2016 Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumni Award                                                            

John P. Larson
CEO, Bestop Inc.
B.S. Finance, 1984

When asked to choose a favorite memory of NIU, John Larson says, “all four years.”

Larson is the CEO of Bestop Inc., a premier provider of accessories for jeeps, trucks, and all-terrain vehicles and the world’s leading provider of Jeep convertible tops. He is also the lead director for the board of KAR Auction Services, an automotive auction and finance company.

He enjoys returning to NIU’s campus to speak to students in the College of Business, and says he is proud of “the great job the College of Business does in developing young professionals.”

Larson spent twenty years in key management positions at General Motors, including overseeing the Buick, Pontiac, and GMC truck divisions and acting as the general director of finance for U.S. sales, service, and marketing operations. He received several Chairman’s Honors Awards and was recognized for his involvement in the post-9/11 Keep America Rolling promotion and for leading the development of GM’s revenue management activity. Larson and his team also received a number of prestigious industry awards, including the Golden Lion at Cannes, the industry’s highest global marketing award, and Advertising Age’s Best Promotions of the Year award.

In 2008, Larson left GM and was named CEO of Escort Inc., an industry-leading automotive electronics company. Under his six years of leadership, Escort received multiple national awards for innovation, including Car and Driver’s 10 BEST Automotive Innovations, SEMA’s Best New Mobile Electronics Product, and the Consumer Electronic Show’s Mobile Electronics Innovation Award. In addition to the product awards, Larson worked with private equity ownership, recapitalized the business, aggressively grew Escort’s highly regarded direct-to-consumer model, and took Escort through a successful sales process.

Larson has been involved in a number of charitable activities, and is extremely proud to be an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home for Children. He has been recognized for his work with both the VFW National Home for Children and the A Million Thanks Foundation to honor military personnel.

He has been the keynote speaker at the National Leadership Education and Development Program (LEAD) and in the Krannert School of Management Executive Leadership Series at Purdue. He serves on the dean’s advisory council at the Krannert School of Management and lectures regularly at the NIU College of Business.

F.R. Geigle Service Award

Christopher M. Millington
Retired Principal and Founder, Top-Down Leadership Consulting, LLC
NIU College of Business Honorary Alumnus, 2010

Chris Millington’s true passion has always been for people and organizational development. He believes technology organizations can only achieve full success by empowering people and treating them with respect and dignity.

Millington’s forty years of work experience include senior information technology roles in the financial services, computer services, manufacturing, distribution, and telecommunications industries. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. After twelve years as global chief technology officer at McDonald’s Corporation, Millington retired in 2010 and formed Top-Down Leadership Consulting, LLC, focused on executive coaching, leadership development, information technology organizational transformation, motivational speaking, and developing empowered cultures.

Though he retired from active employment in 2015, Millington continues to be an active presence at the NIU College of Business. He is in his eighth year of sitting on both the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems (OM&IS) Executive Advisory Council and on the Experiential Learning Center Advisory Board. He is a former adjunct faculty coach in the college and was named the OM&IS Honorary Alumnus in 2010.

Millington and his wife, Lorraine, have made a significant impact on the College of Business. Because of the Millington Challenge Fund, the college has been able to establish seventeen scholarships for OM&IS students. In the two-for-one challenge, the Millingtons offered to donate twice the amount of any new donor’s gift to the Department of OM&IS – for instance, if a new donor gives $100, the Millingtons will give an additional $200, making a combined total gift of $300 to the department.

The Millingtons have been especially supportive of the advancement of women in technology. The couple created the Marian Elizabeth Millington Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Information Technology in 2008, and in 2015 created the Dr. Denise Schoenbachler Leadership Award in MIS/SAP Integration. The Schoenbachler award, named in honor of College of Business Dean Denise Schoenbachler, will award twenty $1,000 scholarships, with a preference given to female students. They have also funded faculty fellowships that advanced research relating to women in senior information technology roles.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Michael Cahill
Senior Associate, Ernst & Young LLP
B.S. Accountancy, 2012
M.A.S. 2013

Michael Cahill is a senior associate at Ernst & Young US LLP and is a member of the Derivatives and Financial Instruments group within the firm’s Financial Accounting Advisory Services practice. Cahill advises clients on the accounting for transactions involving complex financial instruments, including debt or equity financing, structured products, and derivatives.

