The Northern Illinois University Alumni Association recognized the achievements of outstanding alumni during its annual awards dinner at the Pollock Ballroom in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center on Friday, April 25.
The following recipients were selected based on outstanding professional and personal successes, in addition to involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.
Learn more about the alumni awards program.
David Nelson began his career as a sales representative with American Hospital Supply Corp. and subsequently held a variety of positions, including two divisional presidencies. After the acquisition of American by Baxter International, he was named corporate vice president and president, Baxter OR Products Group, in 1987.
Nelson joined Amsco International as president and CEO in 1988 and took the company public in 1991. Amsco operated manufacturing plants and divisions in Erie, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Montgomery, Alabama; Buffalo, New York; Quebec City, Canada; Helsinki, Finland; Cologne, Germany; and London, England; as well as regional locations throughout the U.S. and a 1,000-person service organization. The company employed approximately 5,000 people. Nelson left Amsco after tripling sales in seven years. Amsco merged with Steris Corporation in 1995.
Nelson was named president and CEO of Automated Healthcare, a startup robotics company, in 1995. Automated developed a first-of-its-kind robotic pharmacy fill station for hospitals. After the company was acquired in 1997, Nelson was named president and CEO of Hawk Medical, a web-based physician supply distribution startup, which was acquired by a leading medical supply distributor in 1999.
From 2000 to 2003, Nelson served as president and CEO of Webmedx, a web-based radiology and clinical report production startup, which was acquired by Nuance Communications. In 2003, he was named president and CEO of SHPS Inc., a diversified outsourcer of benefits administration, reimbursement processes, and employee health management programs. The company was acquired by ADP.
Nelson currently serves as chairman at PerspecSys Inc., a leader in enterprise cloud data protection. He is a former chairman of the NIU Foundation Board of Directors and has served as chairman of the board of Forbes Regional Medical Center and on the executive board of the West Penn Allegheny Health System of Pittsburgh, as well as on a number of corporate boards, including Amsco International, Automated Healthcare, Hawk Medical, National Specialty Hospitals, Webmedx, SHPS Inc., and Accertify Inc. He has served as a consultant to venture capital and private equity firms and is an active investor in early-stage enterprises.
Nelson and his wife, Linda, reside in Louisville, Kentucky, and Tucson, Arizona.
David Graf is one of an elite group of visionary leaders who has made the NIU College of Business one of the top business schools in the nation. His work has helped define the college’s ethos and long-standing traditions of excellence and ethical leadership. His efforts have contributed significantly to the college’s consistently high US News and World Report rankings.
Graf came to NIU in 1976. In 1982, he stepped up to chair the Department of Business Education, and in 1986, he became chair of the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems. By 1992, he had risen to associate dean of the college and ultimately became dean in 1994, a position he held until he retired in 2005.
As dean, Graf initiated bold and progressive programs. He helped the college maintain AACSB accreditation by initiating a more inclusive strategic planning process and restructuring the organization for maximum efficiency. He also expanded the curriculum of the college to include a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in taxation. He was instrumental in forming the Experiential Learning Center (ELC), a world-class program that connects NIU students with organizations to tackle real-world business issues. He also encouraged the university to create a College of Business residence hall, which grew into the Business Career House.
In 2007, David and Diane Graf established a scholarship endowment to help students attend the College of Business. As lead donors, the Grafs have given more than $60,000 of the $120,000 endowment, which awards about $8,000 a year.
Graf has recently retired as dean of business and economics at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). At UAEU, he spearheaded an extensive hiring program, revamped the MPA program, and led the development of a doctoral program in business—all of which have led to the school’s elite QS World University Ranking.
While a physics major at NIU, Brandon Armstrong says he was often asked a simple question: What exactly does a physicist do? He says he didn’t know the answer at the time, but soon discovered that the possibilities were endless. His NIU degree eventually led him to a Harvard University lab, where he helped discover better ways to diagnose and treat neurological impairments and brain injuries.
At NIU, Armstrong distinguished himself not only as an outstanding student in physics and mathematics, but also as a member of the inaugural class of the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. He credits this research experience with sparking his interest in physics and helping him decide to pursue a doctoral degree.
Armstrong continued his promising career as a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he pursued his Ph.D. in physics. There, he coauthored 10 articles, serving as lead author on six of the 10. He is also coauthor of a chapter in Magnetic Resonance Microscopy, a popular textbook. In addition, he and three of his colleagues hold a provisional patent (Polarization Matrix for Producing Radical-Free Nuclear Spin Hyperpolarized Molecules as Contrast Agents).
After completing his doctorate, Armstrong landed a coveted postdoctoral fellowship in physics at Harvard University. As a researcher with the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, he developed new MRI technologies for imaging free radicals and diagnosing stroke and brain injuries. From young soldiers returning from war to our aging Baby Boomer population, Armstrong’s work holds significant potential for improving quality of life.
Armstrong has received awards from the Institute for Quantum and Complex Dynamics and the Materials Research Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara. Currently, he shares his impressive skills in math and science with future generations as a senior online course developer at MathWorks, a popular scientific and engineering software company.
