2020 NIUAA Alumni Award Winners
The NIU Alumni Association annually recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni, with award recipients being selected based on outstanding professional and personal successes, as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.
The seven 2020 award winners represent the best qualities of an NIU Huskie. They have lived and worked with integrity, made positive differences in their professional fields, and have been on the forefront of change. Simply put, this year’s winners are living proof that Huskies never quit.
“We are thrilled to celebrate these amazing examples of our Huskie pride and work ethic,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “This year’s recipients are at the head of their fields, working to better their communities and the world, and we so very proud of their accomplishments.”
At the annual awards banquet, to be held at noon, March 27, at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center on campus, the NIU Alumni Association will recognize the following Huskies for exemplifying the best in their fields:
- Robert English, Ed.D. '74 – Distinguished Alumnus Award
Mr. English achieved extraordinary success in higher education. After years of working as an administrator and adjunct instructor at various colleges, including NIU, he developed a reporting process for Joliet Junior College to prudently and responsibly manage its finances and public funds. Realizing that this process could benefit all public entities, he and his wife Mary developed software to specifically address important issues for public funds officers. Today, finance officials continue to utilize and benefit from English’s ground-breaking process intended to safeguard precious public resources.
- Kweli Kwaza, '87 – F.R. Geigle Service Award
Mr. Kwaza founded the Talented 10th college prep program, which organizes mentoring opportunities for inner city youth. The program touts a community-based, peer-group approach to building skills and educational background, providing mentors to up to 160 high school students and 12 elementary school students each year. The program also offers an overnight college shadowing experience for high schoolers, which has only partnered with NIU since 1983.
- Kymberly Messersmith, '88 – Alumni Achievement in Public Service Award
As managing director of government affairs at KPMG LLP, Ms. Messersmith has had an impressive career in governmental affairs, spanning from nonprofit companies to large corporate entities. In 2019, Messersmith was one of 77 women featured on the 2019 Crain’s New York Business list of notable women in accounting and consulting. In addition, she mentors political science students at NIU and was recently invited to campus to give the keynote speech at the School of Public and Global Affairs’ annual event for high school students enrolled in AP Government and Economic classes.
- Michael Vazquez, '80 – Alumni Achievement in the Sciences Award
While working for Searle and Pharmacia in the 1990s, after HIV was discovered as the cause of AIDS, Mr. Vazquez’s research led to the invention of the sulfonamide class of HIV-protease inhibitors. Portions of his work became the commercial anti-HIV products Agenerase, Lexiva and Prezista. More recently, at Pfizer, Vazquez led a multidisciplinary project team and medicinal chemistry efforts that resulted in the identification of two selective inhibitors, which have gone on to clinical trials. These clinical candidates are potentially useful for treating autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Jill Krueger, '81 – Alumni Achievement in Business & Industry Award
As chief executive of Symbria, a provider of rehab, well-being, and pharmacy programs to post-acute care and senior living organizations, Ms. Krueger drove revenue from $300,000 to $1.3 million, grew Symbria’s employee base to nearly 2,000, and spurred innovations in analytics and management tools. She also gives back to the University as an active alumnus, often mentoring young women in business.
- Marquis Hill, '09 – Alumni Achievement in the Arts Award
Mr. Hill is an experienced trumpeter and music teacher, having performed alongside today’s top artists in jazz festivals and competitions. He’s been honored with many prestigious awards and scholarships, including the 2014 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition, which is among the most prestigious competitions for jazz musicians. He is published nine musical recordings since 2010 and just released his tenth album, “Love Tape.”
- Morgan Kolkmeyer, '13 – Outstanding Young Alumnus Award
Ms. Kolkmeyer is well-known as a weather anchor for the WGN Morning News in Chicago. She has broken into the nation’s third-largest media market in only a few years, accomplishing what many meteorologists never do in a lifetime. Despite the demands for her career, she regularly comes back to NIU to participate in the Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences’ annual Career Day.
To RSVP, email Dana King, '05, or call her at 815-753-5421 by March 19. Please indicate your entrée selection: chicken, salmon or vegetarian.