2006 Alumni Awards

Please note that the following profile information is current as of April 2006.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dennis Barsema

Dennis Barsema’s generosity to his alma mater has provided important support for student programs and scholarships but in a much more visible way has changed the landscape of Northern’s campus. His incredibly generous gifts totaling more than $23 million have funded the College of Business’ Barsema Hall and provided major support toward the construction of the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center and the Academic and Athletic Performance Center. Those who bleed red and black understand the true impact of his philanthropy to this university.

However, financial support is just one aspect of Dennis importance to the Northern community. He provides inspiration to anyone who hears his story-triumphs and struggles alike — and shows that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles if they put their mind to it. Despite his many accomplishments and accolades, his ability to relate to NIU students and young alumni in a modest and honest manner inspires them by his example. Making several trips to NIU each year, Dennis generously devotes his time and expertise to the College of Business as a teacher and mentor. For a month during each fall semester Dennis team-teaches a business course on entrepreneurship. He also spends a considerable amount of time meeting with and mentoring business students.

At a young age Dennis learned how to overcome fears and find ways to be successful, even when the odds were against him. Dennis moved from a small town which had 13 students in his eighth grade class to the much larger Naperville Central High School. After earning his degree in marketing at NIU, he began his career earning a modest $11,500 a year selling calculators door-to-door. While his salary was modest, Dennis was thrilled to have the experience. He learned the ropes and quickly moved up the sales ranks at Burroughs Corp., and elsewhere.

Dennis’s career took off in the 1980s as he moved from sales to management, taking on increasingly important roles at ever larger companies. In the early 1990s he became intrigued as friends left the corporate world for start-up companies. “I noticed that the people who were successful weren’t any different than me,” he says.

As the CEO of Redback Networks, Inc., Dennis set out to convince Wall Street investors that his company was the next big thing in Internet technology. For three grueling weeks in 1999 he talked up the technology and defended the company’s business plan to the shrewdest financial minds in the industry. When he finally brought Redback to market, it had the fifth most successful initial public offering in Wall Street history up until that time.

Dennis’s philanthropy is not restricted to NIU. The Barsema family donates to a variety of other institutions including: The Archbishop Romero School in Aurora, Illinois; Opportunity International; and The Carpenter’s Place in Rockford, Illinois.

F.R. Geigle Award

Sally Stevens

For most of her life, Sally Stevens has been connected to NIU. She began her long relationship with Northern in 1964 after first being employed as a high school secretary and school district treasurer in Sycamore. Over the course of the next 32 years, she served as the secretary to six university presidents, devoting her professional life to the betterment of NIU.

Since her retirement in 1996 (her farewell reception drew more than 1,000 well-wishers) Sally has continued to take advantage of all the university has to offer. Among her favorite campus activities are plays, concerts, and recitals offered by the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Also an avid fan and supporter of NIU athletics, Sally enjoys football and men’s and women’s basketball games as a season ticket holder.

In addition to her considerable gifts and service to Northern, Sally’s civic mindedness is also apparent in her busy volunteer schedule. She serves on the boards of directors for several local organizations, including the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Kishwaukee Family YMCA, the NIU University Women’s Club, and the Sycamore Woman’s Club. She is an active member of the Federated Church in Sycamore, where she serves as parish visitor; is editor of the bi-monthly newsletter at the Oak Crest Retirement Center; and is an avid bridge player. She also travels extensively, having visited more than 100 countries.

Sally says that she always knew that the day would come for her to leave a legacy at NIU, and she has done just that. Through her generosity, endowed scholarships have been established for students in the Schools of Art, Music, and Theatre and Dance; the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center came to life; and the Academic and Athletic Performance Center will come to fruition.

Her peers recognize her as an avid volunteer. In 2004 Sally was the recipient of the Northern Illinois University Foundation Outstanding Philanthropist Award. In 2002 Sally received the Oak Leaf Award, the volunteer award given by the Oak Crest Retirement Center. She was also named “Woman of Accomplishment” by the local chapter of Altrusa in 1999.

