed her back. Commencements are a convergence between generations. Youth meets age. Neophyte encounters sage. Novice faces professional. Present confronts future. Raynor reflected, “None of my speeches truly resonated or captured where we are in our careers, or provided the advice or recipe I may have used when I graduated almost 30 years ago. You are already poised for success, having invested in an extraordinary education provided by this university. You have the ingredients to succeed, to excel and to make a profound difference locally and globally.” She offered her perspective on the characteristics of the Wildcat Way: pride, courage, character and community: • Pride: Honor your word.

PROVIDENCE CAMPUS 101st Undergraduate Commencement Dunkin’ Donuts Center John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences, College of Culinary Arts and School of Engineering & Design Honorary Degree Recipients Doctor of Business Administration in Food Service Entrepreneurship Angela Leigh Raynor Proprietor, Boarding House and The Pearl (Commencement Speaker) Doctor of Culinary Arts Seth Carter Raynor Proprietor/executive chef, Boarding House and The Pearl

• Courage: May you find the courage to stand up for your ideals, to do the right thing. When you fail, have the courage to try again and again.

Doctor of Culinary Arts Mark R. Ladner ’90 Executive chef, DelPosto Restaurant

• Character: In the end, how you leave a job defines who you are. It says much more about who you are than who you were when you interviewed for that job. Dismount well. Be ready to hold the flashlight before seeking the spotlight.

College of Management (School of Business and School of Hospitality)

•Community: The injustice of hunger is real and it is on each of us to do our part. “These core values are the key ingredients you will rely upon for success and to navigate your failures,” Raynor emphasized. She had the recipe all along. Now it was up to the graduates to shake it up. — Miriam Weinstein ’08 MBA

Honorary Degree Recipients Doctor of Business Administration in Finance Edward Otis Handy III President and CEO, The Washington Trust Company Doctor of Travel-Tourism & Hospitality Management Clay Alan Snyder ’93 Senior director of brand performance, Hilton Worldwide/Brand Management Seth Carter Raynor ’15 Hon., Angela Leigh Raynor ’15 Hon. and Mark R. Ladner ’90, ’15 Hon.

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JWU PROVIDENCE The Challenge to Innovate


AFTERNOON CEREMONY nspirational: “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.” Heartfelt: “The best is yet to come.” Honest: “Finally done with this B.S.” And, exuberant: “Put a fork in it. We did it!” These were some of the messages found on the mortarboards of the students assembled for the afternoon commencement ceremony held in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. For the first time, the College of Management graduates received their degrees together, reflecting the merger of the former College of Business and The Hospitality College. Providence Campus President and Chief Operating Officer Mim Runey, LP.D., reminded the graduating class that they have big shoes to fill if they expect to succeed as other JWU alumni have. “JWU alumni are setting the world on fire,” said President Runey. “They are innovators in the gluten-free movement, inventors of health-saving medical devices and founders of socially conscious businesses.” Student speaker Benjamin Kantor ’15 also continued the theme in his address to fellow grads when he challenged them to “move forward with persistence and the mindset to always challenge ourselves.” He added that the students have a life and legacy to be written and urged all to make it a great one. Kantor is well on his way to making his mark as a high achiever: He was named to the Dean’s List every semester while maintaining a 3.96 GPA as he pursued bachelor of science degrees in accounting and finance, played goalie for the Wildcat varsity hockey team, won the JWU Student Activities Spirit Award in 2014, and was selected to be on the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Northeast All-Academic Team from 2012-14. A total of 1,463 degrees were awarded, which included online undergraduate degrees. Honorary degree recipients included Clay Alan Snyder ’93, senior director of brand performance at Hilton Worldwide/ Brand Management, who received a Doctor of Travel-Tourism & Hospitality Management; and Edward Otis Handy III, president and CEO of The Washington Trust Company, who received a Doctor of Business Administration in Finance. Also serving as the keynote speaker, Handy urged students to be bold and to let innovation and the nurturing of ideas be at the forefront of their future. He told them their JWU diploma was a signal to potential employers that they are committed and understand hard work; are curious and teachable; and that they intend to have an impact. In his closing remarks, Handy advised the graduates to “seek out sources of laughter — allow your stomach to hurt from laughter often.” As they filed out of the arena to meet friends and family, it seemed that many had already taken his advice. — Madeline Parmenter

left : Edward Otis Handy III ’15 Hon. and Clay Alan Synder ’93, ’15 Hon.


Summer 2015

GRAD STUDIES Integrity is the Key


f a picture is worth a thousand words, then an encyclopedia was created the night of May 21 when Johnson & Wales University celebrated its 2015 Graduate Studies commencement. Usually, the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) management doesn’t allow photographs to be taken inside the theater, but everywhere you turned, graduates were taking pictures: of themselves and each other with “selfie sticks”; with the assistance of JWU Campus Safety & Security officers who were asked to drop their guard for just a flash. Even two cute Yorkie pups had their picture taken on Gaebe Commons right before their owner joined the graduate students’ procession line. “Integrity is the bridge between making it in the world and earning it,” student speaker Sean Patrick Mahony ’15 MBA said from the stage. “Integrity is the key to our future success. It will serve to differentiate us in the workplace and be our moral compass in the journey ahead. Keep it sacred and uncompromised. “We must make the most of our talents, keep our priorities straight, and, by all means, do the right thing when no one else is looking,” said Mahony. “Now let’s go out and earn it!” Integrity was also the center of the commencement address given by honorary degree recipient and Rhode Island Supreme Court Associate Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg to the 384 graduate degree and 15 doctoral degree recipients. “Although the demographics suggest that members of your generation will change jobs, locations and even careers more than any age group in history, always endeavor to do so on good terms, with honor and integrity,” said Associate Justice Goldberg. “There is no need to wear your integrity on your sleeve, but keep it close, so others know where you stand.” — Lisa Pelosi

