NEIU Magazine Fall 2019

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Northeastern Gets Creative With

Fall 2019




g n i r ot C

g a t e S r e t n e with

The Miracle Center

A message from the

President Greetings, Northeastern alumni and friends, We have always been a university rich in opportunity and potential. Our talented and dedicated faculty and staff work hard every day to serve our students and build programs and services that position them—and our institution—well for the future. When I look at our alumni, I see a group of people with powerful credentials who are living examples of one of our strongest value propositions—that a degree from Northeastern Illinois University will help you build a successful career. Now, with the benefit of having served one full year as president, I see things from a more nuanced perspective. I have gotten to know many of you, I better understand our traditions and processes, and I have more clarity about how to overcome our most difficult challenges. One thing that hasn’t changed since I first set foot at Northeastern is the belief that opportunity and potential overflow here. It is hardly coincidental that these two words, opportunity and potential, also describe the collection of news and feature stories that fill the pages of this edition of In Common magazine. You will read about new developments and events at the University that make us vibrant and dynamic, and you will also learn more about some of our alumni who make a difference in our communities and our world. It is an understatement to say that I am proud of you and our university. I hope you feel the same sense of pride in Northeastern that I feel by reading the collection of articles before you.


Gloria J. Gibson, Ph.D. President Northeastern Illinois University









For almost 25 years, Mary Santana has made children’s

Two new funds help Northeastern students seek immediate

dreams a reality through her performing arts center. Plus,

assistance during financial emergencies that might derail

meet three more Northeastern alumni who are making a

their academic progress.

difference through their nonprofits.






The Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education has launched

Northeastern pilots a summer institute that gives incoming

the Master of Public Health and four non-degree programs

freshmen and transfer students hands-on experience with

designed to meet public wellness needs.

one of the world’s most successful tech companies.



The Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies raises its profile in Bronzeville by offering a number of new

majors—and a freshman cohort.





Genesis Ramos, Natalie Roman (left) and



Leylani Medina (right) sing their hearts out



during a rehearsal for “Footloose” at The



Miracle Center, a nonprofit organization



founded by alumna Mary Santana.

A message from the MAGAZINE STAFF Editorial Board: Mike Dizon, Liesl Downey, Mike Hines, Damaris Tapia Designer: Carrie Reffitt Photographer: Todd Crawford Contributors: Anna Cannova, Mike Hines, Mary Kroeck In Common is published by the University for graduates, donors and friends. Please send your comments, suggestions and news items by email to or to the NEIU Alumni Association, Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 North St. Louis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60625-4699.

HOW TO CONTACT US Northeastern Illinois University: (773) 583-4050 Alumni Relations: (773) 442-4205 Development: (773) 442-4210 Public Relations: (773) 442-4240 Transcripts:

UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION Gloria J. Gibson President Dennis Rome Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Daniel López, Jr. Vice President for Student Affairs Melissa Reardon Henry Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Liesl Downey Vice President for Institutional Advancement Mike Dizon Chief of Staff and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Suleyma Perez Executive Director of Government Relations Arnold Henning Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration John Fraire Interim Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services

BOARD OF TRUSTEES Jim Palos, Chair of the Board George Vukotich, Vice Chair Sherry Eagle, Secretary Fatima Siddiqua, Student Trustee Carlos Azcoitia Barbara Fumo Marvin Garcia Ann Kalayil Charles Serrano Jonathan Stein

NEIU FOUNDATION John F. Roskopf, President Lawrence P. Frank, Vice President Kenn Ashley, Treasurer Mark Van Ausdal, Corporate Secretary Jagannath “JB” Bobji Olga Camargo Rodrigo Garcia Sharon K. Hahs Margaret Laurino Marcellus H. Moore Jr. J. Todd Phillips Salme Harju Steinberg Liesl Downey, Executive Director PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS • 8/17 • ??M • PO#??????

Alumni Association Hello, fellow alumni! I am excited to write to you for the first time as the new president of the Northeastern Illinois University Alumni Association Advisory Board. I was introduced to the board by my predecessor, Chuck Good, who showed me what the pride and enthusiasm of an alumnus can mean to professors, staff and students. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back in my new role, and I hope you will join me in thanking Chuck for his contributions and leadership. When I attended NEIU, I was working full-time, supporting a growing family and carrying immense pressure as the first-generation, first-to-go-to-school son of immigrant parents. More than 20 years later, with three of my own kids in school, I look back and realize how much I grew during my years at NEIU, and how important that experience has been to my success. Despite all that I got out of my time at NEIU, I have always felt something was missing. As a student, I was so busy juggling responsibilities during my studies that I was unable to build strong ties to fellow students, or take advantage of networking opportunities. Now, as I watch my children— and with the benefit of some greater exposure in life—I recognize the immense value of these connections, the ways in which they enrich your education, your applied learning and your future employment opportunities. As new board president, I’d like to grow those connections for our students, and for ourselves, so that NEIU and its alumni can benefit from our collective strength, talent and resources. In the next year, I’ll be seeking your help. Watch your email inbox for those messages. For now, I’m going to ask you for something simple: Say it with pride. NEIU has a broad and powerful coalition of alumni who teach,

I’d like to grow those connections for our students, and for ourselves, so that NEIU and its alumni can benefit from our collective strength, talent and resources. practice law, and serve us in medicine and science. We are professionals, poets, laborers, musicians, elected officials, business owners and world travelers. Just last year, we graduated approximately 2,000 students who add an estimated $100 million to the state’s tax base. That’s us! That’s you! You are the reason NEIU is outstanding, and I am proud to be your fellow alum. So please, wear an NEIU T-shirt or baseball cap once in a while. Affix the alumni pin to your lapel. When you have occasion to tell someone where you attended school, say it with pride: “I graduated from Northeastern Illinois University!” That’s how I do it, and it feels great. Talk to you soon,

J. Anthony Rodriguez B.A. ’97 Board of Governors Alumni Association Advisory Board President


news & notes about your university community

A new provost Dennis Rome has returned to his roots after Northeastern Illinois University President Gloria J. Gibson named him the institution’s next Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Rome, who took over for retired Acting Provost Wamucii Njogu, had been serving as the Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. “Dr. Rome has the academic experience, the leadership skills and the unwavering commitment to student success that make him a fantastic fit at Northeastern Illinois University,” Gibson said. “Much like my own journey when I was appointed president last year, Dr. Rome is coming

home to make a difference for Chicago and the state of Illinois. I am eager to work with Dr. Rome as we collaborate with the University community to prepare our current and future students for leadership and service in a dynamic multicultural world.” A graduate of Lane Tech College Prep High School, Rome is a product of Chicago Public Schools. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bradley University, his master’s degree from Howard University and his Ph.D. from Washington State University. All of his degrees are in Sociology. “It is an absolute honor and privilege to serve as the next Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at NEIU,” Rome said. “I look forward to working with everyone to continue the good work of promoting the success of our students and to achieve their full academic and career potential.”

Dean of Libraries Northeastern also has a new Dean of Libraries: Steven Harris. Harris, who took over for Acting Dean of Libraries Lisa Wallis, came to Northeastern after serving as an Assistant Dean at the University of Nevada, Reno since 2013. He has had a 30-plus-year career in university libraries throughout the country and has held several leadership roles in the American Library Association and its divisions.

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news & notes about your university community

A Check Off the Bucket List Bob Dwyer made his mark on the history books during Northeastern Illinois University’s May 2019 Commencement ceremony. At the age of 90, Dwyer became the oldest graduate in the University’s records, which date back to 1962. The father of nine and grandfather of 22 always planned to earn his degree; he just didn’t realize it would take so long.

conversational English in Spain and Vietnam. Still, he wanted to finish his degree.