Prior to joining Financial Accounting Advisory Services, Cahill was selected as one of six from a pool of elite candidates nationwide for a one-year assistantship at the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a private nonprofit organization whose purpose is to establish and improve generally accepted U.S. accounting principles. There, he participated in all aspects of accounting standards-setting as a technical staff member on the accounting for financial instruments projects.

Before joining the Financial Accounting Standards Board, Cahill gained experience executing valuations of business enterprises as both a staff member and intern in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Services practice.

Cahill graduated summa cum laude from the Northern Illinois University College of Business with Bachelor of Science and Master of Accounting Science degrees. He is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the Illinois CPA Society.

College of Business Outstanding College Alumni Award

Cindy Crocker
Retired Senior Vice President for Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, Equity Group Investments
B.S. Marketing, 1980

Cindy Crocker believes that everyone who has a dream should have the opportunity to pursue it. She also believes that education is a powerful agent for personal, professional, and social change. Those principles have guided her as she changes the lives of NIU College of Business students as a philanthropist and mentor.

Crocker’s desire to help others pursue their dreams is fueled by her gratitude for having had the opportunity to pursue her own. Looking back, the accomplished business leader modestly credits much of her success to “luck and being at the right place at the right time.” She also cites hard work and the solid education she received at NIU.

After graduation, Crocker joined First Capital Financial Corp. as a marketing associate. She later moved to investor relations. In the early 1990s, she joined First Capital’s sister company, Equity Group Investments, to become a member of the public relations team. Crocker led initial public offerings for some of the nation’s leading real estate companies and eventually retired as senior vice president for investor relations and corporate communications for Equity Group.

Today, Crocker devotes her energy and considerable talents to philanthropy. At NIU, the Crocker Endowed Scholarship in Business supports the next generation of business leaders through a generous endowment. In addition, she has been a caring and inspiring mentor to young women majoring in business. Her annual Crocker Program for Emerging Business Leaders gives students the opportunity to network with entrepreneurs and business leaders. Crocker and her husband, Doug, have also generously supported education through endowments at Milton Academy, DePaul, and Harvard.

Crocker is an active member of the NIU Foundation Board of Directors and serves in leadership roles on organizations in her community. She and Doug are members of the Presidents’ Council of the New Bedford Art Museum, where she focuses on the children’s education program.

Crocker’s investment in NIU students extends beyond her significant financial contribution; she invests in them personally as an advocate, mentor, and friend.

College of Education Outstanding College Alumni Award

Cary S. Groth
Director of Athletics, Emeritus, University of Nevada
B.S. Ed. Physical Education, 1978
M.S. Ed. Educational Leadership, 1999

Cary Groth was a leader in intercollegiate athletics for thirty-two years, including ten years as director of athletics at Northern Illinois University and nine years as director of athletics at the University of Nevada. Groth led her universities’ programs to competitive and academic success and grew program revenue in almost every category.

Groth’s programs were nationally recognized for their commitment to gender equity and diversity, and she served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. The University of Nevada’s graduation success rate (GSR) for student-athletes rose in each of Groth’s nine years at the helm, and Wolf Pack teams turned in eight consecutive years of penalty-free academic performance in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rates report.

During her tenure at the University of Nevada, she raised more than $70 million for new facilities and upgrades, and the university’s football program was ranked tenth in national polls. She was instrumental in working with donors to complete more than $40 million in facility construction and renovations, and the University of Nevada became 82-percent self-funded under her leadership.

Groth has been recognized as the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators Division Administrator of the Year and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Administrator of the Year and has been an active member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. She is the co-founding principal of the PICTOR Group, an athletics consulting firm that works with institutions nationwide. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Nevada College of Education and teaches a graduate-level sports management class. She also serves on the Truckee Meadows Community College Foundation Board and is an active member of the Northern Nevada International Women’s Forum.

Honors and awards include Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year – Tennis; the All-American Football Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award; the State of Illinois Making a Difference Award; the Girl Scouts of Nevada Women in Leadership Award; and induction in the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame.

College of Engineering & Engineering Technology Outstanding College Alumni Award

Rick Moser
Founder and Creative Director, Moser Design
Founder and Team Leader, Proudly Made IN AMERICA
B.S. Graphic Arts Technology, 1981

Rick Moser is a senior-level graphic design and writing professional with more than twenty years of experience in creating branded online and print marketing communications through his business Moser Design.

Moser enjoys using his skills and experience to grow his clients’ brand awareness and sales and to serve as a trusted advisor. His expertise includes creating branding, marketing communications, websites, and integrated promotional campaigns. Clients include small businesses, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies, and national retailers. He is a member of AIGA, the professional association for design.