Total Degrees Awarded


Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Degrees


M.S. in Criminal Justice Degrees


M.A.T. Degrees

MBA Degrees



PROVIDENCE CAMPUS 29th Graduate Commencement Providence Performing Arts Center College of Arts & Sciences and College of Management Honorary Degree Recipient Doctor of Business Administration in Criminal Justice Management Maureen McKenna Goldberg Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court (Commencement Speaker)

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Maureen McKenna Goldberg ’15 Hon.




Summer 2015

Total Degrees Awarded


College of Arts & Sciences


College of Culinary Arts


School of Business


School of Hospitality


B.S. Degrees


A.S. Degrees


Walk with Pride


“REJOICE! REJOICE! REJOICE!” ommencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Jessica Bertha Harris exclaimed as greetings to the audience at the North Miami Campus commencement ceremony. “Today is a day of celebration and jubilation … today is also a time for re-thinking and rededication and re-commitment, for today is a day of beginning as much as it is a day of ending. It is not without reason that this ceremony is called a commencement, a beginning, a starting place. For today — armed with your degrees and your knowledge — you begin the rest of your lives.”

A professor at Queens College at the City University of New York, Harris, who is fortunate to count the late James Baldwin and Maya Angelou among her dear friends, is also a culinary historian, accomplished author and journalist. However, she has never forgotten her humble beginnings: She was the first to graduate from college in her family. “My parents had wisdom, and more than a little knowledge, just not initials after their names. Because of that, they made sure that I had the entire alphabet: A.B., M.A., Lisc., and Ph.D.,” she quipped. Her remarks about courage resonated with attendees: “As you go forth into the world, you must be courageous in whatever you decide to do. Embrace the courage to take the road less popular, to be the instigator of change, and to craft the world in which you want to live. But most of all delight in the sure possession of the courage to — despite prevailing ideas and changing times — always be yourselves and rejoice in who you are!” Student speaker Kelsey Carter, who received her bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and food service management, also spoke about the need to be courageous. Her remarks were inspired by a little white sticker on the doors of the university center — a Wildcat Way sticker, highlighting the attributes of pride, courage, character and community: “All of you that I see before me have an immense amount of courage inside of you. I am not just referring to the individuals who are ready on the frontline, fearless to face any obstacle head on, but also referring to the quiet ones whose courage comes from standing true to one’s self.” After 35 years as a reporter, editor or publisher at seven newspapers, including editor of the Charlotte Observer, publisher and executive editor at the Detroit Free Press, and publisher of the Miami Herald, which won five Pulitzer Prizes during his 10-year tenure, honorary degree recipient David Lawrence Jr. boldly switched careers to work in the area of early childhood development and school readiness. As the president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, he was the leading figure in the passage of a 2002 Florida state constitutional amendment to provide pre-K education to all four year-olds. Inspired by the commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients, the North Miami graduates proudly walked across the stage at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami. Some even had GoPro cameras fitted to the top of their caps to record the momentous occasion. Like many of her fellow graduates, Carter is ready to begin the next chapter in her life. Following graduation, she is packing up her belongings and driving across the country to Seattle, where she can contribute to the region’s burgeoning culinary scene. Paula Vargas ’15, a sports/entertainment/event management major, has accepted a production job with Viacom, and criminal justice major Eilen Cabrera ’15 is heading to graduate school to pursue her dream of being a crime scene investigator.

NORTH MIAMI CAMPUS 22nd Undergraduate Commencement James L. Knight Center Honorary Degree Recipients Doctor of Humane Letters Jessica Bertha Harris Professor, Queens College/CUNY (Commencement Speaker) Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership David Lawrence Jr. President, The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation

Jessica Bertha Harris ’15 Hon. and David Lawrence Jr. ’15 Hon.

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As Carter eloquently stated, “Once we do choose to take that first step into this world we now inherit as a graduate of Johnson & Wales, remember to walk with pride. Those who walk with pride are the ones others will follow. And as JWU graduates, we are the ones others will follow! Because that is the Wildcat Way. And what are we but Wildcats, bred on the concept of pride, courage, character and community.” It was a great day to be a Wildcat. — Sharu Goodwyn




Summer 2015

Total Degrees Awarded


College of Arts & Sciences


College of Culinary Arts


School of Business


School of Hospitality


B.S. Degrees


A.S. Degrees


MBA Degrees


The Journey Ahead


lue skies and sunshine enveloped hundreds of families and guests on the Denver Campus, while the drumline’s beat led the Class of 2015 through the Coors Family Commons as they paraded toward the Robert E. Taylor Gate.