“I enlisted in the Army eight days after my high school graduation in 1946 and served stateside for a year and a half,” said Dwyer, who earned his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. “After my time in the service, I used some GI credits and started attending Wright College. I planned to become a teacher.”

Northeastern graduates honored their peer with an impromptu standing ovation as he crossed the stage during Commencement, a moment that was broadcast on virtually every Chicago newscast that night. Dwyer now plans to volunteer at a local elementary school and take some time to admire his diploma, framed on the wall of his retirement home.

Dwyer was the first in his family to attend college. It was at Wright College where he met Peggy, the woman who became his wife. Bob decided to leave school and work to support his young family. The two were married for 56 years and put all nine of their children through school. After Peggy’s passing, Bob started traveling and teaching

“This was just one of the things on the bucket list,” Bob’s daughter Mary Dwyer said. “It just didn’t seem fair that he was the one who didn’t get a chance to go back and get his education.”

“I really have a great admiration for Northeastern students,” Dwyer said. “Some of them work two or three jobs on top of going to school and raising a family. That’s not easy. I really, really have a lot of respect for them.”

By the end of the 2019-20 academic year, that’s the number of students who will have been awarded the NEIU Foundation Chuck Kane Scholarship since it was founded in 1973. On Aug. 5, participants and sponsors of the 47th annual Chuck Kane Scholarship Golf Event gave the lifelong gift of scholarship and supported hardworking students on their academic journey. In addition to a full day of fun on the course, this year’s program featured Becky Sarwate, alumna, instructor and author of “Cubsessions,” a collection of interviews with some of the Chicago Cubs’ most famous fans. This year’s event attracted 105 golfers and raised more than $25,000. 4


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SAVE the Dates Nov. 2019 & Feb. 2020



Those are the months when the Daniel L. Goodwin Distinguished Lecture Series will return to Northeastern. The lecture series supports freedom of speech by providing prominent thinkers representing all sides of issues to the University for presentations. On Sept. 12, the series featured veteran political strategist Donna Brazile and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The series has also featured Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, journalism icons Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, political pundits James Carville and Mary Matalin, financial expert Terry Savage and environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

From writing immigration policy to serving on financial committees, Luis Gutiérrez was an active member of the U.S. House of Representatives during his 12 terms in office. Before he retired, Gutiérrez made sure to return to his alma mater in December to formally donate his treasure trove of Congressional records to Northeastern Illinois University. Gutiérrez’s collection—the first of its kind at Northeastern—includes legislative files, press releases, articles, bills, floor speeches, awards and photos. Once they are sorted, the materials will be made available for public viewing in two to three years as part of Northeastern’s permanent collection in the Ronald Williams Library. “Northeastern Illinois University is a very special place,” Gutiérrez said during his archive’s dedication ceremony. He went on to say, “It cemented who I would become because Chicago would become my life and Chicago would become my life’s work.” Northeastern President Gloria J. Gibson helped Gutiérrez unveil a replica plaque in his honor. The permanent plaque now hangs at the entrance to the library. Gutiérrez earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern in 1976. Northeastern awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in May 2018 in recognition of his many accomplishments, most notably his role in advocating for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “I hope, in these archives, people can come and see that the life and the times of Luis Gutiérrez in the Congress of the United States have been focused on labor and immigration,” Gutiérrez said. “Immigration is an issue that brings people together; it’s social justice and equality and fighting discrimination and bigotry and fighting prejudice.”

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March 5, 2020 That’s when original Freedom Writer Manny Scott will deliver the recently renamed Jean Burke Carlson and Diane Berger Ehrlich Memorial Lectureship. The event is free and open to the public. The annual lectureship, originally created in 2010 to pay tribute to Carlson, was renamed at the request of family and friends after Ehrlich’s sudden passing in March 2019 to honor the longtime Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education friends and colleagues together. Both professors retired with emerita status. The lectureship focuses on leadership development, adult learning and the latest trends and innovative approaches in higher education. NORTHEASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY I magazine






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ms rea lly do come true es

for M ary S r i p s antana n i and the children she

By Mary Kroeck


hat’s in a name? For a vibrant performing arts center on the border of Chicago’s Logan Square and Hermosa neighborhoods, the answer is ... everything. h

Northeastern Illinois University alumna Mary Santana started The Miracle Center (TMC) in 1995 with 10 children. Through years of persistence and by building a team of dedicated staff, TMC has become a haven for creativity where children, teens and adults embrace positive self-expression through the arts. By taking a holistic approach to arts education and entrepreneurial empowerment, TMC has earned the admiration of some of the most prominent stars in the entertainment industry. FALL 2019

From its roots as a day camp running out of Santana’s basement apartment, TMC is now poised for an expansion that will stretch an entire city block. Santana describes the naming of her nonprofit organization as a moment of inspiration that was nothing short of divine intervention. “I was at church one day and there was this young preacher,” Santana recalled. “He had to be about 18 years old, and while he was speaking all I heard in my head was, ‘The name of the center is The Miracle Center: Where children’s dreams become reality.’” It’s also a place where dreams are realized. TMC’s mission is to use the arts “as a catalyst for personal growth, leadership development, academic advancement and community engagement.”

Nitza Rosario is an example of that mission in action. Rosario joined TMC when she was 6 years old. Seeing strong Latina role models at TMC helped her not only grow as a performer but also as a person. She’s now going into her senior year as a Communications major at the University of Michigan and was TMC’s 2019 summer intern. “TMC’s my second home,” Rosario said. “It’s shown me the potential I have. I can do anything I want to as long as I put my mind to it. It’s been so rewarding. It gives me hope.” Rosario began her journey at TMC as a performer in dance showcases and musical numbers, as well as contributing to art galleries. She later stepped into major roles, such as The Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” and the Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” NORTHEASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY I magazine


“The Miracle Center has created a safe haven for me to express myself artistically and also address issues in the community I grew up in,” said Rosario, who was raised in Logan Square. “It goes above and beyond to give minorities in our community a voice to speak out about misrepresentation, inner city youth development, women’s rights and other important issues.” Among TMC’s many partners is After School Matters, one of the country’s largest and most successful providers of after-school and summer programming. Founded by former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley and former Chicago Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg, After School Matters provides hands-on apprenticeship programs in a wide variety of content areas including the visual, performing, literary and culinary arts as well as sports and

“Ren’s father left him,” said Carmona, now a senior at Steinmetz High School. “My dad passed away when I was 8 years old. I’m a self-taught dancer. When I was younger, I used to watch Michael Jackson on the TV and I would just copy every move he’d make. You know, the moonwalk, all that. I just really fell in love with dancing. Ren uses dance as therapy. I use dance and acting as therapy.” Rosario’s and Carmona’s experiences are common stories at TMC. Santana and her team

“I really needed to do something with my life because I needed to make sure I was a role model for my son,” Santana said. “In order for him to be successful, I had to be successful.” Santana earned a secretarial certificate from Robert Morris College. She was able to land a job as a sales associate at Teen Magazine, but wanted to spend more time with her son. She decided to leave her job and try to engage with youth using the medium that helped her cope with growing up as a child in the inner city—the arts. Opening her own day camp was risky, and her venture had little room for failure. Yet Santana discovered that there was a greater need for the programming she wanted to offer than she ever could have imagined. Realizing that her

safe haven

TMC has created a for me to express myself artistically and also address issues in the community I grew up in. It goes above and beyond to give minorities in our community a voice to speak out about misrepresentation, inner city youth development, women’s rights and other important issues. - Nitza Rosario