Of NIU, Sally says, “Realize just what NIU is offering to each of you, and make the most of the talents of all the faculty and staff who assist you along the way. Remember the good times you had at NIU and come back often to see its progress. Support NIU always to keep it strong and vibrant. It is your academic home-always be proud of it!”

Outstanding Alumni Award

Nicholas O. Brooks

As a child, Nicholas O. Brooks was raised in a home that was constantly filled with music. At the age of 8, Nicholas performed for the first time in church, where he sang “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Without a dry eye in the church congregation that day, Nicholas remembers this experience as “The moment when I knew that singing was going to be my life!”

Nicholas’ collegiate big break came in 1998. He was recruited by Northern Illinois University to be the singer for the NIU Jazz Ensemble (Big-Band)-one of the top five jazz programs in the U.S. Under the direction of Ron Carter, Nicholas was able to travel with the band across the U.S. and Europe, touring with jazz legends like Wynton Marsalis, Frank Wess, Benny Golson, and many others. During this time, Nicholas made several radio and television appearances singing the National Anthem at high-profile professional sports games. Also in his college years, Nicholas was awarded the prestigious and coveted Down Beat Magazine U.S. and Canada Jazz Vocalist of the Year Award, which propelled him into the music stratosphere. The Chicago Tribune also named Nicholas as one of the top rising artists in the U.S. Upon his graduation from NIU, the City of Batavia (Nicholas’ hometown) honored him with a “Nicholas Brooks Day” on May 11, 2002.

Shortly thereafter Nicholas signed a contract with Celebrity Management (manager Jimmy Jay Smith), beginning his professional solo career in Las Vegas and abroad. In this new world of stardom, Nicholas has become a Las Vegas celebrity on TV and radio, working with some of his musical idols and other famed celebrities.

Nicholas is not only a dynamic commercial vocalist and soon-to-be household name in the music industry; he is an individual who has used his talents and bachelor’s degree in business administration to make an impact on today’s youth. Upon his arrival in Las Vegas Nicholas found that the entertainment aspect of the city was not being utilized as an educational art tool within public schools; he notes that many Las Vegas youth have never seen a show. Nicholas worked with the City of Las Vegas to create programs and summer camps that introduce children and teenagers to the world of the arts. With the creation of his programs and summer camps Las Vegas youth now have the opportunity to explore the arts by meeting and talking with a variety of entertainers; dancers, gymnasts, singers, actors, and jugglers. “What is beautiful about these programs is that they birth a desire and passion to pursue the arts,” notes Nicholas.

College of Business

Dean DeBiase

A man of no small accomplishments, Dean DeBiase continues to build on his business successes, sharing his good fortune with his alma mater in the 25 years since earning his marketing degree.

Dean has built leading business services and consumer products companies, and run global subsidiaries of Fortune 500 corporations in various media, communications, technology, and entertainment sectors including: consumer electronics, Internet and interactive services, software and publishing, broadband and wireless, telecom and IT infrastructure, e-commerce, and distribution-logistics.

Focused on strategic and profitable growth, Dean has led private and public companies during various operating stages, including start-up, expansion, restructuring, turnaround, mergers and acquisitions, and IPOs.

Most recently, he built Autoweb into one of the most popular Internet brands and the leading content and technology services provider. As president, CEO and chairman, Dean led Autoweb’s growth performance, successful IPO, and eventual merger with Autobytel, creating the largest Internet automotive marketing services company, which generates over $1 billion in monthly partner sales.

Previously, as president and CEO of AT&T Imagination Network, the largest interactive games and entertainment company, Dean led a successful Internet expansion strategy, reinventing the company through revolutionary content, technology, and distribution partnerships, and orchestrated the successful acquisition of the company by AOL Time Warner.