The Gate Ceremony marks a special campus tradition for these new graduates. The only other time they are allowed to pass through the gate is during convocation in their first year. But with their finals behind them and a new journey ahead, this time they are welcomed on the other side of the gate by a throng of JWU alumni, including the Class of 2005, with cheers, smiles and an alumni pin for every new graduate. The next day, emotions continued to electrify the air as nearly 3,500 guests eagerly awaited the start of JWU Denver’s 15th commencement ceremony, held this year inside the Bellco Theatre at the Colorado Convention Center. A steady swell of cheers could be heard in the lobby as the soon-to-be graduates lined up to take their final steps toward receiving their hard-earned degrees. Once the processional concluded and the Class of 2015 took their seats, President Robin Krakowsky ’08 Ed.D. thanked all the families and friends who supported their student to reach this exceptional moment. 
“Commencement is not only a day of celebration for our graduates; this is also a day of celebration for your families and this is a time for them to share in your achievements and your new beginnings,” remarked Krakowsky. “Your parents, and for some of you, your spouses, partners or children, can feel some ownership of your diploma and your success. I am personally very proud of each and every one of you and what you have accomplished.” Katie Zezula ’15, the student commencement speaker, remarked that this occasion reminded her of a wave analogy: “Every experience we have falls into the cycles of a wave. For example, the decision of where you wanted to go to college and getting to JWU was the pull of the tide, the past years you worked so hard to get here today was your climb, being here today is the peak, and now we get to ride the wave to experience what is next.” Applause boomed throughout the venue as Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Richard Wiscott, Ph.D., recognized the 18 MBA degree recipients as the first graduating class of the Denver Campus MBA program.

DENVER CAMPUS 15th Commencement Bellco Theater Colorado Convention Center Honorary Degree Recipients Doctor of Business Administration in Food Service Entrepreneurship Lawrence R. DiPasquale Chairman and CEO, Epicurean Group (Commencement Speaker) Doctor of Culinary Arts and Food Service Management Richard M. Sandoval Founder, CEO and chef, Richard Sandoval Restaurants (Commencement Speaker)

A total of 361 students received either an MBA, bachelor’s or associate degree. The Denver Campus also honored two distinguished gentlemen with honorary degrees. First, Lawrence R. DiPasquale, chairman and CEO of Epicurean Group, received a Doctor of Business Administration in Food Service Entrepreneurship. DiPasquale and his company are ardent supporters of Johnson & Wales University, and most recently sponsored a teaching garden in the College of Culinary Arts. DiPasquale challenged the new graduates to go above and beyond, and to make a mark in their local community. He noted that the people who make a difference in their community actually make the industry better. Next, Richard M. Sandoval received a Doctor of Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. As founder, chef and CEO of Richard Sandoval Restaurants, his company oversees 40 restaurants around the world. Sandoval advised the students that much of his success derives from remaining humble, grounded and remembering where he came from. He also recalled his grandfather’s expression, “The reason lights were invented was so you can keep working at night” to describe his commitment to hard work. “You will get knocked down,” said Sandoval. “But how you get up, and what you learn from the experience and how you use this new knowledge will make all the difference. The challenge is to do it better and better all the time. That’s what Johnson & Wales has prepared you for.” — Holli Keyser




Summer 2015

Total Degrees Awarded


College of Culinary Arts


School of Business


School of Hospitality


B.S. Degrees


A.S. Degrees


A New Beginning


n numerology, the number 10 resonates energies of leadership, confidence, independence and determination — all of which was clearly evident during the 10th commencement exercises at Time Warner Cable Arena in uptown Charlotte.

It was a gorgeous morning as friends and families filed into the arena, hoping to catch a largerthan-life glimpse of their graduate on the jumbotron — the largest scoreboard of any indoor entertainment venue in the country with the largest video screen in any NBA facility.

On the floor, the soon-to-be graduates scanned the crowd, waved, shouted and took selfies as they found their seats, each ready to accept his or her diploma, energized for a new beginning — and for one in particular, a new smile. Twenty-one-year-old Madison Merrifield had been waiting for this moment for more than a decade. When she was just eight, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma of the left maxilla. She had tumors in her left sinus and jaw. Merrifield endured chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries to remove all of the bone from under her left eye, cheek and maxillary sinus, so she lost her teeth on the left side of her mouth. Merrifield knew it would take an army to help eradicate the pain and make it easier for her to eat. Claire’s Army, a nonprofit that provides support for families fighting childhood cancer, helped her find doctors who would take part of her lower leg bone and veins from her neck to place in her upper jaw. She will eventually receive dental implants, but for now, what she calls her temporary teeth will be just fine. Merrifield found out the day before surgery that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would cover surgical costs. Donors have also generously given to her GoFundMe account for recovery expenses.


“I had only received my new teeth the day before the ceremony,” Merrifield said. “They felt so different! I hadn’t had both front teeth in so long; looking at pictures from commencement, it’s crazy to see how different I looked. I’m so thankful I had them to celebrate such an important day.”

Honorary Degree Recipients

Brittany Brathwaite’s speech to her fellow classmates surely rang true for Merrifield: “To put it simply, we do whatever it takes … Moving forward it is imperative that we acknowledge the connections we have made with one another. We are bonded through more than just attending the same college; what connects us is deeper than the fact that we follow each other on social media. We are linked by the challenges that we have faced together to get to this point.” With surgery and monetary worries behind her, Merrifield could attend graduation, with a little help walking up and down the stage ramp from Kendra Miller, assistant director of student involvement & leadership. Miller, her supervisor for a number of years while Merrifield served in various student leaders positions, was deeply touched that she was the chosen one to help keep her steady on her feet during what Merrifield calls her “30-second stage appearance!”