STEM programs for more than 18,000 Chicago high school teens each year. “After School Matters is a valuable partner to us because they provide stipends for our teens and pay our instructors,” Santana said. “This further validates the students’ artistic passions, showing them that their art is worth something.” Youth Ensemble member Giovanni Carmona was just looking for a paying summer job when his cousin told him about TMC. Prior to his audition for “Grease” in 2018, he’d never acted or been involved in theater. “I was nervous, but once I was on stage all that vanished and I fell in love with theater,” said Carmona, who was cast in the supporting role of Sonny, a comedic wise guy and member of the T-Birds greaser gang. 8

Last spring, Carmona was cast in the lead role for the Youth Ensemble’s production of “Footloose.” Based on the 1984 film, the play tells the story of Chicago teen Ren McCormack, who moves from the city to a small town that has outlawed dancing. Carmona’s connections to his character ran deep.


strive to create a safe space for all who enter because Santana can identify with the struggles of the young people she now supports through her organization. Growing up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, Santana was the youngest of 10 children in a working-class family. Her parents were from Ponce, Puerto Rico. According to Santana, they were “trying to find the American Dream in the city of Chicago.” Her brother, Roberto, used playwriting and theater techniques as a coping mechanism and healthy escape from reality. After having her son, Adrian, in her senior year at Carl Schurz High School, Santana used her creativity to turn the challenge of single motherhood into an opportunity to set an example.

apartment could not hold all of the children who wanted to participate, Santana cultivated partnerships with neighborhood churches, community centers, schools and recreational spaces such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA in order to meet the demand of the community. Today, TMC supports as many as 65 youths each season through its Youth Ensemble. Participants come from across the city—some from as far away as Englewood—to be part of the center. As the roots of TMC run deep in its participants, the organization also hosts an Adult Ensemble, comprised of many former TMC teens. As TMC expanded, Santana became even more determined to achieve her personal goals. Santana’s desire to earn her bachelor’s degree became all the more important to her as she raised her two daughters, Alissa and Rachel.

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Mary Santana is far from the only Northeastern Illinois University alumna who has had a successful nonprofit career. The full list would be too long to print, so we’ve highlighted three inspirational alumni you should know.

Mollie Dowling

Executive Director, OAI

David D. Robertson

Founder, Hope Is ...

Dowling’s passion for social justice led her to OAI, a nationally recognized leader in job training and development. “The mission of OAI is simple: to offer skills training that leads to safe, meaningful employment while helping companies and communities to thrive. Our vision is for everyone to reach their career potential, work safely, earn a living wage and build a good life,” Dowling (B.A. ’03 Women’s Studies) said. The organization provides training and essential life skills to thousands of people across the country every year in fields such as environmental remediation and construction, ecological restoration, solar installation and maintenance, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and information technology. While some programs are cohort-based and others follow an open enrollment model, all programs are free to participants. OAI does not work with temp companies or place people in part-time jobs. The organization uses a holistic approach, ensuring participants are placed in full-time, permanent employment positions with living wages at companies that have been vetted by the organization to align with their mission. OAI also provides other supports such as financial coaching and transportation assistance to help remove common barriers to long-term employment retention. “Workforce development and access to employment is in fact a civil rights issue,” Dowling said. “There’s lots of reasons people are excluded from the world of work because of various systematic oppressions.”

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Hope Is ... recognizes that change happens when people have access to resources, find safe spaces to share their transformative stories and struggles, and connect to others from outside their communities. The Chicago and Oakland, Calif.-based organization hosts several types of trauma-informed workshops across the nation and plans to take its pop-up writing workshop international. Robertson (B.A. ’16 University Without Walls; M.A. ’18 Community and Teacher Leaders) knows the value of these opportunities all too well. When he met with Director of Nontraditional Degree Programs Kim Sanborn in Fall 2013, Robertson was juggling the effects of personal stress and medical issues. He felt hopeless, but she helped to make his educational aspirations feel possible. “I met with Dr. Sanborn and I didn’t even think I would finish my bachelor’s degree,” Robertson said. “I was just looking for something, anything, to try to be more motivated. She didn’t talk to me about earning my bachelor’s. She said she was going to help me earn my master’s degree. That was mind-blowing.” Now a double alumnus of Northeastern, Robertson wants to be “a bridge between the community and wellness and mental health worlds to create conversations.” “I had a therapist who told me, ‘It takes less energy to write ‘I am hope’ than ‘I am hopeless,’ and that stuck with me,” Robertson said.

Imran Nanlawala

Founder, The Walaway Foundation

The Walaway Foundation is newly established and offers free online learning tools for aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders. The purpose of the organization is to help new and established professionals fine-tune their marketing skills and digital fluency. “I created the foundation to help other nonprofits and small organizations with their technical needs and offer strategies to help empower them with the tools they need to thrive in the current market,” said Nanlawala, who also founded the for-profit company Digital Learning Partners. “Often, nonprofits need assistance when it comes to organization, structure and innovation. Hopefully, we can help them in those areas.” Nanlawala (B.A. ’09 English; M.A. ’10 Educational Leadership: Higher Education) tries to inspire and empower his clients, mentees and interns in the way Northeastern inspired him. “If you have the will and desire, NEIU affords you opportunities because of its small class sizes, because of the intimate relationships you can have with your bosses, instructors and other staff,” Nanlawala said. “You could learn a lot if you really throw yourself out there. NEIU really gave me the confidence that I could do a lot more than I was doing.” NORTHEASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY I magazine




ing artists. We

With the support of her husband, Bennett, Santana enrolled at Northeastern. The classes developed her business skills without drastically interfering with her home and work responsibilities. “I love the diversity at Northeastern,” said Santana, who completed a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2011. “I love the convenience, programming, the Children’s Theatre classes I was taking there. I also enjoyed meeting the amazing professors that are at Northeastern in the Communication Department. I really felt like I fit in at Northeastern.” Communication, Media and Theatre Instructor Dan Wirth, who taught Santana’s Children’s Theatre course, is not aware of any other Northeastern alumnus who has founded a theater company with the amount of programming TMC offers. “It’s quite an achievement to start with nothing and build a company that continues to evolve,” Wirth said. “It’s really great for the community and the audience that she serves.” There have been two major turning points in the evolution of TMC. The first was its 2010 10


r a g n to build thrivi






We w


e m o c e b

production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which was the company’s first full-length, professionally scripted show. Prior to that, TMC had hosted student showcases at the end of each season that featured dance, vocal, acting and other skills the youths had learned in programming. The endeavor of a full Broadway-style youth production complete with Belle’s signature yellow ball gown, sets with books to fill her beloved library, and the famous rose that marked Beast’s curse was a huge undertaking, and took a two-semester commitment from participants to complete. Their hard work and dedication paid off. The production was so meaningful to TMC that the costumes, set pieces and props still greet visitors as soon as they walk through the center’s doors. The second major turning point came in 2014 when TMC christened its permanent space with a production of “In the Heights,” a musical set in New York’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights. The play centers on themes of family, cultural pride, history and hope in the midst of adversity. As TMC’s cast sang the show’s closing number, “Finale,” the lyrics “We’re home” truly felt right to everyone involved in the center. The production even gained the attention of Luis

i t e lif

e m

Miranda, father of the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who gained international superstardom with his second Broadway hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Subsequently, Luis and Lin-Manuel have become a part of TMC’s family. “Every time I come to Chicago, I come to The Miracle Center,” Lin-Manuel said in a 2018 Comcast documentary about the organization. He added, “This is an extraordinary organization. It started in Mary Santana’s basement and now it is expanding, and that speaks to the need and the incredible void it fills.” Lin-Manuel isn’t the only celebrity who recognizes the value of TMC’s work. In 2017, TMC performed excerpts from their production of “West Side Story” for legendary actress Rita Moreno, who coincidentally was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of her outstanding achievements by Northeastern in 2015. Moreno’s “One Day at a Time” co-star, Justina Machado, was part of a TMC fundraiser in 2018, the year the youth ensemble staged “Shrek: The Musical.” “Places like this are so essential,” Machado said in the 2018 Comcast documentary. “I just saw a little bit of ‘Shrek’ and I swear it was like a Broadway production. I’m not even kidding you.” Machado, who grew up in Chicago and attended Lane Tech High School, has spoken about TMC on several occasions and noted that if it weren’t for places like TMC she doesn’t know

