ICCTA Distinguished Alumnus Award

2001 Nominees


Luis Cabrera
Principal, Huff Elementary School
Elgin Community College (1967)

"When I attended Elgin, I was the only Hispanic in the college," recalls Cabrera, whose family emigrated from Cuba in 1957. "I decided that I should go into teaching to help Hispanic students and their families understand the value of a good education." His career has since taken him from bilingual teacher to principal of an 800- pupil grade school. In addition, his involvement in the Club Guadalapano Scholarship Committee has raised more than $10,000 for deserving students.
Michael Caplan
Weather reporter, WLS-TV
College of Lake County (1984)

One of the system's growing number of "reverse-transfer" students, Caplan began at CLC following six unspectacular months at a private university. There he found his niche at campus radio station WCLC. "And I'm still on the air to this date," Caplan says. "Are the audiences bigger? Sure. Is the equipment better? Certainly. But the fundamental task of communicating I honed at CLC has remained the same."
Dr. Lannie Cation
Director, Ambulatory Internal Medicine Clinic
University of Illinois College of Medicine
Carl Sandburg College (1985)

Dr. Cation is an internationally recognized expert in the field of ambulatory medicine. Prior to his affiliation with the University of Illinois, he had risen to the rank of major in the U.S. Air Force and was based at Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Ohio. Last year he received the university's Internal Medicine Faculty Teaching Award; he earned the Air Force's Meritorious Service Award in 1999.
James P. Eichhorst
Legislative director, Office of U.S. Rep. Timothy Johnson
Parkland College (1982)

"During my high school years, I was uncertain about attending college," Eichhorst admits. "Parkland provided me with a step toward higher education. Had it not been for Parkland, I probably wouldn't have graduated from college, or achieved a fraction of my success." In addition to his Washington duties for Rep. Johnson, Eichhorst remains a partner in his family's 1,400-acre farming operation in east central Illinois.
Karen Keasler
Chair, Business division, Southeastern Illinois College
Southeastern Illinois College (1977)
2001 award recipient -- click here to read more

"My life's story is very similar to a lot of the students I have in my classes," says Keasler, whose family moved over a dozen times by the time she was 13. "I thought we hit the jackpot by moving into the local housing project." A 1996 nominee for ICCTA's Outstanding Faculty Member Award, she also advises a service organization at Southeastern that won regional honors for Make a Difference Day in 1999.
Mary E. Kiefner
Program supervisor, Associate degree nursing program
Illinois Central College
Illinois Central College (1984)

Kiefner is another community college almnus who has excelled in her profession and then chosen to return to her alma mater as an instructor. Her 10 years as a neuroscience staff nurse and staff- development administrator have allowed her to bring first-hand experience to her classroom. "This value of seeking knowledge is now what I desire to impart to my students as I teach at our local community college," Kiefner says.
Dr. Dennis R. Kolata
Principal geologist, Sedimentary and crustal processes section
Illinois State Geological Survey
Highland Community College (1966)

Kolata has researched such topics as earthquake activity in the central United States, the distribution of ancient volcanoes, and the origin and evolution of fossils. He has also published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers. "I cannot over-emphasize the significant role that community college has played in my career," says Kolata. "This has been a great journey thanks to those instructors who gave me encouragement and cultivated my interest."
Joseph Kolb, Jr.
Assistant port director, O'Hare International Airport
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Oakton Community College (1981)

Kolb has earned five performance awards for his work, including kudos for saving the life of a heart attack victim. He also represents his agency at congressional hearings and to U.S. Consulates abroad. "I have always been proud to be a graduate of OCC," Kolb says. "Today my wife, who is also an immigrant to the U.S., is seeking a degree at a community college. As my children prepare for higher education, they are fully aware the effect of a community college has played in our lives, as a family."
John R. Krimmel
Chief investment officer, State Universities Retirement System
Richland Community College (1988)

Krimmel has gone from graduating in the bottom half of his high school class to managing one of the largest pension funds ($12 billion) in the country. At the age of 38, he is also one of the youngest CIOs in his industry. Prior to joining SURS, he was a senior associate with the international accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, LLP. Krimmel credits Richland's "caring atmosphere . . . for providing the first indications that learning could be fun."
Kathleen L. Liefer
Vice president and treasurer, Red Bud Industries, Inc.
Southwestern Illinois College (1982)

Liefer's role in her family's multi-million-dollar steel-cutting company has grown from sorting nuts and bolts in the stock room to negotiating contracts with foreign businesses. She has become a role model in another way, too -- one-third of Red Bud's employees have taken classes at Southwestern. "Little did I realize at the time I attended how much this college would influence my life and the lives of many of my colleagues," Liefer says.
Dwight A. Lucas
Chief executive officer, East Central Illinois Community Action Agency
Danville Area Community College (1975)

When Lucas received his draft notice in 1968, he enlisted in the Air Force so that he could take classes that would transfer back to DACC. He also made a point of writing quarterly reports on his progress to then-college president Mary Miller. "I firmly believe that I could not have accomplished all the good things in my life without starting at Danville," says Lucas, whose wife and three children have also taken advantage of DACC's degree programs.
Holly L. McCann
Senior operations advisor, Small Business / Self-Employed Division
Internal Revenue Service
Rend Lake College (1975)