10th Undergraduate Commencement Time Warner Cable Arena

Doctor of Business Administration C. Ron Hinson Chairman, president and CEO, S&D Coffee & Tea (Commencement Speaker) Doctor of Oenology Virginia A.S. Philip ’89 Wine director and master sommelier, The Breakers (Commencement Speaker)

“Commencement was a surreal experience,” she said. “Until then, I had been focusing so much on recovering from surgery that it didn’t hit me that I had also finished college!” On Saturday, May 23, just 25 days after her surgery, Merrifield proudly stood with nearly 650 of her Johnson & Wales University classmates. She walked across the the stage, clutched her diploma and turned to the face the camera — with a big, new smile on her face. — Melinda Law Westmoreland


Profiles in Success Winston S. Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” The 13 alumni profiled on the following pages have taken risks that ultimately led to their success. According to restaurant executive Paul Damico ’86, his employees are entrusted with the freedom to make mistakes because “the lessons learned make us a better company.” Whether they are rising stars or well-established in their respective careers, some have had to tack off-course when adversity struck. They chose to perceive those challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles, which may be the true secret of their incredible achievements.

Sean Gilligan, Betsy Hansen, Robert Rathe and Nat Rea Contributors: Denise Dowling, Philip Eil, Melinda Hill, Mary Sward and Damaris R. Teixeira Photogr aphs by:


Summer 2015

Nikki Klebieko ’92 A.S. Fashion Merchandising Owner, PRK Drilling & Blasting Inc. Winchester, Va. Today Nikki Klebieko runs a multimillion-dollar business — but two decades ago, she felt like “a complete loser.” After cutbacks equaled being let go from a retail merchandising position, Klebieko’s father said she could work at his company, PRK Drilling & Blasting, which blasts rock for private and government projects including buildings, roads and utilities. “I was 22, on track to my dream job as a buyer for Bloomingdale’s and suddenly I’m answering phones for my dad! But small businesses offer a world of opportunity; I embraced all of them, which is something that Johnson & Wales promotes.” She learned to define success and failure based on her own values. “If I make a million bucks but my life is broken, that’s not success. Within my circle of value are my company, my family and my philanthropy; my husband and I founded a philanthropic club. I consider myself a social entrepreneur; making a profit is not evil because a lot of good can come from it. You don’t have to choose between being Mother Teresa or Donald Trump.” She credits JWU with teaching her to think “outside the textbook. My first classes were about designers and fabrics. My friends were studying boring stuff like English and math while I was doing fashion merchandising at the university department store.” The switch from high heels to hard hats made her invaluable when tragedy struck. Klebieko was 27 when her father was paralyzed following a car accident. “The first thing my father said in the ICU was, ‘Nik, we still have a business to run.’ I was honored but the pressure was out of this world.” She and her husband submerged themselves in running the company – while becoming new parents. In 2004, she purchased the business from her father. “I can walk into a meeting with 100 men and know I might not be treated as an equal, but I never feel less than them. Being male gives them automatic credibility in this industry; I just have to be smarter.”


Joy Liu ’12 B.S. Advertising and Marketing Communications Account Executive, BBDO New York, N.Y. There is a photo on Joy Liu’s LinkedIn® page showing six humanoid M&Ms — characters like “Blue” and “Ms. Brown,” whom you’ll recognize if you’ve flicked on a TV in the last 25 years — underneath the note, “I manage these guys.” As an account executive at one of the world’s largest ad firms, Liu acts as a liaison between BBDO and its clients, which, in this case, involves being on a first-name basis with Mars Inc.’s bite-sized celebrities. “Red is the leader of the pack; he’s the cocky, confident one,” Liu explains. “Orange is your classic neurotic who is extra afraid of being eaten.” This is life at Liu’s dream job, which she describes as “the intersection between pop culture and business.” And it’s hard to imagine a better training ground than the one Liu found at Johnson & Wales. While maintaining a 3.8 GPA in her degree classes, she completed internships at the local ad agency, Duffy & Shanley, and one of the city’s most prominent arts organizations, WaterFire Providence. She helped brands like JC Penny and Nissan hone their message to younger consumers as an ad team member. These days, Liu isn’t just working on time-tested campaigns; she’s pushing advertising into new territory. She was part of a team that produced an unconventional Valentine’s Day campaign for Dove Chocolate. The ads, which Liu describes as three-minute romantic comedies, ran on social media instead of a major TV network, and featured real people instead of actors. Together, the three videos have clocked over 1,000,000 combined views, between Facebook and YouTube. Liu credits JWU with prepping her for advertising’s big leagues. In Providence, you can be a “big fish in a small pond,” she says, pointing to her interactions with the mayor and major corporate sponsors while interning at WaterFire. You don’t have to go reaching far for exciting and rewarding opportunities at JWU. “They’re sitting right next to you.”


Summer 2015

Brenda Dann-Messier ’00 Ed.D. Educational Leadership Education and Workforce Consultant; Adjunct Faculty, JWU East Greenwich, R.I. When Brenda Dann-Messier went to Washington, D.C., she brought a binder full of letters from Rhode Island. The year was 2009 and she was shifting from a decade as president of Providence’s Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center to a White House-nominated, Senate-confirmed position as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), where she would manage 85 employees and a $1.7 billion budget. The letters, addressed to President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, came from former Dorcas Place students, who explained their reasons for pursuing adult education and described their future dreams. Dann-Messier kept them on her desk at the new job, and “when the bureaucracy got to be tough and inflexible, I would remember that I was there really to support the students and to help them reach their goals.” Her achievements in Washington are now a matter of public record. Dann-Messier’s name appears next to Duncan’s on landmark policy documents like “Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education,” and “A Reentry Education Model: Supporting Education and Career Advancement for Low-Skill Individuals In Corrections.” She represented the United States at international conferences, while also making frequent domestic trips to, say, a prison in Maryland or a community college in El Paso. Nowadays, Dann-Messier is back in Rhode Island, working as an independent consultant and co-teaching a class on community and family engagement at the same JWU program from which she graduated 15 years ago. Its experiential, cohort-based program is a model for “really preparing leaders for real-life experience,” not simply dispensing lofty, abstract ideas. That’s high praise from someone who has been around the world and back to discuss education policy.