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That sentiment is shared by Vanessa Torres, who grew up in Logan Square and, at the age of 10, was one of the first participants to join TMC. She grew up with the organization as a camper and, later, camp counselor and youth development director. She has played many roles in TMC—both on and off the stage—and currently serves as TMC’s communications director and producer.

Santana believes live theater—especially in the Latinx community—is crucial because it is therapeutic and can be a powerful platform to engage with cultural history. Likewise, by incorporating diverse casts, crews and stories, TMC gives participants the chance to fully embrace who they are, find a healthy way to deal with their challenges, and share their personal journeys in the hopes of inspiring others.

As Zayas worked at TMC and engaged with other teens and their families—some of whom had major challenges to overcome, such as depression and hardships at home—she would work with Elsa Chaparro, who was TMC’s community outreach coordinator at the time, to meet the needs of the youth. Chaparro’s mentorship and her experiences at TMC ultimately led Zayas to a career in social work. “I was doing social work not knowing there was a term for it,” Zayas said. When Zayas decided to earn her degree in the field, she met with former Department of Social Work Chair Jade Stanley, who asked Zayas for her 10-year career plan. “I’m going to get my undergrad here,” Zayas recalled saying to Stanley. “Then I’m going to get my master’s so I can continue to provide services to my community.”

“We want to build thriving artists, not starving artists,” Santana said. “We become lifetime mentors. It’s so important that the atmosphere we create here is a safe space. One day we’re their mother. One day we’re their therapist. One day we’re their dance teacher. It just really depends on the day.” The Adult Ensemble regularly stages productions that strongly connect to the center’s Puerto Rican heritage. TMC recently produced “A Puerto Rican Story,” an adaptation of “Chicago’s Puerto Rican Story,” an 80-minute PBS documentary directed and produced by Antonio Franceschi. The show was so popular it had an extended run and packed houses each night. “We need to know our history,” said Santana. “We need to know our culture. We need to teach our children. We need to teach our young people here at The Miracle Center. I know with ‘A Puerto Rican Story,’ we did that.”

m t a e h t t a h t t n a t r o p m i o s s ’ It That’s exactly what she did. Zayas earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern in 2014

“I want to leave a legacy of hope, not only for my children but for every child, teen and adult that walks into The Miracle Center, especially all of the students that are born and raised in the inner city who feel like there’s no hope,” Santana said. “There’s hope.”

e w e r e osph


Zayas began working with TMC when she was 12 years old. In its early years, TMC didn’t have an arts program director. Santana relied on her older participants, like Torres and Zayas, to conceptualize, develop and implement programming.

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of TMC. With the purchase of the center’s neighboring building, TMC plans to install a new 300- to 400seat theater, an internet café and artist lofts complete with professionals in accounting, graphic design and other resources to help artists fully realize their dreams.

ere is a

When TMC revives its production of “In the Heights” this September, just ahead of the star-studded 2020 film release of the musical, the choreographer will be another TMC prodigy and Northeastern alumna, Anais Zayas.

Santana and her team at TMC work hard to ensure their youth participants receive comprehensive training in the arts to help them build lifelong skills. This includes exposing them to roles on stage as performers and behind the scenes in technical fields, such as costume design, photography and sound design. They also focus on building life skills and college and career readiness guidance. The grants and sponsorships TMC receives and the partnerships it builds help the organization provide its participants with high-quality instruction and basic needs, like a snack during programming since many participants come to the center straight from school and don’t always have time or the resources to eat.

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“Somos familia,” Torres said. “We are family. When I was in ‘In the Heights,’ there was this 90-year-old gentleman in the second row. When the Puerto Rican flag was raised on stage, the gentleman was in tears. It was his first time experiencing live theater—seeing Latinos on stage, and witnessing his culture represented across the generations. This is the connection that TMC strives to create. This is home!”

Last year, the Adult Ensemble produced “There’s a Coquí in My Shoe,” based on the International Latino Book Awards Winner children’s book of the same name by Marisa De Jesús Paolicelli. This world premiere production, which tells the story of the unofficial symbol of Puerto Rico—a coquí, a little tree frog—who gets lost and needs to find his way home. The show was made possible through a grant from ComEd and the League of Chicago Theatres to make the arts more accessible to underserved Chicago-area communities. TMC was one of 17 awardees.

and her master’s from the University of Illinois at Chicago the following year.


where she, as a young Puerto Rican girl from “the hood,” would find art.

Tech partnership puts students on the path to computer science careers


News By Mary Kroeck

t’s a sunny Wednesday morning in July. It’s a comfortable 72 degrees. It’s the perfect day to be

doing something—anything— outdoors. Yet in Room 315 at Northeastern Illinois University’s El Centro location, the students are happily munching on doughnuts and playing a quick Kathy Reyes (above) and Graciela Perera with Indeshwar Chaudhary (inset) 12


game of “Donkey Kong.” FALL 2019

This is the third day of the Google Computer Science Summer

Institute Extension (CSSI-Extension), an immersive three-week program in which 14 Northeastern students learn everything from the basics of HTML to creating their own apps. The goal of CSSI-Extension is to increase the number of women, underrepresented ethnic minority students, first-generation, and low-income college students in the field of computer science. Northeastern is the only school in the Midwest—and one of only nine in the United States—to offer Google’s CSSI-Extension program to incoming freshmen and transfer students. Sessions are run by a mix of instructors from Northeastern, the business community and from Google itself. This program is a big deal, but the instructors keep the mood light. As songs from “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1” play in the background, Akkady Tchaba passes out laptops to each of the participants. Meanwhile Graciela Perera, who like Tchaba teaches in Northeastern’s Department of Computer Science, eases the students into the day with a physical exercise in which students share their favorite food as they perform a stretch. “Veggie deep dish,” Adam Olszenski, a transfer student, says as he touches his toes. As the stretching and conversation wind down, Perera recaps the first two days of the program and shares her pride that they’ve already learned the basics of HTML. Perera helped bring Google’s program to Northeastern in collaboration with El Centro Director Maria Luna-Duarte. “Northeastern is not really known as a premier computer science school yet,” Luna-Duarte says. “But we have a lot of students who are capable of learning and getting jobs in this field. Who knows—with programs like this, we could be national leaders in five years.” The program is a mix of both in-depth technical training and soft-skills fundamentals. One soft-skills activity requires the participants to create life paths from their birth to the present. Perera leads by example and shares her story. Perera was born in Venezuela and moved to the U.S. while in elementary school when her family relocated for her father’s job. She lived in New Orleans, then Canada, then back in Venezuela. She earned a Ph.D. in Florida and landed her first job in Ohio, but wanted to live in a big city. So, she found Northeastern and moved to Chicago. “There’s a Googler coming to speak about career paths after lunch,” Perera, who refers to Google employees as “Googlers,” tells the students. “Anyone know where he graduated from?” FALL 2019

