2017 Alumni Awards
Distinguished Alumni Award
Frank M. Drendel
Chairman of the Board and Founder of CommScope Inc.
B.S. Marketing, 1970
Frank Drendel served as CommScope‘s CEO after founding the company in 1976 as a North Carolina corporation based in Hickory until the acquisition of CommScope by The Carlyle Group in January 2011. He has served as chair since 1997, when CommScope was spun off from General Instrument Corp. (subsequently renamed General Semiconductor Inc.) and became an independent, publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.
CommScope has grown into a multibillion-dollar global leader in infrastructure solutions for communications networks spanning the globe. Through organic growth and acquisitions of Avaya Connectivity Solutions, Andrew Corp. and TE Connectivity Broadband Network Solutions, the company established leadership positions in key markets – wireless, business enterprise, telecom and cable television/residential broadband – that continue today.
Drendel is a director of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (the principal trade association of the cable industry in the U.S.) and the SCTE Executive Council. He previously served as a director of Sprint Nextel Corp. from 2005 to 2008 and as a director of Nextel Communications Inc. from 1997 to 2005. He also served on the board of directors for Tyco International Ltd., The Cable Center and C-SPAN.
An active member of several National Cable & Telecommunications Association committees, Drendel has received NCTA awards and numerous prestigious honors for his contributions to the industry, including:
- Induction into the Cable Hall of Fame, the cable television industry’s highest honor
- An Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in engineering development for contributing to anti-pirating satellite TV encryption and scrambling technology
- The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the most prestigious awards given by the governor of North Carolina
- The North Carolina Technology Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award
- The Bresnan Ethics in Business Award from The Cable Center for being an outstanding example of integrity and ethics in the telecommunications industry
F.R. Geigle Service Award
Ronald J. Modell
World-Class Trumpeter and Music Educator
Former Director, NIU Jazz Ensemble
B.A., University of Tulsa
M.A., University of Tulsa
Ronald Modell is the founder of the NIU Jazz Ensemble and has been active in jazz, symphony and pop music scenes for decades, working with some of the best-known names in music. Modell arrived at NIU in 1969, and that fall, 60 Huskies auditioned for the 20 available chairs for the very first NIU Jazz Ensemble. Students were encouraged to write their own music or arrange music that they really loved for big band.
Less than a decade after Modell began at NIU, the NIU Jazz Ensemble joined Dizzy Gillespie as the featured performers at the annual conference of the National Association of Jazz Educators in Dallas. After Modell appeared on “The Studs Terkel Program” with jazz drummer Louie Bellson in 1979, WTTW-Chicago called the next morning to create a public television documentary on the NIU Jazz Ensemble.
Four years later, “One Year in the Life of the Greatest College Jazz Band in America” flooded the national PBS airwaves. Fan mail from as far as Alaska and Hawaii arrived in DeKalb. The documentary won two Chicago Emmy awards.
Proclaimed the top college jazz band in the country in 1983 by Downbeat magazine, Modell and his band conquered Europe that July with an appearance at the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Several NIU presidents during Modell’s time said the jazz ensemble cultivated the university’s greatest public relations.
Modell became a professional musician at 15, embarked on his first national tour at 18, was named principal trumpeter of the Tulsa Philharmonic that same year and eventually played nine seasons with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as its principal trumpeter. He performed everywhere, from Catskills supper clubs to Carnegie Hall, met Hollywood movie stars on Paramount Studios’ soundstages and shook the hand of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House.
After retirement in 1998, at the request of Phil Collins, he assembled a band that included nine alumni of the NIU Jazz Ensemble for the pop star’s worldwide summer tour.
His memoirs are in this book, titled “Loved Bein’ Here With You” (adapted from the tune that Modell sang to close every jazz ensemble concert). The book is a page turner full of humor, heartbreak, wit and wisdom and provides backstage stories from club gigs to friendships with famous jazz performers.
Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Mary P. Haynes
Academic Success Coach, College of Lake County
B.S. Family Child Studies, 2012
M.S.Ed. Adult and Higher Education, 2014
After completing her master’s degree at NIU, Mary Haynes worked as an academic adviser at Waubonsee Community College before joining the College of Lake County two years ago as an academic success coach.
Haynes has a reputation for positively impacting students’ lives at CLC. In her role as a success coach, Haynes communicates with more than 500 students enrolled in developmental education classes. She works closely with 20 faculty members to receive early alert notifications, follows up with student concerns and provides proactive, hands-on support for 300 students in her caseload. She acts as a cheerleader, motivator and problem solver to assist students with time management, goal setting, financial aid, building confidence and campus involvement.
While at NIU, Haynes interned at the DeKalb County Youth Service Bureau, worked in the Career Resource Center and Community Standards and Student Conduct offices, was a graduate assistant in Housing and Dining and worked as an academic adviser in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
Beyond her day-to-day work as an academic coach, Haynes is an adviser for CLC’s Sister 2 Sister student organization. S2S supports the personal, academic and professional success of women at CLC, with an emphasis on students of color. Haynes has taken on leadership roles to plan major organization events, create a recruitment and application plan and meet individually with students to ensure their success.
Haynes is active with the Chicago Area Advisor Network, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Business
Robert H. Rothkopf
Retired President and CEO, Semblex Corp. Elmhurst, Illinois
B.S. Management, 1967
M.S. Management, 1973
After graduating, Robert Rothkopf built a career in the automotive and metalworking industries and has given back to NIU as a volunteer, philanthropist and instructor.
He joined the Chrysler Corp. while he was a full-time student, completed an executive training program there and served as a foreman, shipping supervisor and production control supervisor.
By 1970, Camcar Textron welcomed Rothkopf, and he worked his way up the ranks and became president in 1986. He then moved on to Elco Textron, where he served as president of the industrial products division. By 2000, Rothkopf started his own metalworking industry consulting firm, Rothkopf and Associates. From 2004 until 2010, he served as president and CEO of the Semblex Corp.
As a member of the College of Business Board of Executive Advisors for 22 years, he helped spearhead the BELIEF program, Career Compass and the Passport Program. He has also served on the board of the NIU Rockford Alumni Club and has mentored students at the College of Business for the past 10 years.
In 2010, Rothkopf began his teaching career at NIU, sharing his experience with honors business students. He is known as a charismatic instructor who encourages students to reach their full potential.
Rothkopf has received the Marketing Honor Society’s Excellence in Corporate Achievement Award, was named a Rockford Area Distinguished Alumnus and was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Management.
Several charitable organizations have benefited from his involvement, including United Way, the Golden Apple Foundation and Rockford MELD, an organization that provides shelter, education and life skills training to young parents.
Thanks to the Robert and Catherine Rothkopf Leadership Scholarship, several students each year have an opportunity to build their careers.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Education
Ann E. Rondeau, Ed.D.
President, College of DuPage
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Ed.D. Adult and Higher Education, 2010
Ann Rondeau became the sixth president of the College of DuPage in July 2016 and is a past president of the National Defense University, a consortium of five colleges and nine research centers in Washington, D.C.
She retired from the U.S. Navy as a three-star admiral in 2012 and is the second woman to achieve this rank. She then served as a partner and an independent consultant with the IBM Watson Group. Her extensive leadership experience includes serving as deputy combatant commander of the U.S. Transportation Command in Illinois, Pentagon director and chief of staff for the U.S. Navy, commander of the Navy Personnel Development Command in Virginia, commander of the Naval Service Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, Pacific Fleet assistant staff chief in Hawaii and commanding officer of Naval Support Activity in Tennessee.
Rondeau holds a B.A. from Eisenhower College, an M.A. from Georgetown University, an Ed.D. from Northern Illinois University and an honorary doctorate in public service from Carthage College.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Engineering and Engineering Technology
Daniel J. Bailey
Business Intelligence – Supply Chain Analyst
B.S. Industrial Engineering, 2005
M.S. Industrial Engineering, 2006
Since graduation, Daniel Bailey has worked for Nestle USA, starting as an industrial engineer and moving his way up to an industrial engineer/process specialist in 2009. In 2012, he was promoted to a supply chain business analyst, and he specializes in managing and improving Nestle’s warehouse process.