Tom Conte ‘09 B.S. Web Management and Internet Commerce S.E.O. Specialist Time Inc. New York, N.Y. Tom Conte’s professional life since graduating from Johnson & Wales can be summed up by three letters: S.E.O. “Search Engine Optimization,” for those who aren’t fluent in Internet-ese, is the pursuit of the top spot in web searches. It’s a field that has grown exponentially in recent years, and it’s Conte’s area of expertise, having honed his craft with the legal info and business solutions firm, LexisNexis; the New York Citybased interactive marketing firm, Morpheus Media; and, most recently, the venerable print-media company, Time Inc. The hundreds of factors that affect a website’s search results are constantly in flux, Conte explains. “Something that I recommended perhaps even a month ago could be obsolete. It’s like a big puzzle that needs to be solved, over and over and over again.” At Morpheus, this meant training writers at a Long Island newspaper to re-think headlines in order to attract more eyeballs to their articles. At Time Inc., it means re-designing Food & Wine’s website to make it more smartphone-friendly, which, in turn, makes it more Google-friendly. Conte, 28, says that all of this work rests on a foundation built at JWU, where he learned web development and design skills and worked with creative professors who “pushed me to think outside of the box.” So, you’re surely wondering, what happens when you Google the name “Tom Conte”? The first six results are links to websites that relate to another tech-savvy — but considerably older — Tom Conte, a computer science professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. The younger Tom Conte’s website and Twitter account show up after that, near the bottom of the first page. (His Twitter bio reads, “Full time nerd.”) But those search results, like so much in the digital world, are subject to change. “I don’t think I’m important enough to have a Wikipedia page,” Conte says, before adding, “Not yet.”


Summer 2015

Chris Santos ’93 B.S. Food Service Management Partner and Chef The Stanton Social; Beauty & Essex New York, N.Y. Everyone has to start somewhere, no matter how successful you may later become. That start for chef, restaurateur and television personality Chris Santos was at a restaurant in his hometown of Bristol, R.I. “I was 14, on my first day as a dishwasher, and the head chef quit,” he says. “Walked out in the middle of service. So the owner had to cook and it was a mess. “She sent me to the walk-in for the marinara sauce, and told me to put it in the microwave. I set it for five minutes, and went back to washing dishes,” he continues. “The owner yelled for me to bring the marinara, and when I grabbed it from the microwave, it was like lava. So hot that I dropped it and it splattered all over and I burned myself badly. But I got a crazy rush from the whole thing and I came back.” From that hot mess, Santos has gone on to build a blockbuster career that includes opening three restaurants in New York City, a regular judging gig on Food Network’s “Chopped” and many television appearances as a guest chef. The 44-year-old opened his first restaurant, Wyanoka, when he was 29 years old. He was out of business by the time he was 30. “It got me my first great review in The New York Times,” Santos says. “But I wasn’t prepared for when 9/11 happened. There was no wiggle room.” Described by The Times as having “an imagination and a talent that shines,” Santos learned from the experience and opened two mega-successful restaurants on the Lower East Side: The Stanton Social and its newer sister restaurant, Beauty & Essex. “We call Beauty & Essex the grownup Stanton because the menu is a little more formal,” he says. “It takes street food, comfort food, even junk food, and makes them more sophisticated.”


Amy Sacco ’90 B.S. Marketing Hospitality Entrepreneur New York, N.Y. “Den mother to the jet set” Amy Sacco operates the kind of clubs where celebrities can party without crash-landing in the tabloids. “I have built a reputation for being fair, honest and protective of all my guests,” she says. Even New York City’s undercover cops couldn’t get inside to scope the shenanigans at her legendary Bungalow 8 in New York City, where a no-camera policy was sometimes physically enforced by Sacco herself. Currently the founder of No.8, another Chelsea establishment, creative director of LDV Hospitality, the force behind the RecRoom in Vegas and Aspen, etc.., Sacco mourns the halcyon days before Manhattan was scrubbed clean: “NYC used to stand for ‘Naughty’ and ‘Cool’. We have lost so much of our city that never sleeps culture.” As the youngest of eight children, the 47-year-old Jersey girl learned to charm and “roll with the flow since you didn’t always get your way.” But she was never the runt of the litter: Standing 6’1”(without stilettos) makes her a formidable hostess. Supernova acquaintances offer their private jets and villas, but Sacco prudently maintains a professional distance “because then someone will ask for a favor 10 times bigger. I never forget that I am providing a service to my guests. Although I can put myself in their shoes and empathize, I am there to serve and protect, not to ‘be them.’ ” Despite her clubs’ exclusivity — some are members only — Sacco claims she’s not elitist; her guests are cool people, but not because they’re famous. “I am just as thrilled to see my plumber since he is hilarious as I am to see a celebrity, and our longterm loyal following knows this and feels the same way.” Sacco, who earned two associate degrees and a bachelor’s degree from JWU, credits her degrees for cultivating employers’ trust when she began in the hospitality industry. “They like to see that you have committed yourself and are serious about your craft.”


