2001 Alumni Awards

Please note that the following profile information is current as of April 2001.

F.R. Geigle Award

John E. La Tourette
NIU President 1986 – 2000

After taking Northern’s helm as president in 1986, John E. La Tourette followed through on his visions for the university, which included outreach to the suburbs, wide-scale campus improvements, and enhancements to the living-learning environment on campus. During his 14-year tenure, he doubled the university’s land holdings and invested $225 million in capital improvements on campus and beyond. Northern’s academic programs also have seen tremendous growth under John’s leadership, including the addition of two colleges, several departments, and a dozen degree programs. Today John is enjoying his retirement with his wife, Lili, at their new home in Arizona, where they can spend more time with their children, Marc and Yanique, and grandson, Jeremy.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Kenneth C. Chessick
J.D. ’84, Law

Professionally, Ken Chessick is both a practicing attorney and a surgeon. Believing that law is the “other healing profession,” Ken earned his Juris Doctor from NIU in 1984 and represents victims of medical malpractice through his law office in Schaumburg, Illinois. In November 1999, he won a historic ruling that holds HMOs responsible for their doctors’ actions. Ken has remained a devoted supporter of NIU and its students. He actively participates in College of Law alumni and student events, and serves on its Board of Visitors. Ken also is a member of the NIU Foundation Board of Directors. And last year, he donated more than $250,000 to the college for the purchase of classroom equipment that will be used to teach students how to use technology in the courtroom.

Anna Werner
B.A. ’87, Journalism

Graduating in 1987 with a degree in journalism, Anna Werner today is an investigative reporter for KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas. Anna made headlines of her own last year when she researched and broke the story on the potential safety hazards of Bridgestone/Firestone tires. The February 7 story revealed that defective tires on Ford Explorers may have caused 30 deaths nationwide. Her report prompted a slew of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which launched an official investigation into the matter, leading to the 2nd largest product recall in the nation’s history. The story also had an international impact, as Bridgestone/Firestone tires in countries such as Venezuela also were recalled. The NHTSA has called Anna’s report “a milestone,” as it may have saved hundreds, perhaps even thousands of lives. The report earned KHOU-TV and Anna’s investigative team several prestigious journalism awards, including the Peabody Award, the duPont Award and the Polk Award.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Chiquita Daniels
B.S. ’99, Family, Nutrition, and Consumer Sciences

Within one year of earning a bachelor degree in 1999, Chiquita Daniels is making strides in her career comparable to others who have been in her profession for five years or more. Employed as an assistant buyer with Burdines Department Stores in Miami, Florida, Chiquita is responsible for monitoring on-order and receipt-flow for $18 million in business, as well as for $2.6 million for business development. In January and September 2000, her office was named the “Buying Office of the Month.” Chiquita also assists with the professional growth of her peers. Last spring, she was a guest speaker in an NIU professional development class, and has compiled a handbook of career opportunities and advice for students in her field.

College of Business

Dennis Barsema
B.S. ’77, Management

In November 2000, Dennis Barsema was appointed president, CEO, and chairman of Onetta, Inc., an emerging leader in the optical networking industry. In addition to his role at Onetta, Dennis is vice chairman of the Board for Redback Networks, chairman of Telenisus Corporation, director for Docutek Information Services, and a director in the NIU Foundation. Dennis’ affection for Northern brought him back to campus last year to present a $20 million gift for the construction of a new state-of-the-art College of Business building. The 130,000 square-foot facility will be located on Garden Drive next to the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Building and is slated to open May 2002. The money also will support student scholarships and business programs.

College of Education

Michael C. Greenisen
B.S. ’63, Physical Education

Michael C. Greenisen is the manager of NASA’s Exercise Countermeasures Project, where he is responsible for the physiological functions of the astronaut crews for both space shuttle missions and the International Space Station. NASA also recently selected Michael as “The Increment Scientist” on a pending Space Station Expedition Flight. His experiences also include work with the Russian Space Program, and studies to determine effects of space flight on the skeletal muscle fibers. He is now involved with the planning for the pending Mars missions. In 1996, NASA awarded Michael its Award of Merit for his work “Formulating space medicine for human exploration of space.” In addition to his work with NASA, Michael is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida, visiting professor at Caledonian University in Scotland, and an associate member of the Mechanical Engineering Department at McGill University in Quebec. Michael is a National Research Council Advisor and a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Army Reserve.