Dean is currently chairman and CEO of Start-Up-Partners, a growth strategy and interim leadership group which helps CEOs and boards tackle their most challenging issues. He currently guides them in orchestrating market-centric innovation, managing competitive positioning, expanding new technology offerings, designing market entry approaches, creating next-gen business models, optimizing IP partnerships, and restructuring their industry dynamics.

Earlier this year, Dean was involved in co-authoring the book The Big Moo along with legendary business authors Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters, and others. He has launched a web-based consulting service, Remarkabalize.com, which provides consulting services to firms wanting to set themselves apart through innovation.

Dean has clearly had outstanding professional accomplishments in the 25 years since graduating with a B.S. in marketing from NIU. He has led companies as CEO, formed his own successful business service firm, and now joins the likes of Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell as a business book author.

College of Education

Lixin Huang

As the president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) in San Francisco, California, Lixin Huang has emerged as a leader in defining and advancing the use of traditional Chinese medicine in American health care.

Under Lixin’s guidance, ACTCM is quickly becoming the premier institution of Oriental medicine in North America. In 2005, the college celebrated 25 years of improving the quality of health care by providing professional graduate education and patient care in traditional Chinese medical practices.

It is important to note that Lixin’s success did not come without sacrifice. Lixin was raised in communist China, during Mao Zedong’s rule, and she completed her undergraduate education during the post-Mao reform era, led by Deng Xiaoping. While reform policies brought great improvements to China’s standard of living and linkages to the outside world during this time, they also brought political dissent and social problems, such as inflation and urban migration.

When Lixin was accepted into NIU’s adult continuing education master’s program, she and her husband, Anthony, were forced to leave their 4-year-old daughter in China. Lixin completed her education in a foreign language and foreign culture, separated by more than 7,000 miles from her only child. For four years, Lixin’s mother cared for her granddaughter in China, until Lixin completed her master’s degree and she and Anthony were finally able to bring their 8-year-old daughter to the United States.

Today Lixin is highly regarded and increasingly recognized by her U.S. and international peers as a leader in the field of Chinese medicine in American health care. She is the current president of the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and an executive committee member for the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine; she serves on the International Advisory Council for the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine for the People’s Republic of China and the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine; and is increasingly sought after as a speaker, making presentations on a variety of health topics in Hong Kong, Brazil, China, France, and the U.S.

In addition to her professional services, Lixin serves on the National Council for the World Wildlife Fund and is vice president of the Chinese Association for Wildlife Conservation.

College of Engineering and Engineering Technology

Gerald E. Stark

Gerry E. Stark, B.S., C.P., F.A.A.O.P., received his mechanical engineering degree from Northern Illinois University in 1989 and worked as a tooling engineer prior to attending Northwestern University for his prosthetic certificate in 1991. He interned as a clinical prosthetist in Denver and returned to Northwestern University as a prosthetic instructor in 1993.

In 1996 Gerry joined the Hosmer-Dorrance Corporation and moved on to Fillauer, Inc., in Chattanooga, where he was promoted to vice president of product development and education. Gerry has spoken nationally and internationally about various levels of orthotic and prosthetic care, materials, and bio-mechanics, and serves as contributing faculty for Northwestern University.

Along with seeing patients in the research clinic, Gerry is responsible for development and education of new and existing products. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists and actively supports their online curriculum program.

Gerry’s extensive resume boasts over 70 presentations given between 1996 and 2005, nearly 40 contributions to various publications, and three contributions to reference books. Gerry received the University Scholar Award from Northern Illinois University in 1986; the Gunther Gehl Scholarship Award from the AAOP Midwest Chapter in 1992; the Thranhardt Prosthetic Education Award from the AAOP in 1999; and the Prosthetic Lecture Award from the CAPO in 2000. He has also received three grant awards for his work in bio-mechanics.

Over the years Gerry has devoted his time and expertise as a visiting lecturer for the Department of Mechanical Engineering in NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. Through his work in the field of bio-mechanics, Gerry has brought recognition to his college and its strong programs.