Summer 2015

Andrea Scoli ’90 B.S. Retail Marketing & Management Senior Vice President of Sales, Halston Westchester County, N.Y When Andrea Scoli was a senior at Johnson & Wales, she bought a copy of Vogue, pulled out the ads for companies she liked and called their headquarters to ask for the personnel department or the CEO. She wound up with a handful of interviews, which yielded three internship offers, and the internship she accepted ultimately turned into her first job. She would become a VP of sales at another company — the clothing line Laundry, by Shelli Segal — before age 30. These days, after holding high-level jobs at a number of companies — including a two-year stint as president of the musician and actress Jennifer Lopez’s clothing line, Sweetface — Scoli, 47, is an executive at the iconic brand Halston. The company’s namesake, Iowa-born Roy Halston Frowick, was one of the iconic designers Scoli studied at Johnson & Wales. He was “the first American designer that the world considered the equivalent of Chanel and Gucci and those big European brands,” she says. Scoli’s definition of success has evolved over her career. In her twenties, it was tied to her title, rank and salary. In her thirties, she judged it by measuring her impact on the fashion world, in terms of how she could grow a company’s sales numbers. Those things are still important to her, but work-life balance is also important. When she returns home from Manhattan at 7:30 or 8 p.m. it’s time to start her second job — raising her kids. Speaking of success, Scoli attributes hers to JWU. From learning about fashion history in the classroom, to training at the university-owned department store, Gladding’s, in Providence, the experience gave her a competitive advantage when she entered the professional world. She even credits the cold-calls to executives that she made to her alma mater. “I was not playing around,” she says. “I went right to the top of organizations to try to get myself in the door. And I learned all that at Johnson & Wales.”


Lenny DeGeorge ’93 B.S. Food Service Management Executive Chef, Concept Development Walt Disney Parks & Resorts U.S. Orlando, Fla. Of the 160,000 people in 40 countries who work for The Walt Disney Company, Lenny DeGeorge says he has the best job because his position allows him to indulge in his passions: food, travel and culture. By the time DeGeorge and his team are brought in on a new concept, “there’s a whole storyline that’s already been developed.” From there it’s a two-tothree year process to complete each concept. DeGeorge’s favorite part of the project is researching the food and culture at locations relevant to the restaurants’ theme. “The travel piece is just amazing,” he says. “Food and research are strong passions of mine. I watch all these shows — like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” — about people who travel the world and with my job I hope to experience some of these things.” DeGeorge has opened concepts ranging from Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, to an African- and Indian-inspired restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Florida. He’s also putting his thumbprint on kitchens in the works in Shanghai and Tokyo Disneyland. When DeGeorge talks about his work, it’s obvious how magical he finds it: “Every project we work on is new; it’s the cart or kiosk for a busy area on up to a large restaurant. I love the ability to deliver an amazing experience. If it’s a sausage sandwich I want the bread to be warm and crispy and to be as good a food experience as they’ve ever had.” DeGeorge began his Disney career shortly after graduation. He had already gained some experience at a Sheraton Hotel before enrolling at JWU, where he worked as both a teaching assistant and a fellow. “At the (former) Pine Street Coffee House and University Club we served over a thousand meals a day,” he recalls. “The experience I got running some of the student dining facilities was invaluable.”


Summer 2015

M. John Martin ’86 A.S. Culinary Arts; ’06 Hon. President of The Capital Grille and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood Darden Restaurants Inc. Orlando, Fla. As a restaurant executive, John Martin has hired hundreds of JWU students and alumni — including a former teacher. “Brian Foye was a teaching assistant who gave me a B as a final grade,” Martin recalls. “I told him I felt I deserved an A and he responded, ‘Mr. Martin, I didn’t give you that grade, you earned it.’ Several years later, Brian walked in for an interview with Capital Grille. When I realized who he was, I said, ‘I remember you, you were that teacher who gave me a B!’ He said, ‘I didn’t give you a B, you earned that B.’ I ended up hiring him, if only to get my revenge.” At 54, Martin’s management style has evolved to accommodate millennials and their motivations. “Instead of saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ you must explain why you’re doing it and discuss the big picture. I used to take it more personally when people would question me, but now I’ve learned to change my opinions.” His company has also adapted to higher minimum wages, the Affordable Care Act, and what he surmises could be the biggest issue: tips and tip credit. “I think the restaurant industry is going to look completely different in five to ten years, with more fast-casual restaurants. I think there will always be great restaurants where people want to sit down, but labor laws will heavily shape how the more day-to-day restaurants operate. “What’s most rewarding is the employee impact we’ve had over 25 years. There are people who started as dishwashers and became executive chefs, going from minimum wage to more than $100,000 a year. Those opportunities can change the trajectory of people’s lives — they can buy a house, move to a better school district, send their kids to college — it’s the American dream. The restaurant industry is one of the few businesses where you can still start at an entry-level position and literally work your way to the top.”