After fielding three or four incorrect guesses, Perera shares that the Googler, Carlos Ortiz, is a graduate of Northeastern. “Who’s going to graduate from NEIU?” Perera asks the group. All the participants raise their hands. The first part of the day consists of reviewing the work from the days prior and introducing new material. Today’s lesson is in JavaScript. As the group breaks for lunch, some participants eat quickly and visit other parts of the building to play games or chat with friends. Kathy Reyes and Hesam Sadeghian stay in the community room to talk. Reyes is a transfer student from the City Colleges of Chicago. Sadeghian is an incoming freshman. Both are from immigrant families. In fact, about a third of this cohort consists of students born outside of the U.S. Reyes was born in Mexico. Her family came to Chicago when she was 9. She transferred to Northeastern because she is a recipient of The Dream.US scholarship, which provides financial assistance to high-achieving scholars who have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Reyes is planning to major in Computer Science. Her goal is to focus on human-computer interaction and combined design thinking. “I didn’t get to take computer science classes in high school,” said Reyes, a graduate of Steinmetz College Prep. “As a woman of color, I want to empower other young adults to careers in STEM so girls don’t think they can’t do it.” Sadeghian was born in Iran. His brother, a Northeastern alum, persuaded him to attend. Sadeghian is the first member of his family to pursue a computer science career.

“One of the parents of a student in my high school did a presentation on his job,” says Sadeghian, who attended Niles West High School. “He works in cyber security and showed us how he could see if anyone was accessing information they shouldn’t so he could stop it. It’s an interesting field.” Ortiz, a customer engineer at Google who graduated from Northeastern in 1996, arrives after lunch. He presents a four-year plan that students can follow to help them secure a career in computer science. “Don’t think about what you want to do in 10 years,” Ortiz says. “Think about the problems you want to solve and how you can solve them.” Ortiz has worked in technology for 20 years. He believes that if students are dedicated to their studies, can be personable and can solve problems, they will have several job offers in their field within two months of graduating. “The first couple of years I was at Northeastern, computer science was still part of the Math Department,” Ortiz said. “I remember the professors were really dedicated and really focused on the foundations of algorithms and data structures. Technology wasn’t exploding like it is today. Those foundations of computer science helped me to be very good at reverse engineering and adapting to new technology.” After Ortiz departs, the students continue their work on JavaScript. Once they have that language down, they’ll move on to lessons in Python and Google App Engine. Later in the program, they’ll also take a field trip to Google’s Chicago office. “We know the value of technology and the positive impact it can make in the lives of these students and their families,” says Luna-Duarte, who was an undocumented college student and understands some of these students’ struggles firsthand. “We want them to get internships and we want them to succeed.” Luna-Duarte hopes the Google program will develop into a pipeline that starts with students during their junior year of high school and leads to successful careers in computer science. It’s only been three days, but the impact the program is making is undeniable. It’s also making a huge impression on the instructors. “These students inspire me,” Perera says. “Their stories touch me. They make me feel like I belong. It’s important to me that they feel like they belong here, but they’re also making me feel like I belong here because of them.”




With focus on commun By Mary Kroeck

Northeastern Illinois University’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies has a rich history in Chicago’s Bronzeville community.

Long before it was a center for university classes, the building—its original 1905 design was conceived by architect Frank Lloyd Wright—served as a central location for education, art and social justice. More than half a century since Northeastern moved into the former Lincoln Center as a way to serve the area’s student population with courses taught from an African-American perspective, the Carruthers Center (CCICS) continues to reinvent itself. As classes resume for the 2019-20 academic year, CCICS has expanded its offerings beyond the traditional and historic Inner City Studies undergraduate and graduate programs. The master’s program has been reconceived as the Urban Community Studies program. CCICS also now offers courses in the Community Health bachelor’s degree program; the bachelor’s degree program for Social Work; the Gerontology master’s program; the Interdisciplinary Studies bachelor’s program; and the Couple and Family Counseling certificate program. On top of that, CCICS is now hosting its first cohort of freshmen and plans to offer the master’s degree in Social Work beginning in Fall 2020. This carefully planned expansion will help Northeastern better serve Chicago’s South Side communities, CCICS Director Andrea Evans said.



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nity, Carruthers Center builds academic offerings “The majors we’ve selected all work around the same themes of human and social services and social sciences,” said Evans, who took over as director in 2018. “When we talk about Social Work, Inner City Studies and Community Health, all of those things work together.”

“The faculty, staff and students at the Carruthers Center have a longstanding history of offering relevant and impactful scholarship and student engagement, and we are proud to increase our position within this tradition,” said Troy Harden, director of Northeastern’s Master

“The majors we’ve selected all work around the same themes of human and social services and social sciences.” Andrea Evans, CCICS Director Housing these majors in the same space will create wider opportunity for students to not only delve into their chosen major, but also broaden their perspectives by including classes offered in the other majors, Evans said. “Any student who’s, for example, a Social Work major, would benefit from a class in Inner City Studies or benefit from classes in Community Health, and vice versa,” Evans said. “If you’re in Community Health, you should definitely be taking Inner City Studies. If you’re in Inner City Studies, certainly you would expand your horizons by taking classes in Social Work or Community Health.” Northeastern’s academic departments are eager to begin offering their programs at CCICS.

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of Social Work program. “We particularly look forward to our students from the South and Southwest Sides of Chicago, including the south suburbs, having greater access to our course offerings.” In addition to the new academic programs, CCICS has also expanded its non-credit offerings through Northeastern’s Community and Professional Education program, including entrepreneurship workshops. Of course, CCICS remains a firm center for arts, culture and political discourse in Bronzeville. Over the years, the building has hosted artists such as Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright and

activists such as Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Fred Hampton. “Bronzeville is historic in Chicago,” Evans said. “It’s the place where black life thrived in the ’40s and ’50s in the arts in music and literature. Many people who came through the Carruthers Center over the decades are really cultural icons.” CCICS continues to make the space open to the community to embrace its roots in arts and activism, a component of the space that Evans said nicely complements the lessons students are learning in class. CCICS hosts community meetings with Chicago Alderwoman Sophia King, student poetry slams, and professional jazz concerts that are low cost and open to the public. It is also an official testing site for Pearson, one of the world’s leading educational assessment services. With these expanded offerings and a shuttle service that takes students to and from the Main Campus, there’s more opportunity than ever for students to enhance their education at CCICS. “Bronzeville is really diverse in terms of socioeconomics, and people are still looking to the Carruthers Center as a place and space to come and learn things,” Evans said. “We’re excited about that and want to continue that legacy and that tradition.”