His accomplishments include implementing an incentive-based pay system, creating grassroots process improvements and implementing cost savings initiatives for the warehouse.
Bailey has sponsored multiple senior design and engineer-in-residence projects for the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and was recognized with an alumni award from the NIU Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering for the 2013-2014 school year. The college also recognized him as the Industrial Engineering Graduate Student of the Year in 2006 and the Industrial Engineering Undergraduate of the Year in 2005.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Health and Human Sciences
Joyce Marie Barra, Ph.D., RN
Part-time Faculty, Weber State University
Owner, JMB Consulting
B.S. Nursing, 1980
Joyce Barra is an instructor at Weber State University in Utah, where she teaches nursing courses and is a member of the Institutional Review Board. She has also served as director of the master’s program in nursing.
She has worked as a staff and charge nurse for 12 years, working at Cottonwood Hospital in Murray, Utah, Lutheran General Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York.
She developed the University of Utah Hospital and Clinic Partnership in 2008 to educate employees within the institution and served as interim dean in 2008 at Salt Lake Community College for the School of Health Sciences.
Barra also works as an independent consultant to academic organizations and health care institutions, specializing in self-study preparation, guidance, review, follow-up recommendations and accredited programs from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Her consulting services continue to be in demand nationwide. She has been involved in a number of projects in Southeast Asia and is on the board of directors of the Shanghai Medical Workers College in Shanghai.
Her volunteer work includes helping the National Charity League and the Ronald McDonald House, and she has been published in several professional journals.
She is currently conducting research relating to the roles and responsibilities of care management processes through the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Law
Heather Wier Vaught
Special Counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and the Democratic Caucus of the Illinois House of Representatives
Juris Doctor, 2005
Heather Wier Vaught is special counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and the House Democratic Caucus. In her role, she represents members, provides in-depth legal analysis of legislation pending before the General Assembly and handles special projects.
She is the point person and negotiator for many of the top legislative initiatives moving through the General Assembly, including conceal and carry, telecommunications and utilities, procurement reform, predatory lending and mortgage foreclosure prevention, pension reform, ethics reform, elections and campaign finance, and the governor’s “turnaround agenda.”
During her tenure since 2006, she has served in several roles, including chief counsel, deputy counsel and ethics officer for the caucus. Until December 2016, she served as the parliamentarian for the Illinois House of Representatives, where she was the final arbiter on the interpretation of House rules, issuing decisions on questions of parliamentary procedure and constitutional requirements.
In 2009, Wier Vaught served as the Illinois House’s assistant prosecutor for the impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. She was also appointed as a special assistant attorney general for several cases that raised constitutional questions.
She is a member of the Women’s Bar Foundation, the Perspective Editorial Board for the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, the NIU College of Law Alumni Council, Step Up Women’s Network and several community organizations.
She has received multiple awards recognizing her commitment and leadership, including the NIU College of Law Young Alum of the Year and a “Rise Up and Reach Back” award from the Women’s Bar Foundation. In 2014, she was named to the Chicago Law Bulletin’s “40 Under Forty” list.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Jennifer Anne Weidman
Managing Director/CEO of Space Bangkok
B.A. Southeast Asian Studies, 1999
M.A. Anthropology, 2005
Jenn Weidman is the managing director/CEO of Space Bangkok, a social enterprise that promotes resilience and innovation in individual and organizational work by encouraging reflective practice and incorporating reflective elements in leadership, capacity building, facilitation and problem solving. Her work focuses on shifting the industry norms that foster burnout and holistic unwellness. She is an anthropologist and area specialist in Thailand and Southeast Asia with more than 14 years of experience in the field and more than 24 years of experience interacting with the Thailand and Southeast Asia cultures.