Michael Brown grew up in Joliet, Illinois, and graduated from Joliet West High School. He attended Joliet Junior College for two years, graduating with an Associate in Arts and Sciences degree. During that time, he earned money for college by working with his father on the family farm.
After graduating from junior college, Brown was accepted into the NIU accountancy program. After his graduation in 1983, Brown began his career by accepting a role as the northern region accounting supervisor for DeKalb Ag Research, an agricultural and natural resources company.
After a few years of broad finance and accounting experience, Brown left DeKalb and joined Baxter International, a global healthcare company that develops, manufactures, and markets products that save and sustain the lives of people with chronic and acute medical conditions. During his more than 25-year career at Baxter, Brown has held a number of senior leadership positions in corporate finance, as well as in several of Baxter’s business units.
Brown graduated from NIU’s Executive MBA program in 1996. He has also successfully utilized the NIU accountancy program’s review courses to pass the CMA and CIA exams. He has remained involved with NIU over the years by recruiting for Baxter, as well as speaking to several classes and coaching a number of teams on campus. He is a member of the College of Business Board of Executive Advisors, the NIU Athletic Advisory Council, and the NIU Executive Leadership Forum. In 2006, he was recognized by the accountancy department as an Outstanding Accountancy Alumni.
Brown lives in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and has been involved with a number of charities, including the Highland Park Hospital Foundation, United Way, and the Will County Historical Society. His interests include family history and travel.
College of Education Outstanding Alumni Award
Superintendent, Rockford Public Schools
M.S.Ed. Educational Administration, 2004
Ed.S. Educational Administration, 2006
Ed.D. Educational Administration, 2009
As superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, Ehren Jarrett oversees a district serving more than 29,000 students. With more than a decade of teaching, coaching, and supervisory experience, he is dedicated to the success of his students—and his community. Active in several local organizations, he has said that his goal is for Rockford Public Schools to be known as a premier destination for aspiring educational leaders.
After completing his bachelor’s degree at Concordia University in 1997, Jarrett began his career as an English and social studies teacher at Rockford Lutheran School, where he also coached basketball. In 2001, he became a teacher and assistant basketball coach at Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois. From 2004 to 2005, he served as assistant principal of Rockford East High School and was named associate principal of Hononegah High School in 2005. Two years later, he became principal of Hononegah and served in that capacity until 2011, when he joined the district’s leadership team as assistant superintendent. He assumed the role of superintendent in 2013.
Under Jarrett’s leadership, Rockford Public Schools has achieved significant progress and growth, including a major increase in advanced placement participation, an increase of 600 students in early childhood programs, and a more than 133 percent increase in student participation in band and orchestra. The district has also partnered with the NIU College of Education to create the Rockford Leadership Academy, which is designed to enhance leadership skills among the district’s 100 principals and assistant principals.
Jarrett lives in Rockford with his wife, Christie, and their two children. He gives back to his community as a member of numerous organizations, including the Rockford Area Economic Development Council Leadership Circle, the governing board of Alignment Rockford, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, and the education committee of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.
Brian E. Alvin is a brigadier general in the United States Army Reserve. After he received his commission as an Army officer through NIU’s ROTC program, he entered active duty as a second lieutenant and embarked on a highly successful military career. He is the first of more than 500 NIU ROTC graduates to become a general officer, a rank achieved by less than 1 percent of all Army officers.
An industrial technology major, Alvin was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant in the Chemical Corps and credits the ROTC program with helping him choose a career. After his initial assignment with the 2nd Armored Division in Fort Hood, Texas, he served in a variety of command and staff positions in the Army Reserve, including commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 807th Medical Brigade; commander of the 413th Civil Affairs Battalion; and commander of the 645th Regional Support Group, during which time he also served as the commander of the U.S. Forces Garrison on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Alvin has served his country in three campaigns (Desert Shield/Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom) and continues to serve today in the Army Reserve as the assistant chief of staff J4 (Logistics) for U.S. Forces, Korea.
Alvin’s accomplishments speak highly of NIU’s contributions to the field of military service and leadership in general. When selected for promotion to brigadier general, he chose to hold a public promotion ceremony on the NIU campus, knowing the positive impact that would have on current cadets. He shares the following advice with cadets: “Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Take care of your people, and they will reciprocate. The team’s success will be your success.”
A staunch supporter of the ROTC program, Alvin is a regular contributor to the Cadet Fund, which supports extracurricular activities for cadets. He and his wife, Bobbette, reside in Dallas.
A renowned scholar and educator, Laura Anderko’s most recent recognition came from our nation’s capital. In 2013, she was named a Champion of Change by the White House for her research on the health impacts of climate change.
In addition to her master’s degree from NIU, Anderko holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a doctoral degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. From 1992 to 1995, she served as director of graduate studies and assistant professor at the Lewis University College of Nursing. In 1995, she joined the NIU School of Nursing and Health Studies as an assistant professor and became associate dean for practice at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee College of Nursing in 2002. She assumed her current role as the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies in 2008.
Anderko has held leadership positions in several federal advisory committees, such as the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee and the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee (EPA). She is effective in leading interdisciplinary research with a complex mix of partners, including businesses, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, policymakers, and academic institutions.