Sarah Cirelli ’07 B.S. Marketing Interactive Marketing Manager, WithumSmith+Brown (WS+B) Red Bank, N.J. Soon after she was hired at the accounting firm WithumSmith +Brown, in 2007, Sarah Cirelli met with CEO Bill Hagaman. “I think it’s time we start introducing social media into our marketing strategy,” she told him. The firm had no social media accounts and computers were blocked from accessing YouTube. “And what he heard was me saying that I wanted 400 of his billable professionals to start playing online.” Fast forward to today, when visitors to are greeted by links to the company’s six social media accounts — all launched and managed by the 29-year-old Cirelli. WS+B recently used Instagram to release 40 short videos to celebrate the firm’s 40th anniversary. Its annual YouTube “State of the Firm” videos have become legendary in the accounting world. In 2012, Cirelli produced a seven-minute clip of WS+B staffers dancing and lip-synching to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” in a New York City subway car, before forming a flash mob in front of a midtown skyscraper. The video has been viewed over 66,000 times, with one comment reading, “LOL now I want to be an accountant.” As a marketing student at Johnson & Wales, “an accounting firm was probably the last place I thought I would end up.” But she’s learned that less obvious marketing fields can provide some of the most exciting opportunities. For the last two years, Accounting Today has placed Cirelli on its “Top 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Industry,” praising how she pushes “WS+B to boldly go where no firms have gone before in social media.” In 2014, Cirelli was one of 1,000 guests chosen to attend Forbes’ inaugural “Under 30 Summit.” As for the skeptical CEO? He’s the one in a suit and tie in the “Party Rock Anthem” video, waving his arms and jumping up and down, as astonished tourists snap photos. According to Cirelli, “He’s starred in every one of our videos.”


Summer 2015

Paul Damico ’86 B.S. Hotel Restaurant Institutional Management Executive Vice President and Group President at FOCUS Brands Inc. Atlanta, Ga. Paul Damico was inspired early on to be a steward for employees. When his younger brother, infected with hepatitis, needed a lifesaving liver transplant, his father’s boss offered a corporate jet to transfer the family to the hospital when a donor became available. “I give back with time and money whenever I can, which influences others to do the same,” says the executive. “I want to be remembered as the person who provided opportunity and helped a lot of people reach their personal and professional goals.” After the 50-year-old appeared on “Undercover Boss,” he gave $280,000 in corporate dollars to five employees of Moe’s Southwest Grill, where “Do the right thing” is a guiding principle. “We teach people they are empowered to take care of employees and customers without going through red tape,” says Damico. “We encourage them not to be afraid of making mistakes.” Damico studies millennials to become a better manager. Since many eschew the typical 9-5, he is flexible about scheduling provided the work gets done: “I have about a one percent turnover on the corporate level; it’s a win-win because it costs a lot to train someone new.” When he joined Moe’s in 2008, franchising was stagnant: “I capitalized on the opportunity to rebuild and retool the brand. We established a food mission and built training and operations teams in preparation for growth. It took 18 months to get the comps positive.” Success is measured against the prior year’s performance: “Are we growing the brand and selling more franchises?” His division has 1,300 locations, puts nearly two restaurants in the ground per week, and generates approximately $1.6 billion in annual revenue. When he’s not traveling, the marathoner is at his desk by 7 a.m. — a workhorse ethic he polished at JWU: “I experienced what it was going to be like on the outside during my time there. Other people say they’re going to school, but I called it working eight hours a day.”


Jill Guindon-Nasir ’97 B.S. Hospitality Senior Corporate Director Global Learning Solutions and Organizational Development The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center Washington, D.C. “A title has nothing to do with leadership,” says Jill Guindon-Nasir. “Just because you have authority doesn’t mean people believe in you.” People want a leader they can trust. Leadership is about taking risks, she adds: “You don’t win or lose, you either win or you learn.” Guindon-Nasir navigated that tightrope after researching the transference of service excellence best practices from the hospitality to the healthcare industry. She had to convince key stakeholders — some of whom felt The Ritz-Carlton should stick to hotels — that a hotel could impact hospitals. As she created its healthcare services advisory board, Guindon-Nasir was on the cusp of a the healthcare sector boom. This pioneer creates job roles; she has never held a position that belonged to a predecessor. When she heard The Ritz-Carlton planned to build a hotel in Washington, D.C., where she lived, she put its headquarters on speed dial and was hired when the building was still a blueprint: “I wore a construction hat to work.” What advice does Guindon-Nasir, who also has a doctorate in education, have for alumni wading into a competitive job market? “You gotta have grit and not wait around for someone to promote you; high performers create their own opportunities.” Guindon-Nasir says she can always spot a JWU graduate: “They aspire to be the general manager, but don’t believe they deserve it tomorrow. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty because they worked during school.” As a student, Guindon-Nasir loved JWU’s family-feel: The accessible faculty truly wanted students to succeed. Plus, they combined academic expertise with industry experience. “Not every school has that,” says the woman with a run-on sentence of degrees. “Both need to coexist.”


Summer 2015

Angelo Pitassi Jr. ’03 MBA Financial Management CEO/Founder of HealthID Profile Inc. Cranston, R.I. Innovative solutions to everyday problems are not easy to find. When they are discovered, it takes courage and vision to see them through. For Angelo Pitassi Jr., it began when his youngest son, then two-and-a-half, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. His son needed a medical ID bracelet to alert responders, teachers and other parents of his condition in case of emergency. Pitassi, unhappy with what he considered low quality bands and limited space for information, designed his own bracelet. His son has been wearing one ever since. He’s not alone; today HealthID has more than 1,500 customers. After designing a medical ID with an interchangeable band, he realized that adding a technology component would expand its interactivity and usefulness. Although Pitassi, 42, has a background in jewelry design and sales, creating a product focused on personal health management presented new challenges: “Because of the space limitation for information on other bands, we coupled it with a cloud-based storage solution. Now users can create an account online and input necessary medical information. We’ve also added a unique personal identifier so users and medical responders can immediately pull up the medical information with a SmartPhone.” To protect his invention, Pitassi researched the patent process and hired an attorney who specializes in the medical and technology field: “Technology is never an easy thing to patent.” Today the product focuses on three key areas: medication compliance, chronic disease management and efficient communication of personal medical information in an emergency or a routine doctor visit. “We want to put a different spin on the personal health management world and erase any stigma,” says Pitassi. “We want something that’s more trendy, socially acceptable and fashionable.” HealthID bands are getting noticed. Entrepreneur magazine recently featured the ID band and app as one of five smart products to watch.


