On Campus: Harper Distinguished Alumni Put Focus Back on Faculty

Five former Harper College students were inducted this month as Distinguished Alumni, and took care to thank faculty members who inspired their education and careers.

Nancy Castle used to be terrified of public speaking.

Today, she’s logged 30 years as a college professor who presents at international conferences.

The key: a required speech class she took in the 1970s as a student at Harper College.

“That class,” says Castle, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, “was a life-changer for me.”

She relayed the story, and a public thank-you to her speech professor, at a reception this month honoring the College’s five 2011 Distinguished Alumni. Castle was among the recipients, and her theme of gratitude was repeated often throughout the event, with every honoree offering their own memories of faculty and courses they said influenced their lives and helped launch their careers.

A Nursing graduate mentioned an obstetrics instructor who allowed her to stay after clinic hours for the chance to witness the stunning miracle of an actual birth. Another recipient, now a well-known and respected name in the dental community, credited her Dental Hygiene professor with mentoring her, coaching her and keeping her interested in the field and realistic about the career path.

“All things considered, I think I should be honoring Harper tonight,” said honoree Thomas Erbach, who earned a bachelor’s in chemistry after leaving Harper and cited instructors who challenged students to rise above perceptions to achieve greatness. “Thank you for your contribution to my success.”

The reception, which collectively toasted the achievements of the five honored alumni and the work of the faculty members who played a role in their education, included comments from Illinois Community College Board Chairman Alexi Giannoulias, who spoke of the value of community colleges and called on the honorees – as well as former recipients – to share their stories as an inspiration to others.

“You are wonderful role models for so many students and future students,” Giannoulias said.

Harper’s Distinguished Alumni program was launched in 2008.

Since then, 22 former students – including an Emmy-nominated screenwriter, an 80-something still taking classes, a mayor, a fire chief, a National Geographic –honored geoarchaeologist and the songwriter who penned Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” – have been formally recognized.

“You honor us with your accomplishments,” Harper President Dr. Kenneth Ender told the five 2011 honorees. “You honor the work of our faculty, and we are so very, very proud of you.”

Inductees include:

Dr. Nancy M. Castle (Sycamore, Ill.):  A professor in the Center for Non-Governmental Organization Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University, Castle holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is considered a national expert on the employment of persons with disabilities. She’s produced more than 150 publications and presentations on the subject, and has served on the leadership team at two university research centers. She explored her interest in psychology at Harper before transferring to NIU, and credits two professors with inspiring her passion in the subject. “Thanks to the interest taken by a handful of faculty,” she says, “I left Harper with skills that served me well over the rest of my life.”

Thomas J. Erbach (Naperville, Ill.):  Erbach built a 20-year career as a manager of technical training and support management, supporting more than 300 field service engineers in the U.S. and Canada in his most recent role with Beckman Coulter, a global producer of clinical and research laboratory technology. He turned to Harper twice: once for an associate degree that led to a bachelor’s in chemistry and later for HVAC courses when skills in that field were necessary for his job. Through a partnership with Harper’s HVAC program and Harper College for Businesses, he created a customized curriculum to train Beckman Coulter field service engineers, improving training and performance measures. “I was drawn to Harper College because it was available, affordable, accessible and excellent,” he says.

Daneen M. Gorski-Adams (Lake in the Hills, Ill.): Gorski-Adams, the director of Learning and Development at Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, has earned two Harper degrees: an Associate of Science and, following a bachelor’s at Loyola University, an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing. She received certification from the American Board of Nursing Specialists and holds specialty certifications from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation and the National Board of Hospice and Palliative Nurses, and serves on an advisory committee providing support and direction to Harper’s Nursing program.  Harper College is about community, and growing your own into proficient professionals,” Gorski-Adams says. “That’s exactly what I hope I am doing in my career.”

Donna M. Grzegorek (Algonquin, Ill.): A registered dental hygienist, Grzegorek has amassed a number of advanced credentials, earned three national industry recognitions and become a respected name in the dental community. She is a published author, national speaker, corporate consultant and student mentor, and has volunteered hundreds of hours to advance public awareness about a variety of dental topics. Now a clinical specialist at High Tech Dental Healthcare and chief operating officer of Innovative Dental Professionals in Barrington, she is considered a key opinion leader in the area of early oral cancer detection. “My amazing experience at Harper College was the catalyst that launched a career devoted to lifelong learning,” Grzegorek says, “and inspired me to seek excellence in all that I do.”

Lawrence R. Moats (Chicago, Ill.):  The president of Moats Office Properties and Arlington Electrical Construction Company, Moats was a student in the campus’ early years and also served 15 years on the College’s Board of Trustees. Under his leadership, the community-based Moats Office Properties has flourished despite a bad economy, and his electrical contracting business provides power, control systems and other specialty services to critical organizations like Fermi National Accelerator Lab and the Great Lakes Naval Base. He is part of Harper’s Educational Foundation President’s Circle, which raises money for scholarships and educational programs. “I can’t emphasize enough what an extraordinary impact Harper had on me,” Moats says. “The lessons Harper taught me gave me the confidence in business and the sense to go for it all and to take risks. It is the foundation of my adult life.”




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