Small Gestures,

BIG RESULTS New initiatives help students in financial distress stay in school By Mary Kroeck

When Adella Robinson was forced to make a career change for health reasons at age 55, she didn’t realize the current job market would be so difficult to navigate. “I realized I need my bachelor’s degree to move forward,” Robinson said. “I have my associate degree, but it hasn’t really been getting me any interviews.” To speed up her graduation, Robinson took on a five-course load in Spring 2019. Unfortunately, this exhausted Robinson’s student loans while she was still between jobs. In need of help, Robinson turned to Northeastern’s Student Emergency Fund and within a week, she had a check to help pay the monthly rent bill. “If it had not been for that emergency fund of $500, I probably would have a five-day notice,” said Robinson, an Interdisciplinary Studies major. “I don’t even know where I would be today.” The Student Emergency Fund is one of two new avenues for NEIU students to seek immediate assistance during financial emergencies such as housing insecurities, unexpected medical hardships and job loss that might derail their academic progress. Northeastern also has an agreement with The Nest residence hall for emergency housing for students who unexpectedly become homeless. So far, the results of these efforts have been profound. 16


Since it was established through the NEIU Foundation in November 2018 by Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel López, Jr. and former Acting Provost Wamucii Njogu, the Student Emergency Fund has assisted more than a dozen students. “The idea of the emergency fund was based on the information that we know about our students,” López said. “We have students who have emergencies that come up and it interferes with their school work. Some end up dropping out, and it creates stresses that they don’t really need.” Robinson, a mother of two, had started working toward a bachelor’s degree years ago, but stopped when her daughter needed help getting through high school. Robinson enrolled in Northeastern in Fall 2018 and is determined to be the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. “When someone’s behind on their rent, which is the most common occurrence, we do make sure that if we do provide this emergency fund, they can get back on track the next month so that we’re not chasing good money for bad, that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for them and a way to continue with staying current,” said Dean of Students Matthew Specht, who reviews the applications. “That’s been pretty successful.” With the support of the Student Emergency Fund, Robinson was able to pay the majority of her rent, which eased the pressure as she went on job interviews. Shortly thereafter, she

was hired by Catholic Charities to be a home care aid. Eventually, Robinson hopes to use her Northeastern degree to either work as a resource coordinator with a nonprofit or start her own organization to help children and the elderly understand what avenues of assistance are available to them. Students may apply online for aid of up to $500 for many emergency needs, with some exclusions such as tuition and health insurance. The fund can, however, help cover a medical bill. English major Madeleine K., who suffers from a chronic autoimmune disease that causes her to be more susceptible to other illnesses, contracted influenza last year and went to an urgent care center. Six months after her visit, Madeleine discovered that insurance did not cover all of the charges, and she still owed nearly $375 that she could not afford to pay. Madeleine applied for help through the Student Emergency Fund and quickly was granted the money she needed to stay in school and keep the bill from going to collections. “I needed to pay that off because if I hadn’t, I would probably not be able to go to school,” she said. “I would need to work, and I was still feeling sick due to my autoimmune disease.” Around the same time as the creation of the Student Emergency Fund, the Northeastern chapter of University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) launched the Faculty and Students Together (FAST) Fund with a similar mission. This fund’s

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Adella Robinson

proceeds can be used for a specific bill, and can cover emergency tuition needs, car repairs and various other costs that the Student Emergency Fund cannot cover. The limit for this fund is also $500. Students are allowed to apply for emergency funding from both programs and are encouraged to do so if they are truly in need.

“Most of the grants we’ve given have been for back tuition,” said Nancy Matthews, president of Northeastern’s UPI chapter. “A lot of times there are students who owe $4,000 and we can only do $500, but that’s often enough to let them continue registering for classes because it helps them get started on a payment plan.” Renee Hightower, a senior Justice Studies major, had exhausted her financial aid. All she needed was one six-hour class with an internship to complete her degree.

Hightower said a FAST Fund grant of $500 allowed her to register for her final course and line up her required internship, which she’s doing with Sharing Connections, a nonprofit in Downers Grove that helps struggling families furnish their homes with gently used items. Hightower hopes to work in juvenile justice after graduation. Her commute to Northeastern from Westmont is at least an hour by car, but the commute is worth it.

Emergency Fund” under “designation.” If UPI members want to contribute to FAST Funds, they are encouraged to reach out to Matthews for more information. “I think it’s great that we have different sources for funds,” López said. “Our students are so well-deserving, and it would be great if we can help more.”

If it had not been for that emergency fund of $500, I probably would have a five-day notice.

“It’s kind of hard to work and be a single parent and be a student and do an internship and somewhat be successful,” Hightower said.

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“The FAST Fund is the reason I was able to take this very last course,” Hightower said. “If they had not put the down payment down for me to be able to get into the course, I wouldn’t be in this course. I was at my wits’ end trying to finish this course. If it wasn’t for the FAST Fund I don’t know what other options I would have had. It was even at a

point where I was thinking, ‘Do I pay rent or do I take this course?’”

Often, these emergency funds are just enough to help students in need get through a rough patch, such as a transitional period before starting a new job. “I talk to some of the students when they come to pick up their check, and a lot of them are incredibly appreciative and say, ‘This is just the little bit I needed to kind of stay above water,’” Specht said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is provide that little bit that alleviates some of that stress of their daily life and allow them to focus on school.”

Instead of fretting over that decision, Hightower is now planning to celebrate her impending graduation.

Though Madeleine is still struggling with her health and Robinson is in the process of applying for grants and scholarships to ensure she can finish her degree, both are grateful for the funding they received.

Both emergency funds rely on contributions from the Northeastern community. Employees can contribute to the Student Emergency Fund through payroll deductions, and anyone can donate at by selecting “Student

“I can’t imagine someone trying to pursue a degree and not having assistance,” Robinson said. “Words cannot express enough how it helped me to hold on to the hope of continuing my education at a point where I was unemployed.”



Class Notes The Alumni Association wants to hear from you!

Submit your class note at or send an email to

1960s Jerry Yanoff (B.A. ’66 Education; M.A.S. ’77 Education) Yanoff spent 27 years as a special education teacher at Mather High School and served as an educator for more than 45 years. He also taught a special education survey class at National Louis University for 18 years. Yanoff served as a member of the Chicago Board of Education’s Local School Council Advisory Board.

Thomas F. James

Kalayil currently serves as bureau chief of asset management for Cook County government. She previously served as regional administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Great Lakes Region. In addition to her degree from Northeastern Illinois University, Kalayil earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

later moved to Maryland to teach with Prince George’s County schools. He has taught general and AP history, government and criminal law, among other subjects. He served as a football and basketball coach and sponsored the student government. He has also been awarded Teacher of the Year and has won the Dana Kirkman Student Mentorship Award and the Rutgers University Honors Program Award.

Scott Goldstein

(B.A. ’85 Speech)

(B.A. ’84 Secondary Education, History)

(B.A. ’69 Psychology, M.A. ’77 Guidance and Counseling)

Goldstein began teaching in Chicago and

James is a retired licensed psychologist in the State of Washington. He has a Ph.D. in Psychology with a clinical specialization from the Florida Institute of Technology.


Marc Buslik (B.A. ’88 Board of Governors)

Francine (Pappadis) Friedman (B.A. ’73 Secondary Education, English) Friedman has published numerous short stories and has earned various awards, including two first-place awards in 2008 for her memoir, “MatchDotBomb: A Midlife Journey Through Internet Dating.” She is currently working on her first novel.


Marc Buslik retired from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in May after 38 years of service to the city. Early in his career, Buslik enrolled at Northeastern and earned his bachelor’s degree. Buslik went on to earn his master’s degree in Public Administration and his doctorate in Criminology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he has been an instructor since 2008. Buslik plans to continue to teach at UIC and Oakton Community College.

Kathleen (Disviscour) DiBenedetto DiBenedetto has worked for Jim Beam for 28 years. She was named a Keeper of the Quaich

same as being in the Peace Corps just a little more local—and I’d probably be able to have more direct, positive impact on people.’” Buslik spent the last two and a half years of his CPD career as commander of the 19th District in Chicago’s Lakeview community. Prior to that, Buslik was the commander of the Department of Justice Liaison Unit and commander of the 14th District.

Before joining CPD, Buslik’s initial plan was to join the Peace Corps.