STUDENTEVENTS in Review Homecoming 2014 Faculty and students celebrated the first annual JWU Charlotte Homecoming, called “There’s No Place Like Home.”

JWU Student Awards Charlotte student leaders are recognized at the annual Student Recognition Ceremony.

Olympiad 2014–15 JWU Charlotte Olympiad participants display their team colors, flags and spirit at the annual Olympiad.

Wahoo Weekend At this year’s annual Wahoo carnival in Providence, the University Involvement Board brought rides, food trucks, novelties and We the Kings to perform a concert.


Summer 2015

NMI Wildcat Statue Dedication JWU North Miami celebrates its new addition: a bronze Wildcat statue.

The Big Slide at Greatest Day of Fun

Greatest Day of Fun Students and pup attend the fifth annual Greatest Day of Fun (GDOF), a unique event at JWU Denver to celebrate the end of Founders’ Week and the year’s end.

Senior Dogs The Charlotte Student Alumni Association (SAA) held their annual “Hot Dogs for Seniors” event, an end-of-year sendoff for the graduating Class of 2015. Every senior received a hot dog courtesy of the SAA.

Battle of the Campus

Providence students race to build the best pyramid.


STUDENTEVENTS in Review ELS ’15 Group Fifty-two students graduate from the ninth annual Emerging Leader Series (ELS) retreat on the Charlotte Campus.

North Miami I Love JWU Day Student Alumni Association members heart their campus.

Denver Hanging of the Greens Students lead the Hanging of the Greens procession, a longtime tradition celebrating the rich history of JWU Denver’s historic campus.

Holi Festival The Providence Campus Indian Student Association celebrated its sixth annual Holi Festival to welcome spring. Students enjoyed activities such as a dunk tank, water slide and the color celebration.

Ramen Noodle Cook-off The Student Alumni Association at the Charlotte Campus held its annual Ramen Noodle Cook-off that challenges contestants to make deliciousness out of ramen noodles. The event has a philanthropic connection to show students the importance of giving back.


Summer 2015

Women’s Basketball Team The North Miami women’s basketball team takes the JWU Cup.

Ameristar Visit Denver Student Alumni Association members visited Colorado’s Ameristar Casino, hosted by Director of Human Resources Nancy Bodnar ’96 and Director of Player Development and Marketing Brett English ’05.

SAVE THE DATES HOMECOMING October 16–18, 2015 Charlotte Campus October 16-18, 2015 Denver Campus SEVENTH ANNUAL ATHLETES HOMECOMING October 18, 2015 Providence Campus

HOMECOMING January 29–31, 2016 North Miami Campus

Check out for all of our events.

ALL-CLASS REUNION April 29–May 1, 2016 Charlotte Campus ALL-CLASS REUNION April 29–May 1, 2016 Providence Campus

Charlotte Dedication JWU Charlotte celebrates the addition of its 5,000-pound bronze Wildcat statue.



Welcome Class of 2015


ou are starting a new chapter in your relationship with Johnson & Wales University

— one that lasts a lifetime. We hope you stay connected by attending alumni events, returning to campus, staying in touch with your favorite faculty member and keeping us updated on your successes. You are about to become part of a growing global network of alumni pursuing successful careers across the globe. Wherever life leads, you will continue to be embraced by the Johnson & Wales community. We urge you to do two important things as a new graduate. First, stay connected; second, stay involved — and maybe a third: Wear your Johnson & Wales sweatshirt and the alumni pin you were given at commencement. You never know when you will run into a fellow alumni and the possibilities of what might happen then are endless. To keep informed about all the ways you can stay connected and involved, make sure to register on the alumni website, Be proud to be a part of a global network that is more than 100,000 alumni strong. Welcome to the network and GO WILDCATS!

ALUMNI RELATIONS Providence Campus TERRENCE WILLIAMS ’89 Executive Director 401-598-1634 ELIZABETH SCANLON ’97 M.S. Assistant Director 401-598-4983 LIZA GENTILE Manager of Alumni Relations 401-598-2465 LORI ZABATTA ’95 Manager of Alumni Relations 401-598-4462

North Miami Campus SUSAN CLIMAN Manager of Alumni Relations 305-892-5375

Denver Campus ALEX BRADY Manager of Alumni Relations 303-256-9338

Charlotte Campus CHRISTOPHER PLANO ’93, ’95 M.S. Manager of Alumni Relations 980-598-1204

Terrence Williams ’89 Executive Director Alumni Relations


Summer 2015


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Like a drop of water, a single gift has a ripple effect. One that has the power to change lives forever. Make your gift to the JWU Fund today.

100% of your gift is used just as you designate, always. Gifts of all sizes matter.


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JWU Magazine - Summer 2015  

JWU Commencement 2015

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