An expert public speaker, Anderko is often interviewed by major news outlets and invited to keynote in the areas of public health, leadership, and the future of health care. In the spring of 2011, she moderated the Future of Food conference, which featured the Prince of Wales. She also has extensive writing experience, including grants, scholarly work, professional writing, and scientific reports.
Among Anderko’s many awards are the Faculty Achievement Award from the Georgetown University Medical Center and the Charlotte Brody Award for Excellence in Environmental Health from Health Care Without Harm. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Public Health Association and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.
For College of Law alumna Melissa Olivero, strength of character and a keen sense of justice have led to service in an elite group. Olivero is a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge, one of only 40 in the country. In this role, she has the authority to docket, hear, settle, and decide unfair labor practice cases across the nation.
Olivero, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan, transferred to her current position after serving as a judge with the Social Security Administration for two years. Before joining Social Security, she spent six years as a trial attorney with the Peoria office of the National Labor Relations Board. She also spent several years in private practice and as an assistant state’s attorney in LaSalle County.
Olivero has also served her country. She spent four years in the United States Army and four years in the Army Reserves as a platoon leader and company commander. She attained the rank of captain and received an honorable discharge in 1998.
Currently, Olivero is the chair of the Illinois Valley Community College Board of Trustees. She has been appointed to the Illinois State Bar Association Assembly and is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, the Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference, the Zonta Club of LaSalle-Peru, the judicial division of the American Bar Association, and the American Legion. From 1998 to 2013, she served as a member of the NIU College of Law Alumni Council.
In 2013, Olivero was appointed to the Third Judicial District Committee on Character and Fitness. In 2010, she was named the Illinois Valley Woman Making History by the Zonta Club of LaSalle-Peru.
Olivero lives in Peru, Illinois, with her husband, Doug, and their sons, Cameron and Andrew.
Jaymie Simmon took the stage in 1970 when she was named outstanding senior at NIU. After graduation, she made the world her stage—one that keeps her family, alma mater, and community in the spotlight.
Simmon has 25 years of experience as a small business owner specializing in corporate and organizational communications, marketing, copywriting, and video production. She is an award-winning producer, having hosted the Emmy-nominated local TV show Kankakee Valley Prime Time.Her novel, The God Gene, has won similar acclaim, earning the prestigious National Indie Excellence Book Award for literary fiction in 2013.
Simmon’s community involvement includes serving on several boards, including the Riverside Health Care Foundation, the Kankakee Area YMCA, and the United Way of Kankakee County. She currently serves as vice chair of the NIU Foundation board and is on its Executive and Red and Black committees. For her tremendous community service, Simmon was named Citizen of the Year by the Kankakee River Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1998.
Simmon’s Huskie roots run deep. She met her husband, Harry Simmon, while they were students at NIU. Harry was named outstanding senior in the theatre department in 1969, and their son, Grant, carried on the family tradition when he was named outstanding senior in 2000. Together, Grant and Jaymie are a powerful force for NIU as volunteer producers of the NIU Foundation Red and Black, the university’s premier social event celebrating faculty and students.
Harry and Jaymie have contributed to the Richard Arnold and Walter Dewey theatre scholarship funds at NIU. Their Simmon Scholar endowment at Northern provides support for undergraduates participating in the Research Rookies program, which pairs freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students with professors who mentor them, include them on their research teams, and assist them with original research projects.
Simmon is an avid sailor, cyclist, and cook. She and Harry live in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Clark Chaffee is an educator, conductor, performer, author, and clinician with more than 40 years of music teaching experience. In addition to his NIU degree, he is a graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Michigan.
Recently retired, Chaffee began his tenure at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, in 1997. Under his leadership, the orchestra and guitar programs grew substantially and earned national recognition. The music department at Stevenson has been honored by the Kennedy Center, Grammy in the Schools, the Illinois State Board of Education, and the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to 1997, Chaffee directed orchestra programs in Illinois school districts 300 and 54, as well as in Plano, Texas. He has also served on the faculty of the National Guitar Teacher Workshops, Elgin Community College, McHenry County College, and the Music Institute of Chicago.
Chaffee has conducted two operas and more than 30 musicals and has served as conductor of the Carthage College Chamber Orchestra and as a member of the conducting staff of the Schaumburg Youth Orchestra. He has also performed extensively at the professional level as a principal player in the Elgin, Rockford, Valley Civic, and Chicago Civic orchestras and as a leader, instrumentalist, and vocalist in jazz ensembles and big bands. His Rhythm Workshop and Key Shapes for Strings were published by J. Weston Walch, and he has given clinics on both topics at state and national music conventions.
Chaffee has earned national teacher certification twice. He has served as a state officer for the Illinois Music Education Association for 15 years and recently finished a term as vice president of orchestra activities. He has also served on the executive committee of the Council for Orchestral Education and was named the Illinois American String Teachers Association Classroom Teacher of the Year in 2011.
Chaffee says none of the above would have been possible without the support and encouragement of his wife, Ellie, and their daughter, Sarah, who is making her living as a cellist in Las Vegas.