Moser finds great meaning by giving back to the greater good through designing logos for nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis. His pro bono clients have included a women’s domestic abuse shelter, an organization that protects and maintains the quality of the Fox River and its tributaries, an organization that refurbishes computers for use by low-income families and nonprofits, and a Made in America initiative that promotes keeping jobs in this country. He has also served as an adjunct instructor in the visual communication program and as a guest critic for senior design projects at the NIU School of Art and Design. His passion for children’s literacy has led him to volunteer as a reader of children’s books in more than twenty schools in the Chicago and Kansas City metro areas.

Rick lives with his wife, Gia, in Kansas City and is the proud father of three grown children, Matt, Emily, and Nicholas, and two stepdaughters, Aeriel and Abbey.

College of Health & Human Sciences Outstanding College Alumni Award

Jacqueline B. Marcus
President and Owner, Jacqueline B. Marcus & Associates, Food & Nutrition Consultants
B.S. Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Science, 1972
M.S. Nutrition and Dietetics, 1979

Jacqueline B. Marcus, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., C.N.S., F.A.D.A., F.A.N.D., is an award-winning, internationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist who mixes culinary, food, fitness, nutrition, and wellness into recipes for success. She holds a certificate in gerontology from the University of Illinois and is a certified nutrition specialist through the American College of Nutrition. She is also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a charter fellow of both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Dietetic Association.

Marcus is a food and nutrition publisher, editor, author, spokesperson, program and product developer, and marketing strategist whose clients include such names as Ajinomoto USA, Aldi US, Barilla, Kellogg’s, Lean Cuisine, Lettuce Entertain You, McDonald’s, Quaker Oats, and the U.S. Navy. She helps companies analyze products and develop nutrition labeling, meet regulatory standards, develop products and recipes, and market their products. She has published, written, or edited numerous cookbooks and magazine articles about food, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles.

In keeping with her dedication to educate others about food and nutrition, Marcus was an associate professor and department chair of human and culinary nutrition in the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and an assistant professor of human and culinary nutrition at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. She lectured at eight more colleges and universities and developed wellness programs for such high-profile clients as the U.S. Navy’s Great Lakes Naval Base, the United States Olympic Committee, and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center North Shore – the first community hospital-based wellness program in the nation.

Marcus is a leader in her industry, serving as an active member or board member emeritus of several professional organizations: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Food & Culinary ProfessionalsSports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition; Dietitians in Business and Communications, and Nutrition Entrepreneurs. Her many honors and awards include recognition from Kappa Omicron Phi, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Chicago Dietetic Association.

Her book, Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking (Elsevier, 2014) earned two international awards: the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2014: USA, Best Author or Chef for Professionals, and the 17th World Congress of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) Global Food Industry Awards: Special Mention, Communicating Science-Related Knowledge to Consumers Aimed at Improving Their Lifestyle, 2014.

College of Law Outstanding College Alumni Award

Rich Lenkov
Attorney, Bryce Downey & Lenkov LLC
Juris Doctor, 1995

Rich Lenkov practices insurance defense and entertainment law. He brings a killer instinct and unparalleled focus to representing his clients. He partners closely with his clients, ranging from Fortune 50 corporations to small business, to achieve successful outcomes to litigation.

Lenkov was elected to the 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers list, an honor given to no more than 5 percent of lawyers in the state. He was also named Leading Lawyer from 2012 to 2016 and was honored by SEAK as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Workers’ Compensation. In 2014, he received the top score in Target Corporation’s nationwide panel of general liability attorneys.

Lenkov is a frequent lecturer and a member of a number of national organizations, including the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance, the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, and the Workers’ Compensation Defense Institute.

Lenkov is the go-to legal analyst for WGN Radio. He also co-hosts the nation’s premier legal program, “Legal Face-Off,” on WGN Plus. On the show, Lenkov and his co-host, noted plaintiff’s attorney Jason Whiteside, debate politics, current events, entertainment, and sports from a legal perspective. They also feature prominent guests, such as Alan Dershowitz and Gloria Allred.

He is actively involved in the community, including serving on the board of visitors for the NIU College of Law, serving as a local school counsel representative for Agassiz Elementary School, and sitting on the advisory board of Legal Prep Charter Academy, Chicago’s only legal-themed charter school. He was recently honored as alumnus of the year by the NIU College of Law.