Gregory S. Ridenour (B.S. ’80 Earth Science; M.S. ’84 Earth Science) Ridenour has taught courses in physical geography in the Geosciences Department at Austin Peay State University since 1996. He is currently collaborating on a research project with Dr. Shan Wang in the Mathematics Department at Northeastern. He has a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. Ridenour’s wife, Violet, is also an alumna of Northeastern.

Ann P. Kalayil (B.A. ’82 Computer Science)

“Back then, people were looking for a way to make a real contribution to society,” Buslik said. “I don’t think there’s any less of that now, but back then that was a very much a driving factor: ‘How do I make a difference?’ I thought, ‘Being a cop, that’s the

Kalayil was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees of Northeastern Illinois University. 18


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at Blair Castle in Scotland in 2008, joining the society that honors accomplishments in the development of the Scotch whisky category. She is one of a few women inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame for her work on developing a small batch bourbon collection. In 2018, a limited edition was introduced as Kathleen’s Batch and sold globally.

1990s Jacqueline Saper (B.S. ’94 Accounting) Saper has published a book titled “From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran,” which will be released on Oct. 1, 2019. The publisher is Potomac Books - The University of Nebraska Press.

PJ Randhawa (B.A. ’08 Communication, Media and Theatre) In the midst of growing profit in the pharmaceutical industry and growth in the number of medical prescription errors in recent years, television reporter PJ Randhawa decided to take a closer look at the reason why. Randhawa’s report, published in April 2018, found stressed-out pharmacists who were facing pressure to fill prescriptions quickly or risk losing their jobs. The result: Many patients were receiving wrong—sometimes life-threatening—medications.

“Basically, we took a look at complaints within the pharmacy industry from pharmacists who say they’re being pressured to fill more prescriptions per hour,” said Randhawa, who works for KSDK, an NBC affiliate in St. Louis. “They’re being timed. They’re being told, ‘If you can’t fill more prescriptions, we’ll replace you with someone younger.’ The benefit to really knowing that and exposing that was really for the consumer because in the end there have been a lot of cases where people have gotten the wrong prescriptions.”

For her investigative work, Randhawa earned a Health and Science Mid-America Emmy Award.

Jeanne McGowan (B.A. ’99 Speech and Performing Arts) McGowan is serving her first term as alderman for the City of Geneva. She had previously served as a Kane County election judge as well as tech judge, and served the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois as Geneva registrar and troop co-leader.

2000s Dustin T. De Felice (B.A. ’03 Speech; M.A. ’05 Linguistics) De Felice recently accepted a new position as the director of the English Language Center in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University.

Panagiota “Patty” Tzortzis (M.A. ’08 Gifted Education)

Champion graduated from National Louis University with a doctorate in Community Psychology in June 2018. Champion currently serves as a psychologist at Ludeman Center in Chicago.

Tzortzis was named assistant principal at Algonquin Middle School in Des Plaines Elementary School District 62. Previously she served as the assistant principal at London Middle School in Wheeling, and coordinator of instructional technology and as a Spanish teacher in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

Robert “Bob” Chikos

Iliana (Marcano) Rzodkiewicz

Antonio Champion (B.A. ’07 Board of Governors)

(M.A. ’07 Special Education 2007; M.A. ’14

(B.A. ’09 Secondary Education)

Educational Leadership) Since the summer of 2018, Chikos has published 13 short stories in literary journals. He currently works as special education teacher at Crystal Lake Central High School.

Rzodkiewicz serves as an assistant principal at a Chicago Public Schools high school. She recently earned a master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

Thomas Witherspoon

(B.A. ’09 Board of Governors)

(M.A. ’07 Inner City Studies) Witherspoon was recently named the vice president for diversity and inclusion at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. He previously served as associate dean of students and director of the multicultural student support services at Denison University in Ohio.

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Ryan Walsh Walsh was featured in The Naperville Sun for co-inventing the Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox that facilitates package delivery and pickup by drones.

Vasi Atanasova (B.A. ’11 Communication, Media and Theatre) Atanasova is co-owner and marketing director

at Corsia Logistics, a digital marketing company in California.

Amy Schwartzbach (M.A. ’12 Reading) Schwartzbach is the co-founder of The Laboratory Collective and was recently named to the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards Fellow. The Laboratory Collective has been featured in NPR’s “MindShift” podcast, Teaching Times (a U.K. teaching magazine) and numerous other local, national and international media outlets.

Jean Matelski Boulware (B.A. ’13 Psychology) Boulware recently published in the Journal of Education, Society, and Behavioural Science on mindfulness and wisdom.

Tracy Sefcik (B.A. ’13 Justice Studies) Sefcik is the founder and CEO of Cross Country Cycle 4 Vets, a nonprofit organization that raises money for U.S. veterans and first responders through cross-country cycling. Her next ride will take her from Lake Forest to New York City for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.



We made it!



Northeastern’s inaugural fundraising campaign has ended nearly $3 million above the original goal. This means new scholarships, more support for faculty and programs, and thousands more people who understand and deeply care about supporting the great work of our University. Let’s continue to work together to transform lives.



Campaign Outcomes:

76 new scholarships 5,944 donors from 47 states 3,575 NEW donors 27,292 total gifts

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Class Notes continued

In Memoriam

Madeline Kobayashi (M.S.I. ’14 Secondary Education: Language Arts) Kobayashi was recently featured in a documentary published by the Center for College Access and Success (CCAS) at Northeastern Illinois University. She is currently working with CCAS to develop an inquiry and design-based curriculum. She is a previous recipient of the Golden Apple Award.

Joshua Friedberg (M.A. ’16 English) Since earning a master’s degree in English in 2016, Friedberg has published multiple essays and won multiple awards. He recently started writing a book, collaborating with six other authors. He is currently teaching an English course at Northeastern called Writing About Music in the U.S.: Contemporary History and Criticism. He also works as a consultant in the Writing Center at one of the City Colleges of Chicago.

Mary Kroeck (M.A. ’16 Communication, Media and Theatre) Kroeck’s comedic short story, “Seven Secrets of Happiness, or How to Just Survive Today” was published in Illinois’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction. Another short story titled “Letters to My Cat” was published in Illinois’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction and America’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction.

Wilma Sutton

Faculty & Staff

Retired, Office of the President

Audie Brewton Retired Associated Professor, Economics

Roger Henri Charlier Retired Professor, Earth Science

Anderson Thompson Professor Emeritus, Educational Leadership and Development

June Verbillion Retired Professor, English

Chong-Tong Chen Professor Emeritus, Accounting

Patricia Walsh

Diane Ehrlich

Professor Emerita, Special Education

Professor Emerita, Educational Leadership and Development

Thomas Weaver Retired Professor, Chemistry

Richard Gomez


Retired, Electrician

R. Kipp Hassell Retired, Dean of Students

Raymond Gapinski (B.S. ’78 Computer Science)

Edmund Hunt Professor Emeritus, Special Education

Edmund Hunt (M.A. ’80 Gifted Education)

Marion Jacob Retired, Library Relations

Deloris Porter

Thomas Marrs

(M.E.D. ’67 University without Walls)

Retired, Building Services Foreman

Mary Jane Pecoraro

Jacqueline Trademan (M.A. ’89 Linguistics)

Retired, Controller’s Office

2019 Alumni Awards

Northeastern Illinois University takes great pride in the success of its alumni. Each year, the University community and the NEIU Alumni Association recognize outstanding alumni at the Golden Gala and Alumni Awards Dinner, which this year will take place on Oct. 12. This year, Northeastern will recognize these five exemplary individuals for their exceptional contributions.