College of Health and Human Sciences

Judith Ann Duvall, O.S.F.

As president of the OSF Healthcare System, Sister Judith Ann is responsible for the management of OSF’s corporate division directors, including the chief financial officer, chief information officer, director of human resources, director of quality improvement, director of strategic effectiveness, director of engineering, director of material management, director of compliance and information security, and numerous others.

OSF Healthcare System consists of six acute care hospitals, one long-term care facility, a home health system, and two colleges of nursing. The system also has a primary care physician group consisting of more than 250 physicians and providers. The approximately 12,000 OSF employees in Illinois and Michigan provide care to more than 2.5 million people in the communities they serve. With annual revenues of approximately $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2005, OSF Healthcare System is nationally recognized as a leading integrated healthcare network of facilities.

During her career, Sister Judith Ann has served OSF Healthcare System in a variety of roles. Following her graduation from NIU she served as a nurse at St. James Medical Center in Pontiac, Illinois, and then later as a nursing supervisor at Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois. She then joined OSF’s corporate office as the director of public relations and later served as director of religious formation. Sister Judith Ann has been a board member for OSF since 1989, where she also served as treasurer until 2000. Sister Judith Ann was named president of OSF Healthcare System in 2000. Of her many accomplishments during her professional career, her most acclaimed is the creation of a ministry development program for OSF.

In 1987 Sister Judith Ann created the nation’s first extensive ministry development program for lay leadership to instill in them the sisters’ passion for mission, values, philosophy, and vision. Recognizing that laity in the OSF organization would far outpace the sisters in number, the ministry development program is designed to impart the culture of the OSF family to employees through example. The ministry development program ensures that the sisters’ mission, which began more than 125 years ago, will continue. To date nearly 2,000 members of OSF’s leadership have been through the ministry development program.

Sister Judith Ann does not work to achieve awards or recognition. Her focus is to serve the mission of the Third Order of Saint Francis and to inspire others to join her. In that regard, she has been enormously successful as she is an admired leader and role model to OSF’s thousands of employees and the millions of people who reside within the communities served by OSF. Despite the fact that Sister Judith Ann does not strive for recognition, her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.

College of Law

Barbara Giorgi Vella

Barbara Giorgi Vella is a partner with Vella & Lund, P.C., of Rockford, specializing in family law and mediation. This Rockford attorney and longtime community leader was elected chair of the Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University in June 2005 and is currently serving in that capacity.

Barbara is both the first Rockford resident and the first woman to lead NIU’s independent governing board since its inception in 1996. She was appointed to the board in 1999, and has since chaired both the finance committee and the academic affairs committee. In 2005 Barbara outlined an agenda for the upcoming year that includes a focus on student retention.

“Student numbers are soaring,” Barbara said. “But at NIU and around the country, those greater numbers are bringing more students who are unprepared-academically, financially and motivationally-to succeed in college. NIU has many existing support programs, and it’s one of my goals to help students take better advantage of those programs.”

In Rockford, Barbara has served on the Saint Anthony Medical Center Advisory Board, the Winnebago County Bar Association Board of Trustees, the Holy Family Foundation Endowment Committee, the Crusader Clinic Board of Directors, the Rockford Public Library Board, and on many other civic boards and commissions.

NIU’s board chair began her career as a public school teacher, and has carried an interest in education and children’s issues throughout her career and in her volunteer work. In 2001, Barbara helped dedicate a new NIU facility in Rockford: the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic, named for her late father and member of the Illinois General Assembly. Barbara has also been an active advocate for NIU in Springfield.

Barbara was named Volunteer Lawyer of the Year by the Prairie State Legal Services in 1998 and won a Distinguished Service Award from the NIU College of Law in 1999.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

William B. Burr

William B. Burr is currently a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. William received his doctorate in history at Northern Illinois University under the direction of Professor Carl Parrini in 1987 with a dissertation entitled “The Truman Administration and European Reconstruction, 1947-1950: Corporate Internationalism and Foreign Aid.” He also earned his B.A. in history in 1971 and his M.A. in history in 1975 at NIU.