Lenkov is also co-founder of Chila Productions, the associate producer of The Perfect Storm: Story of the 1994 Montreal Expos, and the producer of ’85: The Greatest Team in Pro Football History, a documentary about the 1985 Chicago Bears featuring interviews with key members of the team, President Barack Obama, Jeremy Piven, and many others. He is in preproduction on a number of exciting projects, including Renegades, a live show in Las Vegas featuring prominent athletes, such as Mike Tyson and Pete Rose. And he is involved with successful Broadway productions, including Rock of Ages and The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream, conceived and written by legendary E Street band member Steve Van Zandt.

Lenkov lives on the north side of Chicago with his wife Patti and two children, Emma and Cooper.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Outstanding College Alumni Award

Rita Dragonette
President and Founder, Dragonette Career Strategies
B.A. English, 1972

At a time when Americans doubt the value of a degree in the humanities, Rita Dragonette is a prime example of how an individual with an English degree can build a multimillion-dollar international firm while supporting multiple nonprofits and writing a novel.

In 2003, she established Dragonette Career Strategies, where she serves as an executive career consultant, coach, and organizational change expert, advising C-suite executives and entrepreneurs on leadership, management development, and organizational change. She also just finished a novel about her experiences at NIU during the turbulent days of the draft lottery and Kent State University.

Dragonette began her career at the global public relations agency Daniel J. Edelman, Inc., now Edelman Worldwide. She rapidly rose through the firm’s ranks, leading the agency’s first million-dollar client and being named its youngest senior vice president. She left Edelman in the early 1980s and co-founded Dragonette, Inc., one of the first agencies to offer integrated marketing services. The agency quickly became one of the top fifteen independents nationally. She sold the firm to Grey Global Group, now part of WPP, in 1999.

In addition to her robust professional life, Dragonette has stayed connected to her alma mater. She has given lectures, mentored students, and endowed a scholarship in honor of her sister. She serves on the executive advisory board in the College of Business and has been involved with the Department of English. In the spirit of NIU’s goal of student career success, Dragonette is establishing a scholarship for students who couple a liberal arts major with a business minor.

Dragonette is vice chair of the board of LifeSpace Communities, the seventh-largest not-for-profit provider of senior retirement communities nationwide. She also serves on the business advisory board of the Wealth Management Practice of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Executives’ Club of Chicago.

Dragonette has won multiple awards from the International Association of Business Communicators, CIPRA, the Publicity Club of Chicago, and Easter Seals.

College of Visual & Performing Arts Outstanding College Alumni Award

Kurt Sutter
Screenwriter, Director, Producer, and Actor
M.F.A. Acting, 1997

Raised in the suburbs of central New Jersey, Kurt Sutter spent most of his childhood indoors, avoiding people, and three feet from a television screen.

That’s where he learned the essentials of storytelling and observed that extreme violence, if performed by animated, slightly absurd characters, could be fun and informative.

After graduating from Rutgers University with a B.A. in mass media and film, Sutter spent several years as an actor in New York City, performing in off-Broadway theaters, meatpacking warehouses, indiscriminate lofts, and NYPD holding cells. His theater training led to teaching and directing, and in the mid-1990s he joined the faculty of The Gately/Poole Acting Conservatory on Theatre Row, teaching the Sanford Meisner Technique and directing productions at the Nat Horne Theatre.

In 1997, Sutter was awarded an M.F.A. Fellowship to attend Northern Illinois University. In Chicago, his exposure to the dramatic masters – Strindberg, O’Neill, Genet – inspired him, and he began writing un-producible plays and cultivating ideas for the screen. After graduating with a master of fine arts degree, Sutter moved to Los Angeles, where he began writing. In 2001, he landed a gig on FX’s The Shield. Starting as a staff writer on the first episode, he stayed on The Shield until the end of the series, finishing up the last two seasons as an executive producer.

In 2008, Sutter created the critically acclaimed drama series Sons of Anarchy. Its seven-year run is the most successful episodic series in the history of the network.

Last year, Sutter made his feature debut with Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams. Written by Sutter and directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Weinstein Company released the film in July 2015. Also in 2015, Sutter created the FX medieval drama The Bastard Executioner, starring Katey Sagal, Lee Jones, and Stephen Moyer.

Previously, Sutter also ventured into reality programming with a documentary series on the Discovery Channel, Kurt Sutter’s Outlaw Empires.

Sutter and his wife, Katey Sagal, live in Los Angeles with their three children, Sarah, Jackson and Esme.