College of Engineering and Engineering Technology

Robert G. Baumgardner
B.S. ’93, Technology

Robert G. Baumgardner is a senior engineer with Schindler Elevator Corporation, the world’s second largest elevator company. In the fall of 1999, Rob oversaw a team of engineers who were faced with the challenge of redesigning the “Observation Cars” that bring 1.5 million tourists each year to the Skydeck of the Sears Tower. As part of the Sears Tower’s $4 million renovation project, the Observation Cars had to be modernized and equipped with various multimedia to make the 1400-foot ride to the 103rd floor as exciting as its destination. Operating at 1600 feet per minute, the elevators are among the fastest in the world and carry 6,000 pounds per trip. After leading a successful team, Rob was recently promoted to senior engineer in the Research and Development division at Schindler. Building upon lessons learned from the Sears project, Rob is working on the development of core software that will be used to upgrade the maintenance components of Schindler elevators worldwide.

College of Health and Human Sciences

Philip W. Eaton
M.S. ’86, Allied Health Professions

Credited for building the Rosecrance Health Network, Philip W. Eaton is president and CEO of the leading substance abuse treatment services provider in Northern Illinois. Since his arrival at Rosecrance as a social worker in 1971, Phil has expanded the center’s facilities and services throughout Rockford while maintaining its not-for-profit status. Today the network provides substance abuse treatment for adolescents, adults and their families throughout the Midwest.Since earning a master’s degree from Northern in 1986, Phil has maintained close ties with the university and its students. For more than ten years, his agency has been involved in a working partnership with NIU, which creates research and internship possibilities for students. This partnership also created the basis for nearly a million dollars in external funding for NIU, including $650,000 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

College of Law

Cheryl Niro
J.D. ’80, Law

Cheryl Niro has proved to be a true leader in the law profession, having been involved with numerous projects and programs beyond her role as a partner with Quinlan & Crisham, Ltd., a commercial litigation firm in Chicago. From 1999 to 2000, Cheryl presided over the 37,000-member Illinois State Bar Association, where she established the Illinois Conference of Bar Presidents and the Academy of Illinois Lawyers. She also is president of Judicial Dispute Resolution, Inc., where she serves as a mediator, trainer, and consultant to the legal and business communities.In honor of her contributions to her community and profession, Cheryl was among 100 recipients of the “Women Making a Difference In Chicago” award in August. In addition, American Lawyer Media named Cheryl one of the “Ten Most Influential Women Lawyers for Illinois” for the Year 2000.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Odie C. Donald
B.A. ’71, Economics
M.A. ’72, Economics

In April 2000, HUGHES Electronics Corporation named Odie C. Donald president of its DIRECTV, Inc. unit. In this position, Odie also serves as vice president of HUGHES and is a member of the company’s Management Committee. With more than 9 million customers nationwide, DIRECTV is the nation’s leading digital satellite entertainment service provider. Prior to this position, Odie was CEO of Cable & Wireless, Plc., which serves the Caribbean and Atlantic Islands. He also held numerous executive positions at BellSouth.In addition to his degrees from Northern, Odie earned a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, where he was a Sloan Fellow. And in 1993, Black Enterprise magazine honored Odie for his corporate achievements.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Paul Kahan
B.S. ’86, Computer Science

Although he graduated with a computer science degree in 1986, Paul Kahan found his true calling in the culinary arts. After working alongside other notable chefs in Chicago, Paul honed his skills and helped launch Blackbird in 1997, where he also is its executive chef. Named after French slang for a plump Merlot grape, Blackbird is nestled in the emerging “Restaurant Row” of Chicago’s West Loop. With its chic, minimalist atmosphere and Paul’s unique culinary creations, which he describes as, “seasonal American with French influences,” Blackbird has earned rave reviews as one of the city’s premier restaurants. Food & Wine magazine described Paul’s cooking as “impeccable” and voted him one of America’s “Best New Chefs of 1999” and Blackbird its “Favorite Restaurant of Chicago.” The restaurant also is a haven for celebrity sightings, such as Cindy Crawford and Michael Jordan. Paul also puts his skills to work for local charities. Last year he helped raise $250,000 for the Chicago Meals on Wheels program as a participant in the Celebrity Chefs Brunch. In addition, he has assisted “chefs-in-training” by serving as a guest chef at culinary schools.

College of Visual and Performing Arts

Michael L. Lash
M.A. ’85, Art

Michael L. Lash is the director of Chicago’s Public Art Program, a division of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. In this position, Mike implements the city’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which provides funding for the purchase of art that adorns Chicago’s public buildings. Mike also coordinates donations to the collection, and manages special outdoor art exhibitions, such as 1999’s historic “Cows on Parade” event. Now one of the city’s most well-known art events, “Cows on Parade” featured a herd of nearly 320 fiberglass bovines that were decorated by area artists and organizations. Exhibited throughout Chicago, the cows attracted more than a million visitors and grossed $200 million in tourism growth for the city. Recently, Mike became acting director of the National Time Museum, a 1,500-piece collection that was purchased by the City of Chicago last year. The Museum of Science and Industry is temporarily housing the Time Museum, which has been lauded as the world’s finest and largest collection of timepieces.