Prior to taking on her current position, Weidman was deputy director of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, where she managed and facilitated a three-month professional development certificate training course in peace and conflict studies for professionals from around the world to help them with work relating to conflict resolution, peacebuilding, capacity building and human rights.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Weidman moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to work with the International Programs department at Payap University. While working on her master’s degree in anthropology, she conducted fieldwork in Thailand, examining the working culture, interactions and politics in a multicultural office. In 2005, she began working with the Rotary Peace Centers in Evanston. There, she played a pivotal role in establishing the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, where she served as deputy director from 2009 to 2015. Through her work at the center, Weidman was responsible for the delivery of training content, including field studies to conflict and post-conflict locations in Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines, and translated Thai and English in classroom and field study settings. She has trained and continues to mentor peacebuilders working in 70 countries.
In 2007, Weidman received the Paul Harris Fellow Award, the highest honor given to staff by Rotarians. She studies Thai martial arts, swords and other weapon forms at the Siamyuth Baan Kru Preang School, where she holds a first-degree light blue belt in Muay Thai Chaiya. Because she is a dedicated Southeast Asian specialist with a deep commitment to humanitarian work, Weidman was awarded the 2015 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award. She is also a member of the NIU Anthropology Alumni Advisory Board.
Outstanding College Alumni Award: College of Visual and Performing Arts
Rebecca Downing Pelley
Art Department Chair, Boylan Catholic High School, Rockford
M.A. Studio Art/Painting, 1980
Rebecca Pelley is an art educator who has led her students to a better understanding of themselves, their potential, the nature of art and our world. For 46 years, she has fostered curiosity, nurtured critical thinking and rewarded creativity in public and private schools alike. Through her contributions to powerhouse art programs in Rockford area schools, she has given a lifetime of distinguished service to young people and teaching.
Pelley serves as Art Department chair at Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford. The nationally award-winning program recognizes art as a discipline that contributes to the development of the whole person. Pelley was instrumental in developing this holistic approach and personally spearheaded those efforts for more than 30 years.
She created courses in advanced placement (AP) studio art and AP art history at Guilford High School. She taught both courses, and her students consistently attained the highest scores of any advanced placement offering at the school. At Rockford East High School, Pelley brought a dramatic turnaround to the art department and vast improvements in student performance.
As education director of the Rockford Art Museum from 2003 until 2005, she expanded community outreach by working tirelessly with regional stakeholders, business leaders, educational institutions, cultural institutions and volunteers to advance the museum’s mission to enrich the quality of life for people of all ages through collections, exhibitions and education.
Since the 1970s, Pelley’s art students have enjoyed a strong presence, awards and scholarships in national, regional and local exhibitions, including the Scholastic Art Exhibit, Rockford Art Museum’s Young Artist Show, the high school art exhibition at Northern Illinois University, Rock Valley College’s high school show and Rockford’s ArtScene exhibits.
Pelley’s strengths as both an educator and artist have not gone unnoticed. In 2011, she received the Mayor’s Art Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Rockford Area Arts Council. Pelley was chosen to receive the Golden Apple Award in 2015 for exceptional teaching and service to her students, schools and community. She is a member of the Golden Apple Teacher Academy to connect master teachers with teachers seeking to improve their practice. Since 1975, Pelley has received 13 national commendations for teaching from the Scholastic Art Awards program.
An avid watercolorist, artist and writer, Pelley regularly exhibits her work and has published poems in the Rockford Review and Korone: Women’s Voices. She has published educational articles, including “Sticks, Students and Sculpture,” featured in SchoolArts magazine. Pelley’s watercolors and drawings have been featured in national, state and local exhibitions and are found in Midwest collections, such as at the Illinois State Museum, Rockford Art Museum and corporate locations.
Pelley sees infinite potential in each student and has always embraced the responsibilities and challenges of her profession: “Exceptional teaching is marked by a teacher’s unquenchable fire and a fervent belief that she has the power to transform. She knows that her work is not merely essential, but always and ever a sacred trust.”