Alumni Service Award Flora Llacuna

(B.A. ’79 Secondary Education: Spanish; M.A. ’83 Guidance and Counseling) Coordinator, Student Affairs, Northeastern Illinois University

Community Leader Award Helen Sinclair

(B.A. ’85 University Without Walls) Chaplain, Illinois Department of Corrections

Future Alumni Leader Award Francisco Sebastian Accounting major FALL 2019

Outstanding GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) Alumni Award Angel Velez (B.A. ’10 Justice Studies; M.A. ’12 Educational Leadership: Higher Education) Doctoral candidate, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Distinguished Alumnus Award Michael Orono

(B.A. ’92 Criminal Justice) Director at National Security Council, The White House, U.S. Department of State Visit to learn more about the Golden Gala and Alumni Awards Dinner. NORTHEASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY I magazine


Bernard J. Brommel, 1930-2018 Bernard J. Brommel, who taught at Northeastern Illinois University for 28 years and in retirement became one of the institution’s most generous donors, died Sept. 22, 2018. Brommel earned his Ph.D. in Communication from Indiana University, with a minor in Education and Theatre, and later earned a Master of Science in Counseling and Family Therapy from Northeastern, and a post-doctorate degree from Northwestern. Brommel used his M.A. and post-doctoral work to start a second, simultaneous career as a private practice counselor in family therapy. A frugal individual, Brommel grew a personal fortune in part by setting aside and investing the income he earned as a family therapist. Soon after retiring, Brommel began making large donations to Northeastern, becoming the NEIU Foundation’s first million-dollar donor and eventually contributing more than $2.5 million. In recognition of Brommel’s generosity, Northeastern named the Science Building after him in 2010. It is now known as Bernard J. Brommel Hall. Brommel taught full-time from 1971-1997 for the Department of Speech and Performing Arts (now the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre), specializing in family communication and serving in many leadership roles. “For decades, Dr. Brommel inspired and mentored students and faculty,” department chair Shayne Pepper said. “He cared deeply about Northeastern and remained connected to us throughout his life. It is comforting to know that his legacy will live on through his written work, the students and faculty who knew him, and the many who will continue to be connected to him through his numerous endowed scholarships and faculty positions. He will always be part of this university.” To donate in Brommel’s honor, visit, select “other” and type in Brommel Professorship.

At Northeastern, we embrace originality and self-expression in all its forms. We are a creative, multicultural community, and we understand that each individual builds a very personal path to success.

Be a part of our community Get to know some of the students, professors and alumni whose unique experiences have led them to Northeastern and beyond. 22


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Dame Libby Komaiko, 1949-2019 Dame Libby Komaiko, founder of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in residence at Northeastern Illinois University, died Feb. 2, 2019. For more than 50 years, Komaiko’s extraordinary career embodied art, education and cultural integrity. Her passionate advocacy of culturally specific art was well known, and her devotion to higher education recognized by artists and educators throughout Chicago. In 1975, she founded the Ensemble Español— and what began as a company of seven student dancers is now a full company of 40 dancers, musicians and singers. She choreographed and produced the majority of the company’s choreographies, which now number near 135 original works. In 1983, she was awarded the “Lazo de Dama de Isabel la Católica” by the Spanish Royal Court and government. This honor was bestowed for her superlative work in spreading the cultural and artistic values of Spain throughout the United States. She was the first American choreographer to receive this honor. Komaiko was the recipient of many awards and civic honors, including the coveted Ruth Page Award (2003) and the International Latino Cultural Center Lifetime Achievement Award (2004). She was a professor emerita at Northeastern and was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the school in 2015. To donate in Komaiko’s honor, visit, select “other” and type in Dame Libby Legacy Fund.

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Community Care

Goodwin College launches Master of Public Health degree Northeastern Illinois University’s Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education has unveiled another new degree designed to meet the needs of the surrounding community. Launched in Fall 2019, the Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) is a 42-credit-hour degree program that covers a broad range of public health issues. Structured as a hybrid of on-campus and online courses, the program is taught by a team of faculty members across disciplines to provide a unique, generalist approach to the field. The program is headed by Department of Health Sciences and Physical Education Chair James Ball and Associate Professor Jennifer Banas, who also serves as coordinator of the Community Health program.

“Northeastern’s M.P.H. program serves a vital need not only in our immediate community, but throughout the Chicago area and Midwest region,” Banas said. “As we learn more about social determinants of health and their impact on health-related quality of life, the preparation of a diverse group of public health professionals who are knowledgeable about these intersecting determinants is essential to improving health outcomes for populations more susceptible to health disparities and health inequities.” M.P.H. students will have opportunities to conduct research and participate in internships. Upon graduation, students will be proficient in evidence-based approaches to public health, public health and healthcare systems, and public health policies, among other skills. Find more information online at

And there’s more... Beginning Fall 2019, the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education will offer three new non-degree programs: ⋅ The Public Health Graduate Certificate,

in the Department of Health Sciences and Physical Education, is an 18-credit-hour program designed to meet the needs of professionals seeking to gain supplemental knowledge in public health.

⋅ The Certificate in Couple and Family

Counseling, in the Department of Counselor Education, is an 18-credithour program providing specialized training for counseling students and counseling professionals interested in applying evidence-based systemic theory, assessment and intervention to their work with individuals, couples and families.

⋅ The School Counselor Endorsement, Non-Degree, in the Department of



Counselor Education, is a 21-credit-hour program with a Professional Educator License and 33-credit-hour program without a Professional Educator License that allows those who hold a graduate degree in counseling or closely-related fields to become eligible for an endorsement as a school counselor in Illinois.

⋅ The Addiction Counseling Certificate, in

the Department of Counselor Education, is a 21-credit-hour program providing specialized education and training in the prevention, intervention and treatment of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse disorders, and fulfills the educational requirements for the Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor credential.

A boost for entrepreneurs Northeastern Illinois University’s College of Business and Management has hosted a number of Work for Yourself@50+SM workshops over the past year at three of the University’s Chicago locations and plans to host more as part of a national grant from the AARP Foundation. The workshops, which are open to individuals of any age, take place on Northeastern’s Main Campus in the North Park neighborhood, at the El Centro location in Avondale, and at the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies location in Bronzeville. In total, more than 120 community members have attended these events—including current students and alumni. The national grant initiative is designed to help vulnerable older adults, age 50 and older, understand the pros and cons of self-employment and entrepreneurship, and to support them through the early steps that can lead to success. Find more information online at FALL 2019


CLARYBELLE NAVARRETE (current student studying Communication, Media and Theatre)

SUZZANE NAVARRETE (current student studying Psychology)

JOSE NAVARRETE (B.A. ’16 Communication, Media and Theatre)

Northeastern Legacy

Maribel Lopez and her children

Maribel Lopez arrived at Northeastern Illinois University in 2012 as a guest lecturer. She loved it so much that when a part-time instructor position opened up in the Department of Social Work, she applied and was hired. “My family came from Puerto Rico,” Lopez said. “No one in my family had really gone into higher ed before.” As Lopez worked on completing her master’s degree at another university, her sister, Melinda Landecho, earned her bachelor’s in Social Work from Northeastern. Years later, Lopez’s son, Jose, earned his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern. Now her two daughters, Clarybelle and Suzzane, are on track to earn their bachelor’s degrees within the next year. “Mom always says before she dies, she wants to see all her children cross the stage and get their degrees,” Clarybelle said with a laugh. “We’re here because of her.” “I tell my children that education is a privilege because I know that not everyone gets that opportunity,” Lopez said. “I saw the way education opened doors for me and I want that for my children.”


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