On September 20, 2005, in New York City, William personally accepted the 2005 Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in news and documentary research for the documentary Declassified: Nixon in China, produced by ABC News Productions for the Discovery Times Channel, which premiered the show on December 21, 2004. In nominating the award, the National Television Academy noted: “President Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to China was one of the greatest diplomatic coups in history. This heavily researched documentary reveals an unknown story behind the one most journalists and historians think they know. To tell it, the producers had to find, sift, evaluate, and codify thousands of declassified documents, both from the U.S. government and the secretive Chinese government too. Working in cooperation with the National Security Archive, the program’s researchers brought dry government files to life, revealing details that would have rattled the world at the time-including the United States’ provision to China of military intelligence and an unspoken agreement on Taiwan.” William served as lead researcher for the documentary.

The National Security Archive profiles Burr as follows: “Dr. William Burr, senior analyst, directs the Archive’s nuclear history documentation project. He edited two of the Archive’s document collections: The Berlin Crisis, 1958-1963 and U.S. Nuclear History: Nuclear Arms and Politics in the Missile Age, 1955-1968. He was formerly a visiting assistant professor at Washington College and has taught at the Catholic University of America, George Mason and American universities. In 1998 The New Press published his critically acclaimed document reader, The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top-Secret Talks with Beijing & Moscow. His review and articles have appeared in Diplomatic History, the Cold War International History Project Bulletin, International Security and Cold War History, among others. He was a contributor to Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Programs Since 1940 (The Brookings Institution, 1998). During 1996-1998 he served on the editorial board of Diplomatic History. He is currently a member of the Council of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). He previously served as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Coordinator for the Archive.” His forthcoming comprehensive collection of Kissinger memoranda of conversations will be published by ProQuest.

College of Visual and Performing Arts

Joyce L. Marcus

As the founder and CEO of Marcus Advertising, Inc., Joyce L. Marcus has spent more than 30 years in marketing and public relations, developing advertising campaigns, multimedia applications, brand-building strategies, new product implementation, and Internet strategies for clients in business, financial, nonprofit, and health care markets on local, national, and international levels. She is recognized for and differentiated by her ability to accelerate multi-faceted projects without sacrificing quality.

Joyce started her advertising with just $1,000-today, her company has grown to over $8 million in capitalized billings and counts several Fortune 500 companies among its clients. But hers is much more than your typical “rags to riches” tale. Joyce has used her artistic talents to build far more than her own business acumen and corporate reputation. Named one of the most Influential Women in Business by The Business Ledger and the National Association of Women Business Owners, Joyce has served as director of the First Colonial Bancshares Financial Services Board, and has also been a director of Northwest (now US Bank) Community Bank Board.

But it is Joyce’s work with the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization since 1989 that most clearly illustrates her deep commitment to volunteer service. Y-ME’s mission is to ensure, through information, empowerment, and peer support, that no one faces breast cancer alone. In 1991, Joyce created the team that developed the initial marketing plan for the first annual Y-ME Race against Breast Cancer. She worked with staff, volunteer teams, and corporate sponsors to build the race’s revenues from $300,000 in the first year to over $3.7 million in 2005.

In 2000, Joyce became president of the Y-ME National Board of Directors. She has chaired Y-ME’s Executive Committee as well as its Board Development Committee, helping to recruit new, high-profile individuals from a variety of sectors and increasing board support to over $500,000 annually. During her tenure, Y-ME grew from an organization struggling with financial stability to one that now boasts a $7 million annual budget. In 2004, Joyce received the Deborah David Dewar Award, the highest honor given to an individual for outstanding community service.

Joyce continues to serve Y-ME as immediate past president and board member, and is also lending her extensive talents and expertise to NIU as a member of the Advisory Board of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Further demonstrating her commitment to NIU and to education, she recently established an endowed scholarship for students studying art history in the college.