McCann was a 17-year-old single mother when she began at Rend Lake. Her profession has subsequently taken her to Washington, D.C., where she has led initiatives to make the IRS more service- friendly. "The person I've ultimately become was influenced greatly by Rend Lake," says McCann. "I have retained the values that came from my small Midwestern town upbringing, while appreciating the differences in people as a part of our bigger world."
Joyce A. Nicklas
Director of quality care management, OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center
Kishwaukee College (1981)

Nicklas always wanted to be a nurse. As a 24-year-old widow with two children to support, "Kishwaukee was at my doorstep to assist in making education accessible," she says. The training she received allowed her to lead Rockford Health System's successful accreditation in 1998. In her new post, she continues to practice the community-based nursing skills that she learned at Kishwaukee.
Kimberla Lawson Roby
Author / Novelist
Rock Valley College (1987)

Unable to find a publisher for her first novel, Roby quit her full- time job and self-published 10,000 copies. The printing was so successful thatBehind Closed Doorsremained at #1 on the Blackboard African-American Bestseller's List for four consecutive months. "From a career standpoint, my office technology/business education made not just some, but basically all the difference in founding my own business; my ability to speak to small and large audience; and having the skills necessary to write novels year after year," Roby says.
Dr. Julia A. Schroeder
Vice president for instruction, John A. Logan College
John A. Logan College (1974)

A former high school math teacher, Schroeder has earned many accolades during her career, including National Science Foundation Presidential Award nominations in 1987 and 1988. "I acquired confidence and a 'can-do-it' attitude because of the instructors at Logan who believed in me," she says. Another source of pride: Though her parents never finished middle school, both of Schroeder's daughters attended Logan.
Betty Taylor
Retired registered nurse / teacher
Spoon River College (1964)

Taylor was the second family member to earn a high school diploma and the first to receive a college degree. Retired after two successful careers, she is a highly-sought volunteer who has been honored by the Canton YWCA and Fulton/McDonough Mental Health Center. In 1997 she was elected to SRC's board. "All of this was made possible by my fortunate and strong beginning at Spoon River," says Taylor.
Marilyn C. Turner
Executive director, Family Health Society, Inc.
Moraine Valley Community College (1982)

A naturalized American of African descent, Turner moved to Chicago from Panama after a fire destroyed her family's home. "When I started at Moraine Valley, everything was so new -- including the language," she says. "I credit the community college for helping me become what I am today. As executive director and founder of a community clinic for the uninsured and underinsured, I am able to assist others to live a healthy and better life."
Ray W. Vaughn
Olney Central College (1977)

Vaughn's successful law practice has not stopped him from giving back to his community. As president of the college foundation, he was instrumental in establishing soccer fields on campus that serve over 400 children. "As a lifelong resident of Olney, I did not recognize the importance of OCC to the community," Vaughn says. "I took the college for granted. Now, having been engaged in business for 19 years, I realize OCC is critical to the long-term progress of Olney, Richland County and the surrouding area."
Ramona Vogt
Staff scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Kaskaskia College (1983)

With 47 publications, 43 invited talks, 76 seminars, and 15 marathons to her credit, Vogt is a true Renaissance woman in the male-dominated field of nuclear physics. Currently visiting Denmark's Bohr Institute as a Rosenberg Fellow, she notes that "my studies at KC prepared me well for the challange of the university environment, and my career since then has been built on the firm foudnation of my education at KC."
Dwight A. Werts
President / CEO, Werts Welding & Tank Service, Inc.
Lewis and Clark Community College (1973)

Thanks to training received at Lewis and Clark, Werts was able to take over his father's truck-repair business in 1994 and expand it to a nationwide, $10 million corporation. He has brought similar success to the college's foundation, where he chaired its annual auction in 1997 and raised $110,000, the highest amount to date. "The benefits of my education are more easily viewed 30 years later," Werts notes.
Standish E. Willis
Attorney / Partner, People's Law Firm
Malcolm X College (1968)

A former gang leader, Willis has distinguished himself as a dedicated human-rights advocate within the criminal justice system. Many of his civil-rights suits have resulted in significant changes in case law and institutional practices. In fact, one of his earliest causes was the renaming of then-Crane Junior College as Malcolm X College. "My experiences at Malcolm X demonstrated to me that every man and woman's voice makes a difference in the struggle for human rights," Willis says.
James E. Zimmer
U.S. director of marketing and technology, Monsanto Company
Lake Land College (1983)

The value of Zimmer's Lake Land education became evident in 1992, when he was aggressively recruited by Monsanto despite a company policy that required a bachelor's degree for his position. Subsequent "Rookie of the Year" and "Best in Class" honors have only enhanced his reputation at Monsanto, where he now oversees pricing, trade agreements, and budgeting for biotechnology and crop protection products. "Today, whenever possible, I take time to show an interest in others around me and provide them with the same type of support that I received from Lake Land's ag faculty," Zimmer says.